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Stopping Rove's 'Slime Machine'

Jonathan Alter's MSNBC/Newsweek column "How to Beat Cut and Run," provides penetrating insight into Karl Rove's battle plan:

For more than a quarter century, Karl Rove has employed a simple, brilliant, counterintuitive campaign tactic: instead of attacking his opponents at their weakest point, the conventional approach, he attacks their strength. He neutralizes that strength to the point that it begins to look like weakness. When John McCain was winning in 2000 because of his character, Rove attacked his character. When John Kerry was nominated in 2004 because of his Vietnam combat experience, the Republicans Swift-Boated him. This year's midterm elections will turn on whether Rove can somehow transform the Democrats' greatest political asset—the Iraq fiasco—into a liability.

Sounds about right. Rove is clearly a master at exploiting timidity in political adversaries. Alter explains further:

After escaping indictment, Rove is focused again on what he does best: ginning up the slime machine. Anyone who dares criticize President Bush's Iraq policy is a "cut-and-run" Democrat....The object is instead to either get the Democrats tangled up in Kerryesque complexities on Iraq—or intimidate them into changing the subject to other, less-potent issues for fear of looking like unpatriotic pansies...Rove's notion is that strong and wrong beats meek and weak.

Alter's take on the Dems' best '06 campaign message may be a little simplistic for some:

Unless things improve dramatically on the ground in Iraq, Democrats have a powerful argument: If you believe the Iraq war is a success, vote Republican. If you believe it is a failure, vote Democratic.

It's a message that will have more resonance in Senate races, where foreign policy issues always hover at center stage. House candidates will have to address in considerably more detail issues like health care, education and other leading concerns of voters in their districts. But all issues are affected by the squandering of billions of dollars on the unpopular war in Iraq, and Alter is surely right that the worst mistake Dems can make is to try and hide from the issue.