President Bush has caught the “Big Mo” and with perfect timing, too.
Much in politics rides on momentum–who’s hot and when. But momentum is especially crucial in close campaigns that can cut either way at the end. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean found that out in this year’s Democratic primaries. He led the race for weeks as John Kerry, the initial frontrunner, slumped. But, then, boosted by a liberal media establishment that brutally turned on Dean, Kerry bounced back and picked off the nomination by peaking just in time for the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.
Despite being battered all year by the liberal press, President Bush began catching a wave even before last week’s Republican National Convention. An ABC/Washington Post poll completed August 29 indicated that August had seen a tectonic shift in the campaign. The month started with Kerry leading Bush, 50% to 44%, among registered voters. It finished with Bush leading Kerry, 48% to 47%.
Nor did the Bush campaign squander its momentum in New York. This may have been the most optimistic national GOP gathering since 1988–when then-Vice President George H.W. Bush began his remarkable comeback against another Massachusetts liberal, Michael Dukakis.
The Bush campaign delivered a disciplined message in New York, and the hysterical response it instantly elicited from the Democrats and their allies in the media demonstrated that the message had real power. The message was this: John Kerry is a craven flip-flopper with a long record of opposing a strong national defense who cannot be trusted to serve as commander in chief in a post-9/11 world where America is gravely threatened by terrorism.
Most primetime convention speakers hammered this theme home. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani put it in the context of his personal experiences around 9/11. Sen. Zell Miller put it in the direct and passionate terms of a conservative Democrat who has been abandoned by his own party on the all-important issue of national security.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger did it with wit. “Speaking of acting, one of my movies was called ‘True Lies,'” said Schwarzenegger. “It’s what the Democrats should have called their convention.”
It was left to Vice President Dick Cheney to crystallize the issue in his typical matter-of-fact way. “Senator Kerry’s liveliest disagreement is with himself,” said Cheney. “His back-and-forth reflects a habit of indecision, and sends a message of confusion. And it is all part of a pattern. He has, in the last several years, been for the No Child Left Behind Act and against it. He has spoken in favor of the North American Free Trade Agreement and against it. He is for the Patriot Act and against it. Senator Kerry says he sees two Americas. It makes the whole thing mutual: America sees two John Kerrys.”
If Republicans can stay on message for the next two months, it is a good bet a majority of Americans will see there is only one choice for President. And it isn’t either of the Kerrys.