Why the Republicans Are Loving the Lieberman Loss
At a time when the GOP should be back on its heels, Connecticut voters' rejection of a centrist Senator gives the party a potentially powerful new weapon to use against the Democrats this fall
From Washington State to Missouri to Pennsylvaina, Democratic candidates found themselves on the defensive Wednesday as the Republican Party worked ferociously at every level to try to use the primary defeat of Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut to portray the oppposition as the party of weakness and isolation on national security and liberal leanings on domestic policy. Doleful Democrats bemoaned the irony: At a time when Republicans should be back on their heels because of chaos abroad and President Bush's unpopularity, the Democrats' rejection of a sensible, moralistic centrist has handed the GOP a weapon that could have vast ramifications for both the midterm elections of '06 and the big dance of '08.
One of the nip-and-tuck Senate races this year is in Missouri, and backers of Sen. Jim Talent are preparing an attack on his opponent, State Auditor Claire McCaskill, that is emblematic of the sort that will be seen all over the country within 24 hours. "Does Claire McCaskill support the wishes of the angry left by endorsing Ned Lamont's candidacy or will she support the man who was chosen by Al Gore as the Democrat's 2000 nominee for Vice President?" Republicans ask in a statment that will force McCaskill to talk about messy party business instead of her favored issues of government accountablity and affordable health care.
Gleeful Republicans across the country mocked their opponents as isolationist "Defeat-ocrats," and even some Democratic officials said they can already imagine the ads in November races saying that Lieberman, once within a few hundred votes of being Vice President of the United States, is now "not liberal enough" for the Democratic Party. Republican officials, who have had little but bad news for months as Iraq festered and U.S. voters showed increasing signs of pessimism and discontent, said the Ned Lamont victory gave them a chance to paint Democrats as a party that had become captive to the liberal wing symbolized by the MoveOn.org civic action group. Mary Matalin, an outside adviser to the White House, signaled the message when she said on Fox News Channel shortly after the polls closed: "MoveOn is not fringe. They're the heart of the party."
On television and in speeches in coming days, party officials and strategists plan to talk about their respect for Lieberman as a distinguished public servant and argue that Lamont's victory represents the end of the long tradition of strong-on-national-defense Democratic leaders in the mold of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John F. Kennedy. The GOP plans to try to broaden the argument beyond Connecticut, a liberal stronghold, and work to convince viewers and voters that Democratic nominees across the country have more in common with Michael Moore and liberal bloggers than Main Street America.
Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, speaking to the City Club of Cleveland this morning, said the rejection of a well-liked Senator who was strong on national defense showed that Democratic candidates must embrace "defeatism and isolation" or "risk being purged" for their party. "For those of us who follow politics closely, who work in politics, and who know that there can be good and honest people on the other side of the political divide, it is a shame," he said. "It is also a sign of what the Democratic Party is has become in the 21st century. It reflects an unfortunate embrace of isolationism, defeatism, and a ‘blame America first’ attitude by national Democratic leaders at a time when retreating from the world is particularly dangerous."