Elephant Autopsy

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Bush Administration, Karl Rove, Republican Party

Liz Sidoti of the Associated Press reports that Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida will replace Ken Mehlman as chair of the Republican National Committee.

Martinez started slowly in the Senate where he was embarrassed by a one-page unsigned memo that originated in his office. Written by a Martinez aide and disavowed by Senate Republicans, the memo laid out the political benefits to getting involved in the fate of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman whose end-of-life battle became a rallying cry for conservatives.

“This is an important moral issue and the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue,” said the memo. Its author resigned.

A quick cruise around the rightie blogs tells me “the base” is way underwhelmed. They’re pissed because Martinez, who immigrated from Cuba in 1962, is a moderate on immigration. Allahpundit:

Hot Air commenters agree: it’s an awful pick, transparently aimed at appealing to pro-amnesty Hispanic voters. If the GOP goes ahead and puts Boehner and Blunt back in place in the minority leadership, you’re looking at a very dire electoral situation in 2008.

John Aravosis of AMERICAblog:

It’s probably no surprise that the GOP chose someone anti-gay after rumors had swirled for years about the exact sexual orientation of outgoing RNC chair Ken Mehlman (Mehlman publicly avoided the question for years).

But even more interesting is that a top staffer on Martinez’s Senate campaign, Kirk Fordham, was also the former chief of staff to child sex predator ex-congressman Mark Foley. Foley represented Florida in the House. Martinez represents Florida in the Senate.

I’m just saying…

I’m saying the Republicans are flapping around like a headless chicken. And who is in charge these days, anyway? President Bush is still, I assume, the official head of the party, but he’s a head that few seem to be following at the moment. Even the VRWC media machine is abandoning him. The Bush cult of personality appears to be evaporating rapidly, which is a good thing. But the Republicans have invested everything in Bush for the past six years, and now their investment is deflating like a failed soufflé. What are they going to do?

More post-election commentary — Chuck Todd writes,

When a political party gets shellacked, the intra-party feud becomes dominated by the base, not the moderates. The base will swear, in this case, that the party needed more true-blue conservatives running, or that it should have been more conservative in its congressional governance. And then these losses would have been avoided.

There are some shreds of truth in that thinking, but the GOP will only isolate itself even more if it takes a turn to the right. Republicans will not regain the majority if they continue to grow away from the inner-suburban voter. Missouri and Virginia, for instance, sent that message loud and clear.

My survey of the Right Blogosphere tells me righties want to erase the past couple of years. That not being an option, they still want hard-Right positions from the GOP. I’m sure the Christian Right is as militant as ever. Republicans must choose between appeasing its whackjob base and getting elected outside the Deep South. Will they (date I say it?) choose to move left to win back independent voters? Will they have to mirror the Clinton strategy of taking the base for granted (who else are they going to vote for?) and moving right?

Todd also provides evidence that President Bush’s last-minute trips to Missouri and Montana helped push those Senate seats into Democrats’ laps. In spite of what we were being told about a last-minute Republican “surge,” the Democrats actually picked up most of the last-minute votes in those states, according to Todd.

It’s hard not to look at the White House and wonder if it was flying blind. For 18 months, there was evidence that this was going to be a tough midterm thanks to basic history (six-year itch, after all) and the war in Iraq. So why didn’t Karl Rove attempt to do what he did in ’02 and ’04 and dictate the terms of the debate? It was clear this was going to be a national election, yet the White House stuck to its “stay the course” guns for way too long. Northeastern Republicans were desperate for Bush to pivot on Iraq and he just wouldn’t do it. When he finally did, it was too late.

The political arm of the Bush White House doesn’t usually miss this badly, but it appears this election was misjudged from the beginning. Maybe they believed all the “genius” books that were being written about them.

Todd predicts that “cooler heads will prevail,” and that Republicans will be thinking “moderate” (or a facsimile thereof) in 2008, even though this will alienate the base. But Karl Rove may still try to run Republican politics his way.

Dan Froomkin:

Rove’s divide-and-conquer political strategy, his insistence that Republican candidates embrace the war in Iraq as a campaign issue, his supremely self-assured predictions of victory — all were proven deeply, even delusionally wrong last week.

His prediction that Republicans would retain both houses of Congress, in particular, is hardly explicable by “bad math” and Mark Foley.

Either Rove lied or he’s clueless. Or both. But will that tarnish Rove’s reputation in Washington? Maybe not.

Rove, at least for the moment, remains too powerful to be ignored. Plus, he knows how to play the press like a fiddle. Right now, he’s on a rare, on-the-record charm offensive — and so far, it seems to be going pretty well.

