As you probably know, the U.S. Senate reared up on its hind legs yesterday and passed a resolution demanding that the Bush administration cut out the happy talk, explain its exit strategy for Iraq, link troop withdrawals to specific benchmarks of progress towards Iraqi self-sufficiency, report regularly to Congress, and generally, stop B.S.-ing the American and the Iraqi people.The vote on that resolution was 79-19, with 41 Republican Senators going over the side.Even more remarkably, this resolution, drafted by Republican Armed Services Committee chairman John Warner, was largely a carbon-copy of Sen. Carl Levin’s Democratic resolution, which went down 58-40 earlier in the day. The supposed Big Difference was Levin’s language urging the administration to come up with “estimated dates” for withdrawal of U.S. troops, contingent on everything going on as planned, etc., etc. Check out this colloquoy on the Senate floor between Levin and Warner, and tell me if you think it’s a Big Difference at all. Warner basically agrees Levin’s language doesn’t require any sort of fixed “timetable” or “deadline” for withdrawal of U.S. troops, but worries it might be misunderstood as such. We’re into angels-dancing-on-a-pin country here.But upon this parsing of really small words, the Bushies have staked their entire, and even for them, unusually mendacious, spin operation. The Senate rejected a “timetable,” they crow. The resolution endorsed our policies! If you read the Warner resolution, and understand what it means, that’s a completely crazy reading of what happened, which is that a large majority of Republican Senators suddenly but clearly repudiated the administration line on Iraq, for the very first time. The fact that the Senate also recently passed, for the second time, and this time on a voice vote, the McCain Amendment rejecting the Cheney Torture doctrine, which the White House has indicated is so important that it might generate Bush’s first-ever legislative veto, is another major straw in the wind.The Bushies aren’t the only people exaggerating the difference between the Levin and Warner resolutions on Iraq: some Democratic voices, whom I will not name out of collegiality, are fretting that the Republican defection to a “benchmarked withdrawal” position means our guys must get more rigid and fervent about a timetable and deadline for withdrawal to maintain the requisite partisan differentiation.Ironically, these are among the same folks who have been arguing for a while that the secret of the GOP Machine is its ability to maintain Republican unity while battening on Democratic disunity. On Iraq, we are currently witnessing massive Republican disunity and relatively clear Democratic unity. What, if anything, is wrong with this picture politically?More broadly, let’s look at what’s happening to Bush and to the Republican coalition. After the conservative uprising against Harriet Miers, the White House decided that it had to have “base” support in these troubled times. Hence, Bush substituted Alito for Miers; began supporting right-wing budget proposals in Congress; and most recently, went Nixonian on Iraq, attacking its critics as allies of al Qaeda.The jury’s still out on Alito, but the conservative budget offensive has been derailed by Republicans, and now the “stay the course” offensive on Iraq has been derailed by Republicans as well. Meanwhile, the ethics problems of the GOP and its friends are just beginning. The whole Rove/Neocon/Norquist/Theocrat/Plutocrat alliance that elected George W. Bush is in shambles. Republican office-holders are running for the hills, and for heretofore unimaginable cooperation with the hated partisan enemy.This is a very good thing for Democrats. And while partisan differentiation is always important, we shouldn’t be worried about that to the exclusion of taking every opportunity to let Republicans fall out like thieves, and re-establish ourselves clearly as the party that can best govern the country. I mean, really, if the 2006 elections turn into a referendum on which candidates can most thorougly separate themselves from George W. Bush’s policies, does anyone really doubt the Donkey will prevail? I sure don’t. Let the Republicans fight, and let’s don’t go out of our way to take positions that make it easier for them to pretend they are united.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
When an underwhelming primary rival to Brian Kemp announced his candidacy I took a look at the Georgia governor’s comeback strategy and wrote it up at New York.
Until March 25, Georgia governor Brian Kemp was looking pretty finished politically. Very publicly and vociferously blamed by Donald Trump for ratifying Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s certification of Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia on November 20, Kemp was persona non grata in MAGA country. He had already been periodically in Trump’s doghouse over his handling of the pandemic in his state, and before that, over his rejection of the Boss’s instruction that he appoint Representative Doug Collins to an open U.S. Senate seat. But getting in the way of the 45th president’s attempted election coup was the final straw: Trump has been publicly and privately vowing to take down Kemp in next year’s Republican gubernatorial primary, as recently as the RNC donor retreat in Florida last weekend. During his brief campaign appearance in Georgia before the January Senate runoffs that ended in defeat for his party, Trump even called on Collins to challenge Kemp in 2022, which wasn’t exactly a Georgia GOP talking point. Nor was Trump’s later suggestion that Kemp should resign.
