The theory behind Bush's hard-line style of governance came from his chief political adviser, Karl Rove. Rove believed that Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 because millions of conservatives stayed home. He believed that Bush's father lost the 1992 election by alienating the right and creating a Republican primary challenge by Pat Buchanan. So, on issue after issue, the current President Bush has played to his base. On Rove's theory, every step to the right earns Bush another conservative vote.
That calculation is correct. But it's only half the story. For every conservative voter who's inspired to turn out for Bush because of his unyielding conservatism, there's a liberal voter who's inspired to turn out for Kerry. That's why Kerry has had no trouble uniting his party after the primaries. It's why the FleetCenter exploded tonight at every one of Kerry's applause lines. And it's why Kerry can now move aggressively to the middle without fear of losing the left.
In his determination to unite the right, Bush hasn't just united the left. He has lost the center. Look at last week's New York Times/CBS News poll of registered voters. "Do you think the result of the war with Iraq was worth the loss of American life and other costs of attacking Iraq or not?" Fifty-nine percent say it was not. "Which do you think is a better way to improve the national economy—cutting taxes or reducing the federal budget deficit?" Fifty-eight percent say reducing the deficit. "When it comes to regulating the environmental and safety practices of business, do you think the federal government is doing enough, should it do more, or should it do less?" Fifty-nine percent say more.
One more Bush voter on the right, balanced by one more Kerry voter on the left, plus the tilting of one more voter in the middle toward Kerry, is a net loss for the president. That's the lesson of this administration, this election, and this convention. Kerry doesn't have to write any good lines. He just has to read them.