15 Dodging, Weaving and Smear Tactics Used by Republicans
They say the best defense is a good offense. As the GOP prepares for its convention in Cleveland, Republicans have little other choice. After all, the Party of Lincoln is about to officially crown the pathological liar, race-baiting bigot, and parasite posing as a populist Donald Trump as its nominee for president of the United States. Voters in Ohio and around the country would do well to remember that many of the GOP's best and brightest are shunning the Buckeye State altogether rather than be seen trying to defend the indefensible.
Which is why Republicans and their water carriers are launching an all-out attack on Secretary Hillary Clinton over her email practices at the State Department. When Rep. Trey Gowdy's $7 million Benghazi committee finally wrapped up the eighth and final investigation to find no wrongdoing in the tragedy that claimed four Americans in Libya, the manufactured uproar over the Justice Department's conclusion that Clinton's ill-advised email server did not constitute a basis for criminal prosecution became the only arrow left in the Republican quiver.
So while Donald Trump baselessly accused Clinton of bribing Attorney General Loretta Lynch, his hitman Carl Paladino tweeted, "Lynch Loretta Lynch." Meanwhile, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz demanded FBI Director and former Bush Deputy Attorney General James Comey explain to Congress why he refused to charge Secretary Clinton. On the op-ed pages, Bush torture enthusiasts Michael Mukasey and Marc Thiessen predictably produced bogus indictments of their own. And on TV, Mukasey's predecessor Alberto Gonzales, perhaps best-known for telling the Senate "I don't recall remembering that" about the Bush administration's U.S. Attorneys purge he oversaw, questioned Comey's "credibility and judgment."
But as the Party of Trump gets the band back together to smear Hillary Clinton, it's worth recalling just how effective this same cast of characters was on defense. After all, while suffering only a few prominent casualties like convicted felon Scooter Libby, the administration of Republican George W. Bush managed to survive eight years of almost nonstop scandals. From its historic failure on 9/11, the manipulation of Iraq intelligence, the prosecutors purge, and its 22 million missing emails to the Abramoff affair, Plamegate, illicit NSA domestic surveillance, and so much more, Team Bush weathered it all.
Here, then, is a look back at just 15 of the tactics Republicans used to get it done.
1. Accuse the opposition of slandering the president.
During his second debate with Mitt Romney in October 2012, President Obama made a simple point regarding the Republican’s baseless charges about the Benghazi attack:
"The suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the secretary of state, our UN ambassador, anybody on my team, would play politics or mislead when we lost four of our own, governor, is offensive.”
Many of Romney’s GOP allies must have been nodding their heads in agreement. After all, in May 2002, Republicans circled the wagons around President Bush after revelations that the administration had been warned about possible al Qaida plans to hijack an aircraft in advance of 9/11. (Americans later learned about the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Brief titled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”) But when Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle asked "Why did it take eight months for us to receive this information?" and called for a blue-ribbon commission to investigate, the GOP's top brass railed to Bush's defense. Daschle's Republican counterpart, Sen Trent Lott, denounced the demands for an inquiry:
"I really think there's nothing more despicable ... for someone to insinuate that the president of the United States knew there was an attack on our country that was imminent and didn't do anything about it. For us to be talking like our enemy, George W. Bush instead of Osama bin Laden, that's not right."
Lott's colleague, Republican Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, agreed:
"I don't think that anyone should start pointing fingers in a personal way or suggest that people are trying to cover their political backsides. I just think that's ridiculous. I think we need to go forward. We need to be positive. There are failures. We need to get to the root of it and try to make our country more secure."
