29 May 2008

The GOP: If it was dog food, they would have pulled it off the shelves

In many ways, both parties are at a crossroads. The Dems are clearly heading down the Dukakis/Olbermann/Krugman path, drifting further left, and even such party veterans as Joe Biden, Tom Daschle and Bill Richardson have lined up behind Barack Obama. As a result, the party has chosen to steer clear of the comparative centrism of the Clintons, Wesley Clark and Evan Bayh.

The Republicans had a half-dozen legitimate contenders for the nomination, each purporting to take the party down a different road than everyone else. As the Bush era mercifully crashes to an end, it is clear that the current administration, and its various enablers along the way (Bill Frist, Trent Lott and Roy Blunt, just to name a few), have severely damaged the GOP. The Republican brand, after mismanagement of the Iraq conflict, out-of-control deficit spending and enormous blunders like Katrina, the handling of FISA and the Terri Schiavo episode, is at its most toxic since Watergate.

Bush's disapproval rating sits at 71%, the highest of any president since polling started in the 1920s. The GOP stands to lose congressional seats it's held for a generation or more, and the GOP's lone hope on Election Night is a man who many on the right have spent decades assailing.

The GOP needs a rebranding. It's no coincidence that two of the country's most popular governors, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Charlie Crist, have governed from near the center. Neither practices slash-and-burn, divide-and-conquer Roveian politics, and neither panders to the likes of James Dobson and Sean Hannity. Both are socially moderate, fiscally conservative, and are genuinely concerned about rooting out corruption and reaching across party lines -- incidentally, none of those characteristics apply to President Bush.

McCain now can begin to redefine the GOP in his own image -- instead of pandering to the Huckabee wing of the party, shift the focus away from social issues; instead of enabling the likes of Jack Abramoff, Duke Cunningham, David Vitter and especially Tom DeLay, root out corruption at every turn; instead of spending recklessly, practice fiscal sanity and responsible government; instead of allowing the Democrats to set the debate, craft plausible solutions to solve the energy and health-care problems America faces; and instead of intending to govern with a 51% majority, reach across the aisle and forge bipartisan solutions that members of both parties can get behind.

A former staffer of one of McCain's rivals, per Jonathan Martin at Politico:

"Not raising money, still no excitement, can't seem to get his footing, the Bush brand is toxic, and yet it still looks like he can win. All that is so John McCain."

So to Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Michelle Malkin, John Hawkins, Tom DeLay, Rick Santorum, John Cornyn, James Dobson and the rest of McCain's detractors: You have blindly followed your president over a cliff, defended him at every turn, and your party now sits in tatters, bracing for perhaps the biggest pounding in a generation. All the while, you have attempted to crucify the one member of your party (outside of Schwarzenegger) who can re-brand conservatism and deliver you from an Obama presidency by virtue of his enormously broad appeal. If you had your wish with the phony Romney or the patronizing Huckabee, the GOP would be looking at the most crushing of defeats.

You've had your say, and the party is worse off because of it. It's time to shut your mouths, get behind McCain and quietly pull the lever.

18 May 2008

McCain and his age

There exist a number of asinine reasons to refuse to vote for a candidate. Race and gender of course top the list. And close behind is age.

No matter. In a race against a fresh-looking Washington newcomer who is 25 years his junior, John McCain will be forced to deal with the specter of his age, much like Barack Obama regrettably will be forced to clear his own hurdle of being a minority.

Sen. McCain's advisers are acutely aware of the fact that the Senior Senator is 71 and, if elected, would be the oldest president in history to be elected to his first term. The age issue becomes considerably more pronounced if, as expected (barring a near-miracle by the Clintons in Denver), Sen. Obama is his opponent. Thus, Team Maverick has two dichotomies to study: President Reagan's campaigns in '80 and '84 -- during which he was videotaped riding horses, hiking and doing work outdoors on his ranch -- and Bob Dole's ill-fated run in '96 -- during which the senator infamously and unceremoniously fell down on stage. Reagan was 69 in 1980, and like Reagan in '84, Dole was 73 in 1996.

Make no mistake: McCain's age will be a factor. How the issue will be framed, however, is largely up to his political team. To Obama's credit (aside from his patronizing references to McCain's five decades in public service), he will not overtly make this an issue. McCain's love affair with the camera, the unbridled access he allows the press, his conversational, straight-forward style on the stump and his dry sense of humor are all great assets to his team's attempt to assuage voters' concerns about his age.

