The hue and cry for the GOP to file for divorce against President Bush is reaching a crescendo with Tom Davis’s acid-tongued barbs and this more gracefully worded column by 2004 Bush campaign advisor Peggy Noonan.
Davis and Noonan mean well, but their proposed strategy amounts to taking the Democrats’ bait. Because whether the GOP decides to run for Bush or against him, the meta-narrative will still be about Bush. Any day people are reminded of the President in a political context, even when our people are throwing him under the bus, is a bad day for Republicans.
President Bush is a lame duck. His term expires in eight months. Politically speaking, John McCain is the leader of the party. Bush’s term will overlap that of the 111th Congress by a whopping 17 days. Why should Republican Congressional candidates take the bait by positioning themselves vis a vis someone who will be a political non-factor once they take office? If they embrace President Bush, it’s political poison. If they make a fuss of distancing themselves, it guarantees headlines with Candidate X and Bush in close proximity, and looks politically motivated. Don’t take the bait.
The challenge for Republicans is not to support Bush or to reject Bush but to transcend Bush. We are quickly nearing the point where the last piece of meaningful legislation will cross this President’s desk. To suggest that Republicans might want to get around to crafting a post-Bush agenda ignores the fact that the post-Bush era is already upon us. It began March 4, when John McCain secured 1,191 delegates. Start acting like it. John McCain is the only national Republican local Republicans should be talking about.
Republican candidates could do well by parrying attempts to tie them to Bush as follows:
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that President Bush sparks strong feelings on both sides. But last I checked, there’s an election coming up soon to replace George Bush. I’m focused on the future, and the next Congress and the next President. There’s only one person in this race who’s fixated on the past and on George Bush and that’s my opponent. I can only assume that’s because he’d love to continue the hyper-partisanship of the last decade. Not me.
With all due respect, my opinion of President Bush matters about as much as my opinion of President Coolidge. They’ll both be in the history books come next January. When I hit the ground running in 2009, I look forward to serving with President McCain to bringing gas prices down and our troops home victorious.
This has the advantage of being intellectually honest. Voters are forward-looking and know that Bush won’t be President soon. In no other election since 2000 could you say this.
By subjecting themselves to a massive internal debate over the President, Republicans would validate the Democratic narrative of this election as a referendum on Bush. Just ask Al Gore how productive meta-debates about the President’s role in his exit year really are. And his boss was at 65%.
Don’t take the bait.