Rove and Mehlman Outline GOP Agenda for 2006
RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove at the RNC Winter Meeting.(more photos)

By E.M. Appleman  Sunday, Jan. 22, 2006--On Friday, 291 days before the Nov. 7, 2006 mid-term elections and 11 days before President Bush delivers his State of the Union address, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Ken Mehlman rallied party leaders gathered in Washington, DC for their winter meeting.  Rove told a luncheon audience that three issues -- national security, the economy, and the courts -- "should be at the center of our attention."  Earlier Mehlman touched on similar themes, but he also said that the party "must take a stand against corruption, right here and right now."

The two offered strong words on the war in Iraq.  Mehlman stated, "While the road ahead will be difficult, there is only one exit strategy for Iraq and that one exit strategy, ladies and gentlemen, is victory."  Rove said that, "To retreat before victory has been won would be a reckless act, and this President and our party will not allow it."  More broadly, on national security Rove declared that, "Republicans have a post-9/11 view of the world; Democrats have a pre-9/11 view of the world.  That doesn't make them unpatriotic, not at all.  But it does make them wrong--deeply and profoundly and consistently wrong."  Similarly Mehlman stated, "We do not and should never question these Democrat leaders' patriotism.  But we do and we should question their judgement and their ability to keep Americans safe."

Both men painted a rosy picture of the economy.  Rove stated, "In 2005, the American economy turned in a performance that is the envy of the industrialized world, and we're heading into 2006 with a full head of steam."  He noted that, "President Bush has been one of history's great tax cutting Presidents," and said Republicans "will make our tax cutting record an issue in the 2006 campaign."  Mehlman too lauded Bush's tax cuts, declaring, "Our economy is booming now, just as it did under Ronald Reagan."

On judges, the U.S. Senate has confirmed President Bush's nomination of Judge John Roberts to the position of Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and appears likely to approve Judge Samuel Alito.  Rove said, "In Roberts and Alito, the American people saw the type of individuals President Bush wants on the court, and they like what they saw."  Mehlman likewise praised Judge Alito and disparaged the Democratic Senators on the Judiciary Committee.

Rove did not speak to the issue of corruption, but Mehlman said the problems must be addressed "without regard to party or ideology."  "If Republicans are guilty of illegal or inappropriate behavior then they should pay the price and they should suffer the consequences," Mehlman said.

Illegal immigration is another difficult issue facing the party and the nation.  Randy Pullen, one of the two RNC members from Arizona, introduced a forceful resolution "demanding the securing of our borders against foreign terrorists, illegal aliens and other criminals" only to withdraw it during the meeting.

2006 promises to be a very challenging year for Republicans.  Republicans are the majority party.  They hold, in addition to the White House, 55 seats in the U.S. Senate, 231 of 435 U.S. House seats, 28 governorships, and a majority of legislative seats including control of both houses in 21 state legislatures.  The shape of the political landscape heading into the 2008 presidential year is also at stake.  Mid-term elections often result in losses for the party holding the White House.  Democrats have a litany of issues they can run on such as the Abramoff scandal and what they call a "culture of corruption," concern over the war in Iraq, President Bush's unsuccessful efforts to overhaul Social Security, high gas prices, criticism over Bush's handling of Hurricane Katrina, NSA surveillance, confusion over the Medicare prescription drug plan, and high budget deficits will help them achieve gains in the 2006 elections.  The cumulative effect of all these problems may be what RNC member Tom Rath of New Hampshire termed, in a widely cited quote, an "enthusiasm deficit."  Bush will have chance to counter this deficit when he delivers his State of the Union address on January 31.

Bush has beat the odds before, helping Republicans pick up seats in both houses of Congress in the 2002 mid-term elections, but a lot has happened since then.  However, Republicans do enter 2006 with a substantial financial advantage.  Treasurer Bob Kjellander reported that the RNC is carrying over $34 million dollars to 2006 compared to $5 million for the Democratic National Committee.  "We are in the best financial position that we have ever been going into an election year," Kjellander said.
Copyright ©  2006  Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action