Froomkin quotes several other analysts who say — as I wrote yesterday — that Rove is making excuses for his campaign decisions. For example, Peter Baker:

The Architect, as President Bush once called him, has a theory for why the building fell down. “Get me the one-pager!” he cried out to an aide, who promptly delivered a single sheet of paper that had been updated almost hourly since the midterm elections with a series of statistics explaining that the ‘thumping’ Bush took was not such a thumping after all.

The theory is this: The building’s infrastructure was actually quite sound. It was bad luck and seasonal shifts in the winds that blew out the walls — complacent candidates, an ill-timed Mark Foley page scandal and the predictable cycles of history. But the foundation is fine: “The Republican philosophy is alive and well and likely to reemerge in the majority in 2008.”

The rest of Washington might think Tuesday’s elections were a repudiation of Rove’s brand of politics, but Rove does not. . . .

Rove’s brand of politics aims to sharpen differences with the opposition, energize the conservative base and micro-target voters to pick off selected parts of the other side’s constituency. As he has in past elections, Rove designed a strategy to paint Democrats as weak on national security and terrorism, the “party of cut and run.”

In an expansive interview last week, Rove said that strategy was working until the House page sex scandal involving ex-representative Foley (R-Fla.) put the Republican campaign “back on its heels,” as he put it. “We were on a roll, and it stopped it,’ he said. ‘It revived all the stuff about Abramoff and added to it.”

This may be just bravado, but I’m betting it isn’t. As I wrote yesterday, Rove gained his reputation as a political genius by picking off Democratic incumbents in Southern states. Right now he’s in a place he’s never been before — standing beside an incumbent whose incompetence has been laid bare for the whole world to see. Is Rove smart enough to realize he needs to re-think his strategy? He doesn’t appear to be.

Mike Allen:

… here is Rove’s extraordinary explanation to Allen of his pre-election predictions:

[H]e does not believe his data let him down. “My job is not to be a prognosticator,” he said. “My job is not to go out there and wring my hands and say, ‘We’re going to lose.’ I’m looking at the data and seeing if I can figure out, Where can we be? I told the president, ‘I don’t know where this is going to end up. But I see our way clear to Republican control.'”

Kenneth Walsh writes for U.S. News and World Report:

[Rove] is telling GOP operatives and organizers that things weren’t as bad as they seemed and that the news media have been exaggerating the extent of GOP losses.

“There was a rush to say there was a huge wave against the Republican Party,” says a Republican strategist who is close to Rove. “That was premature.”

For example, Rove says many races went down to the wire–there were 35 House contests in which the winner got 51 percent of the vote or less–suggesting that the country is still closely divided between Republicans and Democrats. In the 18 races decided by 8,000 or fewer votes, the GOP won 12 and lost six, Rove says. Rove argues that there was a bad “environment” for the GOP, one marked by stories of scandal and corruption, intensified by the unpopularity of the Iraq war and President Bush.

Rove estimates that 10 House seats were lost to the GOP specifically because of one-time scandals and that those losses weren’t due to any flawed strategy on his part. Rove also says the results were not outside the norm in which a president’s party generally suffers losses in congressional elections in his sixth year. In addition, Rove tells glum Republicans that the party “saved” eight to 14 GOP candidates because of its vaunted 72-hour plan to get out the GOP vote.

However, Walsh says, there is much grumbling within the GOP. Bush critics complain Rove just continues to do what worked for him in the past and is too inflexible to change his tactics to match changing reality.

John Dickerson wrote last week that beltway Republicans were not blaming Karl Rove on last week’s loss. As reality sinks in many of them are likely to re-think their position. But George W. Bush is still head of the party, and Karl Rove is still his political strategist. Unless, somehow, another leader emerges before 2008, for the next couple of years its going to be every elephant for itself.

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13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Doug Hughes  •  Nov 13, 2006 @11:49 pm

    In the battle of Gettysburg, the Union won a bloody battle because they gained the high ground. There’s a huge advantage to position, and that’s true in politics. Dems are in a position to expose truth – facts.

    Christians, most of them real nice folks, don’t beleive we are conducting torture. They believe we are playing loud rock music at individuals ‘caught on the battlefield’. The truth about who we are holding, how we got them, and what we are doing to them will shock these folks out of their socks. Every Republican who voted for the torture bill will be vulnerable. The truth will split the base.

    Ther’s a laundry list of issues – illegal activities – that Bush has previously hidden under the blanket of national security. A whole layer of the Republican base can be peeled away if the facts are what I suspect. This is if the Dems are smart enough to govern from the center and build up a stack of wins – or a stack of presidential vetos on popular issues over the next 2 years.

