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Fred Barnes: Snatching Victory . . . (Republicans can still salvage the midterm elections)
The Weekly Standard ^ | September 4, 2006 | Fred Barnes, for the Editors

Posted on 08/26/2006 1:38:40 PM PDT by RWR8189

You could almost hear cheers of joy coming from the White House. President Bush, it seems, is back, no longer hopelessly unpopular and embattled. You could see a renewed vigor in Bush's bracing defense last week of his Iraq policy and his warning of the geopolitical disaster that would follow a pullout (or "redeployment" as Democrats call it). And you could even see it in polls. In a polling slump since Hurricane Katrina struck a year ago, Bush's job approval was back in the 40s again--42 percent in the Gallup, Hotline, Rasmussen, and CNN surveys--and rising.

That wasn't all. The closely watched "generic ballot" suggested congressional Republicans may yet avert disaster on November 7. This measures whether voters want a Democrat or a Republican to represent them in Congress. It is a flawed yardstick and has never been reliably predictive. Still, after trailing by as many as 20 percentage points, Republicans were buoyed by reaching parity (at 40 percent) with Democrats in the Hotline poll and trailing by only 47 percent to 45 percent in Gallup. Even the most threatened Republican senator, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, down by double digits last month, seems to have cut his opponent's lead in half.

And, surprise of surprises, there's some good news from Iraq. The new offensive to cleanse Baghdad of insurgents and terrorists seems to be proving a success--one qualified by the fact that Moktada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army of Shia jihadists remains hunkered down in the city. "Everybody has seen an improvement," declared Gen. George Casey, the American commander in Iraq. Even David Ignatius of the Washington Post was impressed, drawing an important lesson from the offensive. "With enough troops and aggressive tactics, American forces can bring order to even the meanest streets," he wrote.

Moreover, Bush and Republicans have an overriding issue to help them again: national security and the war on terror. This issue was the key to Republican victories in 2002 and 2004. With the foiling by the British of the plot to blow up airliners flying to America, the issue has moved front and center again--to the dismay of Democrats. They have tried to inoculate themselves by proposing a few defensive steps against terrorists. But Democrats remain highly vulnerable because of their efforts to weaken the more significant offensive tools against terrorists: NSA eavesdropping, the Patriot Act, the SWIFT bank surveillance program.

So bring on the midterm election, right? The answer is an emphatic no. As favorable as recent trends have been, they are not nearly enough to spare Republicans a nasty defeat, including the loss of the House and perhaps the Senate. The country is in a disagreeable mood and ready for a change. The Republican base is grumpy and apathetic. Bush may be America's choice to fight terrorism, but he falters on other issues. His boost in the polls doesn't mean he's now popular. He's merely less unpopular. And the August bounce may prove to be ephemeral, as earlier upticks have.

There's much to do. Standing pat and expecting terrorism to dominate the campaign would be foolhardy. Grim reminders of the threat on the fifth anniversary of September 11 won't make terror the paramount issue. Nor will presidential speeches or lacerating Republican TV ads. Neither Democrats nor the media will play along. It's Bush's actions, not his words, that will matter. Americans want to see him fighting for America's security. For Bush, good politics consists of following his instincts and doing the right thing.

The place to start is Iran. The diplomatic option is exhausted. No one expected the mere possibility of economic sanctions to cause Iran to halt its program to build nuclear weapons. And it hasn't. Now Bush must brook no dissent in pursuing stern sanctions. Russian and Chinese leaders have personally assured him they would back sanctions if Iran refused (as it has) to stop uranium enrichment. The president must hold them to their word, warning that their relations with America will be jeopardized if they balk. It's also time to make clear to Iran that the military option is indeed an option. In short, Bush should not wait for Iran's unlikely compliance, allowing the United States to look ineffectual, if not indeed a patsy. A senior administration official told the New York Times, in explaining the State Department's pathetic response to Iran's rebuff, "The game is about appearing to be reasonable." Bush needs to explain to his own subordinates that this is not a game and that the point is to prevent a nuclear Iran, not to "appear reasonable" to the Europeans.