As we later learned, President Bush’s reaction to the August 6, 2001 PDB briefing he received was, “All right, you’ve covered your ass now.” But that was far from his only warning. As we now know from a trove of 120 previously secret documents concerning the September 11, 2001, attacks obtained by the National Security Archive, President Bush's team knew far more about the looming danger from Osama Bin Laden than it let on. As Salon's Jordan Michael Smith explained:
Many of the documents publicize for the first time what was first made clear in the 9/11 Commission: The White House received a truly remarkable amount of warnings that al-Qaida was trying to attack the United States. From June to September 2001, a full seven CIA Senior Intelligence Briefs detailed that attacks were imminent, an incredible amount of information from one intelligence agency. One from June called "Bin-Ladin and Associates Making Near-Term Threats" writes that "[redacted] expects Usama Bin Laden to launch multiple attacks over the coming days." The famous August brief called "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike the US" is included. "Al-Qai'da members, including some US citizens, have resided in or travelled to the US for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure here," it says.
2. Oppose the investigation as "handing the terrorists an after-action report.”
Nevertheless, for Rand Paul and his ilk, it was Benghazi which represented "one of the worst intelligence failures in our history." Given the unimaginable carnage and the totality of the strategic defeat, most Americans would probably give that title to Pearl Harbor or 9/11.
That's why the chorus grew in early 2002 to create a commission to investigate the 9/11 attacks that killed 3,000 people. But President Bush, Vice President Cheney and their allies initially said no. While Cheney warned "the people and agencies responsible for helping us learn about and defeat such an attack are the very ones most likely to be distracted from their critical duties if Congress fails to carry out their obligations in a responsible fashion," House Majority Leader Tom Delay declared:
"A public commission investigating American intelligence in a time of war is ill conceived and, frankly, irresponsible. We need to address America's challenges in intelligence gathering and terrorist prevention. But we don't need to hand the terrorists an after-action report."
Vice President Cheney agreed, suggesting that trying to find out what President Bush knew and when he knew it would provide aid and comfort to the enemy:
"An investigation must not interfere with the ongoing efforts to prevent the next attack, because without a doubt a very real threat of another perhaps more devastating attack still exists. The people and agencies responsible for helping us learn about and defeat such an attack are the very ones most likely to be distracted from their critical duties if Congress fails to carry out their obligations in a responsible fashion."
For his part, President Bush echoed that assessment. As CBS reported on May 23, 2002:
President Bush took a few minutes during his trip to Europe Thursday to voice his opposition to establishing a special commission to probe how the government dealt with terror warnings before Sept. 11.
Mr. Bush said the matter should be dealt with by congressional intelligence committees.
CBS News Correspondent Bill Plante reports that Mr. Bush said the investigation should be confined to Congress because it deals with sensitive information that could reveal sources and methods of intelligence. Therefore, he said, the congressional investigation is "the best place" to probe the events leading up to the terrorist attacks.
"I have great confidence in our FBI and CIA," the President said in Berlin, adding that he feels the agencies are already improving their information sharing practices.
3. Agree to testify, but not under oath.
Ultimately, President Bush yielded to mounting public pressure and agreed to support the 9/11 Commission under the aegis of Henry Kissinger. (Unwilling to reveal his financial interests, Kissinger withdrew.) But as for his own participation, Bush agreed to testify, but on the conditions that he be questioned behind closed doors jointly with Vice President Cheney and neither man would be under oath. As President Bush explained in his White House meeting with the 9/11 commissioners on April 29, 2004:
"If we had something to hide, we wouldn't have met with them in the first place. I came away good about the session, because I wanted them to know, you know, how I set strategy, how we run the White House, how we deal with threats.
The vice president answered a lot of their questions, answered all their questions. And I think it was important for them to see our body language as well, how we work together."
For her part, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice ultimately testified to the 9/11 panel under oath. Her main contribution to its work was to inform the commission that the infamous August 6, 2001 PDB, "I believe the title was, 'Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.'"
4. Ignore congressional subpoenas.
Of course, when it came to congressional investigations of the Bush administration's politically motivated purge of U.S. attorneys, Vice President Cheney insisted White House personnel should be neither seen nor heard. Calling the outcry over the prosecutors' firings "a bit of a witch hunt," Cheney and his boss made sure their team did not honor any congressional subpoenas:
The Bush White House directed chief of staff Joshua Bolten, political director Karl Rove, former White House counsel Harriet Miers and former political director Sara Taylor all to ignore subpoenas from Congress. In 2008, a federal judge ruled that it was unconstitutional to do so.
