Bush Sinks GOP Majority Over Rumsfeld
With the midterms now in the rear view mirror, history will record that President Bush committed the defining gaffe of the 2006 campaign.
Try as they might, conservatives failed to turn John Kerry's clumsy "stuck in Iraq" stumble into the moment that snatched Democratic defeat from the jaws of victory. As it turns out, it was President Bush who sealed the fate of the GOP's congressional majority by offering job security for the "fantastic" Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld during the final week of the campaign. No wonder Republicans nationwide are furious with Bush over his cynical, post-election sacking of Rumsfeld.
Just ask New Jersey Republican Senate candidate Tom Kean Jr. On September 2nd, Kean called for a "fresh face" to lead the Pentagon following Rumsfeld's disgraceful comments regarding the "moral and intellectual confusion" of Iraq war critics he compared to Nazi appeasers. "By engaging in that kind of rhetoric," Kean argued, "this secretary has stepped over the line." Throughout September, Kean enjoyed a surprising lead over the incumbent Democrat Bob Menendez. But ultimately, the son of the popular former New Jersey was swept away on November 7 53% to 45% by the anti-Bush, anti-Iraq tide.
Kean was far from alone. Five-term Republican Congresswoman Ann Northup was undone by Bush's Rummy Curse. On October 25th, Northup rejected President Bush's description of Rumsfeld as a "smart, capable administrator," instead concluding "When things aren't going well, and they aren't going well, it's time to bring in some new ideas and have a different approach." Northup lost a tight race to Democrat John Yarmuth.
In Florida's 22nd congressional district, incumbent Clay Shaw was beaten 51% to 47% by Democrat Ronald Klein in a contest the Republican led until late October. Asked about what might have happened had Rumsfeld been dumped prior to Election Day, Shaw replied wistfully, "it could have made a difference in who is running the Congress."
As Perrspectives previously detailed, a discussion of who will be running Congress is exactly what President Bush hoped to avoid with last Wednesday's belated removal of Rumsfeld. With an almost papal belief in his own infallibility, Bush had stood by his man even as the disaster in Iraq unfolded. Needing to change the subject after election day, Bush simply changed his Defense Secretary.
All of which was too little, too late for livid Republicans betrayed by Bush. "If Rumsfeld had been out, you bet it would have made a difference," Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter griped. "I'd still be chairman of the Judiciary Committee."