Okay, now what in Iraq?

Politics and policy.
Nov. 8 2006 5:38 PM

Rummy's Gone. Next.

Okay, now what in Iraq?

A New Architect: Maybe Matthew Dowd is the new smartest man in Republican politics. Karl Rove's status as political genius took a big hit Tuesday. Today Republican strategists were not talking about the GOP realignment that Rove once predicted but, as one put it, "a six to 10 year climb out from" Rove's tactics, which have emphasized the base over the political middle. While the recriminations come in and the verdict of history settles, Dowd is looking pretty good. He was not only the pollster and strategist for Bush's victories in 2000 and 2004, but in 2006 Dowd was chief strategist to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose resurrection and victory are the brightest story in the Republican ranks. Dowd's book, Applebee's America, will no doubt be required reading as GOP operatives lick their wounds and plot the next revolution. … 5:44 p.m. (link)

"It was a thumping."It was comforting to hear that candor from the president. Perhaps it was the months of relentless spin or the president's charge that Democrats were the party of "cut and run" while his Iraq policy moved ever closer to theirs, but it was a relief to hear George Bush say a true, if uncomfortable, thing out loud. Perhaps if he had said the true and uncomfortable things about the war in Iraq, he wouldn't have had to say that about the Election Day result.

Listening to Bush's press conference, it seemed like the administration's Iraq policy is up for grabs. Last week the president said he was standing by Secretary Rumsfeld, and now Rumsfeld is gone. Bush had said he was satisfied with the progress, and now he's not. All previous statements had been rendered inoperative by the election result. They were no more meaningful than election-year slogans.

But is that right? Is the president now being as candid about Iraq as he is about Tuesday's election? We'll see if the president shows the same kind of post-election flexibility on the more complex questions related to Iraq. Is he willing to rethink his approach, or is he shedding Rumsfeld the way he dropped the "stay the course language," only to stay fixed on all other points of debate. Bush says he's looking forward to the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group headed by Jim Baker, but the group is likely to make painful recommendations: partitioning Iraq into semiautonomous regions, changing the al-Maliki government, asking for diplomatic cooperation from neighboring countries like Syria and Iran, or adding more U.S. troops. Bush has either refused to consider them or stayed mum. (One hopes that by picking Robert Gates, a member of the Study Group, to replace Rumsfeld, Bush is pre-emptively embracing, rather than co-opting, its recommendations.)

Democratic leaders might wonder soon if getting rid of Rumsfeld so quickly was such a great idea. The boogeyman of Rumsfeld made it easy to be a critic. By casting him aside, Bush forces Democrats to make decisions on those more complicated issues while they're still figuring out where to hold their caucus meetings. The Rumsfeld departure might have been a helpful act of symbolism, but it tells us nothing about whether Bush or the newly empowered Democrats have any chance of agreeing on a way forward in Iraq. ... 5:30 p.m.(link)

John Dickerson John Dickerson

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.

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"But if the Democrats were to take control, their policy is pretty clear to me: it's cut and run."—George W. Bush, Oct. 24, 2006

"The Democrats are the party of cut and run."—George W. Bush, Oct. 10, 2006

"I don't know how many members of Congress said, "Get out right now." I mean, the—candidates running for Congress and the Senate. I haven't seen that chart. I—I—some of the comments I read, well, they said, 'Well, look, we just need a different approach to make sure we succeed.' Well, you can find common ground there."—George W. Bush, Nov. 8, 2006 … 2:59 p.m. (link)

Deciderer Time: It would show some measure of élan if George Bush at his press conference Wednesday would make fun of his own jibes at Democrats. "It turns out you were right to be measuring the drapes before victory and that's a good thing, because now we can get right to work and I look forward to working with you." This joke would show respect, a little deference due a co-equal branch (a first!), apologize a little for the heated words of the campaign, and start toward the goal of the entire press conference: moving on.

Two years ago at this time, the president gave a press conference and put his election victory in perspective: "After hundreds of speeches and three debates and interviews and the whole process, where you keep basically saying the same thing over and over again, that when you win, there is a feeling that the people have spoken and embraced your point of view."