And at the end of President George W. Bush's tenure, the White House instructed top officials not to cooperate with any future congressional inquiries into alleged administration misdeeds.
5. Claim executive privilege.
In the GOP book of Scandal Defenses for Dummies, the first entry on page one is to claim executive privilege.
That is precisely what the Bush White House did when it came to Dick Cheney's secret energy task force. In 2001 Cheney and his clandestine energy task force held dozens of meetings with 300 groups and individuals in formulating Bush administration policy. Among them was Enron CEO and Bush "Pioneer" Ken Lay. And as Paul Krugman noted in speculating about the group's role in altering "new source review" and other policies, "the day after the executive director of Mr. Cheney's task force left the government, he went into business as an energy industry lobbyist." Nevertheless, the Bush administration fought requests by the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch for information about the participants under the Federal Advisory Committee Act all the way to the Supreme Court. (In September 2004, Darrell Issa was among the 30 GOP members of the House Energy Committee who blocked a Democratic resolution which sought "the names of individuals who worked behind closed doors with Vice President Cheney's energy task force to craft the Bush administration's national energy policy."
For his part, Dick Cheney claimed in 2007 that the Bush White House was "very responsible" in supplying information to lawmakers, but that "sometimes requests have been made that clearly fall outside the boundaries." And as he made clear again in his memoirs, his secret energy task force was one of those cases:
"We had the right to consult with whomever we chose--and no obligation to tell the press or Congress or anybody else whom we were talking to. .... I believed something larger was at stake: the power of the presidency and the ability of the president and vice president to carry out their constitutional duties." When they won the fight, he says, "It was a major victory both for us and for the power of the executive branch."
Unless, that is, that executive branch is headed by a Democrat. Which is why, Congressional Republicans now insist, Gina McCarthy of the Obama EPA must reveal her communications with activists from environmental groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
6. Threaten to fire the wrongdoers—and then don’t.
After the State Department’s Accountability Review Board (ARB) released its Benghazi findings in December 2012, conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin was apoplectic:
While mid-level civil servants were forced to walk the plank, individual responsibility has yet to be assigned to Clinton, her direct reports or, of course, anyone at the White House. Why should they escape the ignominy of being identified and forced out?
Of course, no member of the Bush administration lost his or her job over the catastrophic failure to prevent the slaughter of 3,000 people on September 11, 2001. None were sacked over the invasion and occupation of Iraq that killed over 4,000 more Americans, wounded 30,000 and led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. (Instead, George Tenet, Paul Bremer and General Tommy Franks received medals from Dubya.)
But there was one occasion when President Bush threatened to do so and, of course, never did. In the summer of 2003, Team Bush outed covert CIA operative Valerie Plame after her husband Joe Wilson's July op-ed debunked the president’s bogus claim that Iraq sought yellowcake uranium in Niger. In June 2004, President Bush declared he would "fire anyone found to" have leaked the agent's name. But after the revelations that Rove and Cheney chief of staff Scooter Libby had spoken to reporters about Plame, Bush in July 2005 raised the bar for dismissal, instead announcing that only if anyone on his staff committed a crime in the CIA leak case, that person will "no longer work in my administration." Regardless, it had long been clear that Bush had no intention of getting to the bottom of the wrongdoing by his closest aides. As President Bush explained to a questioner during his October 7, 2003 press conference:
"I don't know if we're going to find out the senior administration official. Now, this is a large administration, and there's a lot of senior officials. I don't have any idea. I'd like to. I want to know the truth. That's why I've instructed this staff of mine to cooperate fully with the investigators--full disclosure, everything we know the investigators will find out. I have no idea whether we'll find out who the leaker is--partially because, in all due respect to your profession, you do a very good job of protecting the leakers. But we'll find out."
