Dick Morris’ ’08 Play-By-Play Analysis
Volume 1, #12
June 4, 2007
A PLAN FOR REPUBLICAN VICTORY
A Republican candidate can win in 2008 by triangulating- criticizing the Bush Administration and putting distance between himself and the increasingly unpopular president, while at the same time embracing the Bush anti-terrorism strategy and other core Republican issues promoted by Bush. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich pointed the way last week when he criticized the president’s handling of the war in Iraq and drew the metaphor between the US and the recent French presidential races.
In France, newly-elected President Nicolas Sarkozy has been a loud and persistent critic of former President Jacques Chirac even though they are members of the same party -the RPR – and despite the fact that Sarkozy served, until he resigned to run for president, in Chirac’s cabinet. By embracing the criticisms of Chirac and failing to defend him, Sarkozy gave voters a chance to vent their anger and disappointment without having to go far to the left and back the Socialists led by the uncertain and ill-prepared Segolene Royal.
That same strategy can work in the U.S.
Disenchantment with President Bush’s Administration is spreading from the ranks of Democrats and Independents into the hard core Republican base. His spending policies – despite the shrinking deficit and the low tax rates – have long caused disquiet among the devotees of smaller government and his aggressive federal intervention in education policy sounds a note of discord with a party that recently urged the abolition of the Department of Education.
But now the marriage between the president and his political base shows further signs of strain. Bush’s immigration program – and his acquiescence in what conservatives see as amnesty for illegal immigrants – is stirring up e ver greater discontent on the right. His recent move to join the green community in formulating a global plan to reduce greenhouse gases will undoubtedly add to this increasing estrangement.
All these policies are combining to fuel a worry on the right that the president has “gone native” and, with one eye on his legacy and the other on a Democratic Congress, may be moving to the left. (History, as Nixon said, is written by liberals).
With a pro-life Supreme Court safely installed on the bench and the tax cuts on the books (for now), conservatives are finding Bush’s latest flirtations with the left to be worrisome.
A conservative critique of Bush, distancing the GOP from support for his tactics and strategy in Iraq while embracing his toughness on terrorism, could give voters a way to vent their anger without having to vote for Hillary Clinton in the fall.
Remember how close Hubert Humphrey came in 1968 to defeat ing Nixon? Humphrey, President Lyndon Johnson’s vice president, had loyally supported his boss in the increasingly unpopular war in Vietnam, but he started to stray when he struck out on his own to run for president. By Election Day, Humphrey was calling for a pause in the bombing of North Vietnam and was openly to the left of Johnson on the war. Nixon’s lead shrank with each week, falling from a high of fifteen points right after the disastrous Democratic National Convention to a virtual tie at the end of the race. Humphrey ultimately lost by a mere six-tenths of one percent.
There are many parallels between 2008 and 1968, not the least of which is a five year old war that dominated both races, losing popularity with each new casualty. Just like Hillary Clinton, Nixon had backed the war when it began but based his campaign on his commitment to ending it. But a suspicion lingers that Hillary cannot and will not end the war in Iraq promptly any more t han Nixon could quickly end Vietnam (he finally pulled out all of our troops by 1974 after 25,000 more had died during his term in office).
Hillary’s ambiguous statements that she would continue to keep sufficient troops in Iraq for a plethora of missions will catalyze increasing doubts about the veracity of her anti-war posture. How, the left will ask, can she run on a peace platform when she promises to continue to offer training, logistical, air, and intelligence support to the Iraqi Army, hunt for al Qaeda operatives, and police the border with Iran? And when she won’t say for how long these troops will be necessary!
Doubts about Hillary’s antiwar credentials, combined with animosity against liberal positions on taxes, immigration, and the battle against domestic terrorism, could perfectly position a Republican nominee, if only he will shed the Bush albatross that hangs around the Party’s neck.