Tuesday the people spoke, and they did not embrace his point of view this time. He has lost the country on Iraq, and now the election has ratified that. This verdict was coming before the election results were in as Republican candidates backed away from the president and his Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. But now Bush has been handed dramatic examples like the outcome in the Rhode Island Senate  race that show just how unhappy the country is with the war. He argued that Iraq was central to the war on terror and that seems to have backfired. Six in 10 doubt that the Iraq war has improved U.S. security. The exit polls show the Republican Party lost its advantage over Democrats on which party could better handle terrorist threats.

It was the official White House position that nobody was thinking about a world where Democrats controlled either house of Congress, but someone must have been. After Iraq, administration officials surely knew the cost of failing to plan for unwelcome disasters.

The president will offer conciliatory language, of course. His spokesman, Tony Snow, will presumably retreat from claiming  that Democrats have no respect for the troops, no experience with them, and that they are not a serious political party. But will the president show any actual bi-partisanship—will he sacrifice something or show that he accepts the judgment of the voters that he was so anxious to embrace when it went his way?

Advisers have been saying that Bush will rely on the bi-partisanship of his Texas days when, as governor, he worked with Democratic Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock. But they have sold that line before—repeatedly. Those Bullock days were a long time ago. As a president, Bush has only shown brief spasms of bi-partisanship. "We have never put any skin in the game," said one Bush adviser of the lack of interest in bi-partisanship.

Before Election Day, the White House shelved the expression "stay the course" when talking about Iraq, but the president did not do much to change his Iraq policy. Now he will talk about bi-partisanship, but the test will be whether, on the question of the war and how to proceed, he will offer more than just some new words. ... 2:43 a.m. (link)

Rhode Island Message? Dick Cheney recently reasserted that Ned Lamont's primary victory over Joe Lieberman was a sign to the terrorists that Democrats were weak on terror. The vice president, who is away on a so-far uneventful hunting trip, is presumably happy that Lieberman won. But what does he make of the story of poor Lincoln Chaffee? The Rhode Island senator voted against the war, and 62 percent of his constituents told exit pollsters they approved of his conduct. And yet they voted him out of office. Why? Iraq. Of those voters who strongly disapprove of the war in Iraq, 27 percent voted for Chaffee, and 72 percent voted for Sheldon Whitehouse. Not good news for the other Whitehouse. … 12:54 a.m.(link)

Quotes at the Wire: Here are some amusing things I clipped from the last moments of the 2006 race:

"We got a lot of I told you so moments right now because polls are tightening and people are thinking about issues." —Tony Snow to Rush Limbaugh Monday about coming Republican successes.

" 'I feel like I'm in ninth grade going in for a chemistry test I knew I didn't study for. I'm going to fail, and there's nothing I can do about it.' "—Senior Republican aide on the Hill to CNN's Dana Bash.

"I am God fearing second amendment supporting and as I said before I like girls and I like football…You don't have to worry about me e-mailing little boy pages on the Senate floor…Politics is way to puny for the Jesus I serve and Love… The real guiding force in this race is my Lord and Savior. I serve a big God. I serve an enormously big God."—TN Senate candidate Harold Ford on various MSNBC interviews.

"We're also joined from around the country by a couple more webcams and bloggers who couldn't make it."—CNN host of "Blogger Party."

"She's going to have enough money to burn a wet mule."—Haley Barbour on Hillary Clinton's 2008 run.

"Casey's campaign style was sleep apnea—periods of breathless gasping interrupted by occasional incoherent snorts."—Time's Joe Klein on Bob Casey beating Rick Santorum.

"Guys, this is a football."—J.C. Watts's sports analogy to explain how Republicans will have to focus on basics again.

