Bush’s Attack Helps Obama

In the wake of George W. Bush’s thinly veiled attack on Barack Obama from Israel’s Knesset, in which the president aimed parallels between the appeasement of Nazi Germany and weakness on terror at the Illinois Senator, Democrats were enraged.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it, “beneath the dignity of office.” Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, never one to mince words, called it “bullsh*t.”

And while the Obama campaign expressed it’s own outrage, it may want to hold its fire: George Bush may have just given the Democrats enough ammunition to take the White House in November.

True, Bush’s comments were inflammatory. He raised the issue of Nazi Germany, mentioned the name of Adolph Hitler in- of all places- Israel. And while the setting and delivery might have come as somewhat of a shock to the political world, it’s substantively nothing new. In fact, a central focus of John McCain’s summer and fall campaign will be to paint Obama as being soft on terror. But the significance of Bush’s statements has less to do with what he said than it does with the fact that he said it at all.

In firing a salvo of his own, George W. Bush planted himself firmly in John McCain’s camp. Consider what kind of dead weight that is for the Arizona Senator: Bush’s approval rating stands at a paltry 27%. Essentially, the president put a target on McCain’s chest at which Obama can take aim.

Bush presented Obama with the opportunity to score points against McCain by attacking him. And let’s face it: when you’ve had the trouble Bush has had, and after the media has spent the last several years skewering everything from his handling of the Iraq War to his handling of the economy, it might not be too difficult.

Just a little more than a month ago, McCain was trying to put some distance in between himself and the current White House occupant. Back on April 1st, he defended his candidacy as his own. “I’m not running on the Bush presidency,” he told a group of reporters, “I’m running on my own service to the country, my own record in the House of Representatives, my own record in the Unites States Senate, and my vision for the future.” That doesn’t sound like someone who wants his fate tied to his predecessor.

What’s likely is that outside of the hero’s greeting he received at the White House when Bush gave him his official endorsement a few months back, McCain had probably intended to give the president a fairly minimal role in his campaign. It’s not unlike the way that Al Gore chose to eschew the incumbent during his 2000 run for fear of inheriting Clinton’s baggage in the post-Monica Lewinsky era. But even Clinton wasn’t that unpopular. When Clinton stepped out of the White House for the last time as president in January of 2001, his approval rating was at 56%, more than double where Bush stands today.

McCain’s prospects depend on the support of independents. Since day one of his campaign, that fact has never been in contention. It was his success with that group in New Hampshire that revived his faltering campaign, and the inclusion of independents in subsequent Republican primaries that allowed him to build that initial success into a runaway freight train to the GOP nomination. Bush is popular with avid Republicans and dyed-in-the-wool conservatives- not independents.


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