Friday, October 08, 2004

Debate Preview

I wait with great anticipation to see whether these rumours of DNC ringers in the debate audience will pan out (hat tip to Allah). Regardless of the audience composition, I think Bush needs to focus on two objectives in order to build on Dick Cheney's great performance on Tuesday. Both objectives require Bush to stay on offense tonight.

First, Bush needs to attack Kerry on the so-called "Global Test." Kerry has tried to spin this gaffe away, but it needs to be hammered again and again by Bush. The idea of submitting U.S. defense interests to ANY sort of international approval is a clearcut loser with most voters. Bush must ignore Kerry's spin about how the comment was out of context and Kerry's accusations of distortion and misleading. Bush need only quote Kerry's own words:

No president, though all of American history, has ever ceded, and nor would I, the right to preempt in any way necessary to protect the United States of America.

But if and when you do it, Jim, you have to do it in a way that passes the test, that passes the global test where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you're doing what you're doing and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons.

Bush should tie the "Global Test" in with the Duelfer Report findings which clearly state that the very nations Kerry would have in charge of administering his test were totally complicit in enabling Saddam and violating the U.N. sanctions on Iraq in exchange for lucrative oil vouchers.

The second objective Bush should have in the debate tonight is to attack Kerry's twenty year Senate record. This was also done quite effectively by Cheney, and Bush started in as well on Wednesday. Much as Kerry cannot hide or obscure his "Global Test" comments, he cannot obscure the fact that his record shows him to be lazy (poor attendance at committee meetings, especially post-9/11), unproductive (no major legislation with his name as sponsor), and dangerously naive regarding national security (votes against major weapons systems). Especially damning is Kerry's vote against the Gulf War in 1991, which puts the lie to his requirement of needing a "broad" coalition before using military force.

Bush should not spend much time responding to Kerry's barbs tonight. He needs to build on the strong performance by Cheney and give his campaign more momentum heading into the final weeks before the election. He should also keep in mind the advice of General George S. Patton: "A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week."

For Kerry to come out of this debate with a win, two things need to happen. First, George Bush must have a repeat of his primarily defensive performance from last week, allowing Kerry to control the direction of the debate. Second, Kerry must not make any new gaffes along the line of his "Global Test" comment. I suspect that the first will not happen because Bush will not allow it to happen. I suspect that Kerry will fail in the second instance, because I don't believe that Kerry truly believes he committed a gaffe, but that his actual core belief (if you can believe he has any) is that the United States should submit itself to international approval on matters of national security. To paraphrase Cheney, tough talk in a debate cannot obscure a 30 year record.

For these reasons, and against conventional wisdom, I give the edge going into the debate tonight to Bush. More to come during and after the debate.