IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING how the New York Times would size up the Bush reelection campaign, we now have an answer: Hubris.
The charge is leveled twice in an article in yesterday's Times. Richard Stevenson and Adam Nagourney report that the Bush campaign is laying the groundwork for a get out the vote effort of unprecedented thoroughness, and that the campaign has deep pockets to pay for it--$80 million on hand already and perhaps as much as $170 million by the end of winter.
Bush's well-heeled campaign will be positioned to carve up the Democratic nominee, who will emerge bruised and bloodied from his party's nomination fight. And with such an advantage, the president's political team must see a glittering victory down the line--right?
Well, not just yet.
Karl Rove, the president's chief political strategist, told the Times: "We expect it to be a hard-fought, close election in a country narrowly divided. When a Democratic nominee is finally selected, our expectation is that it could be a close and hard-fought race."
Odd, then, that the article includes this analysis several paragraphs later: "[Republicans'] harsh characterization of the [Democratic] field . . . seems to have fed confidence bordering on hubris in Mr. Bush's camp when polls might suggest reason for worry."
Certainly Rove's comment contradicts the authors' claim. Do they have anything else?
Only this from Ed Gillespie, the chairman of the Republican National Committee: "Each of [the Democratic candidates] has relative strengths and weaknesses, but happily for us, in each case the relative weaknesses outweigh the relative strengths."
Haughty stuff indeed.
And moments later the Times' writers offer further evidence against their own charge:
[U]ncertain about how events might shape the race over the next year, and always remembering the fall from political grace experienced by Mr. Bush's father, campaign officials said they were taking nothing for granted.
"The country is closely divided, we'll have an opponent who will run an aggressive campaign and who will be well funded," said Ken Mehlman, Mr. Bush's campaign manager.
That seems to be downright gentlemanly.
But Stevenson and Nagourney don't give up: "To a large extent, though, this is a confident campaign, and its assuredness reflects its assessment that the Democrats have produced a weak field. Mr. Gillespie ticked through the candidates in an interview, offering an often disdainful critique."
The "disdainful" critiques? Gillespie says Wesley Clark "is flopping all over the deck" on the war issue; John Edwards has "shown himself to be fairly light as a candidate"; John Kerry is "pretty wishy-washy"; and Howard Dean is unelectable outside his party. Each of those assessments has made its way through the mainstream media.
Finally, Gillespie ends his assessment with this: "Anyone who emerges as the Democratic nominee is a viable candidate. They'll have emerged from a group of 10 so they'll have to have done something right."
Hubris? It sounds like Gillespie is simply doing what party chairmen do--pointing out why the other party's candidates can't win (while admitting that they may put up a good fight). Meanwhile, everyone else associated with the Bush campaign bends over backwards to talk about how tight the race will be.
But it's a ploy, you see. For the Bush team is simply "guarding against hubris," the Times tells us near the end of the article--a nice example of "we can't prove it but we know it's there" journalism. Whatever the Bushies' official line is, the reporters at the New York Times are sure that hubris lurks in their hearts.
Ed Walsh is a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush.
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