"The Chris Matthews Show" has turned into must-see TV on Sunday because of the window it often provides on Washington pundits' insularity. Glenn Greenwald plumbed the depths of last week's show, exploring the way Beltway thinkers' self-satisfied and deluded ideas about national politics become an echo chamber that usually disadvantages Democrats; Think Progress has today's big scoop: NBC's Andrea Mitchell casually revealing that Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus "very recently" met with the Senate Republican caucus to promise progress in the war by August, to which Republicans apparently replied, and I paraphrase: We'd better see progress, or we're outta there by Labor Day.
It's Sunday, so the story may not be reported out until Monday, but there are several mini-scoops hiding in Mitchell's story, and they're worth breaking down. First, did the war commander really meet alone with Republican senators, and if so, why? Democrats are dying in Iraq, too; we hear all the time that this shouldn't be a partisan debate. Party caucuses mainly exist to hammer out positions on legislation, eliminate or manage internal dissent and rivalry, and frame issues for the best political spin. Why was the busy Petraeus at a caucus event helping Republicans?
Equally interesting, if true, is the news that Republicans warned Petraeus, in Mitchell's words, "that if there isn't progress by August -- and real progress means not a day of violence and a day of sanity -- that they will pull the plug." Mitchell also revealed that "moderate Republican" senators told her they oppose Bush's so-called surge, but voted for it nonetheless. "They really are not in favor of the surge. They don't believe it's going to work. But they basically said the president has until August, until Labor Day. After that, if it doesn't work, they're running."
Labor Day, of course, traditionally marks the beginning of a new political season; in this case, the run-up to primaries and caucuses for the 2008 presidential nomination and the GOP's attempt to win back Congress. Great timing.
It should be noted that Time's Joe Klein, a bit confusingly, seemed to take issue with Mitchell's depiction of Petraeus meeting with the Republican caucus. "I don't think he did," Klein says, as Mitchell shakes her head in irritation, and Matthews simply tells them to "agree to disagree." Ah, Chris: This is a factual matter, not an issue people are free to disagree about. Either Petraeus met with the GOP caucus or he did not. Here's hoping reporters can get to the bottom of these questions quickly.