Kemp managed to keep his mouth shut in the face of all these provocations, grimly promising to support Trump in 2024 and generally taking his medicine. But his comeback strategy became apparent when he made a big show of signing Georgia’s highly controversial new election law on March 25. It’s unclear whether he deliberately courted the appearance of racist impropriety, though he did sign the bill under a painting of a plantation and barred a Black Democratic legislator from his office during his remarks on the bill. (State Representative Park Cannon was subsequently manhandled by state troopers who wrestled her out of the Georgia Capitol to be arrested on multiple felony counts.)As anger over the legislation mounted (echoing the anger over Kemp’s own voter-suppression measures as Georgia’s secretary of State, the job he insisted on keeping during his narrowly successful 2018 gubernatorial campaign) and major corporations joined the criticism of the law, Kemp was able to adopt a pose that is legal tender for a GOP pol at present: victim of “race card” politics backed by “woke” corporations. As the Associated Press reported, it was very clear to Georgia Republicans what the man who had labeled himself a “politically incorrect conservative” in 2018 was up to:“[T]he sweeping election law could be one of Kemp’s last hopes to rekindle a bond with Republicans who remain fiercely loyal to Trump and will be a critical force in next year’s GOP primary. The legislation, which Kemp signed into law, could give him an opening to persuade Republicans that he is an outsider, willing to stand up to Democrats, corporate leaders, and sports leagues who have derided the measure as an affront to democracy that is based on false claims and needs to be rewritten.
“’This is an absolute godsend for Brian Kemp,’ said Brian Robinson, a Republican consultant and former top aide to Kemp’s predecessor, Nathan Deal.”
Kemp has eagerly been making the rounds of conservative media outlets to defend the new law, struggling, no doubt, to hide his glee at the liberal criticism it has attracted. The furor is helping him back home where it matters as well, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Greg Bluestein observes:
“In recent weeks, Kemp has been a mainstay on conservative cable TV shows and enjoyed raucous receptions at grassroots meetings across the state, seemingly dissuading better-known Republican rivals such as former U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, whom Trump once recruited to run.”
Morning Consult reports that Kemp’s job-approval rating among Georgia Republicans rose from 59 percent in mid-March to 74 percent in early April. Nonetheless, a well-known Georgia pol close to Trump has now announced a 2022 primary bid against the governor. But his identity could be a blessing in disguise to the incumbent.
Vernon Jones is a Black former state legislator and county CEO who endorsed Trump’s reelection last year and has more recently switched parties. He got a lot of MAGA attention, particularly after his featured role at the GOP National Convention. He has really taken to his new career in Republican politics, speaking at the notorious January 6 “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington and basking in the affection of the Big Man (“When are you announcing? When are you announcing?” Trump said to Jones at Mar-a-Lago last week).
Jones’s announcement made it clear that he’s the former president’s surrogate.
Jones, however, is a risky proposition as Trump’s instrument of vengeance against Kemp. Aside from the fact that he’s a career Democratic politician from a jurisdiction (the Atlanta inner suburb of Dekalb County) that your average rural Republican wouldn’t visit on a bet, he has always had some issues, as Bluestein explains, calling him “a uniquely polarizing figure in state politics”:
“Jones launched his political career in the early 1990s in the Georgia House before winning the first of two terms as DeKalb County’s chief executive officer in 2000. His stint was marked by controversy …
“[H]is angry outbursts and clashes with other local officials dominated headlines, as did more serious allegations …
“[A] wide-ranging special grand jury report released in 2013, after Jones left office, recommended an investigation against Jones and other DeKalb officials into possible bid-rigging and theft when he was chief executive, painting a picture of a culture of corruption that spanned from his office to workers and contractors in the watershed department.”
Worse yet, Jones was accused of rape in 2005. His successful defense was that the intercourse in question was part of a consensual three-way sexual encounter. This is still not a great look for candidates in the Christian-right- dominated Georgia GOP. And speaking of the Christian right, Jones had a problem with a vote in the legislature against a “fetal heartbeat” abortion ban Kemp had championed in 2019. On the eve of his candidacy, Jones executed a straight-out flip-flop on abortion, stating he now believed zygotes should be protected “from the moment of conception.”
You get the sense that Jones will serve as an irritant to Kemp but not a serious threat unless Trump himself forcefully intervenes in the race (and/or if a more formidable Trump-backed candidate, like Collins, who is reportedly mulling a Senate race, jumps in). And even then, Georgia Republicans will remember that Trump had strongly endorsed Kemp during the last gubernatorial primary. MAGA bravos looking for a pound of flesh may instead focus on Raffensperger, who has drawn an actual member of Congress as his 2022 primary opponent, along with the rival he barely defeated in 2018.
If Kemp does escape, he will likely face a rematch with his nemesis, voting-rights activist Stacey Abrams. And in that contest, all the treasure he has stored up in Republican circles by boasting of his commitment to “election integrity” may earn him a backlash from the voters he and his party have sought to bedevil.