ATTACK AND DIVIDE….Over at Tapped, Garance Franke-Ruta challenges the conventional wisdom that the Bush team is an unparalleled PR machine. The problem, she says, is that they only know how to do one thing:

They don’t do empathy and generosity and unifying gestures. They have one tactic and one tactic only: attack and divide. They’re great at it. But it’s not what the circumstances call for, and not what the nation wants to see.

I think this is exactly right, but I’m not quite as sure as Garance that the White House is going to pay a price for this. The thing is, they might only have one tactic, but they’re awfully good at it. And good doesn’t just mean relentless, it means they know how to adapt it to a lot of different situations. Already, last week’s images are fading, media outrage is in decline, and the Republican counterattack appears to have finally settled on a single talking point: It’s disappointing that while President Bush has focused his administration’s entire efforts towards saving lives and helping the victims of Katrina, there are those who are using this tragedy to score cheap political points.

Is this the Bushies’ usual attack and divide strategy? Sure. But it’s a pretty savvy version of it, and as the press retreats into its usual faux cluelessness and Republicans start circling the wagons, there’s a good chance that it will work. Last week’s images of New Orleans may have been searing, but counting on institutional memories to last longer than a week is usually a sucker’s bet. It’ll be business as usual by October.

UPDATE: The discussion in comments is worth checking out. More heat than light, of course, but still some interesting disagreement.

I don’t think there’s any question that Katrina will hurt Bush a bit, especially since he’s been hurt by so many other things during the past year. It’s just one more nail in the coffin. What’s more, it’s always possible that it will pave the way for some future screwup to do him even greater damage. Taken by itself, though, I suspect the White House will weather Katrina a lot better than New Orleans did. The press just isn’t much interested in investigating the incompetence storyline that’s the real lesson here.

UPDATE 2: Republican talking point above changed to reflect actual Republican talking point distributed today by the RNC.