Straight talk from…what’s his name

At least one Republican candidate for the Senate is willing to speak his mind about everything that’s wrong with his party.

Writes Dana Milbank of The Washington Post:

The candidate, immersed in one of the most competitive Senate races in the country, sat down to lunch yesterday with reporters at a Capitol Hill steakhouse and shared his views about this year’s political currents.

On the Iraq war: "It didn’t work. . . . We didn’t prepare for the peace."

On the response to Hurricane Katrina: "A monumental failure of government."

On the national mood: "There’s a palpable frustration right now in the country."

It’s all fairly standard Democratic boilerplate — except the candidate is a Republican . And he’s getting all kinds of cooperation from the White House, the Republican National Committee and GOP congressional leaders.

Not that he necessarily wants it. "Well, you know, I don’t know," the candidate said when asked if he wanted President Bush to campaign for him. Noting Bush’s low standing in his home state, he finally added: "To be honest with you, probably not."

"He’s the best!" cheered Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) when he stopped in to shake the candidate’s hand during the lunch yesterday.

But if such affection is mutual, the candidate did not always show it. "We’ve lost our way, we’ve gone to the well and we drank the water, and we shouldn’t have," he said of congressional Republicans. "You don’t go to Congress to become the party that you’ve been fighting for 40 years." Lamenting "the spending, the finger-pointing, not getting the bills passed," he counseled: "Just shut up and get something done."

The source of the candidate’s anger — and his anxiety — is the Iraq war, which he called "the single thread that is weaving through every issue," including high gas prices and the violence in Lebanon. "People want an honest assessment from the administration, and they want to hear the administration admit we thought this, and it didn’t happen that way, and — guess what — it didn’t work, so we’re going to try a Plan B." He continued: "Let’s call it what it is. We thought this was going to be a different kind of engagement."

He seemed less agitated by the policy failure than by Bush’s unwillingness to admit failure. "I don’t know why the people around him don’t see that," he said. "It is a frustration, to say the least. I think it is a lost opportunity to bring the American people along on a mission that is incredibly important."

He spoke of his party affiliation as though it were a congenital defect rather than a choice. "It’s an impediment. It’s a hurdle I have to overcome," he said. "I’ve got an ‘R’ here, a scarlet letter."

That left the candidate in a difficult spot. "For me to pretend I’m not a Republican would be a lie," he reasoned. But to run as a proud Republican? "That’s going to be tough, it’s going to be tough to do," he said. "If this race is about Republicans and Democrats, I lose."

Who is the candidate? We have no idea. Milbank didn’t say.