It was in that vein that McCain's team began putting its strategy into action with McCain's appearance on SNL last night. In a very presidential-like address, McCain made several cracks about his age, the best of which was his line that, "I have the courage, the wisdom, the experience and, most importantly, the oldness necessary -- the oldness it takes to protect America, to honor her, love her and tell her about what cute things the cat did."

Unlike Reagan, McCain is limited physically as a result of the brutal treatment he received in the Hanoi Hilton, so his campaign must find a different way to attack the issue. But similar to Reagan, McCain is an incredibly gifted politician and humorist, and his likability and way of making voters feel comfortable will both go along way in assuaging concerns about his age. The SNL performance was the first step of many, in which McCain likely will address it head-on, and with his trademark self-depricating humor. Such would seem to be the most effective way of dismissing voters' concerns, and allowing the campaign to focus elsewhere.

Such as, perhaps, why Congressional Quarterly reported that the Changemaker voted with his party 97% of the time in 2007.

15 May 2008

Edwards endorses the Pope of Hope

No surprise here. Edwards has had one thing on his mind since his exit from the primary, and at a time the Obama/HRC battle had barely begun: a second shot at being VP. As HRC has been pushed closer to the center, it has become plainly obvious that Obama's brand of liberalism fell directly in line with Edwards' loony, patronizing populism. So at first blush, although it seems surprising that Edwards sat out this long, he clearly wished to avoid endorsing the wrong candidate.

Then again, he's promised to dedicate the rest of his life eliminating poverty, one $400 haircut at a time. So perhaps he's been busy.

13 May 2008

Bob Barr tosses his tattered hat into the ring

Fresh off his humiliating, unwitting cameo in "Borat," the former Georgia congressman-turned-apparent-Ron-Paul-disciple has announced that he will launch a bid for the presidency under the Libertarian Party banner. Barr's announcement does nothing more than negate the effect that Ralph Nader's likely run will have on the election, although his shortsighted, self-absorbed decision should serve to sufficiently shatter his credibility among the conservative base. Hope it's worth it, Congressman.

I had the opportunity several years ago to sit in a conference room with Ralph Nader and a number of other local reporters and speak with him before his speech at Truman State. Though his political views are wildly extreme, almost Marxist, Nader struck me as a genuinely principled man who simply was running because he thought it the best way to carry forward his message. However, no matter what Nader or his followers may claim, he singlehandedly delivered the presidency to Bush in 2000 and helped cement Kerry's defeat in 2004. It's one thing to stand on principle; it's another thing entirely to let those principles blind someone to the realistic effect his candidacy has on the future of the country. If not for Nader, Dubya would be a mere historical footnote.

And so it is for Mr. Barr. It's nice to see a politician break with his party on principle (Joe Lieberman), but it's different when a politician's "principled" stance blinds him to what he could do to the future of the country. McCain has rightly noted that this is a landmark election in which two diametrically opposed views of government will collide. In the opinion of most conservatives, Barack Obama's brand of idelogical extremism, dressed up with nonsensical post-partisan platitudes, should be shot out of the sky. Thanks to Bob Barr, doing so has become that much more difficult.

Perhaps the good congressman didn't want to be remembered by his hilarious interview at the hands of a British comedian posing as a Kazakhstani simpleton. But now is a particularly bad time to attempt to reclaim his 15 minutes.

09 May 2008

The path to victory begins to emerge

"I didn’t get into this race thinking that I could avoid this kind of politics. But I am running for president because this is the time to end it."

So said the High Priest of Hyde Park in his victory speech Tuesday night. The likes of Paul Krugman, Keith Olbermann and the staff of The Nation have found themselves starry-eyed by how inspiring this message sounds. But in order to actually believe that Obama is a different type of politician, one must willfully blind himself to the way in which the Changemaker has conducted his campaign so far.

First, after McCain had the audacity to point out that a senior Hamas official offered a public endorsement of Obama's candidacy, the junior senator shot back that McCain was "losing his bearings" -- a line usually directed at someone advancing in age who appears to be suffering from mental slippage. Secondly, Obama has gone out of his way at rallies and in campaign speeches to punctuate any remark about McCain with mocking deference to his "five decades of service to our country" -- obviously, pointing out that McCain has been around far too long. And third, Obama has a distracting habit of decrying the "politics of old," while simultaneously levying one of the following two generalities at McCain: he either "offers a third term of President Bush's failed policies" or "represents the politics of yesterday."

This M.O. is fascinating.

