Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

“The president said one time in caucus, ‘I don’t know how much you want to use this on the campaign trail, but our intelligence confirms they want me out.’ So however that bears on your view of the administration is secondary to the fact that if they think they can dislodge the president by hitting us before the election, they will."

Cong. Mike Pence, (R-IN)
October 30th, 2004
The Republic
(Columbus, IN)

[ed. note: Regrettably, The Republic is subscription only. And, no, I wasn't a subscriber before this evening. But, for the benefit of TPM readers everywhere, I plunked down the $8.95 weekly subscription rate and charged it to the TPM Educational, Research and Time-Wasting fund. A not of thanks to TPM reader SC.]

A short note on the race, the polls, and what the Bush camp is calling bin Laden's "little gift."

The next few days phone polling probably amounts to one of the biggest industries in the United States.

So it's interesting to look at the results of last night's post-gift polling.

First, the four tracking polls released today and thus including roughly one-third of calls after the release of the OBL tape ...

In Zogby's, Kerry moved up one point.

In Rasmussen's, Kerry moved up one point.

In WaPo/ABC, Kerry moved up two points.

In Tipp, Bush moved up two points.

Two other national polls were released (at least that I've seen), Newsweek and Fox.

One third of the Newsweek poll was done last night. And in their poll Bush was up over Kerry by 50% to 44%. That's four points better than the Newsweek poll the previous week that had Bush over Kerry 48% to 46%.

Look, though, at the Fox poll.

Fox did one poll Wednesday and Thursday night. And then they did another poll with calls Thursday and Friday night. So the common denominator is that both polls had calls Thursday night. And half the calls in the second poll were done post-gift.

The first Fox poll had Bush up 5% (50% to 45%) and the second had him up 2% (47% to 45%).

Now, does this mean the bin Laden tape is giving a boost to Kerry? Of course, not. These are tiny changes. And it's altogether possible that this small shift is simply the result of statistical 'noise' -- numbers wobbling around within the polls' margins of error.

But it should put at least some damper on the notion that the release of the OBL tape would lead to some sudden Bush surge.

At least if the pundits are listening.

One of the oddities of the al Qaqaa <$NoAd$>is story is why it should seem even remotely surprising to anyone who's actually been paying attention to what's been happening in Iraq over the last eighteen months. After all, almost all of Iraq's nuclear facilities -- containing both equipment of use to nuclear programs, partially enriched uranium, and other goodies for baddies -- were similarly looted at around the same time.

As Brett Wagner, a professor at the Naval War College, put it a year ago in USA Today ...

In the weeks before the invasion, the U.S. military repeatedly warned the White House that its war plans did not include sufficient ground forces, air and naval operations and logistical support to guarantee a successful mission. Those warnings were discounted — even mocked — by administration officials who professed to know more about war fighting than the war fighters themselves.

But the war fighters were right. Military commanders weren't given enough manpower and logistical support to secure all of the known nuclear sites, let alone all of the suspected ones.

It wasn't until seven of Iraq's main nuclear facilities were extensively looted that the true magnitude of the administration's strategic blunder came into focus.

Why is Qaqaa surprising?

Bush team calls bin Laden's tape a "little gift."

Does the president really see bin Laden's message as a "gift"?

I mean, okay, okay, of course he does. But to actually say it?

Not to flog a dead horse, but what would be the response if a Kerry campaign advisor made a similar or analogous comment?

Can someone ask the president about this?

His own private mystery<$NoAd$> land ...

If you actually try to pin down the timeline of who destroyed what, when it was moved, what was moved, we are still in a mystery land about all that.

David Brooks Former Senior Editor Weekly Standard October 29th, 2004

Well, at least with regard to this one bunker and the film shows one seal, one bunker, one group of soldiers going through and there were others there that were sealed, with this one, I think it is game, set and match.

David Kay Former Chief Inspector Iraq Survey Group October 28th, 2004

The truth is out there ...

Which of these two statements sounds like it comes <$NoAd$>from the stronger leader?

John Kerry: In response to this tape from Osama bin Laden, let me make it clear, crystal clear. As Americans, we are absolutely united in our determination to hunt down and destroy Osama bin Laden and the terrorists. They are barbarians. And I will stop at absolutely nothing to hunt down, capture or kill the terrorists wherever they are, whatever it takes. Period.

