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McConnell's Stealth Gitmo Campaign

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) is trying to draw attention to the closure of Guantanamo Bay. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

As the Republican party continues to struggle to find a voice to match that of President Obama, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is doing everything he can to elevate the president's decision to close the Guantanamo Bay prison facility into a winning issue for the GOP.

"For the past several weeks, Republicans in Congress have expressed serious concerns about the administration's insistence on closing Guantanamo before it has a safe alternative," McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor this morning. "These concerns are real . . . and yet all we've gotten from the administration on this issue is silence."

That address was McConnell's 11th on the subject of Gitmo since mid-March, a drumbeat that the Kentucky senator has supplemented with an op-ed in the Washington Post on the subject and a series of television appearances and speeches -- including one at the CPAC conference in late February in which McConnell said the Obama administration "needs to show it's more concerned with safety than with symbolism."

So much focus on the issue by one of the most powerful men in the party is not an accident but rather a concerted campaign to rally the party's base behind an idea -- protecting the homeland -- rather than around any one individual.

"McConnell's consistent and persistent messaging on Guantanamo has divided Congressional Democrats and put President Obama on defense," argued GOP consultant Alex Conant. "The Leader's efforts show that the minority's message can break through even in the middle of Obama's honeymoon."

Will it work?

Floor speeches are easily dismissed -- no one but the biggest political nerds watch C-SPAN and follow the floor at all closely -- but remember that the House floor was where the early stirrings of the 1994 Republican revolution took place as then Georgia Rep. Newt Gingrich (R) used the floor to make the case against decades of unbroken Democratic rule.

The question is not whether people will hear what McConnell is saying but rather whether appeals to peoples' concerns about their own safety can be effective in a political context.

It's clear that in the 2004 campaign then President George W. Bush effectively convinced voters that changing courses in mid-stream in the fight against terror could have dire consequences.

But, similar appeals in the 2006 and 2008 election packed considerably less political punch as polling suggested that Americans no longer identified Republicans with the idea of keeping the country safe.

While former vice president Dick Cheney has made clear -- repeatedly -- that he believes the policies pursued by President Obama have made the country less safe, there is empirical evidence that he is in the minority in holding that view.

The latest Washington Post/ABC News survey showed 32 percent of those polled saying that Obama and his policies have made the country safer while 21 percent say he has made things less safe. Forty-three percent say there hasn't been much difference in their relative safety with Obama as president.

And, even some within the Republican survey research community have voiced skepticism about a return to the "who will keep you safer" argument. GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio told Greg Sargent (of the Plumline blog) that "we just got clobbered in two successive elections and lost majorities in both Houses, and the leadership appears to keep on playing the same cards."

If McConnell's goal in focusing on Gitmo is rallying the base, however, he is in safer waters, according to the Post data. Nearly half (48 percent) of all Republicans in the Post poll said Obama's policies have made the country less safe far exceeding the number of independents (23 percent) and Democrats (three percent) who said the same.

On Gitmo specifically, nearly seven in ten Republicans said that prisoners should continue to be held at the prison in a January Post poll, numbers that (again) far exceed those Independents (40 percent) and Democrats (26 percent) who said the same.

From that data, it's clear that McConnell's Gitmo focus is an effective tool for rallying the base of the party. But, with the base shrinking badly, simply rallying the base isn't enough to bring Republicans back to the majority in either the House or Senate and isn't likely to be enough to beat Obama in 2012.

By Chris Cillizza  |  May 7, 2009; 12:05 PM ET
Categories:  Republican Party , Senate  
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Senator McConnell is afraid and it shows. According to him 8 years into the war on terror America, a nation of 300 million, must cower in fear of 260 inmates at Gitmo.
I don't think so.
If they are that dangerous, then why is he not calling for them to be executed immediately? Why continue to fund their cushy incarceration? Because they do not matter except for his political future. When you are desperate for cash you will even go to a loan shark for money. He and the GOP are so desperate for credibility that they are willing to use lies and fear to scare the American public into supporting them.
The truth is in a free society if a person doesn't mind dying they can do a lot of damage. Because we are a free society we are vulnerable to acts of terrorism. We always will be. Al Qaeda has been crushed, but even at its zenith it never had the power to destroy the United States. Only we have that power; what is left of Al Qaeda hopes our ever growing responses to their ever shrinking actions will destroy us and people like Senator McConnell are their accomplices.
I think Benjamin Franklin put it best: "those who would trade liberty for security deserve neither security nor liberty." If your skin is more important to you than sacred American values, then you are unworthy of our heritage, of the brave men and women who have fought for that heritage, and of those who are doing so today. I am one of them and I say this of Gitmo: either kill all the prisoners there or let them go. At least have the honor and fortitude to make a decision and stand behind it instead of continuing eight years of spineless quivering.

