Bush's Plan To Use Kerry's Anti-War Activities Against Him: Rovian Misstep?
From the land of the $200 million smear machine late this week we get word that the White House cockily plans to go right after Kerry by challenging his post war activities and statements. Apparently, in a typically Rovian fashion, Bush’s political types have decided the best way to negate Kerry’s advantages over Bush in their actual service records is to drive up his negatives by hammering him for his statements and appearances as a leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
Sure, this could be nothing more than the usual White House bluster, but I think not. It appears that Rove will try and turn the Vietnam issue into a way to energize Bush’s base, somehow thinking that Bush can score points against Kerry on this matter by ignoring what Kerry and Bush actually did during their service itself and focusing solely on what Kerry did after his service. Several questions for you, as an amateur campaign consultant: 1) Is the White House serious about this line of attack, or is this simply a shot across to bow to scare Kerry from using his service as an advantage any further; 2) if you are the Kerry team, do you return fire on this or do you consider this another Bush pitch in the dirt designed to lead you into a costly response that directs voters’ attention away from real current-day issues?
Does Rove really think that by running commercials on TV and radio, and using talking head surrogates to attack Kerry’s post-war activities it won’t allow Kerry and the Democrats to make Bush’s efforts to dodge combat and his subsequent disappearance in Alabama a fair issue for counterattack? I mean, the White House just spent a lot of effort trying to beat down the Guard story without ever proving where he was for months in Alabama, by saying he was honorably discharged. But if Rove starts first by trotting out the “Kerry as a war protester” line of attack, doesn’t it put all of the Bush Guard story and his disappearance back into play as a justified Kerry counterattack?
It will only take a couple of TV commercials in key states using a split-screen image of how each spent their Vietnam years, with Kerry’s oft-used war footage on the left contrasted with Bush’s still-shots of doing nothing except wearing a uniform, or better yet a blank half-screen with a question mark superimposed on it, to show the contrast. And any commercial can end up with a shot of Bush in the flight suit on the Abraham Lincoln contrasted with Kerry’s war footage and the tag line “some would rather play soldier, some actually served their country honorably in combat” to bury this line of attack by the GOP for good.
Polls show that voters largely at this stage don’t consider the matter of each candidate’s war service (or lack thereof) to be an issue. But Rove sees an attack on Kerry as another way to jack up his base, as the recent Annenberg poll showed that the segment of the population that really cared about this issue was Bush’s GOP base. Similarly however, the portion of the electorate that really cared about Bush’s efforts to escape combat by an eight-to-one margin were Democrats. So if Rove wants to hammer Kerry on this issue, should Kerry respond heavily and thank him for the opportunity to energize our base on another issue?