By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 21, 2006
White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove offered a biting preview of the 2006 midterm elections yesterday, drawing sharp distinctions with the Democrats over the campaign against terrorism, tax cuts and judicial philosophy, and describing the opposition party as backward-looking and bereft of ideas.
"At the core, we are dealing with two parties that have fundamentally different views on national security," Rove said. "Republicans have a post-9/11 worldview and many Democrats have a pre-9/11 worldview. That doesn't make them unpatriotic -- not at all. But it does make them wrong -- deeply and profoundly and consistently wrong."
Rove spoke at the winter meeting of the Republican National Committee and, with RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman, provided a campaign blueprint for fighting the Democrats. They spoke at the beginning of an important election year in which Republicans are battling historical trends, public unrest over Iraq and a spreading corruption scandal that together threaten to reduce the GOP majorities in the House and the Senate and possibly shift control of one or both chambers to the Democrats.
At a time when Democrats have staked their hopes in large part on the issue of corruption, Rove and Mehlman showed that Republicans plan to contest the elections on themes that have helped expand their majorities under President Bush. They see national security and the vigorous prosecution of the campaign against terrorism at the heart of the GOP appeal to voters.
Rove's RNC address was a rare public appearance at a time when he remains under investigation in the CIA leak case that resulted in the indictment and resignation of Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Despite the investigation, Rove is still Bush's top political adviser.
Taking no questions from the audience or the news media, Rove used his platform to excoriate Democrats for "wild and reckless and false charges" against Bush on the issue of domestic spying and what he called an attempted smear against Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. at his Supreme Court confirmation hearings last week. "Some members of the committee came across as mean-spirited and small-minded, and it left a searing impression," Rove said, referring to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Mehlman echoed Rove on national security and taxes and explicitly addressed the corruption issue. Republicans and Democrats have offered competing plans to tighten the rules regulating the interaction between lawmakers and lobbyists, but, as the majority party, Republicans stand to lose more if there is widespread public revulsion over the scandal.
Calling for the vigorous prosecution of any wrongdoing, Mehlman sought to insulate his party from the spreading scandal involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the indictment of former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) and the guilty plea of former representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.). "If Republicans are guilty of illegal or inappropriate behavior," Mehlman said, "then they should pay the price and they should suffer the consequences."
Rove referred only indirectly to the corruption issue, warning Republicans against becoming complacent in power. "The GOP's progress during the last four decades is a stunning political achievement," he said. "But it is also a cautionary tale of what happens to a dominant party -- in this case the Democrat Party -- when its thinking becomes ossified, when its energy begins to drain, when an entitlement mentality takes over, and when political power becomes an end in itself rather than a means to achieve the common good."
Democrats were quick to respond, with Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean challenging Rove's fitness to serve. "Karl Rove only has a White House job and a security clearance because President Bush has refused to keep his promise to fire anyone involved in revealing the identity of an undercover CIA operative," Dean said in a statement. Dean added: "The truth is, Karl Rove breached our national security for partisan gain and that is both unpatriotic and wrong."
It was four years ago this week when Rove, appearing at another meeting of the RNC, said Republicans would make terrorism a central issue of the 2002 midterm elections. Rove's remarks infuriated Democrats, who protested that, until then, Bush had stressed bipartisanship and national unity in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Republicans made historic gains in 2002, and Bush successfully used the issue again to help secure his reelection in 2004, despite growing public dissatisfaction with the administration's handling of the war in Iraq. Yesterday's speeches by Rove and Mehlman signaled that the White House and the RNC intend to pursue much the same strategy in a midterm-election year that begins with Republicans on the defensive.
Mehlman and Rove accused the Democrats of trying to weaken the USA Patriot Act and of embracing calls for a premature exit from Iraq. They defended Bush's use of warrantless eavesdropping to gather intelligence about possible terrorist plots. "Do Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean really think that when the NSA is listening in on terrorists planning attacks on America, they need to hang up when those terrorists dial their sleeper cells in the United States?" Mehlman asked. Pelosi (D-Calif.) is the House minority leader.
Before completing their meeting, the Republicans rebuffed efforts to pass a resolution on immigration that would have put the national committee at odds with the president over the issue of a guest-worker program. Instead, the RNC approved a resolution supporting Bush's position.