Posted by: jason25 | May 13, 2009 3:25 PM | Report abuse

Okay, let's say for one minute that Mitch & GOP are correct?

This actually means we are saying to the world, the terrorist and any other criminal that the last "Super Power" in the world is incapable of securely holding a radical terrorist because they're so clever & organized, not to mention that we're scared of them. Please people!

We've tried, convicted and incarcerated hundreds of terrorist especially since the 1993 WTC bombing including Ramsey Usef.
If our prison guards, military police and prison system is so bad and all the terrorist and mass murders in our prisons NOW have been escaping, wreaking havoc in our communities...why haven't we heard a thing about it?

So, let's all make the effort to call our elected officals in Congress, both parties, demand they give a press conference to inform us of these incidents, raise the security level and demand our troops be sent to our prisons to keep us safe until they can assure us our prisons are secure. If the best prison system in the world paid for by our tax dollars is as inept as the GOP & a growing number of scared Democrats say it is...we have worse problems internally in this country than we do with anything else.

As a military wife it's disgusting to hear politicans say to the world we are scared of anything or any radical group. What does everyone think our soldiers have been fighting & dying for? It's not so politicans can fear-monger, say our system is weak and that the American people are scared of shackled, guarded terrorist.

So please, let's call our members of Congress and demand they explain why they're saying to the world "We're a scared people", have no confidence in our prison system or our Military. Our military's fighting these people everyday while politicans tell our soldiers and the world we're scared of a few hundred radical terrorist.

Posted by: canegirl1027 | May 8, 2009 11:11 AM | Report abuse

The GOP is not finished, but has seriously come unstuck because of its leaders' obsession with "terror". Much of the yellow-orange-red terror was created by themselves.

Cheney's excuse for torture does not wash in any way but is even more pathetic when it is put in context with his claim that the "heimat"/homeland was kept safe from Anthrax. Only at the end of the Bush/Cheney period were we told that the Anthrax trail led straight back to Fort Detrick. How did kidnapping, torturing, bombing and invading help to keep the 50 states safe from an attack carried out from a government lab in Maryland? Nothing rational about Cheney's claims ever existed.

I'm not sure why Ridge has withdrawn from the primary contest in Pennsylvania, but I assume it has to do with not wanting to split the Republican party between right- wing and even more right-wing fanatics.

Funny to see the tea drinker JD trying to sell himself as an "independent". Maybe he means independently wealthy.

Chris Brown in Hamburg

Posted by: chrisbrown12 | May 8, 2009 7:12 AM | Report abuse

jaked wrote: "OBAMA is a Democrat, last time I checked, and he's the one who refuses to prosecute anyone for "torture". You'd better get your facts straight."

Your indignation would be more compelling if you actually felt that Bush Administration torture should be prosecuted, instead of merely using the issue to sow division among your opponents.

Posted by: nodebris | May 7, 2009 9:56 PM | Report abuse

the gop is still selling their main product.. fear , fear , and more fear.

how disgusting

Posted by: newagent99 | May 7, 2009 6:44 PM | Report abuse

hey mitch, the Bush Torture Regime is over, pal.

Posted by: patriot76 | May 7, 2009 6:28 PM | Report abuse

Be the first security conscious Red Stater to have your very own Mitch McConnell plush doll:

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | May 7, 2009 5:52 PM | Report abuse

JakeD: you are right, republicans know all about allowing 9/11 to happen. Republican Richard Clarke, a holdover from Bush41 and Clinton was totally ignored about the danger of Al Qaeda, so yes, you can speak of knowing, knowing that ignoring Clark, Bush allowed 9/11 to happen.

Posted by: katem1 | May 7, 2009 5:49 PM | Report abuse

Let's have a photo of Air Force One with Gitmo as a backdrop.

Posted by: newbeeboy | May 7, 2009 4:52 PM | Report abuse


What would be the point?

Could you make a little more sense before posting here??

Posted by: phoenixresearch | May 7, 2009 5:13 PM | Report abuse

What a crock of B.S. McConnell is pushing.

