By Francis Wilkinson
In September, 2006, with Republicans facing a Democratic wave in the November midterm election, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell went to the Oval Office to request some help. "Are you going to pull troops out of Iraq in order to keep a Republican Senate majority?" McConnell asked.
That's how Bush's former chief political adviser, Karl Rove, recalls it. The scene is rendered slightly differently in George W. Bush's memoir, "Decision Points," but the gist of the anecdote is the same. McConnell, who had been hammering Democrats for calling for troop withdrawals, was quietly asking the White House to take political pressure off Congressional Republicans by bringing some troops home from Iraq. Bush refused.
We were reminded of the story this morning when Rove stopped by Bloomberg View for a discussion marked by his trademark attention to detail. While most of the session was off the record, Rove offered a few thoughts for public consumption. He spoke of President Barack Obama's troubles with the Democratic base stemming in part from the president's "diffident nature" and suggested that Obama's rocky road to reelection would likely require "irradiating" his eventual Republican opponent with attacks.
That's a style of campaign Rove knows well. President Bush was similarly in trouble before the 2004 election. By November of that year, Bush's Democratic opponent, Senator John Kerry, was on the receiving end of so much political radiation -- including the ad campaign that spawned the verb "to swift boat" -- that Bush prevailed with a margin of 3 million votes. Two years later, on the eve of the 2006 midterm, Bush's approval rating had sunk to 34 percent and McConnell lost his Republican majority.
(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.)
-0- Sep/12/2011 18:26 GMT