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Is Bill Kristol Working for Karl Rove?

On FOX News Sunday, Bill Kristol took the position that the Feingold censure was good politics for the Democrats and hurting Bush and the Republicans.

KRISTOL: I think Feingold is smarter than the Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate, and I think he deserves some credit for taking a principled stand. And I honestly believe that, in fact, he's winning this debate right now.

We're sitting here talking about well, the censure, that's politically unwise. Who is defending the president's NSA actions? Suddenly everyone is talking about warrantless wiretapping. It's on the table, as Mara just said. Well, maybe he doesn't have legal justification. Impeachment will be too much, but it's certainly fair to question what he's done. I think Feingold has succeeded in casting a big cloud over the president's program here.

WALLACE: So you think this is helping Democrats and hurting Republicans?

KRISTOL: Yes, absolutely.

Last week I wrote the censure was good politics for Feingold and Republicans, and on the roundtable yesterday Brit Hume quickly countered Kristol, acknowledging that while it may play well for Russ Feingold and his run for the Democratic nomination, censure wasn't a smart move in terms of damaging the president. In my mind this is the simple, straight-forward, and pretty obvious analysis.

Kristol is one of the most astute analysts in the business, but he does get it wrong sometimes. I remember him opining after the New Hampshire primary in 2000 that Bush was finished and there was no way the McCain momentum could be halted. Kristol may have been letting personal loyalties get the better of him with that analysis, but this latest proposition that censure is good politics for the Democrats is great fodder for conspiracy theorists who can now whisper that Kristol is in cahoots with the White House trying to sucker Democrats into engaging on a sure fire loser of an issue.

Andrew Sullivan appears to have bitten on Kristol's rationale, writing yesterday, "Maybe the (censure/impeachment) meme has legs; and I should reconsider, as my reader has, the wisdom of Feingold's move."

Karl Rove couldn't hope for anything more than for Democrats to embrace Feingold's call to censure the President. It must be frustrating to Rove that Democrats appear to have finally gotten a little street sense when it comes to dealing with the White House political operation. Last week Senate Dems correctly realized the censure issue had the ability to completely undo all of the gains they had made from the Dubai Ports fiasco.

The problem for Democrats on this issue is their base, as heard through its megaphone on the Internet. The base is chomping at the bit to go after Bush, and this pressure coupled with the reality that privately many, if not most, Democratic Senators probably agree with Feingold are two powerful forces that make it hard for Democrats to keep this genie in the bottle and play the censure/impeachment issue the politically smart way. Dick Durbin, the Senate's #2 Democrat, unwittingly admitted as much yesterday when he couldn't bring himself to rule out impeaching the President should Democrats win control of Congress.

I do agree with Kristol that Republicans will be in trouble in November if they don't have more of a message than asking the public to reelect the GOP so that the Democrats won't impeach President Bush. But he is wrong to suggest that going at the President on the NSA issue is smart politics for the Democrats. One of the reasons Republicans may not be making "a substantive defense of the program" (to use Kristol's words) is there is nothing to defend. Bush and the Republicans have won on the NSA issue, and no amount of Feingold, Boxer, Harkin, or MoveOn.org whining is going to change that.

The Republicans are just hoping Democrats are naive enough to get in the ring again on the issue of whether the President, in consultation with Congress, has the authority to wiretap Al Qaeda phone calls in to the U.S.