What he wants from the great ignorant masses to whom he preaches is to overlook that closing Gitmo means prisoner transfers to high security U.S. prisons.

No one escapes from the modern fortresses built by Uncle Sam -- no one. And no "terrorist" will waste time and resources trying to bust any of them out. There is absolutely no advantage to attempting such an ill-fated venture.

More and more Americans have both wised up to and gotten tired of the Same Old, Same Old from these corrupt, hypocritical, "gotcha"-playing naysayers. It reeks of the gutter.

But then judging by the Usual Suspects posting Republican/conservative apologia here, we'll be entertained by these misanthropes for some time to come.

To emphasize again -- closing Gitmo merely transfers the bad guys to high security prisons here. If thos livng nearby arren't concerned by the current inmate populations residing there, they needn't be concerned with Gitmo transferees, either.

Unless they need SOMETHING of which to be afraid. One monster under the bed is no different than another.

Keep playing that Fear Card there, "Mitchie", and see what it gets ya. How about some more ads showing the Pentagon burning, or exploiting some other scene of carnage in your zeal for power?

Posted by: phoenixresearch | May 7, 2009 5:10 PM | Report abuse

Let's have a photo of Air Force One with Gitmo as a backdrop.

Posted by: newbeeboy | May 7, 2009 4:52 PM | Report abuse

Nothing changes with these guys.

Same old attempts at circumventing that pesky rule of law. "Safety" (their version) before all else, and in place of all else.

It just keeps astonishing me that, despite the total repudiation of their stance and their party, they just go on and on over the same cliff (I guess they figure if they fill it with enough corpses, they can walk across).

But you see that in all the dead-enders of every fascist group. Without their “Truth,” there really is no place else to go.

Posted by: Ichristian | May 7, 2009 3:47 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps if we hadn't tortured them we'd have some admissible evidence.

Posted by: JRM2 | May 7, 2009 3:11 PM | Report abuse


OBAMA is a Democrat, last time I checked, and he's the one who refuses to prosecute anyone for "torture". You'd better get your facts straight.

Posted by: JakeD | May 7, 2009 2:57 PM | Report abuse


The Obama administration will not release Guantanamo detainees thought to be terrorists into the United States, Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress today. "We don't have any plans to release terrorists," Holder testified at a Senate hearing on the administration's budget for the Justice Department. He added the government has no plans to release anyone considered a terrorist in a foreign country, either.

This should get very interesting ...

Posted by: JakeD | May 7, 2009 2:55 PM | Report abuse

The whole Gitmo Torture thing is now the Trademark of the GOP!

These sick, evil, crooked, lawbreaking, big spending, warmongering torturers, commonly known as the GOP should shut the heck up and let the moral people of this country work on fixing the "Tangled Web" these DECEIVERS have dumped on America!

Posted by: fixitj | May 7, 2009 2:38 PM | Report abuse

me either -
that's why i am somewhat amazed at how,
indeed ---how...
America slept.

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | May 7, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

((cough cough))
uhhh...I "watch C-SPAN and follow the floor" closely.

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | May 7, 2009 2:34 PM | Report abuse

its good that he talks. when he took over as senate leader the republicans had 55 senators today they have what 41? keeep it up mitch.

Posted by: donaldtucker | May 7, 2009 2:33 PM | Report abuse


No, I don't want ANYTHING that makes it easier for the terrorists to hit us again.

Posted by: JakeD | May 7, 2009 1:44 PM | Report abuse


...or is he "softening the battlefield" for another "surprise" attack on the "homeland"?

Homeland -- it sounds so Third Reich-ian.

Speaking of which:

Why aren't Republicans like McConnell worried about the loss of personal freedom and liberty here at home -- at the hands of those who claim to be acting as saviors of the "homeland"?

OR (if link is corrupted / disabled):

Posted by: scrivener50 | May 7, 2009 1:34 PM | Report abuse

yeppers jakey...
because it puts your God, Baby Bush, and his cohort Dickie Poo (the one that cannot shoot straight for the life of him)
on the line...

for authorizing everything.

thanks zionist machine bush.
give bin laden some more fuel.

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | May 7, 2009 1:33 PM | Report abuse

hey reason5
you know pilgrim, i agree.
why not? invite some of the guys in Leavenworth on death row too.
It would be a treat for the death row inmates.
specially the ones down here in arizona that take their kids out to the desert and tell them they are seeing santa claus and then burn them alive.
ya.....why not.

besides....those prisoners are humbled to he*** and back because of those enhanced interrogation techniques.
probably have agoraphobia too.

humbled in the white house
what a concept.

