Pure Horserace: Gonzales' Aftermath

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announces his resignation at the Justice Department in Washington, Monday, Aug. 27, 2007. Gonzales resigned, ending a months-long standoff with critics, who questioned his honesty and competence at the helm of the Justice Department. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
Today's announced resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was greeted with universal praise from the Democratic presidential candidates, but silence from the Republican hopefuls — a split that underscores the usefulness of campaigning against the Bush administration for the Democrats and the difficulty Republicans face as they attempt to distance themselves from the president without bashing him outright and drawing the ire of a GOP voting base still mostly loyal to the White House.

John Edwards' comments on Gonzales' resignation were to the point: "Better late than never." His statement was in the same spirit as the one Edwards released when White House political guru Karl Rove announced his departure: "Goodbye, and good riddance."

But other Democrats chose to dwell further on the issues surrounding Gonzales, including the two who are in the Senate and would have to vote on confirming his replacement. Hillary Clinton, right off the bat, signaled she would hold Mr. Bush's next appointee to a high standard, saying the resignation was "long overdue, and so is the appointment of an Attorney General who will put the rule of law and our Constitution above partisan politics." The rest of the statement, available on Clinton's campaign blog, makes allusions to the controversy of the firing of U.S. Attorneys, but clearly has its eye on the future.

Barack Obama kept his remarks short, but also focused on the future — not just in the Senate, but also his own, should he become president: "I have long believed that Alberto Gonzales subverted justice to promote a political agenda, and so I am pleased that he has finally resigned today," Obama said in a blog posting. "The President needs to nominate an Attorney General who will be the people's lawyer, not the President's lawyer, and in an Obama administration that person will first and foremost defend and promote the rights and liberties enshrined in our Constitution."

So far, the leading Republican candidates haven't released statements on Gonzales' announcement. This doesn't imply they're fans of the departing attorney general — if they were, we would have seen press releases thanking Gonzales for his service. Rather, it points to the difficulties Republicans face in this election. Voters in their own party know they can't win with a candidate who sticks too closely to the president, yet polls show they still support Mr. Bush in large numbers. And supporting the president would hurt their electability among independent voters in the general election.

As for the Democrats, their words acknowledge that they're losing one of their favorite, and most effective, punching bags. But it looks as though they believe the upcoming Senate confirmation battle and the issues raised during Gonzales' tenure are going to be part of their stump speeches for a good while longer. — David Miller

Katrina Week for Dems? Gonzales' resignation may have actually knocked Democrats off their game in one respect. This week marks the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast and started President Bush on a steep downward slide in the polls, making it an event the Democratic hopefuls are sure to mention.

Clinton, who will attend a summit on Katrina in New Orleans on Monday, even used the end of her statement on Gonzales to make note of the occasion: "The second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is one more reminder that the president must appoint someone to lead the Department of Justice with the leadership and competence necessary to defend the Constitution."

Edwards, who launched his campaign in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, will also attend Monday night's summit. And on Sunday, Obama released a full plan for rebuilding the Gulf Coast that includes restructuring the Federal Emergency Management Agency and assisting in developing schools and infrastructure.

There are already theories being put forward on some liberal Web sites that the Gonzales resignation was timed to take attention off the Katrina anniversary. But we think it's more likely that the Democratic candidates don't mind having multiple domestic issues on which to criticize the president this week, especially when the focus is likely to turn back to Iraq after Labor Day. — David Miller

Giuliani Goes Flat? Speaking in Manchester, N.H., over the weekend, Rudy Giuliani said he would unveil his plan for overhauling the nation's tax laws this fall, holding up a single tax form and claiming that, under his plan, tax returns would be so simplified that they could fit on one page.

Much of what Giuliani said at the event did little to separate him from what the other GOP candidates say on taxes — eliminate the inheritance tax, lower corporate taxes and allow for retirement savings accounts — but those looking for a hint as to what Giuliani will say this fall need only look at the man standing next to him: Steve Forbes, the billionaire publisher, two-time presidential candidate, and vocal advocate of a "flat" income tax, in which all taxpayers, aside from those on the extreme low end of the income scale, pay taxes at the same rate. — David Miller

Forbes' presence was enough for the New Hampshire Union Leader to declare that Giuliani proposed a flat tax plan in its headline, even though it doesn't appear the former New York mayor went quite that far. But if Forbes is on board, it's a safe bet that whatever Giuliani proposes this fall, it will be a radical departure from the current system. — David Miller

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By David Miller