By Dick Morris
August 06, 2003
In 1968, a carpetbag senator from New York pondered a race to unseat an incumbent president. Determined to capitalize on his family name, raised to mythic proportions by his relative's tenure in the White House, he judged, nevertheless, that his time had not yet come and that he should wait for four more years to venture out and run on his own.
But along came an unknown candidate who saw the vulnerability of the incumbent and mounted a campaign driven by the left-wing activists of the anti-war movement. With the president's strength more apparent than real and Americans chafing under the daily dose of combat casualties, the unknown candidate gathered momentum and support. With each passing week, the incumbent president seemed more and more vulnerable.
Fearing that the train was leaving the station without him, the famous senator hastily revised his plans and jumped into the '68 presidential contest and led a national crusade to oust the incumbent. The unknown but venturesome candidate was shunted aside, and the senator mounted what promised to be a formidable challenge before it was cut short by a bullet.
Will the role Robert F. Kennedy was preparing for be played by Hillary Rodham Clinton, Lyndon Johnson by George W. Bush and Eugene McCarthy by Howard Dean? As that famous philosopher Yogi Berra said, "It's déjà vu all over again."
Bill and Hillary Clinton have one central idea in their uncluttered, ambitious minds: Hillary in 2008. Let Bush get re-elected, use the '04 primaries and general election to clean out the underbrush of competing Democratic candidates, and proceed unimpeded to the '08 nomination. Use the book tours to build support and popularity, but let somebody else take the fall in 2004.
But those well-laid plans would go awry if somebody else beats Bush.
With a Democrat in the White House certain to seek a second term in 2008, Hillary would have to wait until 2012 to run. By then, she'll be 65 and have been out of power for 12 years. The bloom will have faded and the honors gone elsewhere. So as Bush continues his descent in the polls, the chance that Hillary will run becomes ever greater.
The most recent polls put Bush's job approval at 58 percent but, ominously, indicate that only 47 percent would vote for him against a hypothetical Democratic candidate. Forty-seven percent is just about what Bush won in 2000. And how committed could the top 11 percent of his backers be to say that they approve of the job he's doing but won't necessarily vote for him?
Although the economy will improve and one hopes Bush will find a way out to stop the killings in Iraq, the larger reason for the collapse of his ratings is the decline of terrorism as the major issue facing America. Once, more than 50 percent cited it in verbatim questions, but now less than 10 percent do. Like many presidents before him - and like Churchill in 1945 - Bush is the victim of his own success, eradicating the issue that propped him up in the polls by solving it.
The president has skillfully moved to preempt such Democratic issues as the Medicare prescription drug benefit, generic drugs and racial profiling and has made taxes a key issue for the '04 contest by sunsetting his tax cuts, but he still lacks a key domestic issue to use in ginning up his support. I have always felt that immigration reform to keep out terrorists and drug testing to cut demand to dry up the funding for narco-terrorists would serve him well, but so far, he hasn't moved to take up that or any other such issue.
If Bush continues to drop and one or more Democrats start to catch fire, Hillary Clinton will have some thinking to do. She won't have to look far to absorb the consequences of sitting on the sidelines. If 1968 is a distant recollection, 1992 would be doubtless more vivid. Bill Clinton got the nomination because Mario Cuomo decided not to run. Cuomo, figuring Bush couldn't be defeated, elected to wait, as Hillary is waiting in 2004, calculating that Bush can't be taken. Will Hillary remember 1968... and 1992?
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".
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