White House "Stay The Course" Demand Dooms Vulnerable GOP Incumbents
As we suggested late last week, in the aftermath of the “success” in killing al-Zarqawi, Bush is back to Cowboy George mode with regards to Iraq, telling his troops in Congress to buck it up, start talking Victory in Iraq, and to bash Democrats who don’t share such “last throes” optimism as being quitters, unpatriotic, and worse. The New York Times runs a story today about how the White House and GOP are now grasping at making Iraq a campaign positive this fall, when just a few weeks ago the midterm election plan was to ramp down any talk of Iraq and to talk up the economy.
Well, with growing signs that the economy is slowing, like today’s weekly unemployment claims filing report, and the probability that the Fed will push the “chill” switch on the economy through more rate hikes to prop up the dollar and stop any wage growth (since they can’t and don’t want to do squat on prices and especially oil company profits), it appears that the GOP has no choice but to make lemonade out of lemons on Iraq. Add the usual split among Democrats about what to do in Iraq, and you have an opportunity that is too good to pass up for the GOP to hammer the usual storyline about Democratic weakness and disunity, with the usual media accomplices like the Times and the Post ready to follow the GOP’s script.
Except that events on the ground dictate against the sunny “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” new GOP storyline on Iraq. Despite a supposedly impaired Al Qaeda in Iraq, five more US soldiers were killed over the last two days, and another four more were killed in Afghanistan, a country that is now strongly registering its complaints with the United States over our tactics in fighting a Taliban that George W. Bush should have finished off almost four years ago.
In fact, it could be argued that the White House’s push over the last two weeks to remind their caucuses in Congress that their fates are tied to Bush’s on Iraq may end up being the final cement overshoes that doom many House and Senate GOP incumbents from vulnerable districts this fall. Note how moderate House Republicans from vulnerable districts are now boxed in and have nowhere to go should the macho posturing from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue fail to improve the situation on the ground thousands of miles away in a real war zone.
A senior adviser to Mr. Bush said the White House had concluded that it was better to plunge aggressively into the debate on Iraq than to let Democrats play upon clear, public misgivings about the war. "This is going to be a big issue in this election," said the adviser, who was granted anonymity in exchange for agreeing to describe strategic considerations about the war. "Better to shape and fight it — as good and strongly as you can — than to try to run away from it."
Republicans who have expressed nervousness about the war earlier this month seemed less so by the time of this week's Senate debate. In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Representative Christopher Shays of Connecticut, a Republican who has frequently expressed concern about the war's effect on his prospects this year, said he favored a path that could be called "staying the course, or learning from our mistakes and now doing it right."
There was an opening for some congressional Republicans to question the war and show some independence from the White House out of political survival this fall. But that opportunity is now gone, and the White House’s demand for lockstep compliance by all GOP members with the “stay the course” message eliminates the chance for those same vulnerable Republicans to show their constituents this fall that they aren’t rubber-stamping continued failure in Iraq with no way out. The net effect of all this posturing and bullying by the White House on Iraq is that they have made hostages once and for all of their own party in Congress. While Democrats will be talking about redeployments to neighboring countries and regional security conferences to invest Iraq’s neighbors in a comprehensive solution, the White House has now tied down the entire GOP caucus in each house to hearing none of it. The only GOP message now is to stay the course and even put more troops in, and any talk to the contrary is to be labeled as appeasement, surrendering, and talk by unpatriotic weaklings.
It all sounds good, until the whole strategy falls apart between now and November if the Iraqis are the ones in fact who ask us to start drawing down. If there ever is a convergence between now and the midterms of Democratic calls for an alternate solution, Iraqi calls for a drawdown, and increasing negative public opinion here at home, what Bush and Rove have just done over the last two weeks is sign the termination notices of all vulnerable GOP incumbents, who will have no room now to maneuver to a different position out of political survival.