Today may be the worst day for Republicans since the Watergate burglary. The combination of the Mark Foley page scandal and the unresolved questions about whether Condi Rice failed to tell the 9/11 Commission about a CIA warning that al Qaeda was planning a strike comes just five weeks before the midterm elections.
The Washington Times, the Fox News of print journalism, has posted an editorial headlined, “Resign, Mr. Speaker.” Here’s what the Times had to say:”
“House Speaker Dennis Hastert must do the only right thing, and resign his speakership at once. Either he was grossly negligent for not taking the red flags fully into account and ordering a swift investigation, for not even remembering the order of events leading up to last week’s revelations – or he deliberately looked the other way in hopes that a brewing scandal would simply blow away. He gave phony answers Friday to the old and ever-relevant questions of what did he know and when did he know it? Mr. Hastert has forfeited the confidence of the public and his party, and he cannot preside over the necessary coming investigation, an investigation that must examine his own inept performance.”
Meanwhile, Watergate reporter Bob Woodward’s third book on the conflict in Iraq, State of Denial, keeps generating news that is keeping the White House on the defensive. The latest, of course, is Woodward’s report of a White House meeting in July 2001 at which George Tenet, the head of the CIA, is reported by Woodward to have told national security adviser Condi Rice that an al Qaeda attack was imminent. (The White House and Rice, who is now Secretary of State, have challenged the accuracy of Woodward’s book, including this account.)
I have repeatedly said, and written, that I thought the Republicans would keep control of both houses of Congress this year. My reasons were (1) the GOP has an edge in fundraising; (2) thanks to Karl Rove, the Republicans are far ahead of the Democrats in the techniques of getting their vote out; (3) the Democrats have not been able to nationalize the election, as the Republicans did in 1994, mainly due to their failure to have a credible position on Iraq; (4) the reappearance of the terrorism issue following the scare at Heathrow Airport would greatly benefit President Bush (which it has); and (5) the Republicans have a trump card in running ads warning voters about turning the House over to minority leader Nancy Pelosi and other left of mainstream senior Democrats.
Forget all that. The page scandal–and its possible cover-up to gain electoral advantage–changes everything. The questions about Rice’s credibility only add to the problem. If Hastert and any other members of the entire House leadership who knew about Foley’s inappropriate e-mails have to resign, the House will go Democratic–and not by just a few seats, either. The Senate could change hands too, if the backwash from the two big stories turns into a rip tide. I can’t see how the Republicans can turn this around before the election–and if they can’t, the Bush presidency is effectively over. The Democrats couldn’t nationalize the election, but the Republicans did it for them.