Not, it turned out, with any help from President Bush and his White House team. In October 2005, Thomas DeFrank of the New York Daily News reported, "Bush was initially furious with Rove in 2003 when his deputy chief of staff conceded he had talked to the press about the Plame leak." As one of DeFrank's sources put it:
"Bush did not feel misled so much by Karl and others as believing that they handled it in a ham-handed and bush-league way."
But one person who did feel misled was Bush's press secretary, Scott McClellan. As he revealed in his book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and What's Wrong with Washington, McClellan revealed:
The most powerful leader in the world had called upon me to speak on his behalf and help restore credibility he lost amid the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So I stood at the White house briefing room podium in front of the glare of the klieg lights for the better part of two weeks and publicly exonerated two of the senior-most aides in the White House: Karl Rove and Scooter Libby.
There was one problem. It was not true.
I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest ranking officials in the administration were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice President, the President's chief of staff, and the President himself.
7. Accuse the opposition of "criminalizing politics."
Dating back to at least the presidency of George H.W. Bush, Republicans and their media water carriers have turned to the "criminalizing politics" evasion when confronted with the lawlessness and wrongdoing of their leaders. After first deploying the criminalization of politics defense during Iran-Contra, conservative relied on their trusted talking point for the U.S. attorneys purge, the Scooter Libby case, the indictment of Tom Delay, and the Bush administration's regime of detainee torture.
In the spring of 2009, the Wall Street Journal, Powerline and the usual suspects in the right-wing noise machine were at it again. Investigating potential war crimes by the Bush White House, they argued, constituted "criminalizing conservatism" itself:
Mark down the date. Tuesday, April 21, 2009, is the moment that any chance of a new era of bipartisan respect in Washington ended. By inviting the prosecution of Bush officials for their antiterror legal advice, President Obama has injected a poison into our politics that he and the country will live to regret ...
Above all, the exercise will only embitter Republicans, including the moderates and national-security hawks Mr. Obama may need in the next four years. As patriotic officials who acted in good faith are indicted, smeared, impeached from judgeships or stripped of their academic tenure, the partisan anger and backlash will grow ...
Mr. Obama is more popular than his policies, due in part to his personal charm and his seeming goodwill. By indulging his party's desire to criminalize policy advice, he has unleashed furies that will haunt his Presidency.
Of course, none of that right-wing hysteria came to pass in large part because the Obama administration adopted the very "criminalization of politics" canard supplied by the Republicans. As Attorney General Eric Holder promised during his confirmation hearings in January 2009, "We don't want to criminalize policy differences that might exist" with the outgoing Bush White House. Even with subsequent boasting by President Bush and Vice President Cheney about their use of waterboarding, there has been no probe. And when the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence finally released its redacted findings on torture, Republicans and their right-wing amen corner predictably called it a "partisan report" that was "flawed" and a "travesty."
8. Attack the victim ...
To be sure, Republicans were quick to deploy the "criminalizing politics" defense during the Plamegate affair and the subsequent indictment and conviction of Cheney chief-of-staff Scooter Libby. But their counterattack didn't end there.
During March 2007 hearings on the outing of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame, current Benghazi Grand Inquisitor Darrell Issa rushed to the Bush administration's defense. Plame, Issa suggested, was guilty of perjury:
"I believe that his wife will soon be asking for a pardon. She has not been genuine in her testimony before Congress, if pursued, Ambassador Wilson and Valerie will be asking to put this behind us. I do not believe this was good use of the Committee's time. I hope we will have a real debate about proper use of clemency."
Issa had plenty of company. That same day, his Committee heard from a witness who rejected the CIA's own description of Valerie Plame as a clandestine officer at the agency. The GOP's attack dog that day? Victoria Toensing, the same Victoria Toensing who later represented the so-called “Benghazi whistleblowers.”
9. ...And attack the victims' families.
During the last weeks of the 2012 presidential election, Republican candidate Mitt Romney was criticized for trying to appropriate the Benghazi victims for his campaign. Among those pushing back was the father of Ambassador Stevens and the mother of the former Navy SEAL killed there. And when the Benghazi Committee issued its report, Stevens’ family once again declared, “Don’t blame Hillary Clinton for Benghazi.”
