Karl Rove on Iraq: Last night I attended Hillsdale College's annual Churchill dinner at the Mayflower Hotel. Karl Rove was the main speaker. Usually in his public speeches, Rove talks mainly about domestic issues and politics. But last night he talked primarily about our "new enemy": "transnational terrorism." In terms similar to those his boss, George W. Bush, has used of late (as noted in my U.S. News column this week), Rove declared that defeat in Iraq would be "the beginning of the beginning"a terrible setback for the United States. He noted that Islamic terrorists trained tens of thousands of fighters in the 1990s "with little or no response" from the United States, and he asked, "What if we gave them a terrorist state in the heart of the Middle East?"
He noted that Islamist terrorists attacked the United States in 1993, 1996, 1998, and 2000 and said that "if we were not in Iraq, they would find another excuse" for attacks. The outcome in Iraq, he said, will set the century's response to terrorism; "We will either win or lose." Moderate Muslims, he said in response to a question, are "waiting for the outcome." Bernard Lewis is right, he said. "The center of gravity will be determined by the outcome." It was all very Churchillian. Much of the commentariat in Washington has been waiting for Bush to acquiesce in what it considers failure in Iraq. Bush, to judge from Rove's speech as well as his own comments, is not so inclined. Now the question is whether Bush can find a way forward to the victory that he and Rove depict as essential.
A Third Way?
An interesting article by John Heileman in New York on whether Mayor Michael Bloomberg will run for president as an independent candidate in 2008. Heileman says Bloomberg is giving it serious consideration. I gather from those who know more about Bloomberg's finances than I do that he can readily come up with $500 million in cash to self-finance a campaign (he spent more than $150 million on his 2001 and 2005 campaigns for mayor).
But is there an opening for an independent candidacy? I think the answer is quite possibly yes. From 1996 to 2004 there was little change in partisan election results and in the political contours around the country. This year saw enough change that the Democrats were able to win a House majority for the first time since 1992. I think we may be entering a period of political volatility like the one we saw from 1990 to 1996. Twice during that period, polls showed independent candidates (or potential candidates) leading in the race for presidentRoss Perot during spring 1992 and Colin Powell in late 1995. Heileman suggests that Bloomberg will wait to see who the two major parties' nominees are before deciding whether to run.
My guess is that if the Republicans nominate a candidate who seems able to rise above the 51 percent ceiling below which the party has run in the past 10 years, Bloomberg will decide not to go. But if they don't, he may run. No mayor of New York has ever been elected president; indeed, none has ever been elected governor or senator, and so it has been a political rule that mayors of New York never win higher office.
But political rules prevail only until they're broken. Bloomberg or his predecessor Rudy Giuliani may break that rule in 2008.