Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Rove, Spinning to Protect the Brand

Karl Rove's an extremely despicable figure, but it can be helpful to follow his spin because of his strong continuing influence in Republican circles and the MSM. He's given many an interview and written many a piece attacking Obama at this point, and similar attacks will surely continue, but I've been most interested to watch his efforts to protect the brand of the GOP.

Consider his 5/8/08 editorial for the Wall Street Journal, "It's Obama, Warts and All" (via Howard Kurtz). This section was particularly interesting:

- As much as Mr. Obama's cheerleaders in the media hate it, Rev. Jeremiah Wright remains a large general-election challenge for Mr. Obama. Not only did Mr. Obama admit on "Fox News Sunday" that Mr. Wright was a legitimate issue, voters agree. Mr. Obama's favorable ratings have dropped since Mr. Wright emerged as an issue. More than half of Mrs. Clinton's supporters say it is a meaningful reflection on Mr. Obama's character and judgment.

- This will be a very difficult year for Republicans. The economy's shaky state, an unpopular war, and the natural desire for partisan change after eight years of one party in the White House have helped tilt the balance to the Democrats.

Mr. Obama is significantly weaker today than he was three months ago, but Democrats have the upper hand in November. They're beatable. But it's nonsense to think this year is going to be a replay of George H.W. Bush versus Michael Dukakis or Richard Nixon versus George McGovern.

- Mr. McCain is very competitive. He is the best candidate Republicans could have picked in this environment. With the GOP brand low, his appeal to moderates and independents becomes even more crucial.

Most of the piece focuses on bashing Obama. Rove's correct that McCain may be the best possible candidate the Republicans could have chosen, given how horribly the Bush administration has run things. As Rove acknowledges, regard for the GOP brand is low.

But Rove also falsely suggests that the press is in the tank for Obama. While it's true that many in our vapid national press corps have preferred Obama to Clinton, their regard for Obama cannot begin to compare with their adoration of Saint McCain (see the two pieces I linked here for just a sample). It's just silly to claim that the press has been downplaying Wright — they've obsessed on the story, and Rove is trying to make Wright an issue yet again. While some voters have said their opinion of Obama has dropped due to Wright, obviously Obama has still been doing quite well overall. Asking Clinton supporters about their thoughts on Wright is of course a rigged demo. Most importantly, Rove is obscuring two key points (this is Rove; of course it's deliberate). Poll data, including a joint poll conducted by NBC and the Wall Street Journal itself a week before Rove's piece, found that voters are more concerned (rightly so) about McCain's connection with Rove's former boss, George W. Bush, than Obama's connection with Jeremiah Wright. Furthermore, as Steve Benen notes (same link as previous), "A strong majority of Americans (64%), including a near majority of Republicans (47%) said the Wright issue will not have any effect on their vote." Like Benen, I'm a bit concerned about the number of voters who cite Wright as an issue (read the full post for details), but the picture Rove provides remains selective and misleading.

All of this is classic Rove spin, and good to note. However, I'd argue that this is only part of the picture. This is the paragraph that really grabbed me:

- This will be a very difficult year for Republicans. The economy's shaky state, an unpopular war, and the natural desire for partisan change after eight years of one party in the White House have helped tilt the balance to the Democrats.

Later on, Rove does admit regard for the GOP brand is low, but note the game here. Rove absolves the GOP, his former boss and himself of culpability. That's not terribly surprising. Still, who, after all, is to blame for the economy's shaky state? Rove also presents the Iraq war as "unpopular," not a catastrophically mismanaged debacle that was never necessary in the first place. Most crucially, Rove speaks of "the natural desire for partisan change." Rove is trying to sell the idea that the voters are reactionary and not particularly reflective, and that voting Democratic in November, however overwhelmingly, is just part of the normal political cycle versus a wholesale rejection of the disastrous policies of Rove, Bush, Cheney, the neocons and the rest. Of course Rove wants to tear down Obama. But the long game of Rove (50% plus one), Norquist, the K Street Project and other right-wing entities has been to make the Democrats a permanent minority if not destroy them utterly. Rove may actually believe some of what he's shilling, since he apparently really did believe the GOP could maintain power in the 2006 midterm elections, which were an earlier repudiation of his policies and politics. Regardless, even though he admits to some problems with "the brand," he's still trying to protect it from lasting harm.