George W. Bush: Earlier today I was informed of the tape that is now being analyzed by America's intelligence community. Let me make this very clear: Americans will not be intimidated or influenced by an enemy of our country. I'm sure Senator Kerry agrees with this. I also want to say to the American people that we're at war with these terrorists and I am confident that we will prevail.

You decide ...

A journalist observed Iraqi Islamists looting weapons and explosives from al Qaqaa as late as November 2003.

"I was utterly stupefied to see that a place like that was pretty much unguarded and that insurgents could help themselves for months on end. We were there for a long time and no one disturbed the group while they were loading their truck," she says.

I was off-line for about three hours this evening. And when I got back to my computer there were a couple hundred emails commenting from various perspectives and viewpoints about the OBL tape that ran this afternoon.

The opinions ranged the gamut, from panic to indifference, many with steadfastness and underlying optimism.

Overall, though, the letters again struck me with what is one of the Democrats' greatest weaknesses: their vulnerability to getting knocked off stride by the rush of events, their tendency to fret that all is lost, almost to indulge in it, when the car hits a simple bump in the road.

Whether this OBL tape represents no-bump, a bump, or something more damaging than a bump, I don't know. But reactions can dictate and shape outcomes, especially in such a context as this where perception is the essence of the matter.

Another way I've noticed this over the years is that Republicans are usually far more confident that their candidates are going to win given races, whether polls give reason for the confidence or not, whether the eventual outcome bears out the confidence or not.

Democrats could use more of that.

Let's look at what is happening right now.

The Bush campaign is trying to use the OBL tape to slap the Kerry campaign around, knock them off their stride, and argue that for Kerry now even to mention anything about the president's failure to bag bin Laden is the height of shamefulness.

The president's communications director even told reporters that the only acceptable thing would be for John Kerry to observe a twelve or more hour moratorium on attacks on the president, even though the president should be allowed to continue attacking John Kerry.

That is what they're playing for. (That's also the reason the Bush campaign didn't allow the Kerry campaign to be briefed on the soon-to-be-released tape until late in the day. The president knew about it early in the morning.)

If the Kerry campaign falls for this it would be the height of foolishness. In itself the bin Laden video is not a matter of controversy. What the president's campaign is trying to do is either goad the Kerry campaign into three days of passivity in the run-up to the election or fuss up a debate about the supposed outrageousness of Kerry's faulting the president for allowing bin Laden to remain at large. The Kerry folks should not play into that trap. The answer is to keep to the game-plan and remain on the offensive.

The foreign policy focus of the Kerry campaign has long been the president's failure to maintain the focus on al Qaida, as evidenced by his failure to capture bin Laden and dismantle his network. To abandon that message now would be insanity.

If you're a Democrat and you notice your fellow Democrats dipping into these spasms of fecklessness and weak-kneedism, as I've described above, I strongly encourage you to slap them around a few times and tell them to get a hold of themselves. If you're experiencing such spasms, by all means, slap yourself a few times and tell yourself the same thing.

More than 95% of the electorate has already made up its mind. This is all about how those last few percentage points of the electorate break. And that will be determined by which campaign holds the initiative, stays on the offensive for the next three days and who can mobilize their forces to win this on the ground.

Kerry, the candidate, must be forward-looking in these final days. But his surrogates should be hammering the president for his failure to capture bin Laden at Tora Bora and pressing the factual case that his campaign has tried so hard to deny. On hitting the indisputable failures of the president there should be no let up.

At every turn, toughness and fight have been the subtext of this election. Who has it and who doesn't. The Bush message is that all of the president's mistakes pale in comparison to the fact of his toughness and steely resolve. The conceit of the Kerry campaign and the Democrats is that they're every bit as tough as the president and his party, and more.

Now's the time for them to show it.

An update on the Bush rules of engagement. <$NoAd$>From AFP ...

Speaking to reporters outside the campaign rally here, White House communications director Dan Bartlett said that the tape should not affect the way Bush campaigns but that Kerry should have marked a 12-hour truce.

"You would think that there would be a, maybe, 12 hours to let the American absorb what has just happened today," he said.

Prodded on why, if the tape ought not to affect the campaign, Kerry should have stopped criticizing the president, Bartlett revised his statement, saying that the problem was that Kerry's attack had been "discredited."

There's nothing, it seems, they won't game.