Reframing 2006

Michael Barone argues that the Bush Administration has made this yet another national security election, reframing the issues so that the dominant question on the minds of the American electorate is who will best keep this nation safe from the terrorists who are set to kill as many of us as possible. William Kristol agrees and says that the Democrats are once again walking into a trap.

Kristol writes:

On September 6, 2006, President Bush set the trap. He spoke in the East Room of the White House on the war on terror. He announced that 14 terrorist leaders and operatives, who had been held and questioned by the Central Intelligence Agency outside the United States, were being transferred to Guantánamo. He outlined some of the information acquired from the interrogations of men like Khalid Sheik Mohammed, and explained that this information had contributed to disrupting terrorist plots here and abroad. In light of the Supreme Court’s Hamdan decision, the president asked Congress to pass legislation that would put this interrogation program, and trials before military tribunals for captured terrorists, on a surer legal footing.

Kristol is right here. The American people have a very clear choice in this election — between a party that would give Osama bin Laden more legal protections than Tony Soprano or a party that recognizes that this is war and we must not treat al-Qaeda with kid gloves. The Democrats’ reflexive opposition to everything Bush does has once again put them in a position of looking like the party of weakness. Bush’s decision to end the interrogation of al-Qaeda prisoners (a decision that is legally necessary due to the Hamdan decision) means that the Democrats no longer have the luxury of posturing and preening on national security issues. They have to make a stand, and that stand was one that puts them in a position of arguing on the side of terrorist rights.

Barone explains further:

But it still remains an issue individual Republican candidates can use in their campaigns. They can ask why their Democratic opponents don’t want tough interrogations of the likes of 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammed and why they want secret intelligence turned over to terrorists at their trials. That framing of the issue is not likely to favor Democrats.

The other issue comes from the most persistent partisan opponent of the administration, The New York Times, which revealed last December that the National Security Agency was conducting electronic surveillance of calls from suspected al-Qaida terrorists abroad to persons in the United States. The Times and many Democrats saw this as a terrible violation of Americans’ civil liberties. But polls suggest that most voters see it as simple common sense. When al-Qaida calls the United States, we shouldn’t hang up the phone. Bush has asked Congress to authorize such surveillance. The roll call votes will tell voters whose first priority is keeping America safe.

I think that Bush has sprung a political trap here. Every Democrat running in a red state is going to have to explain why they think it’s bad for the NSA to listen into our enemies when the 9/11 plot was coordinated through phone calls from Florida to Pakistan. The Democrats are going to have to explain why we shouldn’t be putting the screws to the likes of Khalid Sheik Mohammad. The American people instinctively understand we’re in a war against an intractable and deadly enemy. And once again the Democratic Party has put itself in a position where they’re demanding we play by Marquis of Queensbury rules. That puts the Republicans on the offensive and the Democrats in a corner.

Bush’s popularity among his base has increased dramatically over the past few days, and his average approval rating has finally gone above 40%. The Democrats have made the mistake of running against the President rather than running on their own merits — and with the war on terrorism taking the forefront and gas prices falling, that mistake ensures that they’ve little left to run on now.

Bush has had a lot of luck — the failed al-Qaeda airline plot served as a reminder of the threat of terrorism, the Democrats have been feckless, gas prices have fallen as global geopolitical concerns quiet, and the Supreme Court forced Bush’s hand on the enemy combatant issue. At the same time, there’s undoubtedly been a politically shrewd decision to use these opportunities to once again highlight the vital issue of national security. The Bush Administration has made some incredible political blunders — see Harriet Miers and Hurricane Katrina, but the Bush team has one hole card — the Democrats can be reliably certain to walk into the same trap over and over again.

15 thoughts on “Reframing 2006

  1. The only problem is that four Republicans in the Senate developed a conscience. And Bush won’t be able to pass this. I’d say that’s a great opporunity for Democrats to talk about the Do Nothing Congress and the way the White House is playing politics with national security.

  2. Kristol deals with that specifically. I think his analysis is right:

    …The fact that McCain has badly damaged his 2008 presidential chances doesn’t mean the Democrats can’t be hurt in 2006. True, there could be a dozen GOP votes for the Democratic alternative on the floor of the Senate next week. There were a dozen Democratic votes for Bush’s tax cuts in 2001. It didn’t prevent Republicans from distinguishing themselves from Democrats on taxes. A few defections won’t prevent Republicans from saying–truthfully–that there is a real difference between the two parties on the war on terror, and that they stand with Bush and against Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.

  3. My take on this is that McCain, Graham, and Warner are willing pawns playing along with a rope-a-dope to give the President a PR boost heading into the elections. While the left is foolishly celebrating the noise that McCain, Graham, Warner, et. al. are making over abiding by the Geneva Conventions, they are typically clueless in recognizing the popular politics of torturing terrorists and how Bush will ultimately win this debate, returning conservatives to his favor against “squishy Republicans” and invigorating the GOP base heading into the midterms. I wouldn’t bet against him making it work yet again.