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | May 7, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

For the record, I do NOT want another 9/11 attack (which is why I oppose Obama release the OLC memos, more photos, terrorists, etc.)

Posted by: JakeD | May 7, 2009 1:26 PM | Report abuse

Tea Parties, what a joke. You jack asses don't even understand the real reason for the for the Boston tea party. As far as the group growing in numbers, what is really growing in numbers are people getting sick and tired of the Republicans whining all of the time.

It's interesting now that they are way in the minority, they're for everything they were against when they were the majority. All the BS about the up or down floor votes and the filibuster being unconstitutional. Now there isn't basically anything they won't filibuster given the chance.....a bunch of hypocrites.

Posted by: paguy1 | May 7, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

JakeD, like Osama bin Ladin, is pinning all his hopes for the future on another 9/11.

Virginia will be glad to lock up any actual enemies of the United States. Send them here, if the Red states are too chicken to handle them.

Funny the way wing-nuts insist of having heaps of guns so they can protect themselves, but then get scared to death at the idea of an unarmed, chained terrorist being jailed somewhere near them.

Posted by: nodebris | May 7, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse

If Barack Obama wants GITMO closed down, I think we should release all of them into his home state of Ill & Washington DC. In fact, I think he should invite some of them to live with him in the White House. That may really show the world that he's interested in truly understanding & negotiating with these people. I think he should offer them jobs at the White House. Obama could hire some of these former foreign fighters as drivers for his children & wife and cooks at the White House. If he doesn't do these things but still spews the rhetoric, he's a damn hypocrit.

Posted by: reason5 | May 7, 2009 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Wonder if someone might bring Mitch aside and state that delaying the closure of Gitmo is like creating a Gaza-like albatross around the neck of the United States in general. It is more like a tactic used by the anti-Israeli Arab states.

Mitch you are not working for the guys who want your wife's face hidden are you?

Posted by: BillKeller | May 7, 2009 1:16 PM | Report abuse


Maybe you can answer my question from the earlier thread now: What part of "only marriage between one man and one woman is valid" are you having trouble understanding?

Posted by: JakeD | May 7, 2009 1:10 PM | Report abuse


Just wait until Obama allows another 9/11 attack, or worse.

Posted by: JakeD | May 7, 2009 1:07 PM | Report abuse

of course repulsives,
keep those muslims (wait, they are all terrorists, right?) in dog collars, stressed positions, no water, and no sleep. all those wonderful enhanced interrogation techniques (gotta find that sign off);
and keep telling the press that America is safer.

I am sure Bin Laden is really afraid of the information coming out of the prisoners at GITMO.
Don't you know Al Qaeda yet folks????
He PLACES his lieutenants in there on purpose. To make sure they tell fantastic stories.

I mean, heck, he assassinated his MENTOR and took over Al Qaeda.
They all do what he and the Dr. says.

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | May 7, 2009 1:00 PM | Report abuse

From that data, it's clear that McConnell's Gitmo focus is an effective tool for rallying the base of the party. But, with the base shrinking badly, simply rallying the base isn't enough to bring Republicans back to the majority in either the House or Senate and isn't likely to be enough to beat Obama in 2012.

I totally disagree with the writer of this blog. There will be a concentrated effort by hundreds of thousands of very unhappy Tea Party Patriots to take back the House in 2010 and boot this President OUT in 2012! Our numbers are growing daily and we all VOTE!!

Posted by: priley8104 | May 7, 2009 12:55 PM | Report abuse

Not much of an issue to fire up the nation, let alone the base....

Posted by: RickJ | May 7, 2009 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, I meant BLUE States (I still remember Ronald Reagan's RED electoral map ; )

Posted by: JakeD | May 7, 2009 12:49 PM | Report abuse

McConnell should jump on the NIMBY bandwagon: release terrorists into RED STATES!

Posted by: JakeD | May 7, 2009 12:37 PM | Report abuse

It will be interesting to see if McCain pushes back on this strategy, as he also was a proponent of closing Gitmo during the Presidential campaign. Rallying the base also has the added effect of alienating the moderates. Not that there are many left in the GOP.

Posted by: mnteng | May 7, 2009 12:25 PM | Report abuse

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