Karl Rove's Empty Pete Ricketts Endorsementby Kyle Michaelis
Karl Rove finally said what Nebraska Republicans have been waiting to hear.
“Let me make it clear,” the White House political strategist told about 150 people at a GOP reception Saturday in the Haymarket in Lincoln.
“The president of the United States would like to have Pete Ricketts in the U.S. Senate”....
The White House would prefer to have two senators from Nebraska on the Republican side, Rove told the breakfast buffet reception....
Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel told the audience the difference is the 95 percent support he provides the GOP and the White House, and the 50 percent support Nelson may provide.
“Why can’t Nebraska have two conservative senators who support the Republican position?” Hagel asked.
This invited comment from Journal-Star columnist Don Walton:
In the wake of Karl Rove, Republicans can ride the wave of an unequivocal proxy endorsement of Pete Ricketts by President Bush. Not unexpected, of course, but finally on the table lest there be any lingering doubt that the president has no real preference in Nebraska’s Senate race.
But Ben Nelson also has the opportunity now to hone his message that Ricketts would go to Washington to represent the Republican Party and rubberstamp the White House while he represents the people of Nebraska independent of party, partisanship or president.
Although Walton does a good job of stating Nelson's obvious retort, it's just plain silly to suggest that a sitting President sending a minion to tell voters he'd like another Republican in the Senate is somehow a positive for the Ricketts campaign. We are just six weeks away from an election in which Republicans are desperate to hold onto Congress anyway they can. The fact that this late in the game Rove would even feel the need to clarify Bush's support for Ricketts says all you need to know about how shallow that support runs.
Of course, Bush would "like to have Pete Ricketts in the U.S. Senate” - just like an alcoholic wants one more drink or a professional thief wants to make one last score. Ricketts would be one more unquestioning, unthinking vote of support for Bush's agenda. He would be one more Senator honestly willing to buy the administration's rhetoric and repeat it - even to the point of announcing "We are winning in Iraq" without any basis in fact or reality.
Ricketts in the Senate would mean more power for President Bush. As a politician, there was never any doubt Bush would want more power - even though Ben Nelson's reelection is better for Nebraska and the nation. Still, it is an incredible sign of weakness both on the part of the Ricketts campaign and Bush that it took this long to state such position and, in doing so, it was still through an underling speaking in less-than-enthusiastic terms about their prospects for success.
And, who is Walton kidding that Rove offered an "unequicoval" endorsement of Ricketts? Considering how late the endorsement came despite the Republican's desperation is, itself, a pretty huge equivocation. That it came by proxy is another one. Still, the greatest display of hesitancy was in Rove's wording - the fact that Bush would "like" Pete Ricketts in the Senate does not mean he believes in Ricketts' campaign, and it sure as hell doesn't mean he thinks Ricketts would be a better Senator than the one we already have - Ben Nelson, who he's truly praised without reservation...without relying on Karl Rove to send the message.
The circumstances speak for themselves. Yet, surprisingly, it ends up being Sen. Hagel who offers the most damning equivocation when he also proposes that voters support Ricketts over Nelson - not because he'll be a better representative, not because he's more deserving of their trust, not even because he is more conservative...but simply because Nebraska should have "two conservative senators who support the Republican position."
Raw, empty partisanship - that's what the Ricketts campaign started with and, months later, that's still all they have to offer. Nebraskans understand this. From their own statements, so do Hagel, Rove, and President Bush. And, from their actions, even they can hardly bring themselves to endorse Ricketts but for the power they would gain.
But, this race isn't about their power. It's about what's best for the people Nebraska and who would better serve their interests. To that question, there's no doubt it's Ben Nelson all the way.