But back in 2007, current House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa had a novel approach. During committee hearings into the slaughter of four private security contractors in Fallujah, Iraq, Issa defended Blackwater by mocking the victims' families to their faces:
"Although I don't think your testimony today is particularly germane to the oversight of this committee, I am deeply sorry for the losses that you've had ... One question I have is, the opening statement, who wrote it?"
10. Use a popular military hero as a human shield.
Congressman Issa wasn’t content to accuse the Fallujah families of using the committee hearing to advance a lawsuit against Blackwater. Later that year during October 2007 hearings on Blackwater, Issa introduced a new charge. Committee Democrats, he declared, were motivated not by a genuine desire to help either the Fallujah families or to get to the bottom of Blackwater's shady practices. Instead, Darrell Issa insisted, it was all a vendetta against President Bush's commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus:
I think it's been made incredibly clear by the previous statements on the Democrats side that this is not about Blackwater. [...]What we're hearing today is in fact a repeat of the MoveOn.org attack on General Petraeus' patriotism.
What we're seeing is that, except for the 79 members who voted against denouncing MoveOn.org, eight of whom are on the dais here today, what we're seeing is what they couldn't do to our men and women in uniform, they'll simply switch targets.
The bodies were not cold in Iraq before this became a story worth going after here in committee.
I'm not here to defend Blackwater.
But I am here to defend General Petraeus and the men and women in uniform who do their job, who were first denounced by MoveOn.org, then not denounced by members of Congress, many of whom are on the dais today, speaking as though they don't support attacking every possible way the administration's war in Iraq.
But Issa's defense of Petraeus lasted only as long as Republican George W. Bush remained in the White House. In May 2013, now Chairman Issa told NBC's David Gregory that CIA Chief Petraeus had done President Obama's bidding in covering up the tragedy at Benghazi:
GREGORY: Chairman, my reporting of the immediate aftermath of this talking to administration officials is that CIA Director David Petraeus made it clear when he briefed top officials that there--that there was a spontaneous element to this, that it was not completely known that this was a terrorist attack right away. You don't give any credence to the notion that there was some fog of war, that there were--there were conflicting circumstances about what went on here.
REP. ISSA: David Petraeus said what the administration wanted him to say is the indication. Ambassador Pickering heard what the administration wanted to hear.
As it turned out, the former CIA boss who resigned over his affair with his biographer is back in the GOP’s good graces. The plea bargain of Petraeus, who actually handed over classified materials to his mistress and lied about to the FBI, is mistakenly seen by Republicans as proof that Clinton got off easy.
11. Say you lost emails due to buggy software.
After almost four years and seven inquiries, Trey Gowdy’s committee has turned its attention from the Benghazi non-scandal to Hillary’s emails. (As would-have-been Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy said, the whole point of its existence was to bring down “her numbers.”) But as you'll recall, millions of Bush White House emails conveniently went missing between 2003 and 2005, including those in the critical days during which the administration formulated its response to Ambassador Joe Wilson and his covert CIA operative wife, Valerie Plame. In July 2007, Darrell Issa accused Plame of perjury. Then, in February 2008, Issa turned IT expert and brushed off the email quandary as merely a software problem:
During a House Oversight Committee hearing last month on the preservation of White House records, an indignant Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a frequent critic of Chairman Henry Waxman's investigations, did his best to play down the extent of the Bush administration's now well-documented email archiving problems. Defending the White House's decision to switch from the Lotus Notes-based archiving system used by the Clinton administration, Issa compared the software to "using wooden wagon wheels" and Sony Betamax tapes. To observers of the missing emails controversy, Issa's comments seemed little more than an attempt to deflect blame from the White House for replacing a working system for archiving presidential records with an ad hoc substitute. But to IT professionals who use Lotus at their companies, Issa's remarks seemed controversial, if not downright slanderous. Now, according to an executive at IBM, the software's manufacturer, the California congressman has apologized for his characterization of Lotus and offered to correct the congressional record.
