When John Kerry appeared at his Philadelphia mega-rally the other day with Bill Clinton, the Bush-Cheney campaign tried to compete with its own star of the party: Rudy Giuliani, who stumped that day with Bush in Colorado. The so-called "America's mayor" is widely considered to be a star surrogate for Bush. But boy, did he drop the ball this morning.
Appearing on the Today show to set us all straight over these missing explosives in Iraq, Rudy exculpated George W. Bush and found a different scapegoat -- this will be very familiar to those of you who paid attention to the Abu Ghraib scandal -- the troops. "No matter how you try to blame it on the president the actual responsibility for it really would be for the troops that were there. Did they search carefully enough? Didn't they search carefully enough?" Giuliani said, while also arguing there was a good chance the explosives were gone when soldiers arrived. But still, even if the explosives were gone, using Rudy's logic, if the troops "searched carefully enough," they would have known. Not only does this not square with what we know about the U.S. troops who stopped at al Qaqaa right after the fall of Baghdad, that they literally stopped there, and in the words of the commander in the field: "We did not get involved in any of the bunkers. It was not our mission." But Giuliani's finger-pointing at the soldiers looks an awful lot like what Bush wrongly accused Kerry of doing yesterday -- "denigrating the troops."
In the kind of rapid fire response the Clintonistas working for Kerry have honed to a science by now, Joe Lockhart sent this rebuttal to reporters before the Today show was even off the air: "This is just the latest example of the excuse presidency where the buck stops any place but the Oval Office." Soon after, the Today show clip appeared on the Kerry campaign Web site.
The Kerry campaign's decision to hammer away at these missing munitions for a now fourth consecutive day may just pay off. It's unclear whether votes will be changed specifically over this story, but zeroing in on the lost explosives as evidence of Bush's dangerous incompetence has had its desired effect. It's thrown Bush-Cheney way off message, put them on the defensive and forced silly mistakes like Giuliani's comment this morning, which only serves to prolong media coverage of the munitions even longer. Not long ago, it was the Kerry campaign that seemed slow and stumbling and Bush's operation that had all the discipline and cunning. Right now, it seems Kerry is exactly where he wants to be: In control.