    “gas prices have fallen as global geopolitical concerns quiet,”

    Uh, yeah, things are so going so well in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran that the oil companies decided to give us a break. That’s how it works, Jay. You got it.

  4. On the good news front Jay, have you seen the latest Minnesota Poll? 56-32 Klobuchar! A 24-point lead…..five points larger than her lead in the July poll. I sure hope Kennedy keeeps up what he’s doing….or tries to “Willie Horton” Klobuchar as Jay suggests he should. It’ll be a fun social experiment to see just how low Kennedy’s support can go.

    Remember when everyone, including myself, thought this race was gonna be close? What quaint days those were, huh?

  5. They hardliners still know they can’t pass anything on this. Same with immigration. This is the new neocon strategy–if you can’t get everything you want, stammer around and scream to fire up the base. Screw compromise.

    I still think the Democrats are able to say the Republican Congress is a Do Nothing Congress. And while the Republicans are playing politics to keep from a Democratic landslide victory, America’s families grow less safe every day.

  6. Uh, yeah, things are so going so well in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran that the oil companies decided to give us a break. That’s how it works, Jay. You got it.

    Iran, yes, as it looks like there won’t be a sanctions regime thanks to the feckless UN. One of the biggest upward pressures on oil prices was the situation in Nigeria which has subsequently calmed to a degree. The oil markets were also worried about the Israel/Hizballah war, which is no longer a concern.

    So yes, the geopolitical situation is calmer than the markets were predicting a few months ago.

    On the good news front Jay, have you seen the latest Minnesota Poll? 56-32 Klobuchar! A 24-point lead….

    The Minnesota Poll is worthless. No doubt Kennedy is behind, but not by that margin. The Minnesota Poll always understates Republican performance by a massive amount.

    Note also that the best that horribly skewed poll shows for Hatch is that he’s even with Pawlenty. If the Minnesota Poll shows a tied race, that means that it’s probably a Pawlenty blowout in the making.

  7. Jay, I spent the weekend on a grand tour of northern Minnesota. And I’m not talking about Brainerd and Alexandria, the wimpy suburbanite sanctuaries of “northern Minnesota”, I’m talking about Duluth, the North Shore, Ely, International Falls, Bemidji (Eracus’ stomping grounds), and Thief River Falls. I saw Mike Hatch signs everywhere, and many of them have been strategically placed since July by his superior ground game. As for Tim Pawlenty, I saw ONE sign….in front of the Bemidji Republican party headquarters. While the effect of the yard sign war is debatable, Hatch’s rural strategy of raising his profile outstate is poised to negate Pawlenty’s suburban advantage, who appears to be running a campaign directed exclusively towards his base in outer suburbia.

    Ditto for Mark Kennedy, who had a virtually non-existent ground game in northern Minnesota. Either the Minnesota Republican Party is broke or is conceding large swaths of territory to the DFL. Pawlenty would be a shoo-in if he took this race seriously, but there has yet to be any evidence he does. If the Republican headliners don’t get a semblance of a ground game going in the next couple of weeks, they risk turning a bad year into an oppressive one.

  8. Actually most polls show Hatch-Pawlenty all over the place–from Hatch up one or two to Pawlenty up 8. Candidates who blow past spending limits don’t think they’re going to blow away their opponents. Plus, Pawlenty’s new ad shows he doesn’t think he’s closed the deal with the suburbanites.
    The Kennedy campaign just released their own poll showing Kennedy down 10. Ouch.

  9. Mark: The whole point of road signs is get name recognition. If you’re an incumbent, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to spend large amounts of money peppering the countryside with signs. Just about everyone knows who Pawlenty is.

    The Iron Range has always been very Democratic, so it’s not surprising that the GOP is not investing a lot of time or money in that region. I can’t recall that they ever have done all that much in that area. There aren’t enough votes in a place like Ely to justify spending a large amount of money on campaigning there — especially when that area still gets Twin Cities media and still gets the usual slew of TV ads and the like.

    The Kennedy campaign just released their own poll showing Kennedy down 10. Ouch.

    That seems in the ballpark to me. Kennedy hasn’t got much traction, and he’s running out of time to get it.

  10. “The whole point of road signs is get name recognition.”

    Yes….meaning that if you’re the only candidate putting up yard signs, your opponent has an uphill fight to win an election. Minnesotans already know who Mike Hatch is, so the yard signs are not bringing “name recognition” his way as much as it is a campaign presence in places of the state that politicians of both parties rarely pay attention to. Hatch’s yard sign presence in the Iron Range is less substantial than it is in the western border counties. It’s out there that Hatch stands to really rein in some votes.