Over the summer and into the fall, the Chairman and I will dissect how exactly McCain can snatch victory from the jaws of what should be a landslide Republican defeat in November. But the first path is clear. Even putting aside Obama's laughably extremist record, McCain can go for the jugular and echo this remark from his top aide, Mark Salter:

"We have all become familiar with Sen. Obama's new brand of politics. First, you demand civility from your opponent. Then you attack him, distort his record and send out surrogates to question his integrity. It is called hypocrisy, and it is the oldest kind of politics there is."

And thus emerges have point number one. Obama's appeal derives from the novel idea of running on a "change" platform and claiming to rise above the normal partisan fray. It's a compelling idea, to be sure, as the Pope of Hope continues to ride the wave and has nearly buried Sen. Clinton in the process. But running a campaign based on platitudes is dangerous, especially when one's actions don't quite comport with the rhetoric.

During the Democratic primary, the Clintons proved that Obama can indeed be goaded into mudslinging. It's simply impossible for a politician to resist counterpunching when he repeatedly is being hit with dirt. And when Obama goes negative, his post-partisan image is exposed for what it is: A complete fraud.

Rarely has there been a candidate with more unaired dirty laundry than Obama. He is not a man frought with ethical issues, but inside the phony independent shell is a Pandora's box of material at which McCain can pound away.

If McCain doesn't wish to go negative, perhaps he should have stepped aside for Mitt or Rudy. The voters deserve to know how phony Obama's post-partisan message is. And McCain had better be ready to throw the kitchen sink at the Changemaker come August.

McCain tips his hat...

...to the Pope of Hope and HRC at the Time 100 dinner last night:

"It’s a tough business. And though we are rivals, we should respect each other’s willingness to hazard it. Senator Obama is a man of unusual eloquence, who has performed the very worthy service of summoning to the political arena Americans who once wrongly thought it of little benefit to them. Senator Clinton has demonstrated great tenacity and courage; two qualities I have always esteemed. I count myself among their many admirers. Please join me, then, in a toast to my opponents and compatriots, Senators Clinton and Obama, and to the noisy, contentious, striving, beautiful country we hope to lead."

06 May 2008

The Changemaker hits Carville

James Carville, the Democratic strategist, longtime Clinton devotee and the Beltway's undisputed leader in total baldness, turned in the line of the campaign several days ago, saying that if HRC "gave [Obama] one of her cajones, they'd both have two."

So on "Nightline" yesterday, the recently emasculated High Priest of Hyde Park felt the need to hit back, remarking that the Ragin' Cajun "is well-known for spouting off his mouth without always knowing what he's talking about." The junior senator wasn't done, also saying that Carville was all about "a lot of talk and not getting things done for the American people."


First of all, Senator, he's an adviser. He is not a politician. Carville did not rack up the most liberal voting record in the United States Senate in 2007, according to the nonpartisan National Journal, nor did he vote with his own party 97% of the time, according to Congressional Quarterly. Likewise, Carville was in the midst of helping balance the budget during Clinton's second term and helped achieve a bipartisan overhaul of the nation's severely outdated welfare system. Your notable bipartisan accomplishments, Senator, consist of ... well ... . perhaps your staff can send us a memo.

Secondly, perhaps Obama would be better off playing nice with the man who helped orchestrate victories in two separate presidential elections, one of them a most convincing thumping of an incumbent, and who was the closest adviser to one of the most popular presidents of the 20th century. When one gets past strategy and the discussion turns to the proper role of government, Carville and I are rarely on the same page. But the man is a truly brilliant strategist -- the GOP has no one like him -- and if Carville was a member of Team Hope, I believe the Changemaker would have wrapped up the nomination long ago.

Obama had better be careful when going after fellow Dems, especially those with the credibility and clout of Carville. Despite having cornered the market among those who have suffered a cessation of brain functions, His Hopeness will need a unified Democratic Party to defeat McCain in November.

I've been long wondering what exactly it is that the Changemaker speaks of when he mentions the "politics of hope." Whatever it is, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, and assume his attacks on Carville were a temporary diversion into the old, tired politics of yesterday.

05 May 2008

GOP Veepstakes: 5/5/08

Consider this the first installment of the Bipartisan Rules' power rankings assessing the field of potential McCain VP candidates.

1. Tim Pawlenty: Age (47), broad moderate appeal, strong executive experience, and popularity as a 2-term governor in a swing state (Minnesota) make him the clear frontrunner. Perhaps the thing that puts Pawlenty at the top of the list is that he has stayed loyal to McCain since day one.

