EDITOR’S NOTE: This article will appear in the September 13, 2004, issue of National Review.
If the Democrats win the White House, it will be because liberals are more worried about a reelected Bush than conservatives are about a President Kerry. Conservatives have various complaints about President Bush: He has imposed some tariffs. He has increased spending in general, and especially expanded Medicare. You know the list. And conservatives figure that they do not have much to fear from Kerry, who will almost certainly have to contend with a Republican Congress. These considerations will not lead conservatives to vote for Kerry, but might lead enough of them to stay home in November to give him the election.
Kerry appears to have no similar problem in getting his supporters to their polling places. Many of them think that Bush’s reelection would be, roughly speaking, the end of the world. They may not be enthralled by Kerry, but hostility to Bush will do the work that affection for their candidate will not. So Kerry is free to win over undecided voters while Bush has to tend his base. Even if Bush succeeds in getting conservatives to turn out for him, the need to spend time courting them may cost him the election.
If Kerry wins, however, I suspect that conservatives will come to regret their relative complacency about this election. The prevailing assumption on both sides of the partisan divide has been that liberals and Democrats have more at stake this year than conservatives and Republicans: Only the former might get shut out of national power if Bush wins. “The Right keeps the House, the Right keeps the Senate,” exults conservative activist Grover Norquist. The assumption that liberals have more at stake may not, however, be correct.
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