While poll internals indicate that the Kerry team still has much work to do to rebuild a reputation soiled and left largely undefended for what seemed like months during the pre-debate campaign, the last four or five days couldn’t have gone much better for John Kerry. He closed a large gap in the race, and perhaps more importantly, finally got a little momentum.
I’m a bit surprised that the momentum has lasted this long and if anything, has accelerated with each passing day. I am much more surprised at the way the Bush team has reacted to the debate. The wheels really seem to have come off the bus carrying this campaign that was so tight, so disciplined and so effective for so long.
In a long season, team Bush lost one very big game. Fine. Move on. Reframe the race. That hasn’t happened. Maybe it was the shock of the night, the closing of the gap or the President’s continuing frustration. But for some reason, this team wants to keep replaying the game. The President continues to distort the things Kerry said during the debate. What’s more confounding is that he basically will not let last Thursday night end.
I fully expected President Bush to describe the first debate as a catastrophic success and come out swinging.
Instead, he’s still debating. From stage to stage and stump to stump, W keeps replaying moments from the debate and then giving the answers he wished he had given in the moment. He’s not just trying to point out inconsistencies in Kerry’s positions. He’s literally saying, “My opponent said …” and then giving a response. It’s like a guy alone on darkened football field waiting in the endzone for another shot at a pass that slipped through his hands. This strategy makes W look as petty and petulant as his facial expressions did during the debate. And more importantly, it keeps fresh in the minds of the media and voters the one night during this campaign when he really blew it.
There are no do-overs in debates. Only move ons. The President prides himself on being positive and forward looking. I have no idea why he has abandoned those characteristics at the moment in the campaign when he needs them the most.