George Bush and the Gore Hat Trick

· 2004 Election

Watching SNL last night, it’s really looking like Bush is setting himself up to repeat the Gore hat trick, which goes roughly like this:
Debate 1, surprise everyone by being exceptionally bad in an easy-to-imitate and easy-to-dislike sort of way.
Debate 2, be not quite so bad, but change gears from Debate 1 so dramatically that everyone notices and scratches their heads. If at all possible, have persona number two be equally easy-to-imitate and easy-to-dislike.
Great, now pause briefly over the weekend to watch yourself get brutalized on SNL in a skit that neatly captures all this badness.
That’s where we are today. Last night, SNL savaged Bush while leaving Kerry basically untouched. Savaged. Meanwhile, the tone of their one big Kerry joke (basically him saying “I can’t stop talking”) struck me as borderline warm and fuzzy. You could see the change in tone from just the week before, when the jokes fell about 50/50. Bush is turning into the butt of jokes. Sure, all presidents are the butt of jokes. And he’s been ridiculed for eons now on The Daily Show and such. But this is different. Like Gore, he’s becoming a figure of ridicule.
So here comes Debate 3 on Wednesday. Back in 2000, many felt Gore actually found his voice by Debate 3. But it was too late. He got thumped for changing his style yet again. And for many, the sense that he was laughable (the opposite of presidential) stuck through Election Day.
Now Bush faces a similar problem. Who will show up to the next debate? Will we get Smirky Bush? Or President Shouts-a-lot? A third approach, I think we all expect. Maybe even a better approach. But as we saw with Gore, it’s awfully late in the game to be trying out new personalities on the national stage. All the more so for a candidate whose campaign is hinged on the pitch that he’s the model of consistency.