"' We will never win the debate over who was the better soldier,' said a Republican leadership aide. 'This has to be about who would be a better commander in chief, and we let the Democrats shift the terms of the debate. Who would have thought Bush would get caught in the quagmire of Vietnam?'"
Although November's election is far away for most normal Americans, both the Bush and Kerry campaigns see this as a critical time in the race -- particularly on the matter of defining Sen. Kerry for a public who still barely has heard of him.
So -- through surrogate speeches and TV appearances, as well as bushels of e-mails -- the Republicans are trying to paint a picture of a soft-on-defense, hypocritical, special-interest-coddling liberal. They want the daily negative political stories to start being about Kerry, and stop being about Bush.
See, for example, Ed Gillespie's Thursday sleight-of-hand speech in Nevada, in which he pulls every possible and imaginable newspaper quote to "demonstrate" that the Kerry campaign will be historically rough and negative in going after the President, and simultaneously goes after Kerry! LINK
And see also the Boston Globe's Susan Milligan on the planned attacks on Kerry's record on national security -- in which she Notes that "Kerry said he was prepared for the anticipated Republican attacks and predicted he would not be defeated because of them." LINK
There's also the new, unwithdrawn BC04 anti-Kerry video that attempts to suggest two of the GOP's other new favorite themes: Kerry is a captive of special interests and Kerry is a Gore-like say-one-thing-do-another hypocrite. LINK
Democrats, of course, have been hammering the President for months, and there isn't any reason for the media to pass judgment on the merits of attacks on Kerry or the methods by which they are being delivered.
But we do want to highlight one textbook case of how the right cleverly uses the modern media conveyer belt to produce sound and fury about Democrats who they want to take down.
The sequencing is pretty basic: they start by handing something to one or more right-leaning Web sites.
That begets talk radio, which begets cable TV (usually FNC first), which begets a Washington Times story, which leads to other newspaper stories, and then, finally -- pay dirt -- network television coverage.
On Monday, the conservative website NewsMax.com ran a 1970 photo of John Kerry with Jane Fonda. Kerry seems for weeks to have gotten positive mileage in his paid and free media on his Vietnam-era personae, and whoever put the photo out there was clearly hoping to dirty that up with some Hanoi Jane stuff.
And after passing through all the steps above, the picture yesterday found some morning show traction.
Corbis -- who owns the rights to the picture -- tells ABC News that it is a huge seller right now, to the media and others.
The New York Times Sheryl Gay Stolberg even says today that there is ANOTHER Fonda-Kerry photo, showing them even CLOSER together!!! LINK
This general phenomenon is one worth watching for the next eight months, along with the methods the left will use to try to damage the President's image.
The left is in fact trying to follow the right, using Moveon.org and John Podesta's Center for American Progress to try to create its own echo chamber. The resuscitation of the Guard story is a good example of their fairly swift learning curve.