- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Consider this remarkable chronology:In 2002, al Qaeda leader Aymor al-Zawahiri released a tape after the Oct. 8 Pakistan earthquake, attacking the Pakistani and U.S. governments. That same day gunmen killed a U.S. Marine in Kuwait. On Oct. 12, a bomb killed 200 in Indonesia. On Oct 28, a gunman assassinated a U.S. diplomat in Jordan. Al Jazeera broadcast an audiotape after the election from Osama bin Laden that threatened more attacks. Apparently Osama bin Laden’s delivery service delayed in getting it there in time, a mistake it did not repeat in 2004.

In 2004: Four days before the election, bin Laden released a video in which he admitted involvement in September 11. He promised more in the future.

In 2005: On Oct. 6, less than a month before the election, New York went on alert from a threat against its transit system. City and federal officials clashed over the information, but a city under siege was headline news.

Get the picture? The bad guys have a history of meddling in U.S. elections and that’s why strategists believe it is going to happen again.

Despite the importance of the security issue, it is a slim reed on which to base success, given the current woes of the Bush administration and Congress.

The president’s team has every reason to congratulate itself after two presidential victories, but the storm brewing against the Republican Party allows them to paint their greatest masterpiece by helping guide Republicans to victory in November.

Their first order of business is to re-establish the relevancy of the administration, battered by Katrina, the Cheney shooting incident and the port fiasco. One sure way to do that is to put the White House back in a re-election mode.

The president ought to call his staff together and say: “I’m running for re-election.” This simply would recognize the obvious. Polls show sharp discontent with the president, suggesting many will consider using their vote as a proxy against Mr. Bush.

It is impossible to imagine that any of the White House’s recent missteps would have occurred in the lead up to Mr. Bush’s re-election. Putting the White House back on a political footing may prevent future miscues.

A key reason to help save the Republican majorities is to avoid the pummeling Bush Senior experienced at the hands of a Democratic Congress. George W. based much of his planning to avoid the mistakes made by Bush Senior. It will certainly be the mother of political ironies to see this administration picked apart should the Democrats gain control of Congress.

Another problem needs immediate attention, and that’s the issue of holding an increasingly fractious party together. Over past years, little damage was done by occasional Republican dissent.But with the Democrats in full battle mode, history shows two-front wars are to be avoided.

Separate and apart from the damage Vice President Dick Cheney did to himself in the hunting accident, he can do little to revitalize the Bush presidency. His decision not to seek the presidency actually has had the unintended consequence of weakening Mr. Bush by removing the “stroke” presidents need in their second term.

Both President Reagan and President Clinton benefited from vice presidents campaigning to succeed them. Vice presidents seeking the nomination instill discipline, maintain respect and a “fear factor” of the White House, and when they win the nomination, they keep the party united. As he heads into political retirement, Mr. Cheney lacks the muscle to keep restive Republicans and 2008 aspirants loyal.

The White House will have to figure out other ways to keep the Republican troops in line. One is to redefine their definition of loyalty. Dissent ought to be encouraged as long as its telegraphed in advance, refrains from attacks on the president and vice president, and is couched in the terms of constructive alternatives. Republicans who differ with the president should be given the latitude for dissent. Their greater definition of loyalty is survival in order to continue to help enact the Bush agenda.

When the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Peter King, opposed the Dubai deal, his aircraft for a trip to Iraq was canceled by the Department of Defense. The administration can create a “director of revenge” position if they want to, but they ought to wait until after this election to do it.

George W. Bush always has been underestimated. He ought to unleash a charm offensive on his allies, attempt to get agreement on his agenda and revitalize his presidency by holding Congress.

The president’s proposal on a line-item veto is the right type of idea that has congressional and public support and allows him to go on the offensive.

The president needs to find more of these political winners. Relying on success based on the electoral intervention of terrorists with tape recorders will not be enough.

Richard N. Bond is a former Chairman of the Republican National Committee.

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