With John Kerry’s win in the Iowa Caucuses, the White House political machine now has to contend with the possibility that Howard Dean (Karl Rove’s dream opponent) will no longer be the Democratic pick for the general election. All signs, and some eyebrow raising polls, now point to John Kerry as the benefactor of the Big Mo.
What does this do to the likely Bush strategy for the general election?
With the nation so evenly divided, Dean was the perfect candidate for the GOP to run against. Clear differences on almost every issue facing the nation made for perfect fundraising and campaigning ammunition. Other than the obscure possibility of a Hillary dark horse surprise, nothing could have been better for the Bush war chest than a Dean nomination. Now, all that has changed, and the political strategists in the Bush campaign know it.
John Kerry may not have a sliver of the personal “common man” charm that George W. Bush can muster, but he has a record and background that make him far more dangerous in 2004. Kerry’s war heroism cannot be denied, and when placed side by side with President Bush’s much less heroic stint in the National Guard (which still threatens to unleash some extra skeletons), Kerry can make a legitimate claim on personal integrity, far more so than the other DNC candidates.
Combined with a possible Edwards VP nod, Kerry becomes a force to be reckoned with, not as easily trounced as Howard Dean, who’s record was set to be a liability in the general election.
The world has been turned upside down for Bush strategists. No longer can they depend on easy, and deserved, ad hominem attacks to trounce the likes of Dean. Kerry’s record, political experience, and familiarity with national issues make him a far less questionable candidate than Dean ever was. The growing ranks of disgruntled conservatives are now faced with a less stark difference. Dean, by his very nature, would have sent conservatives and republicans of all flavors screaming to the polls, eager and anxious to ensure a Dean defeat. Kerry does not inspire nearly as much rancor among the right.
In a nation split so evenly between the right and the left, a candidate such as Kerry (who is regarded as a centrist despite facts to the contrary) may be better at swaying the all-important undecided voter.
It is no longer sufficient for the GOP to concentrate on an “us vs. them” strategy, not when facing an opponent with broader appeal than Dean could ever hope for. The Republican political strategy must now pivot back to an issues-oriented stance. If Bush hopes to secure re-election, he will have to start explaining why his policies are better, not just why the alternate choice is worse. The battle can no longer be personal, it must be ideological, and it is this fact that makes a potential Kerry nomination more dangerous to Bush than Dean could ever be.