Dem Candidates Singing "Iraq Around The Clock" genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation
In 2004 most GOP candidates were traveling downstream in their "swiftboats" attacking every Democratic candidate that dared to criticize the Bush administration's war in Iraq. In 2006 you not only can't find the GOP "swiftboat", you can't find a Republican candidate willing to jump in and try to navigate the hapless dingy against the strong current of voter dissatisfaction with the seemingly never ending war. The New York Times offers a detailed look at the GOP's dilemma with how to best address the war in Iraq on the campaign trail.
With three weeks until Election Day, Republican candidates are barely mentioning Iraq on the campaign trail and in their television advertisements.
Even President Bush, continuing to attack Democrats for opposing the war, has largely dropped his call of “stay the course" and replaced it with a more nuanced promise of flexibility.
It is the Democrats who have seized on Iraq as a central issue. In debates and in speeches, candidates are pummeling Republicans with accusations of a failed war.
Rather than avoiding confrontation on Iraq as they did in 2002 and 2004, they are spotlighting their opposition in new television advertisements that feature mayhem and violence in Iraq, denounce Republicans for supporting Mr. Bush and, in at least one case, demand the ouster of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
It wasn't long ago that calls for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to resign were met by continued support from the Commander in Chief. At the time, Thought Theater suggested that the Democrats would be better served in the midterm election if Rumsfeld remained in his position and it is beginning to look like that may well be the case as the Bush administration can offer little more than rhetoric when it attempts to assert that it is adapting to the situation in the war torn country. With monthly U.S. casualty figures approaching a record level this October...well past three years into the conflict...there is little reason for Republican candidates to mention the war.
The development also suggests that what has been a classic strategy of Mr. Bush’s senior adviser, Karl Rove — to turn a weakness into a strength — is not working as well as the White House had hoped.
“As the Iraq war gets more unpopular, the environment for Republican candidates erodes," said Mark Campbell, a Republican strategist who represents several Congressional candidates, including Representative Jim Gerlach of Pennsylvania, who is fighting for re-election in one of the toughest races.
A senior strategist familiar with Republican polling who insisted on anonymity to share internal data said that as of midsummer it was clear that “stay the course" was a self-defeating argument.
Democrats, seeing similar data in their polls, advised candidates to confront Republicans aggressively, in the view that accusations that Democrats would “cut and run" would not blunt Democrats’ efforts to mock Republicans as wanting to “stay the course."
Republicans and Democrats said the White House effort to turn the war into an affirmative Republican issue was undercut by the increasing violence there, along with more American deaths that have brought the war home in the form of mournful articles in local newspapers.
That complicated the White House effort to present the Iraq war as part of the antiterrorism effort, and it has contributed to support for the war reaching record or near-record lows.
The effort to make Iraq a part of the war on terror just doesn't seem to be selling any longer and that may well be because many Americans now believe that the Iraq conflict may actually be fomenting more terrorist animosity and may not necessarily be a favorable piece of the national security equation. The fact that a strong majority of Americans also believe Iraq is in the midst of a civil war is another telling signal that the negative aspects of Iraq are now overwhelming the attempts to link it to the war on terror. In fact, recent polling shows that voters now believe that Democrats are as capable as the GOP to handle the issue of terrorism...which may be connected to the Democrats continued criticism of the current strategies in Iraq.
Mr. Bartlett said Iraq remained a winning issue in the broader context of the war on terrorism, which the party would continue to hit hard.
Mr. Bush tried to do that on Wednesday in an interview on ABC News, telling George Stephanopoulos, the interviewer, that when voters go to the polls on Nov. 7 “they’re going to want to know what that person’s going to do, what is the plan for a candidate on Iraq, what do they believe?"
When Mr. Stephanopoulos asked Mr. Bush whether the increasing violence in Iraq was similar to the Tet Offensive in 1968, the Vietnam War campaign that is often cited as turning American opinion against the war, Mr. Bush said such a comparison “could be right," suggesting that terrorists were aiming for a similar result.
It’s important to note that the President's answer demonstrates his myopic posture regarding the war. While Stephanopoulos was attempting to have the President comment on the growing opposition to the war...asking if voters might be at a tipping point...the President sought to make the point that the terrorists might be attempting to create a Tet Offensive moment. Essentially, his answer virtually ignores the political implications and suggests that he is holding fast to the strategy that connecting the Iraq war to terrorism will produce GOP support. I don't think voter sentiment is moving in the direction that the President may think it is or hope it will.
Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, which has polled extensively on attitudes toward the war, said Pew figures suggested that one hope for Republicans earlier in this campaign — that Democrats would be hurt if they were perceived as criticizing the war without offering a strategy for withdrawal — had not been borne out.
“They are not getting punished for not offering an opinion," Mr. Kohut said. “The Democrats have an advantage on this issue, without having to say much about it."
There are two important things to note from Mr. Kohut's remarks. One, voters appear to have decided that the President's plan is a failure. Two, despite the fact that the Democrats haven't actually offered a cohesive or comprehensive alternative plan, voters are convinced any change might be better than more of the same. That stands to help Democrats on November 7th...but it also means that voters are hoping for change come November 8th...and that may prove to be the beginning of an even larger problem for both parties.
In my opinion, it will behoove both parties to find some tangible solutions to the Iraq mess if they hope to have any success in 2008. If one thinks voters are unhappy now, imagine their mood if Iraq is still at the top of their list of issues two years from now.