President Bush has been empowered with the largest presidential vote total in history, enjoys solid Republican majorities in the House and Senate and is advised by some of the shrewdest political operatives in the nation.
What can go wrong in Bush's second term? Lots, say experts. Here's a look at 10 major challenges likely to be faced by the victorious president:
1. Winning the peace in Iraq.
U.S. troops are racing to train thousands of Iraqi security force members and to jump-start that nation's economy to set the stage for a gradual withdrawal of 135,000 U.S. troops beginning next year.
But spreading insurgent terror is undermining public safety, reconstruction of infrastructure is maddeningly slow, and some experts say many more troops are needed to stabilize the country. A key test will come in late January, when national elections are scheduled.
2. Controlling Congress.
Just because Congress is run by the president's party doesn't mean it will be friendly. Just ask President Bill Clinton, who
found himself relentlessly criticized by leaders of a Democratic-majority Congress after his election in 1992.
Republicans have been packing pork barrel spending into legislation at a breathtaking pace during the first Bush term, a tendency that, if it continues, is likely to make it virtually impossible to get a growing federal budget deficit under control. Tom Coburn, a tough conservative from Oklahoma, won election to the Senate last week pledging to get tough on deficit spending.
It is possible that the Republican majorities in Congress could be split by intraparty squabbles. Early signs might appear in a few weeks when a special session of Congress is expected to vote on an emergency lifting of the federal debt ceiling.
3. Meeting a growing nuclear threat.
The United States and European powers appear to have been playing good cop-bad cop in their efforts to persaude Iran to give up what looks suspiciously like a program to develop nuclear weapons.
The Europeans have been promising nuclear fuel and other aid if the Iranians promise to stop processing nuclear material. The United States has been pushing for United Nations Security Council action. The Iranians have been scornful of both efforts, and there is growing concern about possible Israeli airstrikes on Iranian nuclear sites.
North Korea is further along in its nuclear program, and U.S. hopes that multiparty talks will get China to strong-arm its neighbor have not been realized.
4. Avoiding Supreme Court nomination battles.
There's a good chance that Bush will be called upon to nominate someone to fill the seat of ailing U.S. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, and possibly those of other older justices.
The president has signaled his supporters that he'll pick a conservative justice, possibly one who would favor increased abortion limits. Although Democrats in the Senate are in a minority, there will be enough of them to deny the 60 votes needed to clear the way for a full Senate vote on a presidential court nominee. Bush risks a bruising nomination fight that could give political ammunition to the Democrats or alienating his conservative political base.
5. Satisfying the Christian activists.
Conservative Christian activists are clamoring for renewed efforts to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which Bush has endorsed, and are suggesting legislation that would place fresh restraints on abortion, end restrictions on prayer in school and clear the way for increased federal aid to religious schools and charities.
How far the nation is willing to go to satisfy those requests remains an open question. Surveys indicate that most Americans favor a continued right to abortion. Bush and his party could face angry social conservatives or energized mainstream opposition, depending on his proposals.
6. Revamping Social Security.
President Bush appears to be serious in his intention to recast the Social Security system for younger workers by allowing them to place part of their Social Security tax in private investment accounts.
Conventional inside-the-beltway wisdom is that touching Social Security is likely to be politically fatal. Bush has attempted to immunize himself from that danger with repeated references during the presidential campaign to his intention to tinker with the federal retirement safety net. Democrats and some independent experts have been sharply critical of any "privatization" effort, saying it would be far too risky for ordinary Americans and that the transition to the private investment plan could cost as much as $2 trillion over its first 10 years.
7. Taxes, the budget and the economy.