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Sunday, August 29, 2004

I'm the boss I am

Emulating a pose from another failed leader

Bush Takes On Direct Role in Shaping Election Tactics

Learning From Father's Loss

The value of Mr. Bush's involvement in his own campaign - and whether he has the political savvy of some other presidents - is the subject of debate among Democrats and some Republicans who have expressed misgivings about some pivotal tactical moves the campaign has made.

But aides said he was determined not to repeat the mistake of his father, who refused to immerse himself in his re-election drive until late, and was not nearly as combative in his losing effort against Bill Clinton in 1992.

In particular, aides said, Mr. Bush has, along with Mr. Rove, been a driving force behind the attacks that have become a hallmark of his campaign since Mr. Kerry emerged from the spring primaries as the Democratic candidate.

Two weeks ago, after learning that Mr. Kerry said he would have voted to authorize the president to invade Iraq even if he had known that Saddam Hussein was not armed with unconventional weapons, the president jumped at what he described as a political opening, aides said.

"That was a mistake - we need to seize on it," Mr. Bush said, according to aides. The next day, he began hammering Mr. Kerry on the issue, and has not stopped.

At the same time, Mr. Bush was described by aides as consumed with building the get-out-the-vote operation, a front where he and Mr. Rove argue Al Gore nearly won the presidency four years ago, and has frequently warned that the effort could become neglected given the demands of raising money and making television advertisements.

"How are the grass roots, how are the volunteers?" Mr. Bush asked the Ohio Republican chairman, Bob Bennett, a few weeks ago in the middle of what Mr. Bennett described as a detailed conversation on Ohio farming and Ohio politics as the president's campaign bus rolled through his state.

The president calls Mr. Rove most mornings, sometimes as early as 6 a.m., for an update on matters like the latest state polls and what Mr. Kerry said the night before, aides said.

Mr. Bush and his wife, Laura, screen early cuts of campaign advertisements, brought over by his media adviser, Mark McKinnon, in the Yellow Room of the family residence. Campaigning in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a few weeks ago, he spotted two senior aides, Matthew Dowd and Nicolle Devenish, at a rally and called them into his limousine to pepper them with campaign questions.

His conversations with Mr. Rove - often by telephone as Mr. Rove is driving to work; sometimes in the Oval Office before 8 a.m. - amount to two political operatives sharing a take on the lay of the land. The subjects, Mr. Rove said in an interview: "What's the general buzz, state polls, what is out there as major activity in the campaign, voter registration numbers."

And it is not only broad matters. Mr. Rove recently shared the kind of inside-baseball news that could be appreciated only by someone who had run another campaign, as Mr. Bush did for his father: that the Kerry campaign had suspended its advertising in Louisiana and Arkansas.

Mr. Bush makes it a practice as president to speak disdainfully of politics and politicians as he travels the country, presenting himself as an outsider in the city where he lives. And that was a perception he sought to encourage in the interview. He responded vaguely to questions about his political involvement and said he did not recall the conversation recounted by aides in which he seized on the statement by Mr. Kerry on Iraq.

In truth, Mr. Bush has always had a strong taste for politics, and was an important player in his father's presidential campaigns of 1988 and 1992, as well as in his own race in 2000. But his intense involvement this time reflects what aides said was his concern about his prospects, a determination not to repeat the mistakes that he watched his father make in 1992, and lessons he drew from the close election of 2000.

Mr. Bush has put to use the knowledge that he accumulated working on his father's campaigns, like the political dynamics and history of battleground states, and the names of important local Republicans.

As Mr. Bush was flying from Texas to New Mexico on Thursday, Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, turned to him on Air Force One and suggested that Albuquerque was heavily Democratic, White House aides said. Mr. Bush responded by saying the city was split politically, and he talked about the importance of its suburban counties.

In an interview, Representative Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, recounted a campaign trip with Mr. Bush this month on Air Force One to Traverse City.

"We talked a lot about northern Michigan; I was amazed at how much he knew,'' Mr. Camp said. "He's very strategic in the way he thinks. He had an understanding of the makeup of the district, of the nature of the registration and of the voting patterns."

Representative Rob Portman of Ohio, a top campaign adviser, had a similar observation. "He understands the distinction between the Northeast and the Southwest, and he understands that central Ohio is a battleground," Mr. Portman said. "He knows what it takes on the ground to win a campaign. Not every candidate has that feel."

Gambling on the Attack

Whether Mr. Bush's enthusiasm for the nuts and bolts of campaigning translates into the kind of expertise of, say, a Bill Clinton is a matter of debate. Some Republicans have questioned some of the campaign's strategic decisions, including appealing to base Republican voters by emphasizing issues like Mr. Bush's opposition to gay marriage right through the summer. And some of Mr. Bush's own associates cringed when he decided against speaking at the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People because he was annoyed with its criticism of his civil rights record. It provided an opening for Mr. Kerry and reinforced an image of Mr. Bush as a president who played hardball.

Even so, Mr. Bush has brought a focus and intensity that often seemed missing from his father's effort in 1992. One aide said a common scene in the White House these days was Mr. Bush, after reading the morning news accounts of the campaign, shouting, as he did a few weeks ago, "Hit him - we need to hit back."

