We are watching a very predictable dance on one side of the political aisle. You just knew, at some point shortly before the final gun, the Karl Rove orchestra would kick in and the GOP forces would start trying to dance to his greatest hits. However, there are some very interesting variations going on at the moment.
Take, for example, the current pre-election tour by President Bush to locations in red zip codes where the candidates are still anxious to be seen with him. However, note that the emphasis right now -- even with all of the hellish news out of Iraq -- is on the military and the war-president images. Yes, I know that the judges in New Jersey have handed him another punch line to draw cheers from the middle segment of Values Voters who are still in play in this election. You know what that sounded like in Indiana and Georgia:
"Activist judges try to define America by court order," Bush told the crowd of 4,000 at Silver Creek High School, flanked by Representative Mike Sodrel, Republican of Indiana, who is running for reelection. "Just this week in New Jersey, another activist court issued a ruling that raises doubt about the institution of marriage. We believe marriage is between a man and a woman."
At that, the raucous crowd went wild, shouting "USA," stomping their feet, and shaking dozens of red, white, and blue pompoms.
But it still seems, to me, that this GOP band is trying to march without its trumpet section. One of the loudest sections is missing. Either that or the drum major does not want to be seen with some of the core players.
Take, for example, the recent events in which the White House has gone out of its way to rally the troops of talk radio (see the White House photo above). Lots of the usual suspects were there, but not all. The gaps in the photos were very interesting, like those old photos at the Soviet military parades. Who was there? Who has gone missing?
The Washington Post used this double-deck headline, with a nod to Rove: "The GOP Leans on A Proven Strategy -- White House Courts Conservative Base."
President Bush and Vice President Cheney have given multiple interviews to conservative journalists, senior adviser Karl Rove has telephoned religious and social activists, and the White House has staged signing ceremonies for legislation cracking down on terrorism and illegal immigration. Two weeks before Election Day, Bush aides invited dozens of radio talk show hosts for a marathon broadcast from the White House yesterday to reach conservative listeners.
The message that Bush and others are sending to alienated supporters is that, no matter how upset they have been about various policies or political missteps over the past couple of years, life would be far worse under the Democrats.
But there are interesting numbers out there suggesting that the Democrats may make some headway in red pews, in large part because the party of Planned Parenthood and Hollywood has decided to hold its nose and allow some moderate and even conservative Democrats -- even pro-lifers -- to take on the Republicans in some key Congressional districts in the Bible Belt. More on that in the days ahead, I am sure.
The numbers are not big, but it's clear that all of those Democratic prayers are having at least some impact:
In the most recent poll, 29 percent of self-identified conservatives said they plan to vote for Democrats for the House, compared with 17 percent in 2004. Among white evangelical Protestants, 30 percent favor Democrats, compared with 25 percent two years ago. At the same time, Republicans report being as enthusiastic as Democrats about voting this year, belying the assumption that they might stay home.
"This is going to be a very important part of the election," said White House political director Sara Taylor. "In a traditional midterm headwind, Republicans are going to have to make sure they turn out their base. In places where they do that, Republicans are going to win races they're supposed to win. In places where they don't do that, they're going to have a much harder time."
The fateful words are "turn out their base."
So what is the White House doing to excite and turn out the pew-gap base? What will happen in public? Whose job is it to see that Dr. James Dobson says something -- anything! -- on the radio in the days ahead?
Right now, they are openly trying to fire up the Dick Cheney wing of the party, drawing cheers from the bloggers and the talkers -- or some of them. Who is missing from this picture?
For the old guard, there was a telling moment at the end of that Post feature. Here it is:
Paul M. Weyrich, chairman of the Free Congress Foundation, said the White House is not doing enough to repair relations with the base. "I'm not seeing anything," he said. "Maybe they're doing certain things with people who are closer to them. But in my case, I've not gotten any special treatment or invitations or whatever."
Still, Weyrich said the White House may yet benefit from conservatives coming home. "It'll all come down to conservatives," he said. "For a long time, I've heard nothing but 'I'm not going to vote for these jerks.' Now I'm hearing 'Well, I suppose we'll have to vote the jerks back in and see what we can do.'"
Weyrich, of course, is one of the founders of -- you got it -- the movement that its enemies call the Religious Right.
There's a hole in the base, right now. That silence is a story. Is the silence voluntary? Strategic?