Some of this is nothing new. As Digby has repeatedly pointed out, movement conservatives believe that "Conservatism cannot fail, it can only be failed. (And a conservative can only fail because he is too liberal.)" The Sadly, No! crew has repeatedly noted how conservatives such as Jonah Goldberg and Peggy Noonan, who once embraced Bush, have since tried to disown him as a conservative since his stock has fallen. Above all, protect the brand. (See Digby's "Winning By Losing" and Sadly, No's "Everybody Hates Michelle Malkin" for recent takes on this general trend.)

Rove has continued to push this twin agenda, hack attacks on Obama and defenses of the GOP brand, in other pieces such as his 5/15/08 Wall Street Journal piece, "The GOP Must Stand for Something." After downplaying the Democrats' wins in traditionally Republican districts, Rove writes:

But that only shows the GOP can't take "safe" seats for granted when Democrats run conservatives who distance themselves from their national party leaders. The string of defeats should cure Republicans of the habit of simply shouting "liberal! liberal! liberal!" in hopes of winning an election. They need to press a reform agenda full of sharp contrasts with the Democrats.

Why is it tough sledding for Republicans? Public revulsion at GOP scandals was a large factor in the party's 2006 congressional defeat. Some brand damage remains, as does the downward pull of the president's approval ratings. But the principal elements are the Iraq war and a struggling economy.

Gallup's 2007 report found that fewer voters identify themselves as Republicans now than at any point in the past 20 years – despite the fact that less than a fifth of Americans agree with Mr. Obama's call to rapidly withdraw from Iraq. And while many Americans are concerned about the economy, most are satisfied with their own finances.

As Republican ranks declined, the number of independents and Democrats grew. Has the bottom been reached? It's too early to know. But Americans are acknowledging progress in Iraq, economists are suggesting the economy will be in better shape this fall, and a recent ABC/Washington Post poll found GOP identification rising.

Rove's correct that yelling "Liberal!" alone might not help that much, any more than yelling "Appeasement!" (The Moderate Voice nominated Rove's op-ed for its "Ferrell-Fouts Award" for stating the painfully obvious.) In this piece, Rove sounds the same reasons as before for the public's rejection of the GOP "brand" — but the crux of his argument here rests on the idea that the public is mistaken, and that in reality, Obama is out of step with them. Rove is of course peddling absolute bullshit about Obama and Iraq. Not even the web version of Rove's op-ed provides any links for his outrageous claims, of course. But as we recently covered in a McCain-Iraq post, there's plenty of data showing Rove and McCain are on the wrong side of this issue, for example:

A new poll by ICR found 68% of Americans want Congress to use the power of the purse to bring all troops home from Iraq within the next six months. This is up from 54% last September.

Rove also misrepresents Obama's plan for withdrawal, suggesting it's both reckless and unpopular. It's unclear which specific poll Rove's citing and which question he's cherry-picking. He mentions Gallup in 2007 in passing, but Gallup and virtually every other major poll on Iraq (even those poorly worded) show the majority of the American public has opposed our continued occupation of Iraq for some time now. Obama's stances on Iraq have of course been one of his chief appeals to voters, and if anything, the American public is even more impatient to begin withdrawal than Obama is! Rove's claim that "Americans are acknowledging progress in Iraq" is selective and misleading at best. As we've covered countless times, of course there has been some progress in some areas of Iraq, but the situation overall remains horrific, and as the above poll data and other posts we've featured show, the American public overwhelmingly has not budged on the withdrawal issue. Basically, even when Rove's not completely full of shit on factual matters, his point's irrelevant.

Rove's 5/7/08 online discussion at The Washington Post provided plenty of unintentional comedy, but his penchant for combining factual inaccuracies, hackish spin and irrelevant bluster was at its finest in this exchange:

Columbus, Ohio: You boldly predicted that Bush's approval ratings would rebound -- instead he is, according to Gallup, the most unpopular president in history. Will you finally admit that your vision for this nation has been overwhelmingly rejected by the majority of the people?

Karl Rove: Get your facts right -- there are at least three president who had worse approval ratings, Truman, Johnson and Nixon. I'm absolutely positive history will be kind to this president, who made the right decisions in a difficult time for this nation.

