In the wake of what some consider the stunning defeat of an immigration bipartisan immigration reform bill personally and actively championed by President George Bush, the question now becomes:
Is George Bush now a political lame duck — or a political dead duck?
Is that an overstatement? The kind of snap-judgement conclusion that will become outdated after a month or two? Or is there truly a new political reality after yesterday’s vote: will the immigration bill defeat be eventually be looked upon as the day that Bush’s political clout was largely depleted?
Beset by dropping job approval ratings, continuing controversy over and diminishing public support for the Iraq war, Congressional investigations, negative news stories about Vice President Dick Cheney, and other political crises, Bush is seems to be approaching Richard Nixon territory in becoming one of the most unpopular, sparsly supported, polarizing, partisan and controversial Presidents in American history.
Presidents usually draw “a line in the sand.” But yesterday his own party’s base drew a line in the sand.
Bush had turned the bill’s passage into a personal political cause, combining cajoling (calling Senators),pleading (in speeches and news conferences) and asserting (smugly saying “See you at the bill signing” — a statement that enfuriated conservative talk show hosts who opposed the bill….a statement played over and over on the shows by hosts to fire up angry listeners).
And, in the end, Bush put some of his sparse political capital on the line and wound up in chapter 13. The Washington Post:
The most dramatic overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws in a generation was crushed yesterday in the Senate, with the forces of the political right and left overwhelming a bipartisan compromise on one of the most difficult issues facing the country.
With 53 senators against moving on to a final vote and 46 in favor, supporters fell dramatically short of the 60 votes needed to overcome the delaying tactics and parliamentary maneuvers that have dogged the bill for weeks. With no way to cut off debate, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) pulled the bill from the Senate floor for the second time this month, and this time it is not likely to come up again before a new president comes to power.
Rejecting the presidentâ€™s last-minute pleas, it voted, 53 to 46, to turn back a motion to end debate and move toward final passage. Supporters fell 14 votes short of the 60 needed to close the debate.
Mr. Bush placed telephone calls to lawmakers throughout the morning. But members of his party abandoned him in droves, with just 12 of the 49 Senate Republicans sticking by him on the important procedural vote that determined the fate of the bill.
Nearly one-third of Senate Democrats voted, in effect, to block action on the bill.
A Washington Post analaysis painted an even grimmer picture for Mr. Bush’s future political prospects of regaining political muscle:
President Bush’s stinging recent setbacks raise fresh questions over whether he can accomplish much of anything in Congress in the remaining 1 1/2 years of his term.
The blows range from rejection of immigration overhaul to increasing erosion of Republican unity behind his Iraq policy….
And, in the “great minds think alike” department, the Post has this quote:
And on Sunday, Bush will lose the “fast track” authority for negotiating trade agreements that all recent presidents have had. Congress is showing little inclination to renew the power for him.
“It really shows the weakness of this president, institutionally and politically, in his last two years in office,” said Stephen J. Wayne, a presidential scholar at Georgetown University. “He’s not just a lame duck any more. He seems more like a dead duck.”
According to the BBC’s Washington correspondent, Justin Webb, Thursday’s vote
marks a stunning political defeat for the president.
He says the Senate vote could open the floodgates, heralding a series of defeats for the president’s other plans – including a potential troop surge in Iraq.
And it leaves unsolved the controversial and highly emotive issue of immigration, our correspondent says.
Can Bush turn it around?
Highly unlikely given his situation, the political calender, his political style and his personality:
(1) His stick to his guns attitude is now being seen by most Americans as a flaw — as stubborness. On a host of issues, Bush’s statements, decisions and books and articles about him weave a portrait of a leader who quickly makes up his mind and then tries to implement. His mind is made up — early. And he’ll brush aside advice he doesn’t agree with (as he did with James Baker’s Iraq Study Group proposal — which could wind up be adapted anyway after September).
(2) Traditional conservatives and other members of the GOP base have distrusted Bush and this battle — which he chose to wage twice, enraging the bill’s foes by his characterization of opponents on this issue — confirms it to many. Rather than the Bush party, run by Bush and associates, the GOP is now likely be subject to an internal tug of war between the elites in charge and the party’s base.
(3) Presidents whose poll ratings are so low don’t usually have much political clout.
(4) He is preoccupied with defensive actions: Iraq, the controversy over Cheney, demands from Congress for documents, the rejection of demands for Congress and the likely litigation between Congress and the administration which could be in the court for years. Major lawsuits don’t breed bosom buddies.
(5)The polarizing style of the administration has left it with few friends among Democrats. Most of the bridges were burnt long ago.
