CLEARLY, THIS PRESIDENTIAL RACE IS NOT SHAPING UP to be about alternative policy choices. It is a race driven by various exogenous shocks. does a nice job of plotting certain events against the likely electoral college performance of Bush and Kerry since May. Check out this website’s thoughtful discussion on polling as well and the other great resources scattered throughout the site.
Reagan’s death, Farenheit 9/11, John Edwards’ selection as VP, the Democratic National Convention, the Swift Boat ads, and the Republican National Convention all correlate with various significant swings in the contest. After the Republican convention, I would imagine that hitting 1,000 American military deaths in Iraq or new concerns about Bush’s national guard service may account for a clear, but temporary, drop of Bush on this graph. Now,however, Bush seems to be on a real upswing as far as this electoral college assessment.
I tried pretty hard to get some senior players in the Kerry political world to anticipate the impact of Reagan’s death, about six months before Reagan passed away. It seemed to me that a set of unexpected but potential exogenous shocks needed to be considered and anticipated by Kerry’s team. These included a potential economic shock — a currency crisis or a hedge fund unwinding as happened with Long Term Capital Management; a mass casualty incident in Iraq or Afghanistan; a mass casualty incident in the U.S.; or Reagan’s death.
Presidential death and memorial services create unrivaled theatre. I thought that Reagan dying after such a long battle with Alzheimer’s would present an important staging opportunity for Bush and help him exploit the sentimentalism for Reagan’s style of presidency, very attractive not just to Republicans but to many independent voters.
When I would mention this to groups, everyone would say that they agreed that Reagan’s death might have an impact. Walter Shapiro was the one friend who told me that it would have no impact because most of the country already thought of Reagan as gone. When I was in Florence, Italy this summer at a forum organized by Georgetown University — I gave the same line of reasoning to Rik Hertzberg of The New Yorker who was there — and he got it and may have written this up I think. Unfortunately, Ronald Reagan died the very next morning.
The Kerry response should have been to try and exploit a divide among Republicans over what Reagan’s legacy means today. To some degree, there is a battle between Reagan’s foreign policy acolytes, but a far broader set of civil wars could have been cultivated by Kerry’s team. Instead, Kerry’s campaign went dark during Reagan’s memorial week, and as shows, Bush’s popularity stopped falling and he began climbing in the polls.
This election is far from over, but Kerry should have found a couple of good things to say about Reagan and then make those in Republican circles fight a bit over what Reagan really meant to the country. He should have embraced David Catania — the rebellious gay Republican member of the Washington D.C. City Council who defected from Bush’s side over the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment. He should be talking about stem cell politics in this country and how America cannot afford to point itself in a Dark Ages, anti-science direction.
If this election is going to be driven by shocks and events, then the only way Kerry can beat Bush is by creating some of his own “shock and awe.” That is possible in six weeks.
— Steve Clemons