MR. OCTOBER: Will Rove pull bin Laden out of his hat?
Late last month, readers of the conservative web site NewsMax discovered this juicy tidbit in a column by Ronald Kessler: “In the past week, Karl Rove has been promising Republican insiders an ‘October surprise’ to help win the November congressional elections.”
Christ on his throne! Granted, the revelation was a bit vague: it wasn’t clear who these Republican insiders were, or whether Rove actually used the loaded phrase in question. No matter. For liberals dreaming of big Democratic gains in November’s midterm elections, the prospect of late-breaking machinations by Bush’s Brain was terrifying — and, at the same time, utterly predictable. After all, just four days before the 2004 presidential election, a fresh video from Osama bin Laden reminded voters of George W. Bush’s claim to be tougher on terrorism than John Kerry. And earlier in the ’04 campaign, a ballyhooed increase in the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) terror-threat level helped keep Kerry’s post–Democratic National Convention bounce to a minimum. (Two years on, the words spoken at the time by then-DHS secretary Tom Ridge remain jaw-droppingly inappropriate: “We must understand that the kind of information available to us today is the result of the president’s leadership in the war against terror.”)
In short, Democrats were already worried about fourth-quarter heroics from Rove, and recent developments have lent credence to their fears. In the past few weeks, the price of gas has dropped from around $3 a gallon to just over $2, cheering drivers everywhere and depriving Democrats of a key campaign issue. And what about those reports last month — quickly dismissed by Condi et al. — that Bin Laden had died after contracting a nasty water-borne bug? Is the Bush administration postponing confirmation of Bin Laden’s death until just before Election Day?
Insert jokes about tinfoil hats and grassy knolls here. But while you’re at it, remember that it’s not just Democrats who are prone to thinking this way. (Back in 2000, Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto asked readers to predict which dirty trick then-president Bill Clinton would use to guarantee Al Gore’s election. Their top choice: war with Iraq.) The common denominator is obvious: when a disenfranchised political party smells a return to power, collective anxiety about dirty tricks goes through the roof.
The difference, of course, is that Republicans do dirty tricks better.
Trick or treatise?
So what’s Rove up to? Sadly, Turd Blossom isn’t talking; asked by NewsMax to elaborate on his promise, he demurred. But we can still make some informed guesses.
Tops on the list: Osama bin Laden gets nabbed sometime between now and November 7. The Bush administration’s failure to nab Al Qaeda’s number one “has been, far and away, their biggest failing,” argues Elaine Kamarck, Al Gore’s senior policy advisor in 2000 and a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “It undercuts their contention that they’re waging a great war on terrorism, which they’re not. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that was front and center in the discussions the other day between the presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan.” (Last week, Pervez Musharraf and Hamid Karzai overcame their mutual dislike and hunkered down with Bush at the White House.)