Without question, Bush’s bad-hair night in Miami last week has cost him in the polls. His lead is shrinking — but he still has a lead.
On the reliable pay-to-play Internet polls, Bush stock took a hit. Tradesport.com has Bush over Kerry by $60 to $40, down from $70 to $30 before the debate. On the Iowa Electronic Market, the lead is 60 cents for Bush to 44 cents for Kerry. The Bush price was above 65 cents prior to the debate.
Monday’s Gallup poll shows the two candidates tied at 49 percent among likely voters. However, on who would do a better job in Iraq, Bush still leads 51 to 44 percent. On who would do a better job against terrorism, Bush is ahead 56 to 39 percent. And as to who is a stronger leader, Bush is favored by 56 to 37 percent.
According to Scott Rasmussen, Bush leads Kerry 49 to 46 percent based on a post-debate survey of 3,000 likely voters. Columnist Michael Barone points out an interesting Rasmussen question: Should we be using more, the same, or less military force in Iraq? Overall, 65 percent (after the debate) want the same or more military force. Among Bush voters the number rises to 88 percent. Among Kerry voters the number drops to 53 percent.
Over the weekend there was an interesting article by national security columnist Jack Kelly, who writes for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Toledo Blade. Kelly interviewed a French Arabist named Gilles Kepel who thinks the followers of Osama bin Laden are losing badly. There is no “grand diversion.” The radical Islamists failed to achieve their goal of seizing power in Muslim lands. Since September 11, 2001, they have suffered a string of major defeats.
“The Taliban has been ousted in Afghanistan,” writes Kelly. “Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have turned towards the West. Islamists in Sudan and Libya are in retreat. . . . The Americans are in Baghdad.” In other words, the wartime situation is not a “colossal error” as Sen. Kerry would have us believe. In fact, while Osama is holed up in a bunker someplace, estimates are that 75 percent of his followers have been killed or captured.
Nor is the Iraq war an “incredible mess.” Iraqi and U.S. coalition forces have taken back the Sunni triangle city of Samarra. Attacks on Fallujah are being stepped up. Iraqi troops are doing more of the heavy lifting. In reality there are no more than 10,000 insurgent troops in Iraq, and maybe as few as 5,000. They will be no match for the U.S. military coalition. Fifteen of the eighteen provinces in Iraq are stabilized and preparing for elections. Local elections are already occurring in the country. Influential Shiite cleric Al-Sistani is now 100 percent in favor of holding elections. Ditto for the Kurds.
The gruesome tactics of the terrorists in Iraq — kidnappings, beheadings, suicide bombings — are desperate actions aimed at harming Iraqis. These deeds are fostering deep Iraqi resentment, anger, and opposition toward the insurgents. That is one reason why there are more volunteers for the Iraqi police, National Guard, and army than there are training slots available.
Rowan Scarborough of the Washington Times reports that Iraqi phone subscribers are up to 91 percent of pre-war levels, that oil production is ahead of 2.5 million barrels per day, that a draft voter list is compiled, and that voter registration will begin shortly.
Friday night, in the townhall debate in St. Louis, it is essential that President Bush hammer away at U.S. successes in the global war. He must also emphasize the accomplishments of homeland security. Most important, he must link the two. The U.S. hasn’t been attacked in three years. Hundreds of plots around the country have been foiled. New York subways were never closed during the Republican convention, as Kerry alleged in Miami. But a plot to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge was in fact pre-empted. Actually, a big victory for homeland security was that both the Republican and Democratic conventions were terrorist-free events. That’s what happens when terrorists are engaged on their turf rather than our turf.
At the next debate, Bush will have ample opportunity to regroup and hammer all this home. He must emphasize that there will be no “global test” when it comes to defending America. He should also insist that nuclear bunker-busting weapons, which Kerry is against, are essential to this war. So is a missile defense system, also opposed by Kerry.
Presidential leadership is about optimism and there are numerous hard-headed real-time facts to support a reasonably optimistic view in 2004. If Bush seizes the moment in St. Louis this Friday, maybe he can reclaim some needlessly lost ground.
— Larry Kudlow, NRO’s Economics Editor, is CEO of Kudlow & Co. and host with Jim Cramer of CNBC’s Kudlow & Cramer.