What the President has accomplished with his bellicose media campaign is to cement the idea that torture is a Republican idea, pushed by a Republican President, with Republican backing. Democrats oppose torture to the point that there is not debate between Democrats and Republicans on the issue -there's nothing to discuss, compromise or move on. Republicans like McCain, Graham and Warner need to push an alternative if they hope to save their party from abandonment by the military. This is real and a core issue.
Nor was this a cleverly contrived media plot to allow Republicans to run away from the unpopular President (as if their votes weren't a matter of public record). That line of thinking is part of the prevelant media narrative in DC, which goes like this: when Republicans lose, they really win, because Republicans are always right. According to Republicans, aided and abetted by the media (who "know" these things), Democrats are in disarray if the Senate actually debates an issue and more than one Democrat speaks, whereas if only one Democrat speaks, then they're running away from the issue. OTOH, should a Republican disagree with another Republican, it's a sign of strength and diversity within the party, and how they own the issue. But these headlines are hardly part of the clever plan:
You see that with national security and terrorism. The media are so enamored of the 24 hour news cycle they think that if terrorism is discussed in any way, shape or form, whether Bush gets hammered on the subject or not, they win (because "everyone knows" national security is a Republican topic).
Democracy Corps with Greenberg Quinlan Rosner has conducted surveys before and at the very end of the president's political offensive, concluding with his very political 9/11 television address to the country.1 This unprecedented effort by the White House produced only the most modest rise in support, concentrated among conservative Republicans. The race did not tighten; in fact, it marginally improved with the Democrats now winning the named (not generic) congressional ballot by 6 points. The image of the Congress and the Republicans declined noticeably. Most importantly, Democrats continue to win the debate on Iraq and national security, even with the president's current argument, and should speak out immediately and with confidence.
The structure of the race has not changed at all; indeed, the ingredients for a change election are even stronger.
Nor does the public accept the link between the civil war in Iraq and the war on terror (except for David Brooks and other WH apologists). Nor will the public ignore Afghanistan for too much longer (the place the public feels our troops should have been).
Another variant of the Republicans Are Always Right argument is the one making the rounds that "it's okay if R's lose, that'll saddle the Democrats with the responsibilty of repairing the broken egg." Don't you believe it. Talk to anyone who ever served on the Hill... the majority never wants to be the minority. Never.
Yet another variant is that Republicans were playing rope-a-dope, allowing Democrats to become overconfident for November. Now they'll unveil their attaack and GOTV machine and waltz to victory. That one's a real gem. Do you know of any confident Dems, let alone overconfident ones?
Peggy Noonan has a final creative example. Since no one is listening to Bush, it must be because we don't need to.
I think that Americans have pretty much stopped listening to him. One reason is that you don't have to listen to get a sense of what's going on. He does not appear to rethink things based on new data. You don't have to tune in to see how he's shifting emphasis to address a trend, or tacking to accommodate new winds. For him there are no new data, only determination.
Be skeptical of what you read. On the topic of torture, Bush and the Republicans wanted to fight Democrats and not each other. So if what you're reading doesn't make sense, that's because it's probably not so.