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The Foley Scandal: A GOP Plot to Lose?

By Gerard Baker

The suspicion that the Mark Foley affair is an orchestrated plot for partisan political benefit is surely well-founded. How remarkable is it that the day congress goes home for the midterms is the very day that a several year-old "scandal" involving a creepy congressmen and some barely legal young men bursts into the news, with potentially devastating consequences for the GOP?

Most of the suspicion has centered on the Democrats and their Machiavellian masters of mayhem such as George Soros. But everything we know about the Democrats' electoral strategizing in recent years tells us that can't be true. Whatever the circumstances, they nearly always end up the victims of the mayhem, even if they've authored it.

I'd have thought it was quite obvious that the real Machiavellians here are the Republicans.

Think about it.

If the GOP retains control of both houses of congress next month, the medium-term outlook for them - specifically in 2008 - will suddenly look a lot bleaker.

For two more crucial, pre-election years Democrats will be able to lay the blame for all the nation's ills entirely at the Republicans' door. Democrats will have to take no responsibility for running foreign policy, fighting terrorism or defending the homeland. They will be free to exploit every misstep (I'm making a wild guess that there will be a few) just in time for the 2008 campaign.

If the economy turns sour - as looks increasingly possible - it will be added to the list of ills the GOP has brought the country.

If they retain control, Republicans are much less likely to feel the need to nominate someone in 2008 best positioned to garner votes from across the political divide - such as John McCain or Rudolph Giuliani. Instead they will feel freer to select a base-pleasing conservative firebrand such as Newt Gingrich, who will, for all his undoubted strengths, be a tougher sell for a general election.

Now imagine instead that the Democrats win one or both houses of congress. They will actually have to start sharing responsibility for government in what could be a very uncomfortable couple of years. If things go wrong they will take at least some of the blame. If things are OK, they won't get much credit, and can always be attacked as a "do-nothing" congress.

And remember what the nation's congressional leadership will look like if Democrats win on November 7. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. House Speaker, and two heartbeats away from the presidency, Nancy Pelosi. If that doesn't scare the children nothing will.

Then of course it will be Subpoena Time. November 8 will be Day One of an investigation drama that some excitable Democrats hope will end in impeachment. Does anyone think the aforementioned congressional leadership will be able to stop House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers and House Government Affairs Chairman Henry Waxman from delving into every nook and cranny of administration policy for the last six years?

The Republicans, on the other hand, will feel so unnerved by their loss of power in the congress that they'll be much more likely to row towards the center ground, and nominate a McCain or a Giuliani for 08.

In short, a Republican "triumph" on November 7 would be the ultimate Pyrrhic Victory, mere prelude to a Hillary coronation two years hence. Republican defeat next month would be a moment to shed copious crocodile tears - and prepare the champagne glasses.

With that in mind, consider recent events.

Until a couple of months ago, everything was going fine for the Republicans. With Iraq a mess, and a "throw the bums out mood" growing in the heartland, they were perfectly positioned to lose big.

Then things started to go horribly right.

The focus on national security around the 9/11 anniversary lifted the GOP in House and Senate polls. The brief standoff over the detainee legislation reminded voters what they like about President Bush. In global markets oil prices tumbled, dissipating some of the anti-incumbency voter anguish.

What to do? A panicked Republican party figured it needed some bad news. First, we got a National Intelligence Estimate leak that said the Iraq war has made us less safe. But when that doesn't cut it someone at the RNC or in the bowels of the White House has the brilliant idea of "unearthing" some damaging old emails and instant messages from that congressman everyone's always tried to avoid at late-night parties.

It works a charm, and no-one in the media or the opposition figures. As the eager Irishman in the Guinness ads puts it: Brilliant!

There's still a month to go, of course - plenty of time for the Democrats to strike back. If I were Hillary, I would be desperately trying to find some really good sex scandal to get my party back onto the promising path of defeat. I wonder who might be able to help her?

Gerard Baker is US Editor and Assistant Editor of The Times of London. Email: gerard.baker@thetimes.co.uk

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