12:01 a.m. PT: Sigh. I really didn't want to have to write this.
George W. Bush is going to win re-election. Yeah, the lawyers will haggle about Ohio. But this time, Democrats don't have the popular vote on their side. Bush does.
If you're a Bush supporter, this is no surprise. You love him, so why shouldn't everybody else?
But if you're dissatisfied with Bush—or if, like me, you think he's been the worst president in memory—you have a lot of explaining to do. Why don't a majority of voters agree with us? How has Bush pulled it off?
I think this is the answer: Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.
Bush is a very simple man. You may think that makes him a bad president, as I do, but lots of people don't—and there are more of them than there are of us. If you don't believe me, take a look at those numbers on your TV screen.
Think about the simplicity of everything Bush says and does. He gives the same speech every time. His sentences are short and clear. "Government must do a few things and do them well," he says. True to his word, he has spent his political capital on a few big ideas: tax cuts, terrorism, Iraq. Even his electoral strategy tonight was powerfully simple: Win Florida, win Ohio, and nothing else matters. All those lesser states—Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Hampshire—don't matter if Bush reels in the big ones.
This is what so many people like about Bush's approach to terrorism. They forgive his marginal and not-so-marginal screw-ups, because they can see that fundamentally, he "gets it." They forgive his mismanagement of Iraq, because they see that his heart and will are in the right place. And while they may be unhappy about their economic circumstances, they don't hold that against him. What you and I see as unreflectiveness, they see as transparency. They trust him.
Now look at your candidate, John Kerry. What quality has he most lacked? Not courage—he proved that in Vietnam. Not will—he proved that in Iowa. Not brains—he proved that in the debates. What Kerry lacked was simplicity. Bush had one message; Kerry had dozens. Bush had one issue; Kerry had scores. Bush ended his sentences when you expected him to say more; Kerry went on and on, adding one prepositional phrase after another, until nobody could remember what he was talking about. Now Bush has two big states that mean everything, and Kerry has a bunch of little ones that add up to nothing.
If you're a Democrat, here's my advice. Do what the Republicans did in 1998. Get simple. Find a compelling salesman and get him ready to run for president in 2008. Put aside your quibbles about preparation, stature, expertise, nuance, and all that other hyper-sophisticated garbage that caused you to nominate Kerry. You already have legions of people with preparation, stature, expertise, and nuance ready to staff the executive branch of the federal government. You don't need one of them to be president. You just need somebody to win the White House and appoint them to his administration. And that will require all the simplicity, salesmanship, and easygoing humanity they don't have.