The Bush Factor

Dana Goldstein remarks after watching the Republicans debate that they "are terrified of the words 'George W. Bush.' A smart Democrat would force her or his Republican opponent to face up, as often as possible, to the legacy of his party's leader."

Quite so. Which is one reason why it's probably a good thing for the Republicans that their race is being shaken up a bit by somewhat unorthodox candidates. It's also why the Democratic nominee is going to have to be prepared to mount an ideological critique of Bush and Bushism rather than a purely personal one. One will want to argue "Bush was President, all this terrible stuff happened that made him incredibly unpopular, that stuff followed from his ideology, Republican X shares the relevant aspects of that ideology, therefore if you hate Bush, don't vote for Republican X."

In particular, I think Democrats need to worry about a possible Republican blurring strategy on Iraq especially if the Democratic nominee voted for the war. On a political level, "incompetence dodge" arguments suggest that what's needed isn't a different approach to foreign policy but a president with better "strong leader" attributes, which is a place where Rudy Giuliani and John McCain both rate pretty well. Bush's onpopularity is bound to be a drag on the GOP one way or the other, but you can see in the early head-to-head polling that dislike of the incumbent doesn't automatically transfer to the rest of his party.