New RNC Chair Goes on the Offensive

Posted July 22, 2003 at 6:39pm

Wasting no time in going on the attack against Congressional Democrats, incoming Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie sent a memo to GOP leaders Monday accusing the minority of weakness on terrorism and homeland security issues.

Fearing they’ve been losing the message war on security in recent weeks, Republicans have undertaken a major pushback against Democratic efforts to question President Bush’s handling of pre- and post-war activities in Iraq.

Gillespie’s memo charged Democrats with pursuing an “aftermath” strategy that sought to score political points without dealing with terrorists threats in advance.

“Democrats are coalescing behind an aftermath policy toward potential threats that is naive in the post-9/11 world. It is a passive, reactive approach that fails to connect the dots and would put America’s fate in the hands of people who seek to destroy us,” said Gillespie, who will officially be voted in as RNC chairman Friday.

Republicans on Capitol Hill welcomed the strong rhetoric, promising to shift gears and go on the offensive in turning the Iraq issue into a winning one for the GOP.

“We’re not doing a good job telling our story,” said Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.), whose position is tasked with crafting the message.

“I don’t think we’ve done a very good job of articulating the excellent results of our approaches toward Iraq,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a member of the Intelligence Committee who criticized Republicans for letting Democrats go on the offensive of late. “We’ve let them get away with some frivolous arguments.”

Gillespie, who focused on shaping the GOP message during his years of service in the House, warned Republicans that Senate Democrats would use this week’s debate on the Homeland Security appropriations measure to try to increase its funding, thereby claiming the security issue as their own.

In essence, Gillespie’s memo sought to coach GOP leaders on countering the Democratic arguments for more spending. “No amount of money will be sufficient to protect us if their policy only considers the aftermath,” he wrote. “They are willing to propose countless new spending to respond to a tragedy at the same time they increasingly drift toward opposing preemptive self defense.”

Indeed, House and Senate Democrats are moving today to shore up their bona fides on the security issue. The two top House Democrats on terrorism, Reps. Jane Harman (Calif.), ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, and Jim Turner (Texas), ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee, are releasing a report card grading the Bush administration’s handling of defending against terrorism.

Their special guest: Rand Beers, the former National Security Council director for combatting terrorism who said he grew so frustrated with the Bush White House that he quit his post. He recently signed up as an adviser to Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) presidential campaign.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle

(D-S.D.), meanwhile, is holding a press conference today with several old hands in international affairs from the Clinton administration: former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Defense Secretary William Perry and former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger.

All three are expected to whack the Bush administration on its handling of the nuclear crisis in North Korea, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and post-war Iraq.

GOP strategists said they expect Gillespie’s shop at the RNC would be “perhaps more aggressive now” because of the Republican need to counter not just Congressional Democrats but also the nine who are campaigning around the country for the White House.

“It’s clearly a much more intense political environment than it was a year or two years ago,” one strategist said.

One Senate GOP aide called Gillespie “an effective and welcome addition to the debate.”

“Ed is very good at drawing bright lines and distinctions,” the aide said.

Santorum vowed to keep up the heat on Democrats, who he said had done a better job of spinning a “complicit media” in pushing the issue of President Bush’s State of the Union address claim of Iraq’s attempt at buying uranium from Africa.

“Their side has been playing this purely political game,” Santorum said, launching into an offensive against Democratic efforts to scale back the work of the CIA and other intelligence arms in the mid-1970s.

“The Democratic Party is more responsible for the dismantling of our intelligence community, particularly in the 1970s,” he said. “We suffered the ill effects of that on 9/11.”