NEW YORK – A second Bush administration may not be as dynamic as the first, as the White House will have to work on sorting out Iraq and will be hemmed in on domestic priorities due to a tight budget with little flexibility, said political experts and Republican politicians.
Appearing at New York University Law School (search), the group of speakers in town for the Republican National Convention said America’s military commitments in Iraq will likely preclude another major military action, and while Bush is likely to promote major domestic priorities, limited funding may not allow for significant initiatives.
Such a second term would follow the historical model for second terms, which are generally slower-paced. As these speakers tried to lay out a roadmap for what the next four years will look like, they warned that neither candidate has offered much detail.
“Both candidates have been extremely unrevealing about what the next term will be like,” said David Gergen, director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University (search).
“Whoever governs in the next four years is going to find it a tough presidency. The problems facing the incoming president are daunting,” Gergen said, citing the ongoing War on Terror.
On Thursday, Bush addresses the Republican convention, and is expected to outline some of the major initiatives his second administration would pursue. Analysts said despite the relatively limited amount of information to date, some indicators reveal how Bush would govern.
“We already know the basic approach he wants to take on his foreign policy legacy,” said Maura Reynolds, White House correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. “He wants to be a realist in Iraq and an idealist in the Middle East.”
Reynolds explained that she expected Bush to set limited, achievable goals in Iraq such as holding elections, while outlining sweeping hopes for freedom and democracy across the region. As part of the Greater Middle East Initiative (search), diplomacy, not the military would be used to pressure governments to become freer, she said.
But future military action in this region is unlikely, said Arizona Senator Jon Kyl (search). The military "is not a tool that can be used in Iran and Saudi Arabia … The options for using military force will be relatively slim."
Despite the constraints, Kyl said Bush is unlikely to back down from new initiatives relating to the War on Terror.
“His tendencies are to be bold and that argues for a more bold and forward leaning foreign policy,” Kyl said.
Foreign policy was not expected to be a major part of the Bush agenda in 2000, and the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks demonstrated how hard it is to predict the future foreign policy landscape.
“We’re not dealing with a static situation,” said former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson (search). “We may be dealing with a very different area from Iraq or the Middle East.”
Although Bush believes his legacy lies in foreign policy, according to Reynolds, he would like to do more on education, health care and social security, but he faces serious spending constraints.
Kyl said Bush will still propose "a couple of key domestic agenda items.” He cited consolidation of tax cuts, health care legislation and furthering the president’s “vision of an ownership society” through tax-free savings accounts and increased accessibility to homeownership.
If Bush follows this model of continuing initiatives launched in the first term, but adding relatively few new ones, he would be sticking with tradition, Gergen said.
But Gergen also saw potential pitfalls. Second-term presidents and their staff tend to be overcome by hubris.
"You feel that you’ve beaten the other side twice in a row … and you make mistakes as a result.
“Second term tends to be one of flagging energy. Many of the things you originally wanted to do in the office, you did in the first term,” he said.
Gergen added that history offers this rough lesson. There is “a tendency, unfortunately, for scandal to hit the second term.” He cited Bill Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky scandal, Ronald Reagan’s Iran Contra and Richard Nixon’s Watergate.