Thursday :: May 22, 2003

How to Take Bush Down by Going Right At His Alleged Strength

by Steve

I’ve been closely reading your comments and the posts of others at different sites over the last month or so, and I have concluded that there is one issue for which the Democrats need to go right at Bush. I know that I have said in previous posts that based on Rove’s history, Bush will run on no more than 2-4 issues and Rove will keep Bush focused on only those issues. I have speculated in the past that those issues can really be boiled down to two issues for next year: terrorism/national security and tax cuts=jobs. That in essence will be the whole campaign.

Rove is basing his whole campaign on only those issues for obvious and not-too-obvious reasons. First, he knows that focusing on the first issue will force the Democrats to play on his side of the field and divert attention away from a GOP weakness on almost every other issue. And the second issue keeps the GOP base happy, even though most voters suspect they will never see a significant dime from any Bush tax cut.

But there is another not-so-obvious reason that Rove feels he can run a limited-issue campaign and get away with it. He knows that voters according to the polls trust Bush and think he has integrity and is a leader. With that in the bank, it is much easier to play offense because you don’t have to play defense.

Which is why I think the Dems need to attack Bush directly on his lies and lack of integrity.

In order to make Bush truly vulnerable, the Democrats needs to take a page out of the Rove/GOP playbook and start knocking down those high poll numbers on Bush’s trustworthiness and integrity, like Rove did to Gore in 2000. And the leadership issue can be dealt with by pointing out who Bush is truly leading for; not Mr. And Mrs. America, but in fact Corporate America, who continues to write the big checks for him.

I know this is risky when Rove controls the Mighty Wurlitzer. But as I and many of you have noted, Rove is not only fallible, but has made boneheaded decisions (see California in 2000) and has never faced a campaign where Bush’s opponent has gone right at Bush on the issue of trust and integrity. And it needs to be said over and over again, most importantly to members of the fawning media, that Rove lost the 2000 race by more than a half-million votes after having a comfortable lead several weeks out. Plus, as the incumbent, Bush can no longer run with diminished expectations or as a “reformer with results.” Those two tricks will no longer be in the Rove arsenal. He will have to defend the actual Bush record on all things ranging from the environment, the energy task force, judges, class warfare, insufficient education and veterans’ funding, the Feds’ role in the California energy meltdown, Enron, the lack of any health insurance program, the looting of Social Security and Medicare funds, his broken 2000 campaign promises, our deteriorating infrastructure, and our relative lack of protection from a repeat of 9/11.

Even though Rove and the White House have intimidated the media into subservience, the media loves to cover a fight more than anything else. And by raising the issue of Bush’s lies and lack of integrity and public interest on the range of issues above, the Democrats could give the media all it can cover over the next eighteen months. Enterprising reporters will again see the value of outsmarting and outworking their brethren to get scoops on the charges the Democrats bring up, and once one of them covers it, it will give the rest the cover they need to get out from under their fog of fear and question the White House. If the Democrats do this the right way, they can launch a full-scale attack on trust and integrity from all corners on a wide variety of issues that the media will eventually cover, maybe not fully at first, but they will when they see how the White House is not prepared to play constant defense. And once the media smells the blood in the water, and with no Ari Fleischer, Karen Hughes, and Mary Matalin to fear anymore, they will take off their leashes and resume the feeding frenzy they knew so well during the Clinton years.

How to do it? Well, first, the candidates doing it on their own won’t gain much traction at this point because they are one of nine, and when it comes from a candidate, it is easier for the White House to marginalize the critique as coming from one wannabe. But there is a novel way to introduce the issue of Bush’s lack of trustworthiness gradually over the early summer and build alliances with interest groups to keep pushing the matter while Democratic and other progressive partisans begin lettering the media to cover the stories.

The best thing that Terry McAuliffe can do at the DNC besides raising money right now is to create a “Truth Squad”. Such a concept would be comprised of a cadre of tech-savvy volunteers or pre-law grad students who would be a part of a team that follows Bush to all of his appearances, along with the Party’s designated mouthpiece on that subject on that day. Since all of Bush’s appearances and most of his remarks are announced by the press office in advance, it would not be too difficult for the DNC to plan these rebuttal press conferences with facts and figures ready to go in rebuttal to what Bush just said. The national media would already be in town for Bush’s event, and more importantly so would the local media, so the DNC would have a built-in audience for their “shadow” press conferences. At these press conferences, the DNC would trot out the mouthpiece(s), who would need to be articulate “up and comers” in the party who could appeal to a broad range of folks. The mouthpiece would provide a point-by-point challenge to what Bush said based on his actual record and the up-to-the-minute research that the tech geeks had just pulled off of their laptops. The mouthpiece would make the point that Bush was lying about his tax cut, lying about AIDS funding, lying about whatever issue Bush was talking about. And they would be doing it based not on partisan rhetoric, but the actual Bush record from material already in the media.

