What a classic example of groupthink in the national media. Immediately after the debate I thought Kerry turned in a subpar performance on substance, but was still a bit better than Bush. The pundits apparently agreed that Kerry had edged out Bush.
But by the end of the night, buttressed by flash polls and more confident spin from the Kerry camp, pundits — even those on Faux News — were almost uniformly trumpeting a decisive Kerry victory. By the next morning, as the coverage snowballed, you’d have thought it was “Lincoln and Douglas vs. Elmer Fudd,” as Charlie Cook put it.
Dean says taking my advice would have backfired on Kerry. That by being more aggressive, he would have looked like a nut and turned off the liberals who already want us to be nicer to the U.N. and pull out of Iraq.
I disagree with that completely. Look closer at the Gallup numbers (as Dean is now doing). Sure, Kerry “looked more presidential” than Bush, but he made little headway in changing voters’ fundamental assumptions about him. Namely, that he’s a flip-flopper who changes positions often, is less trustworthy than Bush and weaker on Iraq, terrorism and national security. By a 17-point margin, voters preferred Bush as the man “tough enough” for the job.
Kerry would have done better to follow my advice. Maintain the same posture, which worked. Talk about the need for allies, which worked. But cut out the references to a “summit” and instead offer some real meat on Iraq. Tell them you’d ask NATO to secure the border areas, and then you’d deal once and for all with murderers like Muqtada al Sadr and Zarqawi, and then you’d break up the terorrist mini-states that had formed in places like Fallujah, so we could finish our work and get the hell out of there.
Yes, liberals badly want to make the point that Bush was wrong to go into Iraq. But at the same time, they don’t want to see us just pull up stakes and leave Iraq in a state of civil war or islamist theocracy. Hell, only the Kucinich/Nader crowd wants us out tomorrow, and there are just as many conservatives who’d also just as well see us declare victory and leave, whether Iraq was at peace or not.
So it’s possible to press the case that invading Iraq was a collossal error in judgement, but that now we’ve got to win there to get back on track in the war against al Qaeda, and that we must do so in such a way that’s tough on the terrorists but respectful of our allies. John Kerry didn’t do that, and that’s why, spinning aside, the American people still doubt him today.