The Bush-Obama plan that gives Biden hope for the 24th | ET REALITY


Long before Election Day 2004, strategists warned President George W. Bush that he would face a tough campaign battle because of voter angst over the war in Iraq and the economy, two issues he had once hoped to carry. to a second term. .

Bush’s advisers moved quickly to restructure the campaign. They diverted attention from the president and his record and set out to portray his likely Democratic opponent, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, a Vietnam War veteran, as a flip-flop, untrustworthy on national security and incapable of lead a nation still reeling from the terrorist attacks of September 11.

“We saw a weakness that we knew we could exploit to our advantage in what was going to be a close election,” said Karl Rove, a former Bush political adviser.

Eight years later, advisers to another sitting president, Barack Obama, reviewing public and private polls, concluded that concern among voters about the lingering effects of the Great Recession and the direction of the nation could derail his hopes for a second term.

Taking a lesson from Bush, Obama reframed his campaign away from his first-term record and set out to discredit his opponent, Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, as a wealthy businessman unsympathetic to working-class Americans.

President Biden is not the first president during this era of division and polarization to face polling data suggesting his re-election was at risk. But the reelection campaigns launched by Bush and Obama, who returned for a second term in the White House, today serve as a reminder that polls this early are not predictions of what will happen on Election Day. In the hands of an agile candidate, they can even be a roadmap to turn around a struggling campaign.

Bush and Obama were different candidates facing different obstacles: a war quagmire for Bush, a domestic economy shaken by the 2008 global financial crisis for Obama. But both moved to transform their reelection campaigns from a referendum on the incumbent to a contrast with an opponent they defined, with cutting television ads, months before either Romney or Kerry were nominated at their party conventions.

By contrast, a modern Republican president who lost his bid for a second term, George HW Bush in 1992, ignored polls showing voters worried about the economy and ready for change after 12 years of Republicans in office. White House.

Bush’s father, his advisers said in recent interviews, was numbed by praise for leading the coalition that ousted Saddam Hussein and Iraq from Kuwait, and by contempt for his opponent, a young Democratic governor who had avoided the draft and He had a history of extramarital affairs.

“Biden has a very high degree of difficulty, but I think the race is winnable,” said David Plouffe, who was a senior adviser to Obama’s re-election campaign. “Listen, I have sympathy for a sitting president or governor who says, ‘people need to know more about my accomplishments.’ That is true, but at the end of the day it is a comparative exercise. That’s the only thing we learned.”

The Biden White House has dismissed polls, including a New York Times/Siena College poll released last week, as meaningless long before Election Day. The president’s advisers pointed to Democratic gains in this month’s elections as evidence that the party and its standard-bearer are in good shape.

However, after months of trying to build on his economic record with few signs of success, Biden has begun to focus more attention on Donald J. Trump, the former Republican president and his likely opponent, particularly his policies on immigration and housing rights. abortion. . That includes an ad showing Trump lumbering across a golf course as the announcer said Trump pushed for tax cuts “for his rich friends” while U.S. automakers closed plants.

“We are absolutely looking for ways to help drive the conversation around Trump and MAGA as much as we can,” said Biden campaign spokesman Kevin Muñoz. But, Muñoz added, “we are in a different position than Obama and Bush. We had a very strong midterm election. We have had very strong special elections. “Our theory of the case was demonstrated again last Tuesday.”

Changing racial dynamics could prove more daunting for Biden than his predecessors. Obama and George W. Bush were able to discredit Romney and Kerry because voters, at this early stage in the general election campaign, didn’t know much about them.

But there’s not much the Biden campaign can tell voters about Trump that they don’t already know. (Or, in fact, there’s not much Biden can tell voters about Biden that they don’t already know.) And Trump, at least so far, has not paid a political cost for the kind of statements he made when he described his critics as “vermin,” something that previously might have derailed a more conventional candidate. So far, being charged with 91 criminal counts in four cases has only solidified his support.

When Bush’s campaign began planning his re-election, he was faced with poll numbers that, while not as disconcerting to the president as some that have come to light in recent weeks about Biden, were cause for concern. A poll by Pew Research Group found that 46 percent of respondents said Bush’s economic policies had made the economy worse and 39 percent said U.S. troops should return from Iraq as soon as possible; compared to 32 percent the previous month.

“We decided from the beginning that we wanted the election to be about national security, even though the economy was the number one issue,” said Matthew Dowd, the chief strategist for Bush’s 2004 campaign. Democrats on economic matters. And as part of that strategy, we wanted to define Kerry negatively on national security from the beginning, and as a weak and changeable leader in order to position Bush as a strong and strong leader on national security.”

Before long, the Bush campaign was on the air with ads attacking Kerry for pledging to repeal the Patriot Act, giving the federal government greater powers to go after terrorists. The Patriot Act was passed shortly after the 9/11 attacks with overwhelming support in Congress, including Kerry.

“John Kerry. Playing politics with national security,” said an announcer.

Eight years later, as Obama prepared his re-election campaign, many Americans told pollsters that the country was going in the wrong direction and that its financial situation was worse than before Obama took office. For example, a Washington Post/ABC News Poll found that three-quarters of Americans said the country was headed in the wrong direction.

Obama’s advisers studied the re-election campaigns of other troubled incumbent presidents. “We knew that most re-election campaigns were a referendum,” said Joel Benenson, who was the Obama team’s pollster. “We also knew we had this massive economic crisis that was absolutely not Obama’s fault. But we also knew that you are the sitting president and you can’t blame his predecessor for that. “We couldn’t convince them that the economy was improving.”

But Romney, he said, “wasn’t fully formed among voters,” which was an opportunity to highlight his wealth and portray him as someone whose policies would favor the wealthy.

By contrast, George HW Bush, his advisers said, ignored the warnings, confident that the near 90 percent voter approval rating he posted after the war in Kuwait made his re-election all but certain. “The adulation of the war sort of silenced the normal political instincts of many people close to the president,” said Ron Kaufman, who was a senior adviser to that campaign.

Rove said Biden was in worse shape today than Bush’s father was in 1992. “Bush seemed devoid of ideas for the future, but people saw him as an admirable human being,” Rove said. “The problem for Biden is that people have come to the conclusion that he is not up to the job: he is too old and lacks the necessary stamina and mental acuity.”

In recent polls conducted in five battleground states by The New York Times and Siena College, 71 percent of respondents said Biden was “too old” to be an effective president.

Plouffe said the Biden campaign should take advantage of the lesson the Obama campaign learned by studying Mr. Bush Sr.’s losing campaign. “Bush’s people tried to convince people that the economy was better than they thought,” he said. “One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t tell people what you think about the economy. “They will tell you what they think about the economy.”

“I would start every speech by saying, ‘America is facing an election, we’re both old white men,’” Plouffe said. “’But that’s where the similarities end.’”

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