Monday, November 19, 2007

Karl Rove at Newsweek: Batting for Bush?

As I noted in my previous post, Newsweek has brought on Markos Moulitsas and Karl Rove as occasional contributors to the magazine.

Newsweek says that it has a long-tradition of publishing commentary from "practitioners and opinion makers." In the case of Kos, though, I think the editors' selection of Moulitsas as an essayist was driven by a perceived need to get hip with the netroot commentariat. He certainly wasn't selected for incisive analysis and political acumen.

The selection of Rove, on the other hand, was an editorial masterstroke. A former Deputy Chief of Staff to President Bush, Rove is generally seen as the political architect of the Bush campaign's successful electoral strategies. He thus has - unlike Moulitsas - a solid record of real political accomplishment on which to base his commentary.

In his Newsweek piece, "
How to Beat Hillary (Next) November," Rove lays out a plan of action for the Republican Party's 2008 run against a likely Hillary Clinton campaign. Rove avoids demonizing Clinton. In contrast to Moulitsas' ideological attack to discredit President Bush's moral legitimacy, Rove sticks to campaign strategy. Writing with respect, he notes that Hillary has a nose for detail, and she's not one to forget seemingly insignificant political minutiae in her bid for the White House. She'll be a formidable candidate, and Republicans risk underestimating her at their peril.

According to Rove, here's what the eventual GOP nominee should do:
Plan now to introduce yourself again right after winning the nomination. Don't assume everyone knows you. Many will still not know what you've done in real life. Create a narrative that explains your life and commitments. Every presidential election is about change and the future, not the past. So show them who you are in a way that gives the American people hope, optimism and insight. That's the best antidote to the low approval rates of the Republican president. Those numbers will not help the GOP candidate, just as the even lower approval ratings of the Congress will not help the Democratic standard-bearer.

Say in authentic terms what you believe. The GOP nominee must highlight his core convictions to help people understand who he is and to set up a natural contrast with Clinton, both on style and substance. Don't be afraid to say something controversial. The American people want their president to be authentic. And against a Democrat who calculates almost everything, including her accent and laugh, being seen as someone who says what he believes in a direct way will help.

Tackle issues families care about and Republicans too often shy away from. Jobs, the economy, taxes and spending will be big issues this campaign, but some issues that used to be "go to" ones for Republicans, like crime and welfare, don't have as much salience. Concerns like health care, the cost of college and social mobility will be more important. The Republican nominee needs to be confident in talking about these concerns and credible in laying out how he will address them. Be bold in approach and presentation.

Go after people who aren't traditional Republicans. Aggressively campaign for the votes of America's minorities. Go to their communities, listen and learn, demonstrate your engagement and emphasize how your message can provide hope and access to the American Dream for all. The GOP candidate must ask for the vote in every part of the electorate. He needs to do better among minorities, and be seen as trying.

Be strong on Iraq. Democrats have bet on failure. That's looking to be an increasingly bad wager, given the remarkable progress seen recently in Iraq. If the question is who will get out quicker, the answer is Hillary. The Republican candidate wants to recast the question to: who will lead America to victory in a vital battleground in the War on Terror? There will be contentious fights over funding the troops and over intelligence-gathering right after the parties settle on their candidates. Both battles will help the Republican candidate demonstrate who will be stronger in winning the new struggle of the 21st century.

The conventional wisdom now is that Hillary Clinton will be the next president. In reality, she's eminently beatable. Her contentious history evokes unpleasant memories. She lacks her husband's political gifts and rejects much of the centrism he championed. The health-care fiasco showed her style and ideology. All of which helps explain why, for a front runner in an open race for the presidency, she has the highest negatives in history.

While the prospective Republican nominee is talking about her now, the time will come soon when he must spend more time telling his story. By explaining to voters why he deserves to be our next president, he will also make clear why that job should not go to another person named Clinton.
I think Rove is right on to suggest the expansion of the GOP base. While he argues that the crime issue will be less salient next year, a skillful candidate might be able to tie an emphasis on personal responsibility to the government's job in promoting an opportunity society. The Republicans are much better positioned than the Democrats to forward such an agenda (and the country needs to move beyond the politics of a victim's-based social policy).

Rove also nails it with his comments on Iraq and the direction of the war on terror. The Republican nominee can use our growing success in Iraq to build for the larger advancement of American power and good in the world. This will ultimately be a lasting legacy of the Bush administration, and the next GOP candidate ought rightly to campaign as an agent of continuity for the Bush freedom agenda.