Despite Growing Problems For GOP This Fall, The Post's Baker And VandeHei Do Stenography For Rove Today
Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei of the Washington Post wrote a good piece of White House stenography today, getting the Page One treatment for a puff piece outlining the administration’s strategy for holding onto the House of Representatives this fall. We hear from this piece that Bush will campaign and raise cash for GOP incumbents by running on taxes, immigration, and national security. We hear from several Republicans about how Bush will pull this off and succeed, and what it will mean if he does. We are told that the staff shakeup has failed to turn things around, and that short of an outside event, like the capture of Osama or a sudden turnaround in Iraq, Bush’s team has decided that they cannot write a happy story about his tenure in office without keeping the House this fall. Duh. White House advisers say that Bush could advocate a fresh agenda in 2007 if he holds onto the House, which will surprise many who are still waiting for any of his initiatives in any of his past SOTU messages to gain traction or attention from the White House.
Not one Democrat is quoted to poke holes in this strategy, or to point out why it won’t work. But at least Rove got Page One treatment for his campaign strategy this morning, all compliments of the Post. Baker and VandeHei simply wrote down what Rove and Company told them to, without questioning how empty it all is.
Let’s take these one at a time. Do Baker and VandeHei think that an immigration policy that has been summarily rejected by his base will give Bush a winning message in any red-state district, where it is likely that those GOP incumbents will be running away from Bush on the issue? For that matter, will immigration really be a major issue in the districts of vulnerable GOP incumbents, of which Stuart Rothenberg now says there are 42 competitive races in GOP districts this fall, even in places where the GOP won comfortably only two years ago?
On taxes, again, in the districts of vulnerable GOP incumbents, is your sole message that the tax cuts have led to our “prosperity”, a prosperity that few of us have seen at a time when the rich are richer, the poor are poorer, and the middle class is worse off than they were six years ago? Sure, it will work in the red states where the typical GOP voter has given the keys to the car to people who have economically raped them for years, but will this message work in the districts of vulnerable GOP incumbents, especially if Democrats run a counterargument tied to tax fairness and GOP fiscal irresponsibility?
On national security, Bush and Rove plan to talk up Iraq. Yes, you read that correctly. Democrats will counter with the perils of a GOP rubber-stamp Congress, and examples like the Dubai ports deal, the failings of the Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon. It isn’t an aberration that polls now show Democrats competitive with the GOP on national security, and with leads over Bush in dealing with Iraq, with Bush having his lowest approval ratings ever on both subjects. Yet Baker and VandeHei dutifully took their stenography on how Iraq can work for Bush.
My message to Baker and VandeHei is the same message I would have to their editors: a mind is a terrible thing to waste. Why would the Post put out what in essence is White House stenography, when they themselves are reporting that GOP incumbents who were once thought to be safe are now in districts deemed to be competitive? The New York Times reported yesterday that in addition to Rothenberg’s calculus that there were now more than three dozen GOP House seats that are competitive, Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report says that they have raised their count of competitive GOP seats from 24 to 36.
According to Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center:
"Everything is pointing to a pretty big Democratic victory if attitudes toward Congress remain as negative as they are and attitudes toward President Bush remain as negative as they are," Mr. Kohut said. "It's hard to imagine any way that wouldn't happen."
Further down in the piece, Nagourney gets a quote from an anonymous GOP strategist who admits that the Democrats have succeeded so far in nationalizing the fall campaign, contrary to the GOP desire to keep each race as a local referendum on the GOP incumbent. Nagourney also points out how the GOP plans to hold onto power this fall:
Republicans say that even in this difficult environment, they see one big advantage: the party is focusing on the challenge early enough in the year to try to overcome it. Mr. King of New York said that stood in contrast to 1994, when the Democrats were caught off guard by the late surge led by Newt Gingrich for control of the House.
"They're concerned — which is good," Mr. King said of fellow House Republicans.
"People make the comparison to '94. I was here in '94. One of the main advantages we have over the Democrats is they never saw it coming — not at all. We see six months out that there is a real problem that we have to face."
Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster, said this would give the party time to do what it did in 1996 to head off a fierce Democratic challenge.
"Raise more money, disqualify the opponent early, and don't let them off the mat," he said. "That's what we'll try to do."
It is critical for Rahm Emanuel to read those words, be ready for the GOP preemptive smears that are about to befall Democratic challengers in these vulnerable GOP districts, and to hit those GOP incumbents first and keep them on the mat and on the defensive all the way to November. It also bodes well for Emanuel that the GOP base is demoralized, isn’t as fervent about participating this fall as are Democrats, and that Emanuel himself has initiated a DCCC effort to reach out to disillusioned GOP moderates for financial support this fall, as the Los Angeles Times reports today.
Yet all of this escaped Baker and VandeHei. I guess stenography is tough work.