    “If you’re an incumbent, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to spend large amounts of money peppering the countryside with signs. Just about everyone knows who Pawlenty is.”

    Likewise, just about everybody knows who Mike Hatch is, but if Hatch is the guy peppering your farms and highways with yard signs in places like Morris and Bagley that get their media from the Dakotas, when Pawlenty is not doing that, Hatch is more likely to peel off voters.

    “There aren’t enough votes in a place like Ely to justify spending a large amount of money on campaigning there”

    All the more reason that Hatch’s low-budget ground game in places like Ely and Morris is genius. Hatch knows his odds are long of winning even in the suburbs like Bloomington and Minnetonka that have been trending DFL in a number of races, so he’s maximizing his prospects in niche markets outstate where Pawlenty is largely invisible. If Hatch wins, it’s probably gonna be the result of his tactful ground game.

  11. Well, now, Mark, we’ve found something to agree on. Too bad for silly Seth, though, who thinks our fair city is “non-partisan” and DFL dominance up here is just a myth.

    The fact is the DFL has the only game in town, and it’s a good one. Meanwhile, a recent GOP fundraiser up here drew all of 45 people, while 1/3 of the slate didn’t even bother to show up. The problem, frankly, is what GOP organization exists up here is of the radical Christian variety for the most part. It ain’t got no money and its leadership is not at all inspiring. Quite the contrary.

    Meanwhile, between the DoT, the DNR, all the teachers, labor unions, county and township administrators, generating such things as lawn signs, radio ads, and positive newspaper coverage is not much of a challenge. It’s basically all the same people running the same show, whether it’s for Frank Moe, Mike Hatch, or the mayor. And they are very, very good at what they do. They should be; they’ve been doing it for decades.

  12. Road signs are probably the least effective means of campaign communications. The presence or lack of them doesn’t mean anything other than someone took the time to place them at some point.

    I haven’t seen a single Pawlenty lawn sign anywhere in the South Metro either — which doesn’t mean that Pawlenty is in any danger in Eagan or Apple Valley.

    If Hatch’s plan is to try to take the areas which are already firmly under DFL control anyway, good luck to him. It won’t help him very much. The Iron Range is a Democratic stronghold — it just doesn’t make sense for a Republican to campaign there, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense for a Democrat to campaign there either — there so little chance of the outcome changing and the population is so spare that it’s largely a waste of time and effort to do much campaigning there. (No offense to Iron Range residents, but there just aren’t enough of you.)

  13. You’re right, of course, Jay, except for the fact most everybody, regardless of party affiliation, is upset with the local DFL raising property taxes year after year. Businesses have closed, homes are for sale, and all we have to show for it is more paved roads for the elite and new empty parking lots at the schools. It isn’t going over so well and I suspect that’s why we’re seeing more signage than usual — to represent widespread support for the DFL, when it really isn’t so widespread anymore. Voter apathy is widespread, however, which is more of a concern for Hatch up here than it would ever be for Pawlenty.

  14. Jay, the Iron Range has more than 100,000 residents, and that’s just counting the core Range in St. Louis and Itasca Counties, excluding Duluth and Grand Rapids. That’s more than Eagan and Apple Valley combined, and 70% of Rangers are DFL. It’s hardly a stretch to say the Iron Range could swing a close election. Beyond that, I’m not just talking about the Iron Range. Hatch’s ground game is stronger in western Minnesota than it is in the Range.

    Eracus, voting returns from recent election cycles validate that Bemidji isn’t quite the impenetrable DFL fortress you claim it is. George Bush won Bemidji by two points in 2000. Granted, his victory can mostly be credited to Ralph Nader’s 7% showing, but Gore still came in second in town. In 2004, Kerry won Bemidji by six points…..a solid victory, but far from a landslide. You have a Republican State Senator in Carrie Ruud representing Bemidji and had a GOP representative (Doug Fuller) from 2002-03 even though he got beat in ’04. Much as you’d like to portray the community as an army of DFL drones, the facts don’t back it up. Furthermore, Bemidji seems to have some pretty impressive growth. I was last there six years ago, and was very impressed with the expansion of their retail and restaurant sector since then. Apparently those destructive DFL beezlebubs are doing something right.

  15. You’re mistaking the city of Bemidji for the various townships around it, Mark. None of those new restaurants and retailers, for instance, with the exception of Walgreen’s, is part of the city, which opposed them all tooth and nail, especially Wal-Mart. Same with the candidates you mentioned. It’s the outlying areas that elected Ruud and Fuller just as they’ve recently elected Sailer and Moe. Further, extrapolating from two presidential elections does not provide a valid picture of the political landscape of Bemidji. All politics is local, and it’s decidedly DFL when it isn’t completely Green.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.