(6) The long awaited-military report on the “surge” in September, even if it simply calls for allowing more time and is not hugely negative or positive, will likely trigger a massive distancing of Republicans who value their political careers from the Bush White House. Any Republican presidential wannabie who gives the impression that his administration would be Bush III is likely going to be out. With the immigration bill’s defeat, Arizona Senator John McCain’s presidential prospects now seem doomed.
Indeed, the vote showed one prominent GOPer already sprinting to put some yards between himself and the White House: Senator Mitch McConnell helped defeat the bill:
Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, said the leader’s split with a president of his own party is unusual and may reflect McConnell’s reluctance to spend political capital on behalf of Bush, who is increasingly unpopular.
“It’s a question of self-preservation,” Baker said. “It’s safer now to get into the lifeboats.”
The key problem that suggests Bush’s era of being not just The Decider but The Influencer with Congress may now be over is that he has NOT shown the political dexterity to aggravate interests. Rather, he is a president who more often aggravates interests and has governed by sheer power: if his side has more votes, he gets his policy. If loopholes can be used in a law to expand the executive branch, even if it sparks a firestorm in the legislative branch, he does it. Consensus seems to be perceived by him and his associates as a weakness.
Even on this bill, Bush’s efforts to promote it among his own base seemed tepid, even though he did talk about the issue extensively. He could not be confused with an LBJ gushing about the potential of The Great Society, or pushing for civil rights legislation with passion. He could not even be confused with a Lady Bird Johnson talking about the need to beautify America.
There was no massive effort to convince and change minds — but that has not been the style of this administration. It’s style has been to declare, assert talking points repeatedly, and then impose.
And the GOP?
The tendency would be to say that the GOP has now effectively sliced itself out of the political running due to the defeat of this bill. NewsMax.com:
Thursdayâ€™s defeat of the immigration bill will boost the chances of a Democratic victory in 2008, giving Hillary Clinton â€“ the probable Democratic candidate â€“ a strong advantage, according to political strategist Dick Morris.
“Hispanic voters will undoubtedly blame the Republicans for the failure of the bill,â€ says Morris, co-author with Eileen McGann of the new book “Outrage: How Illegal Immigration, the United Nations, Congressional Ripoffs, Student Loan Overcharges, Tobacco Companies, Trade Protection, and Drug Companies Are Ripping Us Off . . . and What to Do About It.”
But will it be that simple?
Polls have shown a overwhelming lack of support for the overall bill. And it was in fact defeated by bipartisan votes.
Much blame (or credit) centers on the massive mobilization against the bill organized by individual talk radio hosts.
Yet, talk radio would NEVER have been able to do motivate such large numbers of listeners if Bush had been successful before hand in a)creating consensus, b)convincing people who were doubtful or opposed it, c)networking out to key groups in his base to aggressively communicate why he felt the bill was vital and why critics were wrong.
But that wasn’t his style. Instead, he said “see you at the bill signing” when the bill seemingly died a few weeks ago — almost defying his critics to try and stop him from getting it passed.
The irony: his biggest, angriest and most determined critics who in the end thwarted his and Karl Rove’s dream of a GOP reaching out to Hispanic voters and increasing its margin proved to be within his own party.
It’s hard to see how a President could pull himself back from that. And even if there was another awful event in the U.S., or a huge foreign crisis, Bush is unlikely to ever recoup the trust and support he had right after 911.
The reason: he’s burned too many bridges among Democrats.
And even among many in his own party.
–Be sure to read U.S. News’ roundup titled Bush Sinking Along With Immigration Bill
–After the bill failed, Bush looked truly defeated. VIDEO HERE.
–The New York Posts’ John Podhoretz bluntly declares “Dubya’s End: Border Bill The Last Blow”. Here’s the final few paragraphs of his article:
On those previous occasions when President Bush was saved from his own counterproductive impulses by a revolt within his own party, his defeat was actually a benefit to him. The Miers withdrawal led to the brilliant appointment of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. And an American company now owns and manages American ports.
But the parlous decision to revive the dead immigration bill and fight for it, only to see it go down to defeat again, was an act of political suicide from which this White House will not recover. On the domestic side, Bush will now only govern until the end of his term in an entirely defensive manner – through the veto and not by being a party to the passage of legislation.
In his first term, Bush had been a party leader and vote-getter so gifted that he single-handedly improved the GOP’s standing in the House and Senate in two successive elections and received 21 percent more votes in his re-election bid than he had in his maiden effort.
The failure to secure victory in Iraq is the key to understanding the administration’s second-term woes, but that isn’t the whole story. Something got broken on Election Night 2004.
–The National Review has a piece titled “Do Idiots Run Washington?” Our answer: Does Monday follow Sunday? But be SURE to click on the link and look at THAT PHOTO. It is proof of an incredible political ineptness, bordering on stupidity. It’s like loading a rifle on a hunting trip and handing it to Dick Cheney.