By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
MANCHESTER, N.H., June 12 -- The Bush administration is said to have a new playbook, with a more inclusive attitude toward critics and an openness to skeptical debate.
Karl Rove, apparently, still has his copy of the old playbook.
In a speech to New Hampshire Republican officials here Monday night, the White House deputy chief of staff attacked Democrats who have criticized the U.S. war effort in Iraq, such as Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) and Rep. John P. Murtha (Pa.), who he said advocate "cutting and running."
"They may be with you for the first shots," Rove said of such opponents. "But they're not going . . . to be with you for the tough battles."
President Bush's approval ratings have plummeted amid concerns about the war, and Rove touched on two standard elements of his rhetorical sales pitch for the 2006 elections. He talked about the economy, ascribing its health to a combination of Republican tax cuts and fiscal restraint, and he talked about national security and the war.
Bush has called for a compromise on immigration and recently appointed a Treasury secretary who disagrees with him on the environment. But it was difficult to hear in this speech any signs of a more conciliatory White House.
Instead, Rove's speech was about sharpening the differences between the GOP and its opponents.
"They're for higher taxes. We're for lower taxes," he said during his description of the economy. "They're for more spending. We're for less spending."
Rove made similarly blunt points about the war. He defended the administration's decision to invade Iraq by laying out Saddam Hussein's "vital interest" in acquiring advanced weapons technology.
"We were absolutely right" to remove him, Rove said of the former leader. He added, "We have no excuses to make for it."
Rove singled out Kerry by reading quotes from before the war in which the senator expressed support for an invasion, and then making a joke about him being for the invasion before he was against it.
He also returned several times to Murtha, a Marine veteran who said last fall that troops should be withdrawn from Iraq. Rove said a precipitous departure would leave the United States weakened and a terrorist-friendly regime in Baghdad.
"It would provide a launching pad for the terrorists to strike the United States and the West," he said.
Rove's speech came at a critical point for Republicans, both nationally and in the Granite State, where Bush's approval ratings have mirrored their fall nationally.
The state Republican Party has been hit by a scandal that began when GOP operatives used computerized phone calls to jam the lines at get-out-the-vote operations run by Democrats and labor unions on Election Day in 2002. That scandal has resulted in three convictions and huge legal bills for the party. The state party chairman estimated that 10 to 15 percent of the receipts from Monday night's dinner will go to pay legal bills.
Rove did not spend much time on the party's difficulties, but they may have been reflected in his final point, which was less about the Bush administration's triumphs than its day-to-day perseverance.
He told the story about a friend from Texas who gave him a photo of President Lyndon B. Johnson in despair as he read over a list of Vietnam War casualties. Rove said the friend meant it as a sign that the presidency could break a person. He promised that Bush will not be broken.
And then Rove referenced what he said was his favorite presidential quote, from Warren G. Harding.
"This damn job will kill you," he quoted Harding as saying.
"But it will not this man," Rove said, meaning Bush.