As Republicans run away from George Bush in’ 08, one avenue they will take is that of the “Washington outsider.” Giulani and Romney can legitimately do that, and even Fred Thompson, who started as a Party lawyer during Watergate and went on to years as a lobbyist followed now by a second generation, will try.
But there is a contrarian case to be made that much of the Washington mischief of the past half century goes back to White House outsiders who didn’t know the rules of the game and where the boundary markers were.
Start with Nixon, the insider who always felt like an outsider, and surrounded himself with the likes of Mitchell, Erlichman and Haldeman, who didn’t know enough to worry about being caught doing the dirty tricks that brought them down.
During Reagan’s time, it was Oliver North et al who stepped over the line with Iran-Contra and got caught.
Now, with so much focus on Cheney’s fiefdom, it’s easy to forget that Karl Rove’s overreaching is at the heart of what Pat Leahy, Henry Waxman and other Democrats are trying to lay bare. It isn’t hardened Washington operators, but true-believing amateurs like Alberto Gonzales and his crew who stepped over well-established lines in the Justice Department.
This is not to glorify traditional politicians but, as voters look for answers, they may want to look carefully when candidates promise to change the ways of Washington rather than get the political process back under control. So far, the alternatives to politics as usual have turned out to be politics as nightmare.