GOP Must Pivot to Win

Posted: Sep 15, 2007 12:00 AM
GOP Must Pivot to Win

Victory Memo for the Candidate: Sir, as a Republican seeking the presidency, you obviously would never consider a plan that risks losing the war in Iraq or the wider war against radical Islam, in pursuit of winning the 2008 election.

Unlike the Democrats bent on taking the White House at any cost, you wouldn't calculate (as Rep. James Clyburn did) that political success requires military failure. So our double goal must be victory for your candidacy AND for this country against its jihadist enemy. "To protect this country... is the ultimate responsibility of the President of the United States. All his other powers pale in comparison," said Tom Tancredo in the latest debate. Your chance at being nominated over him and the rest, then defeating Clinton or Obama, lies in convincing a war-weary electorate that you best understand this supreme duty.

America is now in its seventh year of fighting back against the Islamist fanatics who attacked our homeland on September 11, 2001. Hostilities in Iraq have lasted longer than the Civil War or World Wars I and II. We are not a warlike or imperialist nation. Our people want this over. But we're too smart to ignore a coiled snake, and too tough to accept defeat. We'll see the struggle through.

Your challenge is to balance listening and leadership in a way that connects with both the voters' impatience for peace and their gritty realism in a dangerous world. Statesmen have done it before at crucial moments in our history, forging victory for the nation and themselves. Why not you?

General Petraeus bringing his Iraq surge report to Congress held the high drama of a soldier eyeball to eyeball with civil government. One recalled Douglas MacArthur before Congress in 1951 after Truman fired him, or George Washington rejecting a kingship in 1783. One remembered why we HAVE a chief executive who is constitutionally elected and limited, yet broadly empowered to protect the country.

The Petraeus report's significance, unfortunately, is in the eye of the beholder according to party. To most Republicans it signals "Push on," to most Democrats, "Get out." Alone among our candidates, Ron Paul favors a quick exit from Iraq, a disavowal of military options toward Iran, and a disengagement from that whole region. The others are sticking pretty close to President Bush on war issues.

We as your strategists, however, agree with Charles Kesler of the Claremont Institute, who has warned: "If Republicans mean to win in 2008, they will have to separate themselves... from the Bush Doctrine... to find new language in which to cast the war against the jihadists." No one in the GOP field is doing that, and the success of the surge now makes it even less likely.

Kesler isn't advocating Ron Paul's isolationism or Joe Biden's "surrender slower" formula; just the opposite. As he said last week on Backbone Radio, now is the time to articulate a Plan B for after the surge, by which the U.S. would pressure Saudi Arabia and Egypt as well as Iraq, Iran, and Syria to move internally against the virus of Islamism that caused Sept. 11 and will cause more like it.

Your models are Eisenhower on Korea in 1952, and Nixon on Vietnam in 1968. Without running as anti-war, each won by pivoting toward a new approach, away from the status quo. Though the military outcomes were imperfect, both Republicans avoided the surrender temptation. Your counter-examples are Humphrey in 1968 and Gore in 2000; neither distanced himself enough from a flawed incumbent. Be bold, sir, and victory is yours.

Note: It's not clear which campaign the above was leaked from. While the pivot would be easiest for Fred Thompson or Newt Gingrich, any Republican could do it. Who will?