The interruption of Bush's momentum conflicted with the meticulously planned national convention. Sen. John McCain delivered an effective argument for the war in Iraq, and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani explained the war on terror more effectively than the president has ever managed to do. Ironically, in a tightly managed convention, any slipup -- however small -- is magnified out of proportion.
That the mistake was viewed with alarm by the Bush political high command was signified Tuesday when the president was not content to correct himself to the American Legion. He rapidly moved to explain himself to Rush Limbaugh's huge listening audience. When the conservative talk show host promptly asked about the Lauer interview, the president replied: "Well, I appreciate you bringing that up. Listen, I should have made my point more clear about what I meant."
But why on earth didn't he make his point more clearly? In privately confessing that the president made a mistake, his own aides do not go deeper into why he erred. In the Lauer interview, Bush gives the impression that he was not concentrating on one of his final pre-convention interviews, acting as if he really were bored by the process. He obviously meant to say, as he did the next day, that "we may never sit down at a peace table." Instead, he hurried over and blurred the well-rehearsed explanation.
The lesson for Bush strategists and other Republican politicians is that George W. Bush is no John F. Kennedy who can nonchalantly respond to reporters' questions. At his best, Bush is tightly disciplined in giving answers that have been carefully prepared. He had answered Lauer's question many times before but chose not to Monday, a loss of concentration he will repeat at his own risk in the next two months.