The scenario for a GOP cand idate who separates himself from the Bush Administration could fit nicely into the game plan for Rudy Giuliani or the emerging candidacies of either Fred Thompson or Newt Gingrich. (McCain is too tied to immigration reform to break with Bush over this key issue).
WHAT’S GOTTEN INTO BUSH?
All this strategizing begs the question of what has caused President Bush to move to the left – or at least to the center on a range of issues from Darfur to climate change to immigration. Bush signaled that a shift might be in the offing as soon as he lost Congress in the midterm elections and almost immediately fired Donald Rumsfeld.
In his State of the Union address in January, he continued to show signs of a leftward drift as he addressed the need to move away from America’s ” oil addiction.”
But it is in his defiance of the right on one of their signature issues – immigration – that Bush most clearly shows a new centrism and flexibility. Deaf to the howls of the right that the Senate compromise on immigration reform amounts to amnesty for those who came here illegally, he has reaffirmed his backing for the legislation even in the teeth of conservative opposition.
On the merits, the immigration compromise is not nearly as liberal as conservatives paint it. It calls for a trigger of vastly stepped up border enforcement before any of its other provisions take effect. The fine of $5,000 illegal immigrants must pay to regularize their status is not much less than a judge would likely impose were a criminal penalty to be imposed from the bench. The requirement that illegal immigrants go home and wait their turn to get into the United States legally on a citizenship track makes a great deal of sense and the prior ity the new legislation gives to those immigrants with skills we need also reflects our national economic needs.
But, to conservatives, the compromise means one thing: it allows those who came here illegally to stay and therefore constitutes amnesty.
So why has Bush suddenly shown himself willing to depart from the conservative orthodoxy that has dominated his policies in his first six years in office? Why is he mimicking Clinton in moving away from his party’s base after losing control of Congress?
A big part of Bush’s motivation is likely disappointment at the way the base let him down in 2006 by failing to turn out in sufficient numbers to keep control of Congress. He would be less than human if he did not feel, at some level, resentment at his former political boosters.
But a larger part is probably his determination not to let his presidency be swallowed up whole by the war in Iraq. He seems worried that Iraq will be come his equivalent of Carter and the hostage crisis, Nixon and Watergate, Johnson and Vietnam, Reagan and Iran-Contra, or Clinton and Lewinsky – the issue that becomes the be all and end all of a presidency as it winds down.
To avoid being captured by the war, Bush has to move forward on a host of other issues – both to demonstrate that he is still in charge and to give him areas in which progress is possible. He has to act vigorously on a number of fronts to stop his field of vision from narrowing to the four corners of the Iraqi War and to preserve his scope of action on other topics.
He probably wants to accomplish some significant successes as president before his term expires and he realizes that he can only do this by working with the Democrats. Freed from thinking about another election and unwilling to spend his remaining year and a half in office at perpetual loggerheads with Congress, he is seeking achievements where he can find them &nda sh; in the political center.
At this stage of a president’s term, his thoughts often turn to issues of his historical legacy. If it is to be more than a losing war in Iraq, a successful effort to stop further terror attacks, and a set of tax cuts that will probably be repealed soon after he leaves office, Bush realizes he better get busy and pass some critical legislation now.
But, for whatever reason, Bush’s leftward drift opens up opportunities for Republicans who would appeal to the party’s base as they pursue the nomination – like Fred Thompson.
CAN FRED THOMPSON WIN?
Which brings us to the question: Is former Senator Fred Thompson the second coming of Ronald Reagan? A national Arnold Schwarznegger? Or just a presidential wannabe, fated only to be an also-ran?
Now that Thompso n has moved toward a declaration of candidacy – after months and months of hesitation – the idea that another actor-turned-politician can take America by storm, reversing the drift toward the Democrats and reigniting the conservative base has the heart of the GOP base palpitating.
