Alex Massie

The GOP’s in a Hole; Only a Terrorist Attack Can Save It...

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In the course of defending Dick Cheney's assault on the Obama administration, Bill Kristol has this to say:

But of course an intelligent and knowledgeable advocate--even if he's personally not so popular--can do a lot to get an issue front and center. And the debate of that issue can do political damage to the existing administration and its congressional allies.

The real question any Republican strategist should ask himself is this: What will Republican chances be in 2012 if voters don't remember the Bush administration--however problematic in other areas--as successful in defending the country after 9/11? To give this issue away would be to accept a post-Herbert-Hoover-like-fate for today's GOP. No-one would mistake Kristol for a softie, but even by his standards there's something brutal about this analysis. For one thing, the salience of this advice, to say nothing of its half-life, might depend upon there being another terrorist attack on US soil during Obama's term in office. I wouldn't accuse Kristol of desiring such an attack, but he plainly recognises the political benefits for the GOP such an attack would bring: At least the Republicans kept America safe, unlike the Democrats.

As so often there's a whiff of double-standards about this. Republicans chafed - with some reason - at accusations that the Bush administration took its eye off the ball vis a vis the threat from al-Qaeda. Yes, they admitted, mistakes were made but this is a matter for national unity and common purpose, not partisan point-scoring. And anyway, the threat was gathering during the Clinton years. The sadder but unavoidable truth is that blunder and lapses and failures of communication are possible, perhaps even likely, regardless of whether there's a Republican or a Democratic president. And, always, there's the role of luck - both in terms of carrying out an attack and in terms of preventing it.

It used to be said, perhaps foolishly or optimistically, that American politics should stop at the water's edge. One might wish that the same principle apply to national defense and that, absent gross negligence, there'd be a moratorium placed upon exploiting the deaths of American civilians for party political advantage. Aye, dream on.

Equally telling is the fact that though Kristol concedes that the GOP needs "a forward-looking agenda in all areas" he makes this a secondary consideration. Indeed, evisaging a post-Hoover future for the GOP if it doesn't destroy Democratic credibility on national security is, in its way, an admission that the Republican cupboard is otherwise bare. This is all that's left: torture saved lives, punk

Verily, lads, we're a long way from Dubya's Compassionate Conservatism and one might think that in a better world politics might be larger and rather more dignified than this.

Cheney, according to Kristol, is the"Most Valuable Republican" in Washington right now. Because,

After all, if you're behind on the scoreboard, and your defense is on the field--there's nothing better than to jam up a couple of running plays, sack the quarterback on a blitz, and force a punt from bad field position. The momentum changes as your offense takes over with a shot at putting some points on the board. Dick Cheney probably won't be the glamour quarterback of the Republican comeback. But he's proving to be a heck of a middle-linebacker.

Now perhaps Kristol is right and, sure, politics ain't beanbag but there are ways and means and not every end justifies all means.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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