May 9, 2007


A New Pitchman -- and a New Pitch: As NRCC Chief, Cole Has Plan to Win Back House in 2008 (Juliet Eilperin and Michael Grunwald, 5/09/07, Washington Post)

[Rahm] Emanuel ultimately led the Democrats back to the majority. That's why Republicans wanted their own Patton -- their own Rahm -- to take back the House in 2008. And that's why they've elected Cole to chair the National Republican Congressional Committee, where he once served as executive director.

"A guy with that kind of résumé, we'd be paying millions of dollars for him as a consultant," said Rep. Candice S. Miller (Mich.), the head of recruiting for the NRCC.

It's true; Cole has run the Republican National Committee, the Oklahoma GOP and a lucrative consulting business. He has also been a state senator, congressional staff member and Oklahoma's secretary of state. He loves to read cross tabs, and he's a consummate insider. "His Rolodex," says former aide John Woods, "is like all of MySpace plus all of Facebook." [...]

Cole has run the numbers, and he doesn't think the GOP was doomed by appropriating federal money for bridges to nowhere in Alaska. His diagnosis includes Iraq, corruption scandals and a general sense that Republicans "overreached" after taking over Washington. He's a conservative Republican from a conservative district, but he says that the United States is a "center-right country, not a right-wing country." He wants the GOP to woo swing voters, and he believes they can be coaxed back into the fold with better messaging, better marketing and better performance.

"Oh, I don't think the problem was spending," Cole said. "People who argue that we lost because we weren't true to our base, that's just wrong." [...]

In 1952, the Democrats were saddled with Korea. Now the Republicans have Iraq.

Cole's district is a military stronghold where supporting the war and the president is no political liability. On a trip home this month, Cole received two standing ovations at a dinner for first responders at Tinker Air Force Base. The emcee introduced Cole as "a man who goes to sleep every night and wakes up every morning thinking about how he can make this country better."

Cole says there's no doubt that the Bush administration has made mistakes in Iraq, but he's still convinced that Americans want to win, and that demands for withdrawal are bad politics and bad policy. He thinks that every day that Americans hear about Pelosi and her antiwar rhetoric -- and especially her recent trip to Syria, which Cole called "a PR disaster of the first order" -- is a good day for House Republicans.

"That lady from California, can you tell her to stop gallivanting around the world trying to be president?" City Council member Larry O'Connell of Del City asked Cole after the dinner at the air base.

"Well, we're going to have to change the numbers," Cole replied with a laugh.

But the next morning, a 54-year-old wholesale car buyer named Bill Kirtley challenged Cole about the war at a town hall meeting in Pauls Valley. Kirtley, a Chickasaw, said he talked to a 20-year-old soldier who said he believes that it doesn't matter whether the United States withdraws tomorrow or a decade from tomorrow. He called Iraq a quagmire, a Vietnam War in the sand.

"I've been a registered Republican for 20 years, but I'm so ashamed of the party," he told Cole. "What are we doing in Iraq? Anyone with any sense can see this is crazy."

Cole spent the next 20 minutes debating with Kirtley, conceding that mistakes have been made, insisting that not all is lost, warning that Americans will pay the price if the Middle East is not transformed. "We can't go around the world stomping people," Kirtley said. Cole replied: "That's why you're seeing a different approach to Iran and North Korea."

In the end, the two agreed to disagree. "Tom's a good man," Kirtley said later. "But he's a Republican congressman, and they've just lost their way."

If only George Bush and Karl Rove were as cynical as the Left thinks they are, they'd have gotten out of Iraq and not only held the Hill in '06 but rung up close to 50 states in '04.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 9, 2007 6:40 AM

I wonder how Mr. Kirtley's going to feel when the next president announces that Iraq will be the US base of operations in the Middle East.

Whether Mr. Kirtley or that 20-year-old soldier he mentioned likes it or not, W set this nation on a path toward winning it's latest crusade (the GWOT) right after 9/11. And, henceforth, every President of either party gets to own this crusade until it is seen through toward the resolution we desire. It is important toward maintaining credibility that we finish this crusade, no matter how long it takes.

Posted by: Brad S at May 9, 2007 9:17 AM

Brad: Nice use of language, with repeated hammer-blows--very effective.

The point of the headline is well taken. Only distant historical interpretation might tell whether even the occupation had been poorly executed. In the short run it appears to have been mishandled.

Any such shortcoming is mitigated by the need for speed. For both military and political reasons, it was necessary to move quickly.

However, in the context of the entire crusade, we should not be too quick to identify the unravelling of THE FORMER IRAQ as having been a bad thing. To have utterly destroyed an enemy power without having appeared to have intended to do so is brilliant statesmanship of the highest order.

Posted by: Lou Gots at May 9, 2007 9:58 AM