Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Bush-Cheney contradiction, and the Duncan Hunter juggernaut

It’s a busy day, compounded by travel, so I’ll be brief:

In furtherance of his ’06 campaign message (which is essentially, “If you vote for Democrats, you are aiding the terrorists”), Vice President Cheney yesterday told Fox News that a Democratic Congress is precisely what are enemies are yearning for.

Cheney’s host, Neil Cavuto tossed the requisite friendly softball: “Do you suspect that these insurgent attacks (in Iraq) are timed to influence our midterm elections?”

And Cheney replied: “That’s my belief. I think they are, very, very cognizant of our schedule, if you will.”

One would not expect Cavuto to follow up by pointing out that Cheney’s “belief” appears to be groundless – because President Bush himself has already said so. Cavuto, of course, didn’t follow up, so let’s do it here:

Nine days ago, Bush was questioned by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. The host, citing the increasing violence that was making October one of the deadliest months of the war, asked Bush whether the Iraqi fighters were “trying to influence the elections” in America.

Bush’s reply: “I don’t know. I haven’t -- I don’t have any intelligence that says that.”

And Bush was right; there is no such intelligence. Military officials in Baghdad have acknowledged this. The violence has indeed increased during October, but it just so happens the ‘06 elections roughly coincide with Ramadan, Islam's holy month – a time frame when the level of violence has increased in Iraq during each of the past three years.

Michael O’Hanlon, an Iraq expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, who has been tracking the violence since the war began, tells UPI that he sees no correlation between the current bloodshed and the ’06 domestic political calendar:

“I see no basis for it in the previous three-and-a-half years of experience in Iraq. We did not see a spike before the November 2004 (presidential) election. We have not seen big spikes before other major political milestones. Sure, you can see slight increases in violence due to such things, but the big increases are generally due to changed American and Iraqi army tactics. Increased engagements with the enemy lead to greater casualties on all sides. Political events do not in my experience appear to be big drivers. I'd love to be proven wrong this time, because that would imply a reduced level of violence after Nov. 7, but I'd be very surprised if that happened on a major scale.”

But don’t expect Cheney to abandon his message that the terrorists are killing people in order to help the Democrats, just because Bush contradicted him. With the election drawing near, and with the GOP in the unusual position of underdog, empirical facts take a back seat to message. And that’s where Bush and Cheney are in sync. As the president declared yesterday in Texas, if the Democrats get their way, “The terrorists win and America loses.”


All aboard the Duncan Hunter bandwagon.

Hunter, a California Republican congressman from San Diego, announced yesterday that he is going to seek the GOP presidential nomination in 2008. You may well be asking, who? And, what’s that all about?

A few thoughts:

This announcement is a sign of GOP weakness, an admission that Republicans are truly worried about coughing up House control to the Democrats in the elections next Tuesday. Hunter is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. If the Democrats take the House, it means that Hunter loses is chair and is relegated to the minority - and, as a longstanding congressman, he well remembers that it’s no fun to be a clout-free member of the minority. As chairman, Hunter often gets booked on CNN and the various Sunday shows. If he’s just the ranking minority Armed Services guy, he can kiss those national bookings goodbye. However, as a prospective presidential candidate, he can sustain some national visibility, and tour the land giving speeches to the GOP faithful.

Which prompts my second thought:

If the Democrats win big next Tuesday, there will be considerable infighting within GOP ranks among those who seek to redefine a winning conservatism. Hunter may sense that he can fill a niche, as a Republican who is actually to the right of many prospective presidential candidates. As a staunch Iraq war supporter and a backer of the Bush White House policies on torture, Hunter has been to the right of John McCain; for instance, he opposed McCain’s (largely futile) attempts to defy the White House’s hardline stance on torture.

There are lots of conservatives in the GOP camp who don’t trust McCain, the purported ’08 frontrunner. Hunter’s presence in the early ’08 jockeying may say less about Hunter himself than about the intense conservative intramurals that may commence within days of a (potential) ’06 election debacle.