- Sack Bush's numbers by gang-tackling him where he is weakest -- his veracity/character/refusal to be straight with the American people: We don't win when we get into debates most suited for Fletcher School of Diplomacy seminars. But we do win when we hit Bush on not being honest -- on WMD, CIA agents, Katrina, and more. When we do that, we prevent him from crafting a clean message. For example: We were winning on Iraq when we went after Bush's lies about the situation on the ground -- but we lost our edge when we became bogged down with whether troops should leave; when they should leave; how they should leave; and whether we were winning or losing. The fact is, voters are receptive to the honesty message. On any issue, our message needs to be: "Bush is not being straight on ___________, just like he hasn't been straight with us on everything else."
- Recognize that Bush's strategic play since September of 2000 is very simple: keeping America safe: Bush has a simple game plan and we all know what it is. Virtually every day when he is not on vacation, he goes out and pounds the keeping-America-safe message like he is playing Whack-a-mole at the carnival. This is a strong message and we need to recognize that we cannot engage on issues like wire tapping, where we discuss the details of the Fourth Amendment, while he talks about doing all he can to keep America safe. We may win this debate in the salons of Harvard Law School or a booth in Café Deluxe, but we lose everywhere else -- especially in the exurbs the columnists and (apparently) our party have just discovered.
- Most importantly, stay on the offensive:
First, implement a relentless defensive blitz: The best offense is a tenacious defense. This means putting out news, doing events, staying on message about Bush's challenges on being straight. Every day there is an opportunity (like the recent Katrina memos), and we need to take advantage. Let's keep Bush off-balance, off-message and hitting the one button that we know drives down his votes.
Second, attack where Bush is weak on national security: Recognizing that Bush wants to play on national security doesn't mean following the 2002 playbook and rolling over -- it means undermining Bush on veracity and pivoting to Iran, North Korea, and OBL. As people who spend time in focus groups in Columbus, the Quad Cities, Albuquerque, and elsewhere, we know that the American people do not like the idea that the guy who took our people hostage in Iran now is arming himself with nuclear weapons. Swing voters don't like that the last member of the Axis of Evil, North Korea, will soon look to feed itself by hocking off a nuke to any Middle Eastern charity that cashes in some of its construction company stocks. And these swing voters don't understand why we're still looking for OBL. [And for those who want to discuss Iraq, here's the recipe: start by saying Bush hasn't been straight; follow that with a "we need to win for the men and women on the ground"; and end by Noting that it is impossible to win while Bush is still President because he lies. Pretty please -- let's not discuss probable cause or exit strategy ever again.]