Lamont Needs To Assume He Is Running Against Rove
Joe Lieberman will run an aggressive campaign against Ned Lamont, and Lamont better not think he gets a few days off to savor his small-margin victory Tuesday night, because it is already clear that he won’t. Far be it for me to offer advice to a victorious campaign, but Lamont and his people need to assume that Karl Rove is assisting with the Lieberman message and attack campaign. When Lieberman linked the disrupted terror plot today to the war in Iraq and smeared Lamont for advocating a withdrawal from Iraq in the same attack line, it should no longer be a mystery to Lamont’s people about who is offering advice for Joe’s effort, and how involved the White House is in the race.
The White House, RNC, and NRSC have already taken Joe’s loss and manufactured a storyline for the media’s consumption (like GOP tool Mike Allen) that a Lamont victory means the Democrats are weak on terror and in favor of cutting and running from Iraq. It is a narrative the GOP needs to peddle this fall to keep the Democrats on the defensive and to protect the dozens of vulnerable GOP incumbents. The White House and RNC will run on Iraq, and will use today’s developments as an example of why the status quo and the steady leadership of George W. Bush and the GOP are needed now more than ever, rather that changing direction and turning the country over to a bunch of far-left crazies from the base of the Democratic Party. The only chance the GOP has of fending off the growing demands for change from the electorate are to scare voters away from changing horses and into accepting more of the same.
To that end, Joe will follow the Rove playbook and do two things that Lamont needs to be ready for now:
1. He will attack and define Lamont before he can define Lieberman further. Lieberman started Phase Two of this effort today when he said in essence that a vote for Lamont was a vote for withdrawal and defeat in Iraq, emboldening those who plotted the attacks that were disrupted today. Again, Lieberman draws a false connection between his support for a tragically-flawed regime change and occupation that has made us weaker and Al Qaeda’s ongoing ability five years after 9/11 to plan and carry out coordinated attacks. Lieberman will continue to portray Lamont as weak on terror and an appeasing cut-and-run leftist until Lamont returns fire and reminds voters we need a more intelligent and lethal war against our true enemies than the one Joe has blindly supported these last five years.
2. He will attack Lamont from Joe's presumed weakness (Iraq), and make Lamont play defense against Joe's charges rather than allow Lamont to attack Joe's actual weakness and record. Again, Joe and the GOP incumbents this fall will not run away from Iraq but will actually make the races about staying the course until Bush’s victory can be achieved. As Joe’s attack today indicates, he will continue to say he was right about Iraq and that we cannot leave now without losing to the terrorists, and he will claim over and over again that Lamont will weaken this country by pushing for withdrawal. Rather than shrink from these attacks and try and change the subject, Lamont will have to go toe-to-toe with Joe on Iraq and make a large part of this race about Joe’s “Johnny One-Note” slavish endorsement of a war and occupation that 60% of the country now is against and has no visible definition of victory or exit strategy. Lamont will have to hammer over and over again that this war and occupation drain resources from a tougher and more intelligent war against real enemies (like Jim Webb is already doing to George Allen in Virginia), and has created more potential terrorist enemies than we had on September 10, 2001.
With a short 90-day campaign season in Phase Two, Lamont will have to engage Lieberman and punch back right away, and not let Lieberman capture news cycles. He must not only push back against today’s attacks, but also start pinning Lieberman and his rubber-stamp support for Bush up against a wall and put Joe on the defensive and keep him there. He needs to make the case for a smarter, tougher change in our policies, and a movement away from rubber-stamp politicians who support Bush’s failure and stubborn refusal to change course. And he needs to point out that it isn’t Lamont but rather Joe Lieberman who is enabling Bush’s ongoing failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it is Lieberman and not Lamont who supports Bush’s inability to mortally wound and kill Al Qaeda.
Ned, do something that John Kerry never did: run this race as if you were running against Karl Rove. Counterpunch now and keep Joe against the wall, and on the defensive. If Joe wants to make Iraq and the war on terror the issue in this race, then tie Joe to Bush as a status-quo rubber stamper and run against them both.
Remind voters that after five years of Joe and Bush, we are apparently no safer now than we were on September 10th, 2001.