2. Condoleeza Rice: Would help form a dynamic ticket with immense bipartisan appeal. The worst-case scenario for Dems. However, McCain can't afford to let himself be tied to the current administration, and picking a Bush Cabinet official -- even one as competent and popular as Condi -- would allow Dems to tee off.

3. Charlie Crist: Could this be his reward for effectively delivering a Florida primary win to McCain, thus propelling him to the nomination? Crist is in his mid-50s and is immensely popular in his home state (Florida) that promises to be a battleground, at least against HRC.

4. Mitt Romney: Just won't go away. Does for McCain what Biden or Webb would do for Obama: address his biggest weakness (the economy). It's unclear that Romney would appeal to any particular constituency, however, and there is no reason to think that he would bring any new voters to the table. On top of all that, McCain seems to genuinely hate his guts.

5. Bobby Jindal: According to Bill Kristol, quietly being talked about by Team McCain as a serious candidate. Jindal, the first-term governor of Louisiana and son of Indian immigrants, is extraordinarily young (36) but has a strong reformist streak and would be an intriguing pick.

6. Tom Ridge: Pro: Would almost certainly deliver Pennsylvania to McCain and deliver a crushing blow to the Dems. Reinforces McCain's already impressive foreign policy credentials. Con: Is in his mid-60s, and McCain has already acknowledged that it would be difficult to pick a pro-choice veep.

Until the Chairman corrects me, the top 3 for HRC:

1. Wesley Clark: One of HRC's most strident supporters would lend enormous foreign-policy cred, as well as start eating away at McCain's chokehold on moderates.

2. Evan Bayh: At 53 has already been a governor and into his 2nd term in the Senate. Considered relatively moderate and would put a traditionally red state into play. Tough to argue that any combo would be better for Dems than HRC/Bayh.

3. John Edwards: The man who says he will commit the rest of his life to eliminating poverty, one $400 haircut at a time, hasn't endorsed anyone yet. However, if she wins the nomination, HRC will need to reach out to the left, and adding Edwards would be an olive branch to the lefty populists who worship at the altar of the Changemaker.

...and the top 3 for Obama:

1. Joe Biden: Dems' version of McCain; foreign policy attacks go completely out the window if Biden is Obama's VP. Also, a great attack dog. Only drawback is that Delaware's finest has a history of saying some pretty stupid things.

2. Jim Webb: Former Reagan cabinet official and Vietnam vet. Huge moderate appeal. Like Biden, would be a smart choice to offset Obama's complete lack of substance or knowledge on foreign policy.

3. Bill Richardson: Risked longtime friendship with the Clinton's to switch sides mid-stream. Would deliver the Hispanic vote to Obama, something that many pundits believe -- especially against McCain -- he will have a hard time winning.

02 May 2008

McCain and Bush

A CNN/Opinion Research poll released today puts President Bush's disapproval rating at 71 percent, which reportedly is the highest for any president since such surveys began in the 1930s. His approval rating currently sits at a lofty 28 percent. As Sen. McCain likes to say, when one's approval rating is that low, it's dwindling down to blood relatives and paid staffers.

This poll illustrates what should be abundantly clear to Team McCain: Every single possible tie to the Bush administration must be severed if McCain hopes to defeat either HRC or Obama in November. McCain is already saddled with baggage -- Iraq, his admitted lack of economic expertise and the "100 years" comment that the Dems will continue to distort from now 'til November. McCain doesn't need to be further tied to a wildly unpopular president when virtually every indicator points to another long November night for the GOP.

That is, except for the fact that McCain is anything but a conventional Republican, and in terms of both personality and policy, is a near-180-degree turn from Bush. This must be highlighted above all else. Dem mouthpieces argue that McCain has spent the last seven years pandering to the far right, but nothing is further from the truth. Last year, according to the nonpartisan National Journal, McCain racked up the 48th-most conservative voting record in the Senate. His rating from the American Conservative Union was a modest 65. (These numbers, of course, are nicely contrasted with National Journal's conclusion that Obama out-liberaled even Ted Kennedy, Dick Durbin and Bernie Sanders.)

Of course, McCain will vote with the GOP on many issues -- from taxes to judges to abortion to defense -- because, as he admits, he is a fundamentally conservative guy. It's been his principled stands on certain issues that he believes shouldn't be partisan -- on things like campaign finance, the rewriting of the Senate rules, climate change and torture -- that have distinguished him.