  2. k  •  Nov 14, 2006 @12:21 am

    Susan Ralston
    Rove’s personnal assistant, Abramoff’s former personnal assistant, recipient of ‘gifts’, resigned right before election.
    Karl may say it is a brush up of scandal that got the GOP but it is also his scandal.

  3. Baddkonig  •  Nov 14, 2006 @1:25 am

    ShitFlower (ROVE) is an opportunist. If he was such a genius, he would solve Iraq’s political problems, which also happen to be Shrubs political problems. These scum have never told the TRUTH, so why would they say to their followers that the ship is sinking?

    They will always ‘stay the course’. It is all that they know.

  4. Swami  •  Nov 14, 2006 @1:31 am

    I don’t know if Rove should take the rap for the thumpin’. After all, for the past 2 years it’s been a steady barrage of negative events that has had a cumulative effect to just overwhelm comprehension and cause the voters to declare that they’ve had enough, and that the republicans rightfully became the object of their frustration. Nobody can totally recount all the instances that compose their frustrations, but they gather a sense of things being out of control and a knowledge that there is no accountability to be found.
    A short list of my frustrations as a voter that has passed through my mind as events, and have left a residual of negativity and insecurity would be :

    600 million dollars in arms gone missing in Iraq

    11 Billion dollars in quarterly profits by oil companies

    untold billions in reconstruction contracts unfufilled

    obscene profits from war profiteers —with no oversight

    corporate lobbyist running amuk in Washington

    Billions of dollars given in no-bid contracts for Katrina

    8 billion a month for Iraq

    the loss of my liberties to deception and lies

    politicians who are clearly running their own game with little concern for the welfare of the American people

    a President whose rhetoric of lie and deceptions is an insult to my intelligence

    torture and abuse of human rights

    secrect prisons

    purposely inducing fear for political manipulation

    And the list could go on if I was to devote more effort at recall. So what I’m thinking is that with all that negative maybe Rove shouldn’t be judged so harshly. He had some real obstacles to overcome that weren’t in his control.

  5. Zeus  •  Nov 14, 2006 @1:40 am

    We’re not off to a good start –

    Pelosi is backing Murtha as House Majority Leader. I hope this isn’t a mistake. I was hoping for a clean slate and Murtha is not without baggage when it comes to scandal – the same type of scandal that showed the Republicans the door.

    Nancy – I hope you know what you’re doing.

  6. Paul  •  Nov 14, 2006 @9:29 am

    Nancy is playing politics as usual. That is a deadly game to be playing right now after a huge election in favor of change. Why can’t a leader for once just say screw senority, screw the common wisdom of how things have always been done, I want good, ethically spotless people in leadership? Why can it only be between Hoyer and Murtha? I find that often the people who wan’t power the most are the least deserving. Give the leadership to some new, clean blood.

    “Hot Air commenters agree.” Why is it always right wing sites who are so proud of themselves for thinking the same way and reinforcing their own stereotypes? When was the last time you read “Mahablog readers agree.” or “Unclaimed Territory commenters agree.” These people are really so insecure in their beliefs they need constant reinforcement of them.

    I also see alot of talk about how the Dems can be bipartisan. I say after six years of being treated like trash, it is not the Democrats job to extend the olive branch. Look how far Bill Clinton’s attempt to work with the Repubs got him. 2008 is the real prize now for any party serious about enacting it’s agenda and with war, environmental destruction, new diseases and nuclear proliferation, all of humanity is at stake. The more the Dems try and play nice with the Repubs and not push their own agenda strongly and investigate the corruption and criminality of the last six years, as well as true election reform, the more likely another right-wing takeover will happen in 2008.

    The more Pelosi plays politics as usual and batts an eye at ethics violations, the more she plays into the Republicans hands and increases the cinicism of the public.

  7. maha  •  Nov 14, 2006 @9:54 am

    Re comment #6 — I’m just paranoid enough to be entertaining the notion that Paul is a paid troll of the VRWC. Certainly he’s come up with outstanding rightie talking points.

    There are good arguments to be made for both speaker candidates, but I’m leaning in same direction as Steve Gilliard and Taylor Marsh — Murtha’s the guy we want. But the choice comes down to which issue you think will be more vital in the next couple of years — Iraq or ethics? Hoyer has no ethics problems I know of and has a much more liberal voting record overall than Murtha, but Hoyer is much wussier on Iraq. On the Iraq War, Hoyer “plays nice with the Repubs” much more than Murtha.

