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Hot Stories: Iraq Attack, And They're Off

Beltway Boys

MORT KONDRACKE, "ROLL CALL": Coming up on "The Beltway Boys": it's Labor Day weekend, the traditional kickoff of the campaign season.

FRED BARNES, "WEEKLY STANDARD": And we'll take a look at the Bush administration's pushback against Iraq war critics.

KONDRACKE: We'll tell you how Democrats are fighting back, and look at how the war is playing in key races.

BARNES: Plus, big labor's doling out some big bucks in the midterms. We'll take a look at what's left of their political clout.

KONDRACKE: Hang on to your seats. "The Beltway Boys" are next, right after the headlines.


BARNES: I'm Fred Barnes.

KONDRACKE: And I'm Mort Kondracke, and we're "The Beltway Boys."

BARNES: Mort, "Hot Story" number one: "Iraq Attack." Not in Baghdad; I'm talking about as we move into this midterm election campaign, as - as we will after Labor Day, Iraq as an attack issue in the campaign, now by Republicans -- obviously Democrats are going to use it their way as well.

Now remember what is supposed to be the strategy of Republicans in this midterm election, and that is to make it individual races - a choice in these individual districts, and - and Senate races and so on, not a referendum on the president, on his presidency, on his policies. But, you know, with what's going on now, it looks like they're not implementing that yet.

President Bush in particular; Don Rumsfeld, the secretary of Defense; Vice President Cheney; even occasionally Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice giving these very aggressive speeches defending the administration's policy in Iraq, and attacking the "Defeatocrats." That's Democrats.

You like that? Defeat-ocrats?


BARNES: Anyway, attacking them for wanting to pull out of Iraq, and - and how horrible that would be.

Listen to President Bush when he talked about this - where was this speech? - in Utah, at the American Legion.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some politicians look at our efforts in Iraq and see a diversion from the war on terror. That would come as news to Usama bin Laden, who proclaimed that the third World War is raging in Iraq.


BARNES: Well, the president is going to broaden this, and I think and - and all of them will, Rumsfeld and others - and other Republicans will broaden this, right around September 11, the fifth anniversary, into an emphasis on the war on terror, of which they contend and I agree, Iraq is a part. And that will be - and I think that will be the bigger issue, the war on terror, which they think - which they will attack Democrats on for their tendency to weaken the best - want to weaken the best offensive tools that we have - you know, NSA eavesdropping and things like that - that have prevented America from being - suffering another terrorist attack for the last five years.

And that will be a centerpiece of the campaign. But it'll be - it'll be a referendum on Bush I think, not a choice.

KONDRACKE: No. I - no, I think that they're - they're - they're making it a choice, and we'll - we'll get to it in a minute. But certainly at the - at individual-race level, there will be contrasts drawn between one candidate's position and another. And it's being done beneath the Bush level.

I'll explain to this. Right after Bush.

BARNES: I don't understand it.

KONDRACKE: OK. I'll - I'll get there.

Bush said this in that - in that speech to the American Legion. Watch.


BUSH: There was some in our country who insist that the best option in Iraq is to pull out, regardless of the situation on the ground. Many of these folks are sincere, and they're patriotic. But they can be - they could not be more wrong.


KONDRACKE: Look, I - I think he's absolutely right; they could not be wrong to pull out of - of Iraq prematurely. I mean, it would be a disaster.

But that was the high-minded good-cop side of - of this thing. "Defeat-ocrat" is part of the hardball, tough line, tough-cop kind of approach. And that's going to - that's going to be happening all up and down the line.

I mean, here's an example of it from Don Rumsfeld. Watch.


DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: It was a time when a certain amount of cynicism and moral confusion set in among Western democracy, when those who warned about a coming crisis - the rise of fascism and Nazism - they were ridiculed or ignored. I recount that history, because once again we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism.


KONDRACKE: I mean, he accused the - the Democrats in sum and the press of being appeasers. Now appeasers is a word that was used during - you know, before World War II. There were people who thought you could get along with Hitler.


KONDRACKE: That was - that's what appeasement was. It's also freighted with a lot of Cold War baggage, when, during the Truman administration, at the start of the containment policy, right-wing Republicans accused Dean Acheson and other people of appeasing communism.

That's the context. It's a - it's a - it's a - it's a - it's a tough word. And it's - what the Democrats are practicing is dead wrong, but it's not appeasement. They are not saying that if we get out of Iraq early, or if we undermine the NSA spying program or something like that, that Usama bin Laden will like us and stop attacking us. They want to kill Usama bin Laden, too.

BARNES: Look, I agree; it's not appeasement. That's not what it is.

But here's what it is - and this is what I think Rumsfeld was alluding to - the naivet, or the state of the denial or the - that we saw back then with - with so many Brits and American isolationists about the real threat that Hitler and Nazis posed. We see now today, with a lot of Democrats and liberals, who don't seem to recognize the threat that Islamic jihadism poses. It's not something to be handled by a little bit of finger pointing and law enforcement. But they don't get it.

Fortunately back then, there was a Churchill and there was an FDR: tough guys who recognized the threat and took it on, when others didn't want to. And - and the problem now for Democrats is, there aren't any Churchills or - or FDRs among their group. Now - well, Joe Lieberman. But that's about it.


