On Hardball, Chuck Todd, editor in chief of the National Journal's weblog The Hotline, asserted that Republicans had invoked the issue of national security "in a positive [way]" in the 2002 and 2004 elections. In fact, Republicans launched numerous attacks on Democrats such as former Sen. Max Cleland in 2002 and Sen. John Kerry in 2004.
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During the 5 p.m. ET hour of the August 9 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, Chuck Todd, editor in chief of the National Journal's weblog The Hotline, dubiously claimed that Republicans had invoked the issue of national security "in a positive [way]" in the 2002 and 2004 elections, but that in 2006, "they're beating the voters over the head [with national security] as a negative." In fact, Republicans launched numerous attacks on Democrats such as former Sen. Max Cleland (D-GA) in 2002 and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) in 2004, invoking national security to question their patriotism or fitness to govern. Todd's comments followed a similar assertion by Newsweek chief political correspondent Howard Fineman that "in the first couple go-rounds," President Bush had invoked national security "in the positive way," but that in "the fall  campaign," Republicans will exploit "the negative side of the same strategy." Fineman stated that Republicans would "nationalize" the 2006 campaign by arguing that they are "strong" on national security and that Democrats are "weak."
During a later segment, host Chris Matthews asked Todd if Republican efforts to draw a connection between 2006 Democratic candidates and 1972 Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern, as well as efforts to label Democrats as "left[ies]" and "anti-war dove[s]," would "work again." Todd responded that Fineman had "brought up a powerful point ... when he said in '02 and '04," Republicans used the national security issue "in a positive [way]." He added: "This time, they're beating the voters over the head [with national security] as a negative."
In fact, both the 2002 and 2004 campaigns saw numerous attacks by Republicans on Democratic candidates that invoked national security. For instance, on September 8, 2004, The Washington Post's Dana Milbank and Spencer S. Hsu reported that Vice President Dick Cheney "warned ... that if John F. Kerry is elected, 'the danger is that we'll get hit again' by terrorists." Similarly, on October 19, 2004, The New York Times' David E. Sanger and Jodi Wilgoren reported on the Bush campaign's "incendiary characterization" of Kerry "as a man who would undercut American defenses, surrender its military decisions to other nations and treat terrorism as a disease in need of treatment rather than an enemy force in need of evisceration." Sanger and Wilson wrote that this "scathing attack on Mr. Kerry's national security record appeared to signal the Bush campaign's strategy for the 15 days remaining [until the election]: to capitalize on the president's greatest strength -- the perception that he is strong against terrorism -- and the continuing doubts about whether Mr. Kerry is tough enough."
Sanger and Wilgoren reported Bush's "explicit charge that the security of the United States would be in peril if ... Kerry were elected," and his assertion "that Mr. Kerry had 'a strategy of retreat' for Iraq and would act against terrorists 'only after America is hit.' " They also reported Bush's claim that Kerry's national security policy ''comes down to this: Before we act to defend ourselves, he thinks we need permission from foreign capitals.'' Additionally, they wrote that "Bush accused Mr. Kerry of taking 'the easy path of protest and defeatism,'" of "giving up the fight," and of having "a policy of weakness" and "a strategy of retreat."
In the remaining days of the 2004 campaign, the Times reported that Kerry was "[u]nder blistering attack on national security" [October 20], that Bush "invoked the possibility of more terrorist attacks in his assault on Mr. Kerry's positions" [October 23], and that Cheney "raised the possibility of a nuclear attack ... and questioned whether Mr. Kerry was up to dealing with such a horrific incident" [October 24].
Republicans also invoked the issue of national security in 2002 to attack Cleland, a Vietnam veteran who lost three limbs in the war, during his unsuccessful 2002 race to retain his Georgia Senate seat against challenger Saxby Chambliss. As Media Matters for America has noted, Chambliss's campaign attacked Cleland with an ad challenging Cleland's commitment to national security.
A July 3, 2003, Washington Post article described the ad:
It opened with pictures of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. "As America faces terrorists and extremist dictators," said a narrator, "Max Cleland runs television ads claiming he has the courage to lead. He says he supports President Bush at every opportunity, but that's not the truth. Since July, Max Cleland voted against President Bush's vital homeland security efforts 11 times!"
The Chambliss ad was immediately condemned, as the Post reported, by Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona (who said of the ad, "[I]t's worse than disgraceful, it's reprehensible") and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska (who threatened to run an ad denouncing Republican officials if they didn't pull it off the air).
As The New Republic's "Notebook" also reported on December 2, 2002, "attacks on Cleland's patriotism formed the subtext of virtually the entire Chambliss campaign, as noted by innumerable press accounts leading up to and following the election."
From the 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. ET hours of the August 9 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
MATTHEWS: We're back with Howard Fineman and Chuck Todd. Let's take a look at something the vice president did a month ago. This may be the shot that we're going to hear throughout the fall in this campaign.
CHENEY [video clip]: If we follow Congressman [John P.] Murtha's [D-PA] advice and withdraw from Iraq the same way we withdrew from Beirut in 1983 and Somalia in 1993, we will simply validate the Al Qaeda strategy and invite more terrorist attacks in the future.
MATTHEWS: Well, those are the talking points we heard [White House press secretary] Tony Snow -- I don't want to be too sarcastic, here, but I do read into politics -- the game is being played here.
Howard, the game is if you oppose this war as do almost 60 percent of the American people now, you are somehow a McGovernite, you're weakening us abroad and you are bringing on another 9-11. That's how hard they're making this.
FINEMAN: Yeah, and that's going to be the theme for the fall campaign. They're going to nationalize the campaign, the Republicans are, on this theme. It's a replay in new form of the "us versus them" thing. As you say, the McGovern thing from the Vietnam era. They're going to do it all over again. In one way or another, George Bush in the first couple go-rounds, did this in the positive way. He did it, "I'm the president, I'm strong, I've got the right idea, I'm on the phone." That's the positive side of it. This is the negative side of the same strategy. It's not just that "I'm strong," but, "They're weak."
MATTHEWS: I think the Republicans may be fighting the old war, but they won the old war, so you can assume why they do it again. Every time they say "McGovern," every time they say "lefty," "anti-war dove," it works for them. Will it work again?
TODD: Three straight -- I mean, Howard brought up a powerful point, I thought earlier, when he said in '02 and '04, they did it in a positive. This time, they're beating the voters over the head as a negative this time.
MATTHEWS: Just remember, they were promising a popular war. The happy Iraqi scenario. I give you credit for that phrase. All those things they promised went the other way.