No Wisdom From Rove
Much has been made over the last weekend about Kos’ new gig as a Newsweek contributing columnist opposite Karl Rove between now and the 2008 election. Although it is great for Kos to have this opportunity, as far as I am concerned it is even better that we get a window into Rove’s thinking several times a month to see what he may be telling the GOP contenders. Sure, it is likely that some or all of the GOP candidates may ignore Rove’s advice given how he lost the 2000 and 2006 campaigns, and needed 9-11 to win in 2002 and 2004. But some of what Rove says will be absorbed by the GOP candidates and represents a common orthodoxy on the right, so for Democrats to ignore it altogether would be foolhardy.
In Rove’s first column, he gives advice to the GOP about how to defeat Hillary next fall, consistent with what he and Bush have done themselves. Yet some of his advice is laughable on its face, given the GOP’s problems in 2008. Here’s his advice and my point-by-point response.
Plan now to introduce yourself again right after winning the nomination. Don't assume everyone knows you. Many will still not know what you've done in real life. Create a narrative that explains your life and commitments. Every presidential election is about change and the future, not the past. So show them who you are in a way that gives the American people hope, optimism and insight.
Rove is correct that a nominee needs to set a narrative on their terms and draw a contrast as soon as possible, but he isn’t talking about waiting until after the GOP convention. The Democratic nominee must define themselves and more importantly define the likely GOP nominee next spring, and not make the mistake of waiting until the convention to do so. Rove never waited to define Kerry in 2004, and the Democratic nominee must set the narratives for the fall campaign right away this spring. Define them before they define you, and yesterday isn't soon enough to do so.
Say in authentic terms what you believe. The GOP nominee must highlight his core convictions to help people understand who he is and to set up a natural contrast with Clinton, both on style and substance. Don't be afraid to say something controversial. The American people want their president to be authentic. And against a Democrat who calculates almost everything, including her accent and laugh, being seen as someone who says what he believes in a direct way will help.
This is more of the same “be comfortable in your own skin” mantra from Rove, against a likely Clinton candidacy where he and the GOP are ready to bash her for being too calculating and triangulating. But Clinton or any other Democrat must be ready to ram those GOP “core convictions” down the throats of that nominee and point out how out of touch the nominee is with the rest of America. And it would help if Clinton surprised the GOP by pointedly being “authentic” and saying what she believes: that the country has been taken to the cleaners by the GOP both in the White House and in Congress, and she should go right at their record of graft, negligence, national security failings, and fiscal irresponsibility.
Tackle issues families care about and Republicans too often shy away from. Jobs, the economy, taxes and spending will be big issues this campaign, but some issues that used to be "go to" ones for Republicans, like crime and welfare, don't have as much salience. Concerns like health care, the cost of college and social mobility will be more important. The Republican nominee needs to be confident in talking about these concerns and credible in laying out how he will address them. Be bold in approach and presentation.
Yes, Karl Rove is advising the 2008 GOP nominee to run on “health care, the cost of college and social mobility”, issues he and Bush avoided for 8 years. He also advises the GOP nominee to run on the usual Republican misdirection campaign of “jobs, the economy, taxes and spending” when in fact the GOP has no credible record on any of these issues, at a time when the economy will likely be in the middle of a recession next year.
Go after people who aren't traditional Republicans. Aggressively campaign for the votes of America's minorities. Go to their communities, listen and learn, demonstrate your engagement and emphasize how your message can provide hope and access to the American Dream for all. The GOP candidate must ask for the vote in every part of the electorate. He needs to do better among minorities, and be seen as trying.
Yes, Rove is advising the GOP nominee to seek out minority votes, as if the GOP had any realistic chance of appealing for black or hispanic votes next year given the Republican record over these last seven years on civil rights, voting rights, Katrina, and immigration.
Be strong on Iraq. Democrats have bet on failure. That's looking to be an increasingly bad wager, given the remarkable progress seen recently in Iraq. If the question is who will get out quicker, the answer is Hillary. The Republican candidate wants to recast the question to: who will lead America to victory in a vital battleground in the War on Terror? There will be contentious fights over funding the troops and over intelligence-gathering right after the parties settle on their candidates. Both battles will help the Republican candidate demonstrate who will be stronger in winning the new struggle of the 21st century.
Here Rove demonstrates once again his delusion about polls, a problem on full display in the 2006 midterms. He actually believes that with 70% of the country wanting us out of Iraq within 12-18 months, Iraq can be a winner for the GOP if they argue about leading “American to victory in a vital battleground in the War on Terror” and contrast themselves with a Democrat who wants to get out quicker. In fact, if Hillary or Obama started talking now about how the gains in Iraq allow us to redirect troops immediately to Afghanistan and the Guard homeward, the GOP would find itself on the wrong side of the argument all during 2008.
Thanks for weighing in with your wisdom Karl.