George Bush: Isolated Now From Republicans?

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:

  • Republican members of Congress don’t like Gonzales, who they consider incompetent.
  • The word “incompetent” is used often by Republicans to describe not just Gonzales (who it is felt handled the prosecutors firings poorly) but about the administration in general.
  • The highly touted changes in the Bush administration at the beginning of the first term have not erased the perception that the administration is in many ways incompetent, partly because of constant attacks from the Democrats.
  • 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?

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    • stevesturm

      Republicans have been distancing themselves from Bush for a while now. They (at least the smart ones) were trying to do so before last year’s elections.

      And it has little to do with his style. The GOP didn’t have a problem with him or his style when he was delivering (i.e., popular). Nor does the public really care about how he goes about his job.

      It has everything to do with his not giving the right anything to smile about lately. As much as they don’t want him to pull the troops out of Iraq, they’re not happy about the way he has botched things up there. They’re not happy with his initial fumbling of the Katrina mess, nor did they appreciate his throwing away hundreds of billions of dollars in a misguided attempt to get some positive press. They’re still not over his nominating Miers. And they’ll never get over his ‘let’s not call it amnesty’ amnesty for illegal immigrants.

      In a bit of a twist, just as National Review used to view Howard Dean as God’s gift to the GOP, Bush has turned into the best Republican President the Democrats could ever have hoped for.

    • Sam

      And so what if he is isolated from his party? He is still in the Oval Office and will do as he sees fit for the remainder of his term. Every future incompetent decision is inevitable. He doesn’t take advice from anyone and doesn’t care about consequences because he can obfuscate and deny until the cows come home. The recent refusal to allow his staff to be sworn in before taking the stand is a pure admission of culpability.

      The only actual thing Congress can do to change the course of the war is political suicide, removing funding for the troops. If they do so they are then actually “Not Supporting Our Troops” which up until now has just been a hollow untrue right wing talking point. I just don’t see the point of articles stating Bush’s lack of support as some kind of barometer of change when he has shown a complete lack of caring for what the people, the legislative branch, or even his own party expect of him.

    • DLS

      Wait until someone in the Congressional GOP such as Arlen Specter doesn’t get answers to his questions, either, when the people at the top of the Justice Department start invoking their Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate themselves, and refuse to answer questions.

    • kritter

      Bush’s party may be distancing themselves in the press, but they are still backing him legislatively in voting against bills to pull us out of Iraq and working to defeat Democratic initiatives on the minimum wage and giving citizens in the district of columbia representation.

      Even in their oversight role, criticism from the GOP comes from the same few people- usually those who are in danger of losing their seats in ’08.

      I do agree that Bush no longer cares whether or not his party or the American people support what he is doing. He and Cheney did not have to go under oath for the 9/11 hearings or the CIA leak investigation , and they will fight tooth and nail to keep their aides from having to swear in as well. The statute establishing the Special Prosecutor expired after Whitewater, and is unlikely to be renewed during his term. Also, he has the advantage, as a wartime president of using the Constitution and the Patriot Act to expand his powers, while making sure there are plenty of layers between himself and accountability.

      I think a lot of this is Cheney’s handiwork- as he experienced the post-Watergate WH, and also learned from Bill Clinton’s agonies.

    • Pyst

      “Wait until someone in the Congressional GOP such as Arlen Specter doesn’t get answers to his questions, either, when the people at the top of the Justice Department start invoking their Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate themselves, and refuse to answer questions.”

      Taking the 5th is already going to happen with the first witnesses, it’s been confirmed today. Specter was on ye ole TV and didn’t even make a peep about that happening since it was from his office the provision in the Patriot Act that ever allowed this mess to be envisioned. So Specter’s hands are filthy with aiding and abeiting this scandal to begin with….senility is taking over Arlen’s mind.

    • CaseyL

      Oh, please. Bush isn’t isolating himself any more than he’s ever done. He’s never had to build relations with Congress, because for so many years Congress would do whatever he asked without hesitation or question.

      Suddenly Gonzales has “no base of support” with the GOP? Right. That’s why he was confirmed by the GOP. That’s why no one in the GOP ever protested his antiConstitutional actions. That’s why no one in the GOP ever pushed for an investigation into such things as Gonzales et al. trying to get Ashcroft to authorize the NSA surveillance program while Ashcroft was still in the hospital.

      It’s the GOP that’s now trying desperately to isolate itself from Bush. And the only reason they’re doing so is to try and limit the damage in 2008. Believe me, it’s not because they suddenly decided Bush has crossed the line. Bush crossed so many lines already there aren’t any left to cross – and he did it with full Congressional support while the GOP was in control.

      They enabled him. They protected him. And they will go on doing so. Once the subpeonas are served and the investigation widens, the GOP will keep voting to keep as many of Bush’s secrets as it possibly can.

      They should not escape the consequences of all those years of chosing Bush over America.

    • Pyst

      Casey is dead on, the problem is the taint is on them for as long as they allow him to stay in power or untill ’08 elections are long over. Roll around the dogs blanket don’t be surprised if you come up with fleas….big ole nasty Bushfleas LOL.

    • kritter

      Casey is right. Those who are still solidly backing Bush are either in safe Republican districts, or not up for re-election in ’08. While they may be privately questioning his competence, they are still largely backing him up when it comes to a vote on the floor.

      Senators who are trying to push Gonzales out— Smith, Sununu and Hagel are all up for reelection next year. They want to be on the record as calling for his resignation in case the scandal gets any worse ( from all indications, it will).

      Republicans let Bush have his imperial presidency for 6 years and aided and abetted him towards that goal by passing the Patriot Act, and by generously interpretting his Constitutional powers during the wiretapping controversy. Even now, they back an imperial presidency, in determining his war powers.

      They know that Rove can destroy them as he’s destroyed many Democrats. Also, Bush and Cheney are still popular within the party-they still are powerful fundraisers in private, closed rallies, as they proved in ’06. 70% of those in the GOP, still approve of their performance (astounding isn’t it?) If a seat is in a solidly Republican district, don’t expect its holder to trash Bush and Cheney.