It is not too early to consider the themes of President Bush's reelection campaign. Incumbent presidents usually announce their major initiatives in the January State of the Union Address of the re-election year. That speech is in penultimate form by Christmas and its outline is usually agreed upon by the late autumn. The quiet month of August is an excellent time for the president's senior strategists to start batting around different concepts.
The temptation of most incumbent presidents who are reasonably popular by the third year is not to raise any controversial issues in the campaign year. In the lead-up to Ronald Reagan's 1984 re-election bid, his advisors fought over precisely this point. We Reaganites (I was then on Reagan's White House staff) argued for a big domestic initiative that would create a mandate for second-term action, recognizing that it might cost him 5 percent of the popular vote. The pragmatists argued for a soft theme that would maximize the vote. They won. As did Reagan, with almost 60 percent of the vote. His theme was Morning in America. As it turned out, history gave Ronald Reagan his second-term mission in the form of finally killing off the evil Soviet Empire. But running on first-term accomplishments is a deceptively dangerous strategy. Electorates reasonably ask "What are you going to do for us tomorrow?" as Winston Churchill rudely found out in 1945, when his heroic war leadership was insufficient to win him the first post-war election.
Of course, in some form, peace and prosperity (either gaining them or sustaining them) are always the overarching themes of presidential elections (with the challenger always adding 'throw the bum out' to his theme package). But below such generalizations, presidential candidates usually champion large caliber program proposals as the means for gaining peace and prosperity (e.g., peace through strength, across-the-board tax cuts, etc.) Whatever the program being proposed, it needs to meet two criteria: (1) it must be big enough to affect most voters, with at least the possibility of appealing to a majority of the public, and (2) it should not offend the candidates' loyal base of voters.
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.
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