Friday, August 25, 2006

The GOP message: Maybe we're not so great, but (insert enemy name) is even worse!

This morning I was catching up on my backlogged emails (mostly marketing junk, political propaganda, and random diatribes) when I chanced upon a standard submission from the Republican National Committee. It began this way:

“WHO IS MARKOS MOULITSAS ZUNIGA? A Partisan ‘Nutroot’ Who Turned His Hate-Filled Blog Daily Kos Into A Leadership Post In The Democrat Party.”

(By the way, this business about the "Democrat" party, a label clearly intended as a pejorative, is getting a little old. Wouldn't it sound equally dumb for the Democrats to refer to their opponents as the "Repub" party?)

Anyway, the email proceeded, at considerable length, to attack the blog proprietor for various alleged financial, political, and ideological sins. The GOP even attacked him for going on vacation in El Salvador, although I was unaware that El Salvador had been deemed by the governing party to be an unacceptable locale for the expenditure of leisure funds.

What’s most instructive here is not the bill of particulars amassed against a blogger whom most Americans still probably haven’t heard of; rather, it’s the fact that GOP headquarters opted to launch the attack at all. And the reason is clear: at a time when the party is down in the polls, and in danger of losing at least one chamber on Capitol Hill this November, the GOP is casting around for an enemy, any enemy, who might rile up the conservative base voters and get them out to the polls en masse.

It’s easy to see why the Republicans are worried. The Pew Research Center pollsters report that Democrats are 16 points more likely than Republicans to say that they are pumped up to vote this November; moreover, just 42 percent of Republicans and GOP-friendly independents are feeling good about the party’s track record in power -- and that’s down nearly 20 points from two years ago.

All the more reason to target somebody who might get the base to forget its beefs with President Bush and the GOP Congress, and instead direct its anger at the other camp. Most recently, the party has tried out a number of prospects: Democratic Senate candidate Ned Lamont (soft on terrorists), Nancy Pelosi (depicted in party emails as a wide-eyed zombie), Howard Dean (depicted in full scream mode), and, of course, the old reliable, Michael Moore (depicted in full scruffy mode). Now they’re trying out a blogger.

I suppose the big question, however, is whether conservative base voters on the GOP mailing list will now be motivated to forget their grievances about the GOP Congress’ red-ink budgets, as well as the president’s record on Katrina and Iraq...and be roused to storm the polls and strike down all Democratic candidates just because a liberal blogger says things like (gasp) "the French are right" and charges advertisers (gasp) $2400 a week for the most visible position on his home page.

Here’s how GOP strategist Rich Galen sees the November election (he predicts modest Democratic gains, but no takeover): “People will go into the polls somewhere between ambivalent with, and angry at, Republicans in the Congress. But, as they prepare to pull the lever, or press the button, or punch out the chad they (will) say to themselves, ‘I'm not happy with these guys, but I am very uncomfortable with the notion of putting the Sharpton wing of the Democratic Party in charge of national security.’”

Move over, Kos. In the hunt for enemies who might change the subject, there’s always Al and MoveOn. But the GOP’s big problem is that even some of their own incumbents don’t seem to believe that it’s possible to change the subject, given the current political climate.

Witness the latest news from vulnerable Connecticut congressman Christopher Shays -- who now says that he plans to unveil a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq. In a conference call yesterday, he said: “Our troops cannot be there indefinitely. We should be able to tell the American people what kind of timeline we can have to begin to draw down our troops.”

That’s precisely the kind of talk that GOP headquarters is attacking, when uttered by the likes of Ned Lamont...or the proprietor of Daily Kos. This autumn, it may be tough for the GOP to change the subject when its friends start talking like its foes.