    If you really are a Democrat and not a troll, Paul — STFU until we get a better picture of how the Murtha-Hoyer thing will play out.

  8. Steve M.  •  Nov 14, 2006 @11:26 am

    Christians, most of them real nice folks, don’t beleive we are conducting torture. They believe we are playing loud rock music at individuals ‘caught on the battlefield’. The truth about who we are holding, how we got them, and what we are doing to them will shock these folks out of their socks.

    No it won’t. It never will. Maybe — maybe — if we have videotape of brutal torture and a clearly identifiable victim who’s unambiguously innocent. And even then the GOP base won’t really have a change of heart if the victim is Muslim. (Maybe they would if a Christian somehow got caught in the dragnet….)

    Zealots simply want to believe what they want to believe. America doesn’t torture, and if it does, the people who are tortured deserve it.

    (See: the Just World Hypothesis.)

  9. Lynne  •  Nov 14, 2006 @2:35 pm

    I don’t believe anyone deserves torture and have a huge disconnect with those who feel differently.

  10. Donna  •  Nov 14, 2006 @6:25 pm

    Maybe Rove caught the administration incompetence cooties.

  11. Paul  •  Nov 15, 2006 @9:44 am

    I just read your comment about me perhaps being a republican troll for the VRWC. I don’t know where you get that from or even what the VRWC is. You can be as paranoid as you want but there was nothing in my comment but a concern that Pelosi was going to blow everything by playing the same game that the Republicans played, and her support for ethically challenged Murtha now shows that she is off to a bad start.

    Actually if I was a troll I would be encouraging you all to support people like Murtha. I mean, come on. His ethics are already an issue on Democritic supporting sites like yours, think what the right wing and MSM will do with this. Sorry, but I just don’t buy the myth that we have to choose between tweedle-dee and tweedle-dumber. If that is a republican talking point to you then you are off on some tangent I don’t understand.

    “If you really are a Democrat and not a troll, Paul……..” Are those the only two options here?

    Actually I am not a Democrat, never said I was. I am an indipendant who thinks that Bush threatens and has already done great damage to America and the world. The Democrats are the best hope of stopping this move toward authoritarianism and I don’t want them to blow it. The Dems have lot’s of issues of their own that need to be cleaned up and fixed and staying quiet or saying RA! RA! Dems is not going to help with that.

  12. maha  •  Nov 15, 2006 @10:15 am

    “The Democrats are the best hope of stopping this move toward authoritarianism and I don’t want them to blow it. The Dems have lot’s of issues of their own that need to be cleaned up and fixed and staying quiet or saying RA! RA! Dems is not going to help with that.”

    True, but knee-jerk repetition of rightie talking points (in ignorance of the larger issues) isn’t going to help with that, either.

    However, you did inspire me to write a longer defense of Murtha as the better candidate (over Hoyer) for the House Majority Leader position. So I thank you for that. Both Hoyer and Murtha have serious flaws, but if you step back and look at the whole picture, especially Iraq, Murtha looks better and better.

    The sad fact is that probably nobody who’s served in Congress more than a couple of months is squeaky clean. The reasons for that are complex, but dumping one guy because of his ethical problems in favor of another guy with a different set of ethical problems isn’t going to clean up Congress. The way to clean up Congress (and it never has been and never will be pure) is to effect rule changes vis a vis K Street, crack down on earmarks, and initiate public financing of election campaigns. Until those things happen even honest legislators are going to be pushed into the dirt.

  13. Doug Hughes  •  Nov 15, 2006 @8:22 pm

    “The way to clean up Congress (and it never has been and never will be pure) is to effect rule changes vis a vis K Street, crack down on earmarks, and initiate public financing of election campaigns. Until those things happen even honest legislators are going to be pushed into the dirt. ”

    Barbara – the was sooooo well SAID! Bravo! The point – as far as the discussion about Murta vs Hoyer vs an unknown (with less baggage) is clout. Hoyer seems to want to build his clout on a Dem version of the K Street Project. That means selling out the voters and strong-arming big business for big bucks. I can’t subscribe to that.

    Murta has some baggage, but he had the cohones to call for withdrawl. He was damn near the first to make the call and he is much more recognized for that stand than for an incident 26 years old. Nancy P should be granted a lot of lattitude in selecting the Majority leader.

    “New Blood” sounds great. But the majority leader will have to herd cats. We have a diverse gang in the House; to deliver on the promise of responsible, fair legislation to show we are worthy of governing, someone has to be behind the scenes, making promises, making deals and making threats if that’s what it takes to get a majority online when it’s time to vote. A newby isn’t likely to have the touch.



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