Primaries and the Incumbent President

Matt Lewis
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Posted: Apr 27, 2007 8:22 AM

A link from the Washington Post reads: In First Democratic Debate, Bush Loses.

No doubt.

I can trace the moment the wheels started to come off of Bush's popularity. It wasn't when the 2000 election was decided by the Supreme Court, and it wasn't because Bush failed to "bring us all together" after 9-11. It was in 2003, when Democrats started debating during their primary campaigns. Initially, they were tentative and afraid to attack Iraq. Then, Howard Dean started gaining traction -- and attacking folks like Joe Lieberman -- who supported the war. Next think you knew, they were outdoing themselves in attacking Bush.

Meanwhile, because Bush (as the incumbent president) had no primary opponent, he did not respond or defend his record (probably thinking it would be best to let them fight it out themselves). Though Bush ended up beating Kerry in '04, he would never regain the popularity that he had before the Democrats had a year's-worth of relentless and daily unanswered attacks.

In politics, they say you should leave no shot unanswered, but, during the 2003 Democrat Primary, Bush allowed the Democrats to frame the debate. I would argue that the results of 2006 were actually planted in 2003.

Who lost the 2003 Democrat debates?  George W. Bush.

It all started again last night with the Democrats debate. The difference, of course, this time, is that the Republicans will also be choosing a nominee. But it is unclear whether or not these Republicans will defend -- or distance themselves -- from Bush. Will he be hurt by another primary season? It's hard to imagine it could get any worse ...