What Will Wilson Do?

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Pay attention to the debate tonight between Patricia Madrid and Heather Wilson, especially to any questions that come up about Iraq. She may try to advocate a “new” position on the war, because the White House has given embattled Republican incumbents political cover:

But the White House is cutting and running from “stay the course.” A phrase meant to connote steely resolve instead has become a symbol for being out of touch and rigid in the face of a war that seems to grow worse by the week, Republican strategists say. Democrats have now turned “stay the course” into an attack line in campaign commercials, and the Bush team is busy explaining that “stay the course” does not actually mean stay the course.


Bush used “stay the course” until recent weeks when it became clear that it was becoming a political problem. “The characterization of, you know, ‘it’s stay the course’ is about a quarter right,” Bush complained at an Oct. 11 news conference. ” ‘Stay the course’ means keep doing what you’re doing. My attitude is: Don’t do what you’re doing if it’s not working — change. ‘Stay the course’ also means don’t leave before the job is done.”

By last week, it was no longer a quarter right. “Listen, we’ve never been stay the course, George,” he told George Stephanopoulos of ABC News. “We have been — we will complete the mission, we will do our job and help achieve the goal, but we’re constantly adjusting the tactics. Constantly.”

Think Progress has a list of instances when Bush & Co. used the phrase since the beginning of the war. Meanwhile, they’re starting to say “timeline” and “timetable,” which, until recently, was language reserved by us leftist defeatocrats. But, as with all things in the Republican machine, political calculation trumps all:

Republican strategists were glad to see him reject the language, if not the policy. “They’re acknowledging that it’s not sending the message they want to send,” said Steve Hinkson, political director at Luntz Research Cos., a GOP public opinion firm. The phrase suggested “burying your head in the sand,” Hinkson said, adding that it was no longer useful signaling determination. “The problem is that as the number of people who agree with remaining resolute dwindles, that sort of language doesn’t strike a chord as much as it once did.”

And where does that leave Heather Wilson? Well, as the NY Times revealed in its story about Bernalillo and Placitas, Iraq is the No. 1 issue on voters’ minds. With the race up north swinging in Madrid’s direction, and Iraq an increasingly unpopular war, Wilson may be looking to distance herself from it, like other Republican candidates:

So now even some Republican candidates are changing direction, at least in terms of their language. “We can’t continue to keep doing the same things and expect different results,” [Sen. George] Allen said last week. “We must adapt. We must adjust our tactics.” [Bob] Corker now says on his campaign Web site: “We need to fix our strategy in Iraq so we can get the job done and bring our troops home.”

Incidentally, you can submit questions to KOB-TV for tonight’s Madrid-Wilson debate. It begins at 7 p.m. (I’ll be at a city council meeting, d’oh!) and will be uninterrupted by commercials.

UPDATE 11:31: Looks like New Mexico FBIHOP will be liveblogging the debate. Tune in and watch, and check out LP’s up-to-the-minute analysis.

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