The essence of Thompson’s appeal is his ability to discuss issues with a phraseology and rhetoric which is outside of the usual box of political expression. When he notes that temperatures on Mars and Jupiter are also warming and reminds us that neither has SUVs speeding along their surfaces with the air conditioning turned up high, he is demonstrating a style and a pizzazz which our electorate, brain-numbed by Hillary’s scripted predictability, will likely welcome.
Mitt Romney has demonstrably failed to hoist the banner of conservatism in the 2008 Republican field. Despite a recent Rasmussen Poll showing him up to 16% of the vote, most polls show him mire d between eight and eleven percent of the GOP primary vote. If, after having been the cover-boy on a national news magazine, had a 60 Minutes profile, and participated in a Republican debate, he still is lagging in the polls, his candidacy may be hopeless.
With none of the other conservative candidates breaking through, the way is clearly open for Thompson to make his mark. But will he?
Oddly, his real antagonist as he enters the race may not be either Rudy Giuliani or John McCain, but Arthur Branch, the Manhattan District Attorney character he plays on Law and Order. Thompson will have to measure up to Branch’s professional looks, attractive presentation, charisma, and witty dialogue. And which of us, unscripted, is as good as we would be if our lines were written for us by the best Hollywood has to offer? Bill Clinton perhaps, but few others.
His in terview with Sean Hannity on Fox News last month was less than impressive. He seemed to lack the heart and ambition for a race and his comments were both tentative and uncertain. He displayed none of the lean and hungry look that Republicans want from their presidential candidates. After all, he is seeking to be the one person standing between Hillary and the White House, a position the Republican primary voters will not award to a lame and lackluster contender.
Ronald Reagan did not have to compete with his movie persona since he had long since retired from the silver screen. And there was never any loss of the luster of his stage presence. Schwarznegger was an action hero, not noted for his dialogue — except for the occasional “hasta lavista baby.”As a muscleman, he was not competing with himself as he ran for Governor.
But Fred Thompson has to outshine Arthur Branch, the straight-talking, common s ense, shoot-from-the-hip character he plays on television. It may be a tall order.
But the immigration issue may save Fred and animate his candidacy. Bush has committed the ultimate apostasy in backing what the conservative community sees as “amnesty” for illegal immigrants. In departing from the only segment of the electorate that approves of his presidency, he risks falling down to minus numbers in his approval rating.
As Bush tacks to the left in pursuit of a place in history and in the longer term interest of winning the Hispanic vote for the Republican Party in the future, he is opening the way for a conservative candidate like Thompson to take on the president and his program. The GOP base understands that the president has become politically radioactive and grasps the fact that his dismal ratings may doom the party to defeat. If Thompson uses the immigration issue, and the antipathy it has engendered among Republicans, to separate him self from Bush and run as a GOP alternative, he could do very well.
CAN HILLARY END THE WAR?
Lately I’ve been reading Robert Dallek’s new book Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power. Amid its accounts of the opening to China and arms negotiations with the Soviet Union, it portrays the agonizing struggle to withdraw from Vietnam that consumed so much of the Nixon Administration.
Both Nixon and Kissinger wanted desperately to be rid of the war they inherited from Johnson, but both were convinced that defeat would emb olden America’s enemies and weaken our credibility in the eyes of our allies. Neither dared escalate the war for fear of domestic dissent, but nor would they withdraw from Vietnam for fear of losing credibility.
One can easily imagine a Hillary Clinton presidency, in just such a quandary. Like Nixon and Kissinger, she fundamentally believed in the rationale for the war when it started. And, as a woman president, she would have to be at great pains to demonstrate her toughness and resolve as Commander-in-Chief to a doubting world. Imbued with the rationale for the war through her years on the Armed Services Committee, it is hard to see how she could easily pull out if she were elected president. Moreover, Hillary’s history of dependency on the advice of gurus could easily land her in a more hawkish position. I’ve often called her an ‘advice addict.’ Think of how she was led around by the Clinton health care czar, Ira Magaziner. With an i ssue as politically important as Iraq, Hillary will listen to the generals that she trusts. And they will not be advocating a full withdrawal.