The Bush campaign is organized - at least most visibly - around two central places, the White House and campaign headquarters in a nondescript office building in Arlington, Va., run by Mr. Bush's campaign manager, Ken Mehlman.

But many of the most significant decisions are made out of the spotlight of either the White House or the headquarters. They are instead reached by the Breakfast Club.

For nearly a year, that small group of senior aides from the White House and campaign headquarters has assembled for what Mr. Rove calls "eggies" - cholesterol-laden concoctions of eggs, butter, cream and bacon fat. He serves them with slabs of bacon. There, they discuss a schedule of attacks on Mr. Kerry, speeches by Mr. Bush, and forthcoming television advertisements and strategic thrusts, according to several aides.

The group typically includes Mr. Rove; Mr. Mehlman; Mr. McKinnon; Mr. Dowd; Ms. Devenish; Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director; Mary Matalin, a senior adviser to Dick Cheney; Ed Gillespie, the national Republican chairman; Mr. Dowd's deputy, Sara Taylor; and Steve Schmidt, the campaign press spokesman.

Ask yourself this question: did Roosevelt direct the Normandy battle?

Why is Bush involved so deeply with his campaign?

There's a saying, that some generals are good division commanders, but should go no higher. This is what seems to be the case here. Bush has the small picture down, but he misses the big picture.

And it makes it extremely hard to believe someone this involved with the campaign knew little or nothing about the Swift Boat campaign.

So far, the Bush campaign has made misstep after misstep going after Kerry. The flip flop meme never stuck in the media and the backlash to the Swift Boat liars is coming hard and fast. Bush is getting hammered inside the beltway for his loyalty oath rallies. People don't like it, not in the public and not in the media. Bush is in a bubble, yet he wants to run his campaign? Which is why the campaign seems so tone deaf. Which is why they're saying stupid shit like the Democrats are behind the protest.

Let me explain something, there is enough anger at the delegates to fill a Rangers-Islanders game. They aren't wanted here, no matter how nice Ed Koch makes. It was a mistake. And instead of acting graciously, they're already acting like pigs.

Bush is running his campaign into the ground like a certain German ran his army into the ground. Bush cares about details when details cannot help him. The GOTV effort is, well, misguided, bordering on insane. Bush is still shoring up his base. His advisors let him turn Max Cleland away. Of course, Bush is ill at ease in unfamiliar situations. And it is reflected in the way he campaigns. In a cocoon. Everything stagemanaged for TV. And it isn't working.

We're gonna start to see Bush collapse after the convention. I get the feeling that delegates will not be singing New York's praises, and the "bounce" will still keep him, to be generous, under 51 percent. Bush will be ready for a knock out blow by the debates. I get the feeling that this race will be done before October. Bush is on a precipice. Things could turn around, don't look good.

A good commander has one quality, the ability to adjust on the fly. He can size up the battleground and strike at weakness with force. Bush cannot. He can't even take the easy opportunities.

What the polling shows is one critical fact, Bush isn't over 50 percent in either the swing state polling or national polling and that spells disaster. Bush should be up in the mid 50's and losing ground slowly. He isn't. Kerry is gaining ground and doing better with veterans and other "conservative" groups than he should be.

More importantly, Bush is violating the O'Neill rule. Tip O'Neill was canvasing for votes, and he ran into a neighbor. After some small talk, he asked her if she voted for him. She said "well, you never asked me for my vote". Bush is not asking a lot of people for their votes and Kerry is. What boggles the mind is this: so what if 4m evangelicals come out to vote if 5m new Democratic voters show up? I think the idea is that Zell Miller will show people that dems are useless and they all need to vote for Bush. Well, besides being chided for his disloyalty, the switch ads from Move On lie in wait, and they are powerful stuff. What is amazing is that Republicans usually do that kind of thing, and Bush doesn't seem interested.

I am loath to give campaign advice, but I know I would jump on Miller like the rat that he is. It's not critical, but I would remind people how many former Gore supporters now support Bush and the legions of disgusted Republicans voting for Kerry or staying home.

By ignoring the middle of the GOP for his base, they may well either stay home or vote Kerry. Polling isn't indicative enough of this.

Also, listen to Tad Devine's aural smirk when he says "this is a close election". We both know that's bullshit. It's about to be a rout. He sees internals and he knows Bush's suck ass. Kerry isn't shoring up his base. He isn't forming last minute 527's. He's going after Republican voters with a vengence. There's a tipping point coming, whether it's an arrest or a flub, or something, the clock is running on Bush and one of the many problems facing him will explode.

You don't think Sistani wants Bush to lose and knows he can make that happen? And my bet is that Mr. Sadr will be taking over another town, sooner rather than later.

Oh yeah, Australia's election in October 9, and guess what the issue is: the war. If Labour wins, they pull the troops out, just like Spain. And that's a dagger at the Bush Administration's heart. The Aussies provide a LOT of the Special Ops muscle. Without them, you have a real problem. You can bet Aussies, unhappy with the Gitmo and the war, well, the polls are even now, but my bet is that they won't be for long. And if the Aussies go, Britain's stay becomes far more difficult.

posted by Steve @ 3:16:00 AM

3:16:00 AM

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