. . . Friday July 9, 2004

What Bush Can Learn From Elimidate

Close watchers of the show Elimidate will notice something about the chosen winners. Aside from almost always being the most attractive of the participants (and being able to guzzle the most booze without tipping over), the winning contestant is often the person who spends more time selling themselves and less time ripping (however appropriately) into the the other folks on the televised group date.

I always thought that incumbent presidents who felt like they had a decent record to run on would follow a similar strategy. You’re the defending champ. You think you’ve done a good job. So sell yourself and your record and leave the petty attacks to the other guy. Make the opponent look small and desperate. In this scenario, the incumbent looks even more presidential (an underrated consequence of actually being the president) and the challenger is forced to play the unappealing role of politician.

This seems like the way W should be playing things. But he is doing just the opposite. You could call this the campaign of the incredible shrinking president.

At this stage of the campaign, when many voters still don’t really know John Kerry, one can understand the temptation among Bush team members to define Kerry before he has the chance to define himself. Subtle jabs might be appropriate. But the full frontal assault coming from Team Bush seems both petty and counterproductive. Maybe this is just a pre-convention strategy and there is some secret plan to go positive in the final months of the campaign. But why lower your own status and raise that of your challenger in the meantime?

The latest ads coming out of the two campaigns tell a familiar story. Kerry is focused on bio ads and ads that show him on the stump discussing issues such as jobs. He makes no direct attack on Bush. The latest ad from Team Bush is about nothing but John Kerry. The TV spot shows multiplying pictures of the challenger. Kerry is attacked for missing Senate votes during his campaigning process. Is that really an issue you want to run on if you’re the incumbent? Missed votes? Is Kerry running on the amount of time Bush spends in Crawford? There is also a childish jab related to Kerry’s vote on the so-called Laci Peterson law. Essentially, an argument is made that Kerry is for violence against pregnant women. This stuff just reeks of desperation (and at this point in the campaign, the desperation seems wholly misguided).

The Bush camp is also playing the values card. But the latest poll numbers actually suggest that more people (by a couple points) feel Kerry shares their values. And attack ads will only hurt the attacker when it comes to the values question.

The biggest advantage that a sitting president has (especially during a period of crisis) is his own incumbency. Team Bush is squandering this advantage at every turn. I don’t get it.

Don’t these guys watch dating shows?

Concentration is important!