And what about those terribly low ratings for the Democratic Congress, which I suspect you're enormously proud of.

Rove's belligerent spin here depends on a creative, deceptive reworking of the questioner's point. As CNN reported on 5/1/08:

"Bush's approval rating, which stands at 28 percent in our new poll, remains better than the all-time lows set by Harry Truman and Richard Nixon [22 percent and 24 percent, respectively], but even those two presidents never got a disapproval rating in the 70s," Holland said. "The previous all-time record in CNN or Gallup polling was set by Truman, 67 percent disapproval in January 1952."

While Gallup polling goes back to the 1930s, it wasn't until the Truman years that they began surveying monthly approval ratings.

CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider adds, "He is more unpopular than Richard Nixon was just before he resigned from the presidency in August 1974."

President Nixon's disapproval rating in August 1974 stood at 66 percent.

In classic Rove fashion, he goes on the offensive against his questioner to cover that he ain't got nuthin'. In his response, he misrepresents "unpopular," claiming that Bush's approval rating is only the fourth worst in the history of the Gallup poll, even though Bush's disapproval rating is the worst ever, notably worse than certain-to-be-impeached Nixon before the very end. CNN also doesn't mention Johnson, but even if we grant that to Rove, not only is Rove being deceptive, even if he weren't, "Bush — Only the Fourth Most Unpopular President in History!" is hardly a great rallying cry.

Let's also note that the questioner directly criticized the Bush/Rove legacy and the GOP brand, and that Rove dodged that. Oh, and let's note for the umpteenth time that (as Rove well knows) Congress is unpopular for not sufficiently opposing Bush (that dynamic hasn't changed much since last year).

There are times Republican hacks peddle bad politics for personal gain or to please conservative audiences, and at other times it's mostly reeking desperation that leads to laughable strategies. But as a recent Roy Edroso post shows, some Republican hacks seem to be true believers in the "brand" as well, such as the National Review crowd. Edroso describes one of their recent discussions:

First, the Cornerites discussed boycotting McCain as a means to... well, I still don't know even after reading Mark Steyn: "A McCain victory with Democrat gains in Congress," he says, "would be an invitation to a one-term 'maverick' president to go on an almighty bipartisan binge." Much better, I guess, to let the Democrats run everything, so when Jesus shows up Republicans can say none of it was their fault.

Andrew Stuttaford disagrees:

If McCain is defeated, the conventional wisdom will be that the American people have decisively turned away from conservatism. The reality will, of course, be something far more complex...

Yeah, like, "The American people actually wanted to either strangle or eviscerate (slowly, in either case) every Republican they could catch, but democracy only afforded the less satisfactory alternative of voting."

...but, in the aftermath of a Democratic sweep, that's not the "narrative" that will be constructed, popularized and believed, and believed almost as much as on the right as the left.

Those bastards! And they've probably also say that their "victories" mean they have a "right" to "govern."

Rove and the National Review crowd almost always argue in bad faith, of course, and the degree to which they believe their own spin is somewhat academic. The important thing to remember is that, even while specific attacks on Obama (or any GOP target) should be challenged and debunked, it's essential to attack the GOP brand itself. As we and other liberal blogs have chronicled, McCain is essentially running for Bush's third term. Where McCain's policies haven't been identical to Bush's, they've been even worse, vague, contradictory or simply godawful. The neocons, other authoritarian movement conservatives and their leading hacks such as Rove have shown themselves impervious to reason, honor, and shame, among other things. They will never stop their destructive agenda voluntarily. It's important to beat them in November, but it's even more important for the long term to expose and discredit them for the dangerous, reckless, conscienceless thugs they are.

(Further reading I've since found: Thers' " The Trimmings of Slim Victory," Sadly, No's "Shorter Dan Riehl" and Digby's "A Majority Of Better Democrats," about the idiotic Blue Dog crowd.)

(Jeff Danzinger, 5-19-08. Click for a larger view.)

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

1 comment:

Fran said...

Bravo!! Bravo!!

What a great post Batocchio. You nailed it completely with your usual wisdom.

Rove and Hillary actually sound so much alike these days, don't they?