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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Cui Bono?

In the confused aftermath of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, it didn’t take more than about five minutes for political media types to begin speculation about the potential impact of the event on the U.S. presidential contest. The staff of the Politico, unsurprisingly, had the most complete initial guesstimate on the subject, suggesting that Senate Armed Services Committee members Hillary Clinton and John McCain, full-time terrorism opportunist Rudy Giuliani, and maybe Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Joe Biden, would get a boost. The Politicos also reported that the “C.W. will say that the candidates most damaged will be Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R).”
As I type this, MSNBC has Joe Scarborough on arguing that Giuliani’s whole campaign might be revived by this development, and could fatally hurt Obama in the run-up to Iowa.
Not so fast, folks. We obviously don’t know what’s going to happen next in Pakistan. I understand that if Pakistan melts down in the next few days, at a time when the holidays limit other political news, it could get a lot more attention than would otherwise be the case. And I also understand that instability in the Greater Middle East might reinforce the campaign messages of those Democrats or Republicans who stress their foreign policy experience and/or anti-terrorist credentials.
But who really knows? International instability can reinforce both status quo and “change” sentiments, and the most proximate contest, in Iowa, features a small electorate that is probably more focused on the campaign unfolding right in front of it than on news events. But media interpretations of political trends have a way of becoming self-fulfilling prophecies, so how the candidates react in the next day or two could be very important.
No matter how it plays out, it’s really disgusting to watch the White House’s efforts to spin the Bhutto assassination as a vindication of its own anti-terrorism efforts. As Spencer Ackerman of TalkingPointsMemo reports in a conversation with Pakistan expert Barnett Rubin, the administration’s strategy was to promote a Bhutto/Musharraf “moderate” coalition after the January 8. That strategy is now “in tatters.”

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