"He completed something."—Keith Olberman on Heath Shuler the former professional football quarterback winning in North Carolina. ... 12:50 a.m. ( link

Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2006

Not Running on 911: If you've got Abramoff connections, it's not exactly clear whether you'll pay a political price, but if you make someone call 911, you're likely to lose your election. Republican John Sweeny lost in New York. His wife called 911 claiming a domestic disturbance. Don Sherwood lost in Pennsylvania. His girlfriend, not his wife, locked herself in the bathroom, called 911, and claimed he had tried to choke her. …9:40  ( link)

Blowing Smoke: Republicans said they would win in the Maryland, Michigan, and New Jersey Senate races. They've lost all three. So, were they delusional and incompetent, or were they just spinning? They spent actual dollars in those races late in the contest, so perhaps the evidence supports the former! The momentum for those long-shot races sure was strong. After the networks had called Maryland for the Democrat Ben Cardin, RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman said that Republican "Michael Steele could be making incredible history." … 9:34 p.m. ( link)

Bloggers! Bloggers! Bloggers! Nevermind. Joe Lieberman won in Connecticut. Didn't  we  always  know? ... 9:15 p.m. ( link)

What Kind of Party: Republicans have an easy post-election fight: George Bush and the war are deeply unpopular. They need to fix that. Democrats have a tougher spat. Are they the party of the moderate-to-conservative Democrats that may deliver them a majority, or are they the party of their liberal-activist base? So far, the count is two to one in favor of the conservatives. Sherrod Brown has won the Ohio Senate seat on a campaign of old-fashioned populism. On the other side, Bob Casey, a pro-life candidate, has won the Senate seat in Pennsylvania, and social conservative Brad Ellsworth has also won in the Indiana's 8th Congressional District

This is going to be a wonderful fight. Brown won by taking his economic message to those rural districts where Republicans have usually done well (we'll see if this is really true in the exit polls). So, liberal activists have a strong piece of evidence, in an electorally crucial state, for the case they've been making all along: that Democrats don't have to match Republicans on values issues but instead stick to their economic message. If McCaskill wins in Missouri, they'll get another piece of evidence—she made the same rural economic pitch.

But with those two victories by social conservatives, moderates in the party also have a case they can make. They can also argue that Republicans are so unpopular in Ohio, a fork could have gotten elected. Furthermore, evangelicals seem to have voted in large numbers for Jim Webb in Virginia. That's a state where two gubernatorial victories have given support to Democratic governors who are right in the middle. Let's see where Harold Ford ends up. Today he was talking about "his enormous God" in a final spasm of overt religiosity. If he wins, the moderates and conservatives are going to win this internal argument. … 9:09 p.m. ( link)

He's Heavy, He's My Brother: CNN reports exit polls in Florida show 44 percent of respondents approve of President Bush. 66 percent approve of Governor Bush. … 8:17 p.m. (link)

Not Net Joe: Lieberman never did get that Internet thing. I just got this e-mail, which the Lieberman campaign sent to his supporters: "Please remember to vote tomorrow and remind your friends to vote the bottom line. My name will be at the bottom of column two on your ballot tomorrow, so please remember to look past the partisan game-playing and vote the bottom line tomorrow." ... 7:06 p.m. ( link)

Ehrlich in Trouble: The incumbent Maryland governor just sent out this e-mail to supporters: "Hi, this is Governor Bob Ehrlich with an urgent message. I am asking for your immediate help in order to win. Our internal tracking polls show that turnout may be down in several of our key counties. … If you haven't already voted, please stop everything you are doing and go to vote right now. Polls are open until 8pm tonight." … 7:01 p.m. (link)

Ford’s Prayers Answered? Perhaps Harold Ford was right about God's role as his campaign manager. During the day miserable, cold, rainy weather moved out of Democratic-leaning Memphis—and on to Eastern Tennessee, an area that leans more Republican. ... 6:39 p.m. ( link)

Rove on the Radio: "It's going to be a very close race," Karl Rove told Sean Hannity, "but I'm confident of a Republican Senate and a Republican House if everyone turns out to vote." This means one of two things: Republicans learned in 2004 that exit polls leak and can depress turnout, so they've prepared a drive time blitz to keep GOP voters going to the polls and not home for a sulk.  Or, it means that turnout in Republican counties is low, and Republicans are freaked. … 5:19 p.m. ( link)

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