As for Iraq, the initial success in pacifying Baghdad is instructive. American troops should not be spectators in Iraq. When they play an active, forceful role, as they are doing in Baghdad, in partnership with the Iraqi troops they've trained, good things happen, and sooner than they would otherwise, if ever. Forget the supposedly provocative "footprint" created by American soldiers. If some Iraqis see them as occupiers, so be it. Americans must be fully engaged to become victors. Bush, wisely or not, is unlikely to increase overall troop levels in Iraq. But withdrawing troops this year would be a strategic mistake. It wouldn't satisfy critics of the war anyway. And it wouldn't improve Republican prospects this fall. It would weaken the war effort.

A major problem for Bush and Republicans in the midterm election is turnout. Republicans have the most sophisticated turnout operation known to man. But it won't work if Republican voters, particularly conservatives, are angry at their leaders or indifferent. Bush has the support of only 74 percent of the Republicans in the CBS poll, 79 percent in Hotline. To stave off a Democratic triumph, a rise of 10 percentage points or so among Republicans is necessary.

The way to achieve it is hardly a secret. Besides national security, the issue that most energizes conservatives and Republicans is judges. Both the White House and congressional Republicans have let this issue fade while they quibble over whether the president has sent up enough nominees or Senate Republicans have acted expeditiously. Who cares? There are already enough nominees to the federal appeals courts alone to have confirmation fights for the rest of the year. Let's have them. It wouldn't be a bad idea, either, for the Republican House and Senate to agree on a death tax reduction and to send such a tax cut to the president, thereby revitalizing the tax issue, which distinguishes the two parties.

The message in the August bounce is not that Republicans are now sure of holding on to the House and Senate. They are not. The message, rather, is that they can save themselves. A lot depends on what Bush does. If he stands out as a fighter against terrorists and an uncompromising foe of a nuclear Iran, he will gain strength politically and will deserve to. But he and Republicans on Capitol Hill must act. Resting on nonexistent laurels will lead to catastrophe on November 7.

--Fred Barnes, for the Editors

TOPICS: Editorial; Government; News/Current Events; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: 2006; 2006election; bush43; election2006; fredbarnes; midterms
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To: Jim Noble

"If we aren't prepared for conquest and occupation, we should pursue a policy of appeasement."

I vote conquest, skipping quickly through normal weapon, to big deadly demoralizaing ones.

The fewer remaining to pacify and occupy, the better.

Set the example we missed with Iraq.

Call it payback for 1979.

41 posted on 08/26/2006 6:15:53 PM PDT by truth_seeker
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To: Saint Louis

Because it aint easy and we have become fat lazy and comfortable. Osama, camel humper that he is, knows more about us than we'd like to admit. Who has time for war, corruption at the UN and illegals poring over our borders when we have more important things to worry about. For instance did you know Tom Cruise lost his studio? Jonbenet's perv killer is landing in the US? Michael Jackson is going broke? etc, etc, etc.

42 posted on 08/26/2006 6:28:45 PM PDT by marlon
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To: LS

I'm not sure that I believe the Democrats are certain they won't win, but I do agree they are trying to cover their bases by floating out excuses.

Most observers are aware mid-terms are about base turnout. When motivated...the GOP has a bigger base. 2004 proved that. Democrats can't be certain the GOP's base won't turn out. Nor are they entirely comfortable pridicting the behavior of their own base right now after CT. Hence the uncertainty.

You may well be right about Barnes trying to cover for excessive doom in past. But, then, serves every insider like himself right for jumping on the conventional wisdom of the Beltway to guage the future. Better if they focused on the actual thinking of the people in the country, rather then that of the paid propagandists.

If I recall, your assessment has been consistently that they'd pick up a few seats? Mine has been fairly close, even in my outraged state. That we were looking at "status quo" with possibility for a few changes either negative or positive but nothing dramatically different. With Republicans largely the ones that can control their own fate here. Even at this late date.

43 posted on 08/26/2006 6:53:37 PM PDT by Soul Seeker (Kobach: Amnesty is going from an illegal to a legal position, without imposing the original penalty.)
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To: everyone

Homeland security, liberal judicial tyranny, Rat extremism (and immigration, for Republican candidates generally, but not for Bush). Barnes is right about taking aggressive positions on Iraq and Iran. But only as part of the mix.