Thanks to the now-settled lawsuit filed by the National Security Archive and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington [CREW], Americans learned in 2009 that "the Bush White House, which initially denied that any e-mails had gone missing, announced in January it had located more than 22 million messages that had been mislabeled after a search by computer technicians, according to court records filed by the government on the day after Bush left office."
But that wasn’t the only irony of the Bush team’s missing email scandals. Among the 22 White House staffers who used the gwb43.com email addresses on servers provided by the Republican National Committee was Karl Rove. As Media Matters reported, Rove “reportedly used his RNC email for 95 percent of his communications.” Last month, Rove took to the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal to proclaim, “Hillary’s Email Defense Demands Proof.”
“She says a private server was ‘allowed’—but by whom? Produce the lawyers who signed off.”
12. Delay the findings for years.
After learning that there were in fact no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 2003 launched an investigation. But thanks to the maneuvering of GOP Chairman Pat Roberts, the committee divided its work into two phases. But Phase 2, the probe dealing with the Bush administration's uses and misuses of pre-war intelligence, would not be completed until after the November 2004 election. (The Silbermann-Robb commission similarly punted on that vital question, noting that "Well, on the [that] point, we duck. That is not part of our charter.")
When the Phase 1 report was published in July 2004, Roberts crowed, "the committee found no evidence that the intelligence community's mischaracterization or exaggeration of intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities was the result of politics or pressure." But as Vice Chairman Jay Rockefeller protested:
"There is a real frustration over what is not in this report, and I don't think was mentioned in Chairman Roberts' statement, and that is about the--after the analysts and the intelligence community produced an intelligence product, how is it then shaped or used or misused by the policy-makers? So again there's genuine frustration--and Chairman Roberts and I have discussed this many times--that virtually everything that has to do with the administration has been relegated to phase two. My hope is that we will get this done as soon as possible."
But in March 2005, Roberts announced that Phase 2 "is basically on the back burner." As he explained:
"I don't think there should be any doubt that we have now heard it all regarding prewar intelligence. I think that it would be a monumental waste of time to replow this ground any further ... To go through that exercise, it seems to me, in a post-election environment--we didn't see how we could do that and achieve any possible progress. I think everybody pretty well gets it."
As ThinkProgress documented, GOP Chairman Pat Roberts delayed the Phase 2 analysis yet again, ensuring there was "virtually no chance of being completed before the fall  elections.”
But Democrats won those 2006 midterm elections in what President Bush called "a thumpin.'" And finally, on June 5, 2008, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence now chaired by Senator Rockefeller published its Phase 2 report. As McClatchy reported, Republicans Chuck Hagel and Susan Collins joined the Democratic majority in concluding that "Bush knew Iraq claims weren't true."
13. Give Rice better sound bites.
In the fall of 2012, Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham announced they would try to block a potential appointment of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to succeed Hillary Clinton. Calling Rice "not very bright," McCain blasted her September 16, 2012 statements about the Benghazi killings to ABC's This Week.
Of course, when the Rice in question was named Condoleezza and worked for a Republican president, John McCain took a different tactic. After all, Condi Rice famously warned of Saddam's non-existent weapons of mass destruction, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." In 2004, she sheepishly described the critical August 6, 2001 presidential daily brief admitted to the 9/11 Commission, "I believe the title was 'Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.'"
Nevertheless, when Bush's National Security Adviser was nominated for Secretary of State in 2005, John McCain declared "Condoleezza Rice is a great American success story" and "a person of integrity." Slamming those who "challenged her integrity," McCain groused:
"I see this [as] some lingering bitterness over a very tough campaign. I hope it dissipates soon."
It did dissipate soon, as Rice—with the votes of Democratic Sens. Obama, Biden and Clinton—was confirmed by a 78 to 21 vote. Pointing to her role in hyping the nonexistent threat of Saddam Hussein's weapons of destruction, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin lamented that "Dr. Condoleezza Rice was in the room, at the table, when decisions were made, and she has to accept responsibility for what she said." California's Barbara Boxer went further, declaring "your loyalty to the mission you were given, to sell this war, overwhelmed your respect for the truth," especially when it came to warning the American people about the threat from Iraqi WMD. As CNN recalled the exchange:
"If you can't admit to this mistake, I hope that you will rethink it," Boxer said.
