What a difference a week can make!
After losing some of their edge, Democrats had a good week, not because of anything they did. Quite simply, Democrats were the beneficiaries of the fact that Republicans and the President had a perfectly horrible week.
It all began on a positive note for the White House. As Congress was going out of session, they gave the President a victory, passing shameful legislation that allows for the indefinite detention without trial of even legal US residents. Twelve Democratic Senators, who, I suppose, were afraid of being termed “soft on terrorists,” joined a near unanimous Republican bloc (minus one brave soul) in voting for the bill.
Before the White House could capitalize on this capitulation and turn it into an attack line, the first bombshell hit. It came in the form of Bob Woodward’s new book State of Denial that included Woodward’s revelations about chaos within the Administration and their failure to understand the disaster their policies had produced in Iraq. For three days these stories were prominently featured in the nation’s media. All of this only served to reinforce pre-existing public perceptions that have also been recently fed by a leaked CIA National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that had concluded that Iraq was now a cause celebre and a breeding ground for anti-American terrorists. Not exactly the story the White House and Republicans wanted to see playing out one month before election day.
It would only get worse.
In the midst of all of this, news broke of a Republican Congressman’s suggestive emails and messages to young pages in Congress’ employ. As disgraceful as all of this was, even more disturbing were reports that the Republican leadership knew of this story for months (or more) and did little to correct the situation.
In characteristic fashion, the story grew, becoming a veritable frenzy with Democrats changing the Republican leadership with negligence and worse, and some Republicans calling on their leadership to accept responsibility for this debacle. In scores of Congressional races around the country this scandal is being played out with Republicans on the defensive for the first time in many a year.
For many reasons, Democrats are the beneficiaries of this state of affairs. The Woodward book, coupled with the recent NIE report and mounting casualties in Iraq, have refocused public attention on the Administration’s failures in that war. The “page scandal” undercuts Republican claims of being the party of values and hurts them not only with their religious conservative supporters but also more affluent suburban swing voters who may now see not only corruption, but “cover up” as emblematic of the GOP.
At the same time, with both issues front and center for more than a week, they have undercut the ability of the White House to focus this campaign on the Democrat’s refusal to endorse the President’s use of “warrantless wiretaps” and the Administration’s legislative victory on the matter of detainees. As it was, a mid-week speech by President Bush accusing Democrats of being “soft” in the fight against terror received only scant media attention and was drowned by the continuing reverberations of the page scandal.
What’s intriguing, of course, is the fact that all of this is the result of two deus ex machina –”type interventions. Democrats have been rescued from their failure to charge hard at the Administration’s failures and present a coherent alternative Iraq strategy, and to more vigorously fight against the Republicans’ disregard for basic Constitutional principles.
Early polling shows that both of these “bolts from the blue” have taken a toll, not only on the President’s standing, but on a number of close congressional elections.
There is still a month to go and it is too early to know whether the White House and Republicans will rebound. What is clear, however, is that the dynamic created by these two early “October surprises” have frustrated Republican efforts to recharge their campaign by nationalizing national security concerns, while at the same time, providing Democrats with a much needed, though unearned, boost.