There is a reason that McCain was the only GOP candidate for president with a realistic shot at beating either Obama or HRC -- because of that independent streak. McCain did not win the nomination by pandering to the likes of Limbaugh, Hannity, Ingraham, Dobson, Santorum or the crowd that followed Huckabee. Devotees of such GOP figures, when faced with the choice between HRC/Obama and any upright mammal, will invariably pull the lever for whatever name has the word "Republican" beneath it.

McCain can only be hurt by allowing Bush to inject himself into the general election. Too much stands to be lost. The battle will be decided in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nevada and New Mexico, and the fight will be for those independent voters who voted for Reagan, jumped ship for either Perot or Clinton, and have found themselves disenchanted with seven-plus years of Bush. McCain must win them. And he cannot win them by allowing himself to be tied to perhaps the most unpopular president in history. (I would offer as an aside that this might even include crossing Condoleeza Rice's name off the VP short list.)

How history will judge Bush is another story entirely. For one, Harry S. Truman was also highly unpopular when he left office in 1952. But in the current political climate, if McCain wishes to realize his longtime presidential ambitions, he must tell Bush to simply stay away, and distance himself from the current administration as much as possible.

"Mission Accomplished"?

According to Jonathan Martin over at Politico.com, the DNC plans to hit McCain over the next few weeks regarding the five-year anniversary of President Bush's ill-fated, ill-conceived and extremely ill-timed "mission accomplished" proclamation regarding Iraq.

What does RNC spokesman Danny Diaz have to say about that?

"Democrats will go into the fall election with a candidate whose chief foreign policy credential is either studying abroad or dodging sniper fire."


01 May 2008

Finally -- a reason to watch Hannity & Colmes

I usually don't watch Hannity & Colmes, mostly because I find both commentators nauseating to listen to. But I tuned in last night because my boy Mark Steyn, the thinking man's columnist to the world, was making an appearance. (Steyn has a pretty sexy high-brow British accent, by the way. I'm sure my fiancee would love to hear me say that.) Not only was Steyn on, but the show-opening panel included former congressman John Kasich and my favorite Democrat (other than the Chairman, of course), Bob Beckel, who I think literally has nightmares about John McCain. Although five people is way too many to have arguing at once, Anderson Cooper 360 this was not.

The topic turned to the effect that Rev. Wright would have on Obama in November. Beckel argued that Iraq and Bush (who he called "the most unpopular president in history") would be millstones around McCain's neck, and to say that Wright would be an even bigger drag on Obama was just being silly. However, in rebuttal, Steyn astutely pointed out something compelling -- two somethings, actually. First, as I mentioned in my Monday post, Obama has never been about the issues. Outside of the ridiculous pandering to blue-collar voters about pulling out of NAFTA, the Democratic primary has, because of the tone set by the Obama campaign, been about image and nonsense like "yes we can," "change" and a thousand other meaningless catchphrases. Obama's appeal is derived heavily -- if not entirely -- from his squeaky-clean, post-partisan image. He has built a castle made of sand by running entirely on his image and supposed good character. Things like Wright, Rezko and Bittergate are enormous problems, and do him far more damage than such revelations would do to Hillary or McCain. That's why these events receive so much coverage, and Hillary's sniper-fire story has been forgotten.

Secondly, Steyn correctly pointed out that presidential elections often are about character. (And I think that's different from image.) There was no reason for John Kerry to lose the 2004 election, other than the fact that he was a snobbish, out-of-touch flip-flopper who gave many moderate voters no reason to trust him. While that might have played well in Cape Cod, voters look for entirely different things in Des Moines and Topeka. A candidate's character is of utmost importance to voters. What many liberals fail to realize is that Bush, for all his faults, appeared to be a regular guy, and voters didn't think he intended to sell them down the river. As Frank Caliendo so astutely pointed out, it seems that, much unlike Kerry, Bush suffered from case of "truthful Tourette's." Again stiff, stuffy opponents like Gore and Kerry, his honesty and simple persona were perhaps his greatest assets. Why else would he have won a second term?

What McCain's hundreds of town-hall meetings have illustrated is a guy who voters can vehemently disagree with, yet walk away respecting deeply. Obama might win the image war still, but what an incredible asset McCain's character is. His life story is compelling, his honesty is admirable, and the fact that he is a genuine war hero is invaluable to his candidacy. If Obama wins the election, it will be because the GOP hasn't done enough to impugn his character, highlight his extremist record and paint him as just another politician. As Wright/Rezko/Bittergate/NAFTA pandering has shown, the material is there.

Come September, McCain had better be ready to take the gloves off.