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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Break in the Party Lines

I profoundly wish we could all suspend politics and simply concentrate on the relief efforts along the Gulf Coast, but given the administration’s focus on political damage control, that’s impossible. Moreover, as the DLC pointed out yesterday, the administration must admit its mistakes or continue them.It’s beginning to look like they may not have much choice. The administration’s aggressive political strategy over the last week–alternating from rationalizations to blame-shifting to claims that the president has now saved the day–is failing dismally. Even the most fool-proof Rovian tactic–filling the air with noise and creating an atmosphere of polarization so foul that people give up trying to “understand” and view events through a strictly partisan prism–is failing, as more and more rank-and-file Republicans, and even conservative opinion-leaders, find the damning facts uncontestable. The single biggest symbol of this development is today’s Robert Novak column. The Prince of Darkness, Washington’s most reliable barometer of the conservative zeitgeist, barbecued the administration for both its handling of Katrina, and its ham-handed political response, which clearly has Republican Congressmen fearing for their re-elections. Novak goes out of his way to quote Rep. Chris Shays–hardly one of the Prince’s favorites, but a guy whose fate in 2006 could have a large bearing on the future control of Congress–as directly comparing the Bush White House to Nixon’s in its “sense of arrogance” and its belief that “loyalty and never admitting a mistake matter more than the truth.” Novak generally knows what he’s doing, and the Nixon analogy was a big shot across the bow of the White House to remind its occupants that GOP loyalty has its limits. Those of you old enough to remember Watergate, and those who have read about it, are probably aware there was a palpable turning point in 1974 when many Republicans abandoned Nixon out of outrage or political expedience. No, I am not suggesting that Bush is in the kind of peril that engulfed Nixon, but still, given the enormous partisan loyalty he has commanded in the past, wholesale GOP defections on a fundamental question of leadership, competence and honesty, are a danger sign to Bush of unprecedented magnitude.

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