Wayne Slater is a top-rank Texas political writer and co-author of “Bush’s Brain,” a book about the life and times of Republican uber-strategist Karl Rove.
In an interview several years ago with PBS’s “Frontline,” Slater described one of the most counter-intuitive, and most effective, hallmarks of the consultant George W. Bush called Turd Blossom: aggressive assaults on what appear to be his enemy’s greatest assets.
Most memorably manifest in 2004’s sleazy Bush IE attacks on John Kerry’s Vietnam service, Rove also employed the jujitsu play in the 1994 Texas governor’s race, using Ann Richards’ politics of fairness and tolerance to portray her as an anti-religious firebrand for gay rights, and in the 2000 GOP presidential primary, using surrogates shamefully to question John McCain’s patriotism during his years as a POW. According to Slater:
Very early on, Karl Rove did something that many other political operatives don’t do, and it’s really an element of why he’s a unique figure in American political life: He understands that while other people look for the weakness in an opponent and exploit that, Rove has long looked at the strength of an opponent…
It’s a pattern we’ve seen again and again and again…attack the strength of your opponent. If your opponent’s strength is his service in Vietnam , then attack that service by raising questions about whether it was all that noble…
Kama Sutra Spices: With Rove and his zillion-dollar American Crossroads IE taking a lead role in Mitt Romney’s bid to oust Barack Obama from the White House, it’s instructive that the first two skirmishes Mittens has chosen to engage on since securing the GOP nomination are the president’s greatest strengths: the bail-out of the auto industry and the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Not since Jesus whaled on the Pharisees about that whole mint, dill and cumin thing, of course, has there been such a supreme display of hypocrisy as Romney’s forays into those two issues.
In the last three years, Mittens has taken more positions than the Kama Sutra on the auto bail-out; as recently as the Michigan primary, he declared that the Administration’s demonstrably successful policy “was the wrong way to go.”
His signature statement on the issue was his New York Times op-ed piece, published just two weeks after Obama’s election in 2008, titled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”
So it’s difficult not to choke over the incredible gall displayed by chief Mittens mouthpiece Eric “Etch-a-Sketch” Fehrnstrom, who claimed this week that Obama only acted after ripping off Romney’s idea for saving GM and Chrysler:
“His position on the bailout was exactly what President Obama followed…The only economic success that President Obama has had is because he followed Mitt Romney’s advice.”
And for those keeping score at home: black is white, down is up and no is yes.
Obama, Carter and Osama: That bit of Phariseeism, of course, was nothing compared to the fuss the Romney-Rove axis has tried to raise with its incessant whining that Obama is “politicizing” the U.S. takeout of bin Laden by, you know, mentioning it.
Had it been Bush, or any other Republican president, who whacked Osama, of course, the halls of Congress would be piled high with bills proposing to erect a statue of him on Capitol Mall. Beyond the now-iconic “Mission Accomplished” Bush aircraft carrier strut, there’s also the small matter that W. used the kickoff of his 2004 re-elect as an occasion for dragging out all the 9/11 footage to contrast himself with the Democrats and to crow about his purported success in the War on Terror.
Especially loathsome was Romney’s claim the other day that sending the Navy Seals into Pakistan to capture or kill Osama was such an obvious decision that “even Jimmy Carter” would have done it. What foul sludge!
Let’s put aside Carter’s years of honorable duty as a Naval officer compared to Mitt spending his prime military service years bicycling through France in a blazer and tie; Carter took a huge (and ultimately debilitating) risk by sending Marine helicopters into Iran in 1980 to try to rescue American hostages. It was a tough call that took great courage — just like Obama’s decision, against the advice of many of his senior advisers and with only scant support from CIA intelligence, to send Seal Team Six into Abbottabad last May.
Oh, and are we now supposed to forget that in 2007, Romney said he would NOT go into Pakistan unilaterally to take out bin Laden and that Obama’s statement that he would do just that were “ill-timed” and “ill-considered?” Rack up another one for no means yes.
What infuriates the right wing is that they simply can’t stand seeing the other side doing exactly what they’ve done for years.
Muddying the waters: The merits of the case aside, however, what’s politically most troublesome for Obama is that Romney’s challenges on the two most unqualified successes of his first term somewhat undercuts them, as the Republicans seek to frame the bin Laden issue as a question of Obama’s alleged narcisisstic triumphalism and the auto bail-out as a matter of political plagiarism.
In both cases, Romney seeks to put Obama in the odd position of defending himself on his unquestioned accomplishments, doing so at a very early point in the general election campaign. It’s an argument the Republican candidate and his surrogates only have to wage, not necessarily win, in order to dilute somewhat the impact of Obama rightfully highlighting the most praiseworthy features of his record.
(Speaking of narcissism, we’re not sure what to make of lefty knucklehead Arianna Huffington’s attack on Obama’s Osama ad, except to note that the objection is raised by the person whose political savvy and strategic brilliance helped lead to the landslide election of Senator Michael Huffington).
As a practical matter, it’s hard to imagine Romney’s arguments moving the numbers much, especially among women, Latinos or younger voters, the three groups where he lags far behind Obama, not least because of some of the hard right-wing stances he took in the GOP primary season (which he now is trying to expurgate).
And despite the so-called “tie” between the two in national popularity polls, Romney still faces a very narrow Electoral College pathway in his bid to oust the incumbent, as the WashPost reported this week:
A detailed analysis of Romney’s various paths to the 270 electoral votes he would need to claim the presidency suggests he has a ceiling of somewhere right around 290 electoral votes. While Romney’s team would absolutely take a 290-electoral-vote victory, that means he has only 20 electoral votes to play with — a paper-thin margin for error.
Bottom line: One of the states on Romney’s knife edge is Michigan, where he’d like to at least erase the memory of his call to flush the American auto industry down the toilet. In Virginia, North Carolina and Colorado — swing states with strong links to the military — he’d like to weaken Obama’s reputation as the guy who took out bin Laden.
Don’t be surprised if, along with criticizing Obama’s popularity as a matter of “celebrity,” the Armies of Romney attack Obama’s jump shot (“whatsamatta, he can’t dunk?”), his smile (just a cheesy grin that’s hiding something) and Michelle (why isn’t she home with those girls?). Anything that looks like a strength, Romney (using the Rovian playbook) will try to tear apart.
Your Calbuzz prediction? The play won’t work because Romney’s got Bush’s brain stuck in the wrong end of his anatomy.