The metaphor with the Johnson/Nixon years becomes ever more appropriate. Hillary may be as unable to wash her hands of Bush’s war as Nixon was of Johnson’s. Like Nixon, Hillary may be trapped by the consequences of withdrawal and impelled to continue to fight a war she once backed but now wishes would just go away.
This ambiguity in Hillary’s position will doubtless occur to the left as she seeks the Democratic nomination. While Obama and Edwards have no reason to prosecute the war should they be elected, Hillary, as a former hawk and as a female president, may be unable to pull out. If Republicans challenge Hillary to explain how she would accomplish the missions she has identified as important in Iraq while planning massive troop withdrawals, Hillary’s difficulties in leading the anti war f orces may become ever more apparent to her would-be supporters on the left.
SPEAKING OF IRAQ: WHY DIDN’T CLINTON, EDWARDS, OR DODD READ THE NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE REPORT ON IRAQ BEFORE VOTING FOR THE WAR?
Before the U.S. Senate voted to authorize the war in Iraq in 2002, all Senators were provided with access to the National Intelligence Estimate, a comprehensive report on the weapons capabilities of Iraq at the time.
The report was classified and, therefore, required the signature of any senator who came to read it. Only six of the hundred Senators read it!
Now Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta, Jr. have documented that Hillary Clinton, who has said that the war vote was her most difficult political decision (next to deciding to stay with Bill) DID NOT EVEN BOTHER TO READ THE REPORT. In Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton, the authors trace Hillary’s convoluted record on Iraq, excerpted in the June 3, 2007 New York Times magazine.
What’s truly amazing is that Hillary has prevented the press from reporting her negligence. Asked by Human Events in 2005 about whether she had read the report, Hillary responded: “I’m not going to say anything about that. Just let the Intelligence committee do its job, okay?
Can’t you just hear her saying that?
Several months ago, she was asked whether she had read the report by someone in the audience at a New Hampshire forum. She responded that she had been “fully briefed.” When the questioner persisted, she merely repeated her answer.
But, now, we finally know that the woman who has repeatedly said that she voted for the based on the best available information at the time did not actually spend any time reading the best information available. Had she done so, she might have noted the State Department’s alternative view that Saddam did not have nuclear capabilities:
“The activities we have detected do not, however, add up to a compelling case that Iraq is currently pursuing what INR would consider to be an integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons..”
“In INR’s view Iraq’s efforts to acquire aluminum tubes is central to the argument that Baghdad is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program, but INR is not persuaded that the tubes in question are intended for use as centrifuge rotors. INR accepts the judgment of technical experts at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) who have concluded that the tubes Iraq seeks to acquire are poorly suited for use in gas centrifuges to be used for uranium enrichment and finds unpersuasive the arguments advanced by others to make the cas e that they are intended for that purpose. INR considers it far more likely that the tubes are intended for another purpose, most likely the production of artillery rockets. The very large quantities being sought, the way the tubes were tested by the Iraqis, and the atypical lack of attention to operational security in the procurement efforts are among the factors, in addition to the DOE assessment, that lead INR to concluded that the tubes are not intended for use in Iraq’s nuclear weapon program.”
Hillary’s staff later claimed that she was briefed by her staff, but Gerth and Van Netta point out that no one on her staff had security clearance at the time so they could not access the report.
On Hillary’s website, she has posted her floor speech in the debate on the resolution to authorize sending troops to Iraq, she invites readers to “read it with as much care as I have given to making this difficult decision.”
Apparently, it wasn’t enough care to read the most comprehensive assessment of Saddam’s weapons capabilities.
But Hillary was not alone. Last week, John Edwards claimed that he had read the report before voting, but later admitted that he had not read it.
Chris Dodd never read it. Neither did Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Joe Biden actually read it before voting.
***Copyright Eileen McGann and Dick Morris 2007. Reprints with permission only** *