"Senator, we can have this discussion in any way that you would like," Rice replied. "But I really hope that you will refrain from impugning my integrity."
14. Declare that "nobody could have predicted" the disaster.
When in doubt, Republicans will never hesitate to blame their catastrophic failings on an act of God. The scandals, tragedies and wrong-doing which unfolded on their watch were all simply unknowable.
The uses of the "nobody could have expected" defense were legion during the Bush administration. After Hurricane Katrina drowned New Orleans, President Bush wrongly explained, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." After 9/11, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice protested, "I don't think anybody could have predicted" that terrorists "would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile." (After Hamas won the Palestinian elections her State Department pushed, Rice lamented that "I've asked why nobody saw it coming. It does say something about us not having a good enough pulse.") While Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in April 2003 brushed off the growing chaos in Baghdad by announcing, "Stuff happens," President Bush in August 2004 had another explanation for the bloodbath and mounting American casualties his invasion of Iraq produced:
"Had we had to do it [the invasion of Iraq] over again, we would look at the consequences of catastrophic success--being so successful so fast that an enemy that should have surrendered or been done in escaped and lived to fight another day."
Even in its last throes, the Bush White House insisted the disasters which unfolded on its watch were unforeseeable. Just days before leaving office, Vice President Dick Cheney tried to deflect blame for the calamity on Wall Street and the deepening recession by declaring, "Nobody anywhere was smart enough to figure that out" and "I don't know that anybody did." Then, Cheney magically converted failure into a virtue and ignorance into a shield in explaining away the Bush presidency:
"No, obviously, I wouldn't have predicted that. On the other hand I wouldn't have predicted 9/11, the global war on terror, the need to simultaneous run military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq or the near collapse of the financial system on a global basis, not just the U.S."
15. Make fun of your mistakes that killed Americans.
During that debate with Mitt Romney, President Obama explained why everyone should take him at his word when it came to the deaths of four brave Americans in Benghazi:
"I'm the one who has to greet those coffins when they come home, so you know I mean what I say."
Mercifully, Obama chose not to follow in President Bush’s footsteps and just make fun of the thousands of Americans whom he sent to die in Iraq.
In his presentation at the 2004 Radio and Television Correspondents Association Dinner, President George W. Bush showed his contempt for the truth and the suffering of the American people. His tasteless White House slideshow made light of the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the justification Bush offered for the war in the first place. Coming one year and hundreds of American dead and wounded after the invasion of Iraq, President Bush the cut-up hoped to regale the audience with his White House hijinks. As David Corn of The Nation reported:
Bush notes he spends "a lot of time on the phone listening to our European allies." Then we see a photo of him on the phone with a finger in his ear. But at one point, Bush showed a photo of himself looking for something out a window in the Oval Office, and he said, "Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere." The audience laughed. I grimaced. But that wasn't the end of it. After a few more slides, there was a shot of Bush looking under furniture in the Oval Office. "Nope," he said. "No weapons over there." More laughter. Then another picture of Bush searching in his office: "Maybe under here." Laughter again.
No doubt, Bush is still laughing. (Especially as he’s celebrated his 70th birthday in private on the same day former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair was being rightly savaged by the long-overdue Chilcott Report investigating Britain’s role in the Iraq war.) He may have left office about as popular as chlamydia, but he nevertheless survived eight years of serial scandals, America’s needless nightmare in Iraq, and the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression. Meanwhile, Republicans have been telling Hillary Clinton that the killings of four Americans in Libya and her email imbroglio “disqualify” her from the presidency. Bush, in contrast, was re-elected in 2004 even after the 3,000 people were massacred on American soil on his watch. The GOP talking point for that?
An earlier version of this article appeared on October 11, 2015.