Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Rove's fingerprints

Salon.com News | When Republicans attack
...Wayne Slater isn't surprised at all. Slater, the veteran Dallas Morning News reporter who coauthored 'Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential,' said Tuesday that the Swift Boat Veterans attack was entirely predictable. Slater has watched Karl Rove work for nearly two decades, and he said the 'mark of Rove' in a campaign is always the same: Aim nasty attacks right at your opponent's strength, but keep your own fingerprints off them.

It happened in Texas in 1994, when Karl Rove ran Bush's campaign against Gov. Ann Richards. Richards' strength, Slater said, was her reputation for tolerance and inclusiveness. Then somebody started rumors in conservative East Texas, whispers suggesting that Richards and some of her staff members were gay. Bush didn't make the accusation himself, of course, but one day a state senator serving as Bush's East Texas campaign chairman -- a politician who had worked previously with Rove -- told a newspaper reporter that Richards' appointment of 'avowed homosexuals' might be a liability in her campaign for reelection. The rumors, suddenly on the record -- at least sort of -- become newspaper stories, and Bush won the race.

Six years later, with Bush and Rove facing a must-win Republican presidential primary in South Carolina, somebody started suggesting that Sen. John McCain's experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam had left him mentally unstable. Again, it was an attack on the opponent's strength -- in McCain's case, his role as a war hero -- and again, Bush and Rove disavowed any involvement in the attacks. When McCain challenged Bush in a Republican debate, Bush said: ' John, I believe that you served our country nobly.'

Of course, that's almost exactly what Bush has said about John Kerry, even as a group with close ties to Rove and the Bush-Cheney campaign runs an advertisement making the opposite point. When Larry King asked Bush about the Swift Boat Veterans' ad earlier this month, Bush said that he believes Kerry performed 'honorable service' in Vietnam.

Slater said that Kerry has learned a lesson from the losses suffered by Ann Richards and John McCain. 'You do not ignore the attacks,' Slater said. 'Richards never responded, and with McCain the response was too muted and too late. The lesson here is that you should respond immediately and try to tag the Bush administration or the Bush campaign as the responsible party.'

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