Thursday, February 16, 2006

Harry took one for the team

If it is a strategy, it is brilliant.

Imagine this for a moment. A few months down the road, Vice President Dick Cheney, faced with a recurring heart condition and the aftermath of the controversy surrounding his hunting accident, succumbs to his family’s concern for his health and well-being and steps aside as Vice President. For Cheney, it would be a natural decision. After all, he has accomplished what he came to accomplish, and by stepping down he can assure that the policies he put in place will continue when Condi Rice is inaugurated as President in 2008.

Is it so far fetched? Rice is a protégé of Brent Scowcroft and a foreign policy realist deeply committed to Cheney’s plan to reassert American power in the world. Weaned on the intricacies of Cold War diplomacy, she was never part of the Neocon cabal, and she has proven her capacity to stand her ground in the face of diplomatic fury. That she is Pro-Choice is no problem for Cheney, as social issues are inconsequential in the scheme of things from his vantage point.

For Cheney, the 2008 presidential election is wide open and there is little chance that the winner, Democrat or Republican, understands the world as he does. Of the Republicans, McCain is a self-righteous demagogue, Giuliani is a preening lightweight, and don’t even get him started on the smart-money front-runner George Allen. Of the Democrats, Hillary has more balls than the rest of them combined and understands Realpolitik, but will be hamstrung by MoveOn and the rest, and if Warner makes it as the anti-Hillary, the first four years will be learning on the job.

But Cheney would step aside for Condi. She is tough and she gets it. The only problem is that she won’t run. Not the normal way, in any event. But if Cheney steps down, she could step in and––despite the squealing from across the political spectrum––no one could mount a challenge to her confirmation. Cheney’s last act on the public stage would be to assure a Republican victory in 2008, and put in place a presidency committed to continuing his legacy.

Meanwhile, in the midst of CheneyShotHarryGate, MoveOn circulated an email to its members asking the question ”Should we take on right wing Democrats?” The MoveOn email suggested that it was time “to hold Democrats to their Party’s highest values on issues like foreign policy, economic prosperity and good government.” The idea of going after Democrats that don’t heel to MoveOn’s views was offered in a strategic context, suggesting that it would help the Democratic Party present a clear choice to the nation in coming elections.

Perhaps, but the MoveOn question reeks of the party-line purification stage of life in the minority, and is a strategic distraction. After all, while Democrats are seeking out ways to better define themselves, the Republican Party is gleefully jumping in to help out. Last week, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman formally launced the 2008 race against Hillary Clinton by floating the notion that she is “too angry to be President.” So as the 2006 races approach, the Republicans are running hard against the Democrats, while the Democrats are considering taking a run against themselves.

Strategy is all-important in politics and it is where the Republicans have had it all over the Democrats of late. Perhaps a lesson from Fatah is in order. Hamas won their electoral landslide with only 44% of the popular vote. Facing internal strife between the old guard and younger leaders, Fatah ran multiple candidates in some districts and none in others. Fatah voters outnumbered Hamas voters handsomely as it turned out, but Hamas won nonetheless.

The Democrats are now facing several challenges. Hillary Clinton has the presence, the organization and the war chest to win the 2008 nomination in a walk. This even as many in the Party question both whether she can win a general election and whether they want her to––“I just don’t know, she seems so angry… At the same time, the lack of clear leadership and a message is leaving groups like MoveOn empowered to undertake their own ill-conceived efforts to define the Party in their own image. For Democrats, Bill Clinton aside, strategy is an elusive thing. One week the strategy will be the Culture of Corruption, the next week it will be the Crisis of Competence, and next week it might be Force Cheney Out.

While the Democrats try to figure out their next strategy, the Republicans already have one, and Dick Cheney may even have his own. So when the calls begin, as they have, for Cheney to step down, an old adage is apt. Be careful what you wish for, because he might just do it.

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