Republicans’ new ‘winning’ strategy

In the final days before the November elections, George W Bush administration surrogates have taken to asking whoever they are conversing with about the Iraq war, “Do you want us to win in Iraq?”

As the US death toll in Iraq for the month of October passed 100 — making it the deadliest month in nearly two years — and with polls still showing that the Democratic Party is poised to take control of the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate, Republican Party message-meisters appear to have devised what they hope will be the money sound-bite for electoral victory.

Whether it is the brainchild of Frank Luntz, the pollster and longtime Republican messaging guru, or a Bush advisor Karl Rove or Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, the “do you want us to win” question is clearly aimed at challenging the patriotism of critics of the war in Iraq.

“It’s a good frame for the GOP (Republican Party) to roll out in these last few days before the election,” Scott Silver, the executive director of Wild Wilderness, an Oregon-based environmental group, said.

“The Bush administration has established a frame that is shorthand for saying you can either stay the course in Iraq and win or lose.” “Since the ‘stay the course’ sound-bite was recently abandoned by the White House and is no longer the accepted frame, it makes sense that a replacement had to be found. And besides, the old frame no longer worked because staying the course has now been conclusively proved to be a failed concept and the frame itself is no longer effective,” said Silver.

Within the same 24-hour period, both Lynne Cheney, the wife of vice president Dick Cheney, and Bill O’Reilly, the host of the highly rated Fox News Channel programme “The O’Reilly Factor,” used the question in separate interviews. Cheney not only used the question, she also challenged the patriotism of CNN and veteran journalist Wolf Blitzer. Also last Friday, Bill O’Reilly, appeared on the David Letterman show. During what turned out to be a mildly combative interview, O’Reilly said that he had “an easy question” for Letterman. “Do you want the US to win in Iraq?” O’Reilly asked.

Letterman replied, “It’s not easy for me because I’m thoughtful.” O’Reilly’s question to Letterman was clearly not a spontaneous eruption. Earlier in the month, O’Reilly unveiled the question during an appearance on “The View,” ABC television’s morning talkfest. This time O’Reilly’s target was two liberal co-hosts, Rosie O’Donnell and Joy Behar.

“Listeners are meant to have the knee-jerk response that says: ‘winning is good - losing is bad’,” Silver said. “They are expected to make the association between the party saying we need to win in Iraq and the party for whom the listener is expected to vote.” The question is not meant to be thoughtful, said Silver.

It is specifically “un-thoughtful. It’s a knee-jerk/reflexive frame, a frame which may not actually dictate an answer, but makes it extraordinarily difficult for anyone to answer ‘No’ or ‘Maybe’ or ‘I don’t know’. ‘Yes’ is the only simple response to the question.” Whether winning the “round” on cable television is enough to shift public opinion away from the Democrats in the last days before the election remains to be seen. — IPS