44 posted on 08/26/2006 7:06:26 PM PDT by California Patriot ("That's not Charlie the Tuna out there. It's Jaws." -- Richard Nixon)
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To: churchillbuff

I mean to stability in Iraq and to the WOT.

45 posted on 08/26/2006 7:16:42 PM PDT by xzins (Retired Army Chaplain and proud of it! Supporting our troops means praying for them to WIN!)
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To: Jim Noble

There is no need to occupy. There is only a need to settle matters with the current regime, and then to depart. Eventually, a regime that values longevity will come to power.

46 posted on 08/26/2006 7:25:29 PM PDT by xzins (Retired Army Chaplain and proud of it! Supporting our troops means praying for them to WIN!)
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To: Shermy

Bush is really unpopular. The problem for the democrats is that if bush did run again, he would squash almost any democrat they could put up because they have zero ideas about anything.

47 posted on 08/26/2006 9:20:58 PM PDT by staytrue
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To: Soul Seeker
Yah, my prediction was +1 in the Senate (all GOP hold, we gain either MN or NJ) and +1 to +5 in the House. The latter has been complicated by DeLay's idiocy, turning a sure win into a tough race, and by Ney's late resignation (although my OH people who know say this still should be a GOP win).

But Rush read a piece---one of those "inside" things by Carville---and it was TELLING. They were basically saying that the election would be "stolen" in six states if they didn't watch out. Why are they even talking about a "stolen" election if they think they will win?

48 posted on 08/27/2006 5:41:11 AM PDT by LS
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To: RWR8189

I'm not getting this- don't these pols and "newspeople" EVER talk to real people? The demonRATS are all pumped over poll results and conservatives are wringing their hands. Are they so sure that those who would NEVER vote for a leftist are just so angry at the reps that we would EVER vote for a dem?

Most of us are pretty angry with the nonsense- immigration, the direction of the war, education, etc- but that does NOT mean we would THEN shoot ourselves in the foot.

They truly need to poke their noses outside the Beltway every once in a while...

49 posted on 08/27/2006 5:47:57 AM PDT by 13Sisters76 ("It is amazing how many people mistake a certain hip snideness for sophistication. " Thos. Sowell)
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To: Common Tator
We have an interesting situation here in Iowa. The Democrat Congressional Committee is supposedly pulling their financial support for Boswell because he is so far ahead of challenger, Jeff Lamberti that they're putting their money elsewhere.

I don't believe it for one minute. Lamberti is a good candidate.

50 posted on 08/27/2006 5:52:55 AM PDT by Conservativegreatgrandma
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To: RWR8189
The country is in a disagreeable mood and ready for a change

I'm one of those people:

Fight the War on Terror,

Balance the budget,

Secure our borders.

If any party acted to be willing and able to do these things, I would change to that party. In the meantime, I appear to be stuck voting for Republicans and hoping they act conservative.

51 posted on 08/27/2006 5:59:21 AM PDT by Bernard (God helps those who helps themselves - The US Government takes in the rest.)
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To: RWR8189
>>>>>You could almost hear cheers of joy coming from the White House. President Bush, it seems, is back, no longer hopelessly unpopular and embattled.

LOL I guess at this point any improvement in public opinion is a plus for the Prez and the GOP`s election chances. One problem. Fred Barnes isn't being entirely honest. He never mentions the immigration issue. Just a minor oversight on his part, I'm sure.

>>>>Besides national security, the issue that most energizes conservatives and Republicans is judges.

At this point, I'd rather see the GOP Congress demand spending cuts, starting with a roll back of pork barrel earmarks. Eliminating part or all of the thousands of earmarks in the current budget would be a responsible decision.

52 posted on 08/27/2006 10:57:40 AM PDT by Reagan Man (Conservatives don't support amnesty and conservatives don't vote for liberals!)
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To: Bernard
I appear to be stuck voting for Republicans and hoping they act conservative

Join the club, brother, join the club.
53 posted on 08/27/2006 10:59:12 AM PDT by over3Owithabrain
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To: Reagan Man
On the other hand congress could increase spending at the rate it increased spending during the Ronald Reagan administration.

If you liked doubling government spending in 8 years you loved Ronald Reagan and Reagan Man does.

54 posted on 08/30/2006 10:16:47 AM PDT by Common Tator
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