Since the DNC would know at least a day in advance what Bush was going to talk about from the White House press office, they could arrange to have the appropriate interest groups there alongside the DNC mouthpiece to weigh in on Bush’ lies and failed commitments. This would take the critique a step further by making it harder for the media to be spun by Rove that this was nothing but a partisan stunt, since Rove would have to answer to the interest group complaints as well. For example, the DNC, school administrators, and the NEA side by side would challenge a Bush speech on education and his “Leave No Child Behind” fiasco. A Bush speech on tax cuts would be challenged by the DNC and Warren Buffett or the Concord Coalition, plus respected economists. A Bush speech on the environment would be challenged by the DNC and those groups, with the Greens, as well as Eric Schaefer, the former EPA Inspector General. A Bush speech on corporate accountability would be challenged by the DNC, Elliott Spitzer, Arthur Leavitt, and investors rights groups. A Bush speech on Social Security or Medicare would be challenged by the DNC and the AARP to highlight his broken promise on a Medicare drug benefit and the dangers of privatization. A Bush appearance on the military and veterans’ issues would be challenged by the DNC and General Wesley Clark and Anthony Zinni, with veterans’ groups side-by-side. The DNC and police/firefighter labor unions, the Teamsters, and Gary Hart would challenge a Bush speech on terrorism and emergency preparedness. And most importantly, the DNC, retired CIA analysts, and 9/11 victims’ groups would challenge a Bush speech on national security. Doing this not only broadens the credibility of the attack, but allows the party to rebuild bridges to interest groups and makes it difficult for Rove to shoot back at so many targets at once, without pissing off groups he wants to keep in the tent. These are just some of the examples of how this can work, but you can see how the concept can be expanded to a number of issues including civil rights that Bush may speak on, and how those appearances can be used against him. Over time, it can even make Bush and Rove afraid to go out and speak on issues other than terrorism and national security, because they will know that he will be spanked every time. And once you can put Bush and Rove into one box after you have called into question his integrity and truthfulness, national security then will be used against him as well. Then, it's all over.

For example, last night the GOP held two fundraisers with Bush that brought in $22 million in one night. How important would it have been for the DNC to hold a press conference between the two events or before the evening news on the East Coast to point out that those Bush was getting money from last night had obtained direct policy or contract favors from him? How effective would it have been for the DNC to appear at a press conference with Public Citizen, Common Cause, and the Centers for Public Integrity or Responsive Politics just before the event to highlight the campaign contributions that Bush was receiving from those industries in attendance last night that give largely to the GOP? Yes, those same industries give money to the Dems, but the Dems can use this to call for more reform and to make future appearances and fundraisers a problem for Bush and the donors, thereby making it uncomfortable for the checkwriters. Again, how can Karl attack the interest groups on this?

If the DNC started this, we may find that the media may not cover it immediately to the degree we like. But as this practice grows and the interest groups come aboard as part of a broad-based critique of Bush’s integrity, truthfulness, and lack of public interest, the media will cover the developing fight and see that the theme has legs. When they see that the DNC isn’t going away on this strategy, and that such Truth Squad events can be expected around the country wherever Bush goes and on whatever he talks about, the theme will gain traction with them in their coverage and then with the voters. That, coupled with our letters and phone calls to local media to cover this issue will ensure that the media will come around. And most importantly, it may force Karl to play defense and change his whole strategy.

But the key is for the national party to do this now, during the summer and fall. Once the party has started this and inserted this theme in the public consciousness, not only will the media make it a campaign issue, but also the Democratic candidates can more easily pound Bush on it from nine different ways. And there is no way that Karl can deal with that much incoming fire from so many different camps.

In this way, Bush can be beaten with a direct assault on his supposed strength.

It can work, and it will work.

Steve :: 2:36 PM :: Comments (35) :: Digg It!