Back in the days of Bush the Elder, reporters used to like to talk about how absurdly competitive Poppy was -- how seriously, for instance, he would take a game of horseshoes. This was seen as comical, but also useful -- the guy who treated a simple backyard recreation like the seventh game of the World Series was the same guy who overcame a 17-point opinion-poll deficit against Michael Dukakis in a matter of months, in a presidential campaign that's still regarded, three full election cycles later, as the most vicious in modern history.
We tend to forget this whenever somebody decides to get in a Bush's face. We expect a big triumph. We overlook the fact that part of the horseshoe story is that the deep need to crush an opponent is a Bush family trait.
It's hard to beat one of the Bushes with a frontal assault. When directly confronted, Bushes turn vicious, like cornered rats. Richard Clarke tried, and they beat him until he was unrecognizable.
In big contests, two people managed to beat Poppy Bush -- Reagan in the '80 GOP primaries and Clinton in '92. Each of them did it with a smile. Neither one got really down and dirty with George.
There may be a lesson here for Kerry.