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As Bush Falters, Watch Hill Run
By Dick Morris


July 25, 2003
Friday - 12:05 am


George W. Bush's job approval ratings are dropping a point every other week. Most polls now have his support down in the high or mid-50s. Pollster John Zogby has them at 53 percent - a huge drop from the low 70s he was registering just two months ago.

The lower Bush drops, the more likely it is that Hillary Clinton runs for president in 2004. She and her husband cannot permit a Democrat not named Clinton to beat Bush in '04. If one does, she can't run in '08 against an incumbent Democratic president. She'd have to wait until 2012, by which time she would be 65 and out of the White House for 12 years. The weaker Bush gets, the more likely a Hillary Clinton candidacy becomes.

One can imagine the breakfast table conversation in Chappaqua. President Clinton will say "remember how Mario Cuomo decided that my predecessor, George H.W. Bush, couldn't be beaten and didn't run? Remember how I did?"

The analogy will be most on point. Like Hillary in 2004, Cuomo could easily have won the nomination in 1992. By staying out, he left the door open for Bill Clinton much as Hillary may be opening it for another Democrat this year.

But the historical parallel that rings most true is buried deeper in New York and American history. In 1968, Robert F. Kennedy, also a carpetbag senator from New York, resisted running for president against Lyndon Johnson. Convinced that he could not defeat an incumbent chief executive from his own party, Kennedy refused to take the president on. Then, an obscure Senator from Minnesota, Eugene McCarthy, showed how vulnerable Johnson was by scoring well in the New Hampshire primary. Kennedy, seeing his chance for the White House slip away, jumped into the race to challenge Johnson. Freaked, LBJ withdrew a few weeks later.

If Hillary ran, she'd march, almost unopposed, to the nomination. Every candidate but Edwards and Dean is funding his campaign with donors borrowed from the Clinton organization.

Would she run? It would depend on how low and how fast Bush sinks. If he remains in free fall until September and October and his ratings drop below 50 percent, Hillary will be itching to go.

How can Bush keep her out? How can he reverse the slide?

The superficial reason for his drop is the idea that he "lied" to us in the State of the Union speech. The more serious reason, lying underneath, is the drip-drip-drip of casualties in Iraq. Public opinion in the U.S. is not willing to lose lives in pursuit of what Bush once derided as "nation-building."

But the most fundamental reason for Bush's drop is his own success. Recent polls show terrorism down below 10 percent as a major issue. By his success in facing down domestic terrorism and in winning the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he has done himself out of his best issue.

The solution?

  • Focus on the Palestinian-Israeli talks and emphasize that no cease-fire would have been possible while Saddam Hussein was still writing checks to suicide bombers.
  • Don't leave Iran to the United Nations or the International Atomic Energy Agency. Intervene directly. Increase financial pressure on Tehran and move its incipient nuclear capacity to center stage in foreign policy.
  • Play a more active and visible role in dealing with North Korea. As long as there is a perceived threat to our security from terrorist nations, the American people will never vote for an untested president.
  • Don't go on vacation, as much as Bush deserves one. Instead, focus on passing a Medicare prescription-drug benefit and forcing the sides to compromise.

The White House needs to remember that it doesn't have a year to improve Bush's popularity. Hillary will decide in the next four months whether to run.

Dick Morris was an adviser to Bill Clinton for 20 years. Morris is a political consultant, commentator and best selling author. Look for his newest book, "Power Plays" available now and look for Dick's new book, "Off With Their Heads - Traitors, Crooks & Obstructionists In American Politics".


Copyright 2003 Dick Morris
Distributed by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. to subscribers for publication.


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