Robert Novak reports that President George Bush is more isolated that ever — increasingly estranged from members of his own party who find themselves in a bind because they don’t want to break with Bush but need to put some distance between themselves and the White House:
Two weeks earlier on Capitol Hill, there was a groundswell of Republican demands — public and private — that President Bush pardon Scooter Libby. Last week, as Alberto Gonzales came under withering Democratic fire, there were no public GOP declarations of support amid private predictions of the attorney general’s demise.
Republican leaders in Congress, who asked not to be quoted by name, predicted early last week that Gonzales would fall because the Justice Department botched the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. By week’s end, they stipulated that the president would not sack his longtime aide and that Gonzales would leave only on his own initiative. But there was still an ominous lack of congressional support for the attorney general.
“Gonzales never has developed a base of support for himself up here,” a House Republican leader told me. But this is less a Gonzales problem than a Bush problem. With nearly two years remaining in his presidency, George W. Bush is alone. In half a century, I have not seen a president so isolated from his own party in Congress — not Jimmy Carter, not even Richard Nixon as he faced impeachment.
Novak (who I met as a Colgate University student in 1970 when I and another student wandered into his Washington D.C. office and who was very gracious and blunt with us about his views of demonstrations against the Vietnam war) has been around a long time as both a reporter and syndicated columnist. And no one can accuse him of being part of the “anti-Bush liberal media” group. He goes on to explain:
Republicans in Congress do not trust their president to protect them. That alone is sufficient reason to withhold statements of support for Gonzales, because such a gesture could be quickly followed by his resignation under pressure. Rep. Adam Putnam (Fla.), the highly regarded young chairman of the House Republican Conference, praised Donald Rumsfeld in November only to see him sacked shortly thereafter.
Novak has some other things to say as well:
And then he adds this:
Regarding Libby and Gonzales, unofficial word from the White House is not reassuring. One credible source says the president will never — not even on the way out of office in January 2009 — pardon Libby. Another equally good source says the president will never ask Gonzales to resign. That exactly reverses the prevailing Republican opinion in Congress. Bush is alone.
Part of the problem comes from the style at the top. This is not an administration prone to government by consensus — not even within it’s own party. Add to that an administration that has burned its bridges with Democrats by accusing them of in effect being at the very least enablers of Iraqi insurgents and terrorists, and polls showing a stunning lack of support for the administration among independent voters, and it seems as if the trend towards Bush’s isolation will continue.
Yet, in the end, Karl Rove does know how to mobilize the party’s base in framing issues as US (the GOP) against THEM (the Democrats and the liberals). It has worked (almost) every time. Will it continue to work? Or has that tactic run its course?