A series of unfortunate events -- most of them carefully timed by the politically activist media -- has dominated Republican fortunes over the past few weeks. The GOP version of the littlest Baudelaire orphans -- senatorial campaign committee chair Elizabeth Dole and her House counterpart, Tom Reynolds -- have apparently surrendered to the tide of events. If only Maggie Thatcher were on the phone admonishing them that with 29 days left, it's no time to go wobbly. In fact, 29 days is an eternity in American politics. If proper use were made of them, things could be much more comfortable on the morning of November 8.
First, it would be nice if Republicans were to recall that their adversary in this campaign is neither Denny Hastert nor George W. Bush. The more time Republican House members spend engaged in the debate over whether Hastert should keep his job, the less they spend on the important issues Americans really care about: the war, homeland security, taxes, illegal immigration, activist judges, the economy and the media itself.
Republicans are acting as if they, not the Democrats, are the party of retreat and defeat, resigned to losing Congress. The polls show that the Foley matter hasn't had -- and isn't likely to have -- a significant effect on the election. In only a few races (Foley's district, and Tom Reynolds's among them) is it likely to have any effect at all. None of the key Senate races -- Virginia, Missouri, Tennessee, Ohio, Pennsylvania -- are necessarily lost, though Rick Santorum has the appearance of burnt toast. There are at least another two or three weeks before the poll numbers will stabilize and really show where this election will go. Republicans need to demonstrate strength by -- among other things -- refusing to waste more time on Foley. They have to understand that their adversary is the raucous cacophony of liberalism and the politically activist media that gives it voice and act on that understanding. If Republicans got back to the important events and refused to allow the 527 Media to steer the debate, the Foley matter would disappear from the front page in a day. The more they allow themselves to suffer media entrapment on Foley, the less attention they can get for the real differences between them and the Democrats who may take control of Congress.
Media entrapment is what this campaign is all about. First we had the Dems' phony "hearing" in which the discredited "revolt of the generals" was revived, to widespread media coverage it didn't merit. Then we had the National Intelligence Estimate leak and condemnation of the war by all the usual suspects. After that, the Woodward book, timed to embarrass the president before the election. And then came the Foley matter, again apparently timed to affect the election by media outlets who had the story for months before and were themselves apparently manipulated by yet another George Soros group. Republicans are on the verge of collapsing into an entirely defensive campaign, kept behind their crumbling ramparts by the incessant media barrage. And none of their campaign leaders -- Dole, Reynolds and the lot -- seem willing or able to take the offense. If ever there were a recipe for losing the election, that's it.
This election is an unsolved puzzle to even the best of political analysts. The polls are highly fluid and won't solidify until a week or ten days before the election. The canned explanations -- there's no dominant issue or candidate, no national impact perceived by the voters -- are all inadequate. My gut tells me that the puzzle results from a mass of variables so numerous that for the moment it's impossible to determine how they'll resolve themselves in voters' minds. So many moving parts: which way will the wheel turn once all the parts combine?
Mathematicians tackle large numbers of unknowns by using combinations of equations that share the unknowns to solve each other. As French mathematician Rene Descartes said, "Each problem that I solved became a rule which served afterwards to solve other problems." Just so. There's plenty of time left to solve individual political unknowns of 2006 and combine the solutions to prevent Democratic control of either house of Congress.
In a radio interview last Friday, the press secretary for the NRCC told me that the election was about local issues that candidates would argue on the basis of local solutions. Wrong, wrong, wrong. This year, the issues aren't potholes and new post offices. Republicans have to convince voters that Democrats like Nancy Pelosi can't be trusted with national power. Every Senate ballot is not only for Jim Talent, Mike DeWine or George Allen, but to prevent Pat Leahy from controlling the Senate Judiciary Committee. Every voter has to understand that we will have seen the last conservative judge confirmed if the Dems take the Senate. Every vote for a Democratic Senate candidate is a vote against conservative judges, ballistic missile defense, the NSA terrorist surveillance program and for unlimited access to abortions.
There are several other national messages the Republicans have to use, and haven't had the courage to embrace. First among them is the politically activist media. The nation's biggest media outlets -- CBS, ABC, NBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post -- have gone past bias to political activism, becoming in effect 527 groups -- soft-money contributors for the Democrats. They are producing Dem campaign commercials and ads rather than news stories. If the Republicans don't take on the media, they are passing up an enormous opportunity to turn voters out in November. And if they don't, the steady stream of October surprises, many produced in collaboration with Democratic operatives, will continue and affect the November results significantly.
After the mess Congress has made, it's altogether reasonable for people to conclude that the Republicans deserve to lose. But we don't deserve what will happen if they do. Republican candidates need to act fast and think faster. If their campaign leadership -- Sen. Dole and Cong. Reynolds -- aren't willing or able to take the campaign on a far more aggressive and directed path, they (not Denny Hastert) should be thrown overboard. As Casey Stengel might have said, "Can't anybody here play this game?"
TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004) and, with Edward Timperlake, Showdown: Why China Wants War With the United States (Regnery, May 2006 -- click here).
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