Brown, Democrats and the Bush Endgame
Had 60,000 Ohio voters voted the other way in 2004, it might have been two of Bob Shrum's friends sitting down this morning at Camp David for the first official meeting between the new British prime minister and the American president. Shrum, a stalwart of Democratic politics and the top consultant for Sen. John F. Kerry's failed bid for the presidency three years ago, also happens to be a close friend and sometime adviser to new prime minister Gordon Brown.
Since Brown replaced Tony Blair a month ago, much of the media speculation has focused on the budding relationship between Brown and Bush and whether the new prime minister would seek to put a little distance between himself and the President. Brown has long-standing relationships with many top American Democrats and depending on how things work out in November 2008, one of those associations may turn out to be the more long-lasting.
"This is the endgame for Bush," said Sidney Blumenthal, the journalist and former adviser to President Clinton who has known Brown and other British Labour politicians for years. "Brown, like other foreign leaders, has to formulate a transitional policy towards Bush in his last 18 months in office while keeping in mind that his main relationship will be with the new president."
The ties between U.S. Democrats and British Labour run deep. When Blair and Brown were plotting strategy to return Labour to power in the early 1990s, they carefully studied the way Clinton tried to reposition the Democratic Party along more centrist lines. According to Blumenthal's book about his tenure in the White House, Blair came away from a visit to America in 1993 while in opposition convinced that the Clinton experience offered a "treasure trove of lessons."
Once in office, Blair turned for political advice to Mark Penn, the centrist pollster and political consultant who advised Bill Clinton and is now the chief strategist for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign. Other American political consultants, such as Shrum and pollster Stan Greenberg, have become fixtures in Britain come election season, and DLC-type Democrats have closely studied how Blair transformed British politics seeking lessons for their own prospective return to power.
"It was an unusual set of circumstances that occurred," said one top moderate Democrat. "They look to the Democratic Party to see what they can learn...and we look to New Labour."
In some ways, Brown, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer has more experience in America than Blair did before he took office. He has vacationed on Cape Cod, counts such disparate figures as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers as friends and is reported to be fascinated by American history and politics.
But it is Brown's association with Shrum that has provoked perhaps the most murmuring in British political circles. Shrum's background as a more traditional liberal, closely aligned with Ted Kennedy, has been taken as a sign that perhaps Brown is looking to depart from the "Third Way" politics that defined Clinton and Blair. And Shrum's notable lack of success at the presidential level has provoked grumbling among some Brits that Brown might have found just the strategist to help lead Labour back to the wilderness from which it came before Blair.
Shrum himself is offering no clues about his relationship or advice to Brown. Contacted Sunday, Shrum declined an invitation to talk about Brown. "He's a friend," he said, "and I don't do press interviews about him."
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