November 10, 2005
A confidential memo circulating among senior Republican leaders suggests that a new attack by terrorists on U.S. soil could reverse the sagging fortunes of President George W. Bush as well as the GOP and "restore his image as a leader of the American people."
The closely-guarded memo lays out a list of scenarios to bring the Republican party back from the political brink, including a devastating attack by terrorists that could "validate" the President's war on terror and allow Bush to "unite the country" in a "time of national shock and sorrow."
The memo says such a reversal in the President's fortunes could keep the party from losing control of Congress in the 2006 midterm elections.
GOP insiders who have seen the memo admit it's a risky strategy and point out that such scenarios are "blue sky thinking" that often occurs in political planning sessions.
"The President's popularity was at an all-time high following the 9/11 attacks," admits one aide. "Americans band together at a time of crisis."
Other Republicans, however, worry that such a scenario carries high risk, pointing out that an attack might suggest the President has not done enough to protect the country.
"We also have to face the fact that many Americans no longer trust the President," says a longtime GOP strategist. "That makes it harder for him to become a rallying point."
The memo outlines other scenarios, including:
--Capture of Osama bin Laden (or proof that he is dead);
--A drastic turnaround in the economy;
--A "successful resolution" of the Iraq war.
GOP memos no longer talk of "victory" in Iraq but use the term "successful resolution."
"A successful resolution would be us getting out intact and civil war not breaking out until after the midterm elections," says one insider.
The memo circulates as Tuesday's disastrous election defeats have left an already dysfunctional White House in chaos, West Wing insiders say, with shouting matches commonplace and the blame game escalating into open warfare.
"This place is like a high-school football locker room after the team lost the big game," grumbles one Bush administration aide. "Everybody's pissed and pointing the finger at blame at everybody else."
Republican gubernatorial losses in Virginia and New Jersey deepened rifts between the Bush administration and Republicans who find the President radioactive. Arguments over whether or not the President should make a last-minute appearance in Virginia to try and help the sagging campaign fortunes of GOP candidate Jerry Kilgore raged until the minute Bush arrived at the rally in Richmond Monday night.
"Cooler heads tried to prevail," one aide says. "Most knew an appearance by the President would hurt Kilgore rather than help him but (Karl) Rove rammed it through, convincing Bush that he had enough popularity left to make a difference."
Bush didn't have any popularity left. Overnight tracking polls showed Kilgore dropped three percentage points after the President's appearance and Democrat Tim Kaine won on Tuesday.
Conservative Pennsylvania Republican Senator Rick Santorum told radio talk show host Don Imus Wednesday that he does not want the President's help and will stay away from a Bush rally in his state on Friday.
The losses in Virginia and New Jersey, coupled with a resounding defeat of ballot initiatives backed by GOP governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in California have set off alarm klaxons throughout the demoralized Republican party. Pollsters privately tell GOP leaders that unless they stop the slide they could easily lose control of the House in the 2006 midterm elections and may lose the Senate as well.
"In 30 years of sampling public opinion, I've never seen such a freefall in public support," admits one GOP pollster.
Democratic pollster Geoffrey Garin says the usual tricks tried by Republicans no longer work.
"None of their old tricks worked," he says.
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) admits the GOP is a party mired in its rural base in a country that's becoming less and less rural.
"You play to your rural base, you pay a price," he says. "Our issues blew up in our face."
As Republican political strategists scramble to find a message - any message - that will ring true with voters, GOP leaders in Congress admit privately that control of their party by right-wing extremists makes their recovery all but impossible.
"We've made our bed with these people," admits an aide to House Speaker Denny Hastert. "Now it's the morning after and the hangover hurts like hell."