Now, look, I - what the Democrats - I - I'm not saying that what the Democrats are doing is - is - is any sense right.

Here's - watch Chuck Shumer's response to Rumsfeld. Watch.


SEN. CHARLES SHUMER (D), NEW YORK: What Donald Rumsfeld should have done is told the American Legion what the administration's plans are in Iraq. Things seem to be getting worse and worse and worse.

He had to make the link between Iraq and the war on terror, which many Americans - as the polls show and as just anecdotally, and just as logic dictates - there are doubts.


KONDRACKE: When Congress comes back, what the Democrats plan to do is have a - quote-unquote - "no confidence" vote about Don Rumsfeld. That's playing politics, just the way "Defeat-ocrat" is.

Here's what I'm worried about: I'm worried that the war - that the people in the - in the country will see this terrorism issue as trivialized, as just politics. When in fact, Bush is right: it could - nothing could be serious. I mean, this is for the future of civilization. If we lose in Iraq, we're going to have a future in which it's really true that Islamic dictators armed with nuclear weapons are going to dominate the Middle East. Nothing could be more dangerous. And that's what - that's what the public needs to keep in mind, and not have the idea that this is just some sort of political spat.

BARNES: Well, that was well said. But I'm not worried; I think they'll recognize how serious it is, the public will.

All right. Coming up, the Iraq war puts vulnerable candidates on both sides of the aisle in a very tight spot. "Hot Story" number two straight ahead.


KONDRACKE: Welcome back to "The Beltway Boys."

"Hot Story" number two: "They're Off." Well, as you say, it's Labor Day; the campaign is - is under way, officially. You know, I mean, it's been on for - it's been on - going on for months.

BARNES: Look at me. I'm so excited.

KONDRACKE: Yes. Well, you should be. I mean, it's going to be - it - it's a portentous campaign. You know, who's going to run Congress.

BARNES: That was - I wasn't being sarcastic. But go ahead.

KONDRACKE: No, it counts. I mean it - who - if the Democrats take over one house or another, believe me, the next two years for the Bush administration will be pure hell with investigations. And in the campaign, Iraq is the big Democratic issue. Things have been going badly there. On the Republican side, it's terrorism: the - the - the Democrats are soft on terrorism.

The central front in this campaign - or a central front anyway is the Connecticut Senate race between Joe Lieberman, Democrat who, you know, lost the primary and is now an independent - and Ned Lamont, the Democratic primary winner. Here's an ad being run by an independent group of veterans on behalf of Lieberman. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When we were over there, it was important to know that someone had our back.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like Senator Lieberman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whatever your feelings about Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No matter how complicated it got.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was there for us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now that we're home, we're here for him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He stayed with the troops and their mission.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm a Connecticut veteran.

GROUP: We're Connecticut veterans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, Senator Lieberman.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks, Senator Lieberman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Senator Lieberman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, Senator Lieberman. We got your back.


KONDRACKE: That was done by Russ Shriffer (ph), our - our friend.


KONDRACKE: The Democratic response to that ad was that Lieberman is quote - unquote - Swift Boating, smearing, questioning the patriotism of Democrats. The - I mean, of - of Lamont. There wasn't a word about - about Lamont in that ad.

Now in Connecticut also, Chris Shays, Republican, who has been a staunch supporter of the war in - in the past, actually endorsed Lieberman. On the other hand, Chris Shays is also now backing off from his previous support for the war, and saying that we ought to set a timetable for withdrawal. Why? Because he is in a tough race with - with Diane Farrell the Democrat in - in - in - in a Congressional district.

BARNES: No - well, look, Farrell is a good candidate, but being fickle on - on the war - I don't think that's going to help Chris Shays. I mean.

KONDRACKE: It's not fickle; it's inconstant, I would say.

BARNES: Well, that's a - what's the difference? I think they're - I think they're the same thing.

Look, Republicans in some of these competitive seats have to get used to the fact that they're going to have to deal with tough ads on Iraq that Democrats are going to put up. I - I would refer you to the New Mexico race, where Republican Heather Wilson's running for re-election. She has a very good opponent, Patricia Madrid, the Democrat, who has put this I would - we're going just going to put up here, Mort - on the air attacking Heather Wilson on Iraq.



ANNOUNCER: The war in Iraq: three and a half years. Still no plan, and America's less safe.

Heather Wilson is on the Intelligence Committee, but she never questioned George Bush on the war. And she never said a word about we've spent $300 billion there. Heather Wilson even missed a vote on setting a timetable for withdrawal so she could attend a fundraiser with George Bush.


BARNES: That's a pretty good ad. It's a tough ad. It's not a demagogic ad, really. And - but I think Heather Wilson will deal with it, not by flipping on it, or switching her position.

KONDRACKE: Yes. I - I think the state of play look - all the polls indicate - and I'm not going to cite any of them, which - which is a gift to you. All the polls indicate that - that the - the - the Republicans are still ahead on - on fighting terrorism, but less than they used to be. And the Democrats are way ahead on - on the Iraq issue.

I think, frankly, that the Iraq issue - unless there is actual progress on the ground - is going to be the dominant issue in this campaign, and that the Democrats as a result are going to - are going to prosper, and I think take over the House.

BARNES: Well, maybe they will.

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