Newsweek's Howard Fineman reports on Karl Rove's forward-looking free-market agenda for the midterm elections—make the Democrats scare the crap out of you.
The way I read the recent moves of Karl Rove & Co., they are preparing to wage war the only way open to them: not by touting George Bush, Lord knows, but by waging a national campaign to paint a nightmarish picture of what a Democratic Congress would look like, and to portray that possibility, in turn, as prelude to the even more nightmarish scenario: the return of a Democrat (Hillary) to the White House.
Rather than defend Bush, Rove will seek to rally the Republicans' conservative grass roots by painting Democrats as the party of tax increases, gay marriage, secularism and military weakness. That's where the national message money is going to be spent.
The liberal blogger Digby basically nails this: "Can someone please tell me how this differs from any Republican campaign of the last 25 years? Bush was at 70% in the last mid-term and the whole campaign was about how Democrats like Tom Daschle and Max Cleland were in cahoots with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein."
But this strategy definitely represents some panic and retrenchment in Republican ranks. They started off the second Bush term labeling Democrats the "party of no"—a collection of ragtag girly-men (and girly-girls) who were obstructing the terrific agendas of Denny Hastert and Bill Frist. (Conservatives apparently liked this slogan enough to google-bomb it. See what comes up when you search "party of no.") That line of attack might have helped scare the Democrats out of blocking John Roberts and Sam Alito, but as closer to 70% of the country turned against Bush, it stopped making sense.
Not that this strategy is so brilliant. It seems weighed down by the beltway-centric mentality that's sent Republicans further and further out of touch since they took power 11 years ago. A lot of the plan rests on making radical Democrats like John Conyers into household names. Everyone in DC knows that Conyers is a bitter loon who wants to pull a Neil Young on Bush-Cheney-etc—soon, so will those rubes in the flyover states! But this is the kind of stuff Democrats tried with Tom DeLay when he became majority leader in 2002. It went nowhere for years—DeLay connections didn't hurt Republicans at all in 2004. Most voters didn't watch "Crossfire" or read The New Republic and they didn't care who DeLay was. The chances of turning John Conyers into a Goldstein with only six months of PR are probably even slimmer. (They might get somewhere with Cynthia McKinney, though.)
If Rove's strategy works, it will be because the Democrats, once again, flee in terror from their own shadows. If a flag burning amendment comes up, they'll grimace and vote for it. If a gay marriage ban comes up, they'll grimace and vote for it. They'll match the Rovian "rev up our base" strategy with a Terrence Howard in "Crash" strategy. That's probably well underway as we speak.