As Bush Is Trapped By Ethics, His Base Will Trap Him
"What's in front of him are very big structural problems. It's not like it's a one-shot deal where they hit bottom and then bounce back. I'm not sure they've reached bottom yet."
--An anonymous GOP strategist in Sunday's Post
As the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll came out Saturday night showing that by a 3-1 margin Americans feel the level of honesty and ethics in the federal government has fallen since Bush became president, the Post runs a Page One in Sunday’s edition that points out how difficult it will be for Bush to recover politically. The Post poll shows that Bush’s approval rating has fallen to a new low of 39%. More troubling for Bush, 55% of those polled think that Scooter Libby’s indictment isn’t an isolated incident, and instead signals wider ethical problems in the Bush Administration. Nearly 70% of those polled also think that Libby’s indictment represents a serious crime.
There are some interesting quotes in the story on Bush’s problems, quotes that are of course anonymous but nonetheless noteworthy. Aside from the one I quoted at the beginning of this post, another theme seems to be emerging from inside the party: Dick Cheney is now an albatross around Bush’s neck.
Bush also must consider the degree to which Cheney has now become a liability in his efforts to recover politically. Two Republicans privately said yesterday the taciturn Cheney has become a major burden to the president, and that his association with an unpopular war and proximity to the Libby embarrassment will eat at the administration's credibility. "This 'I'm a sphinx' gig just doesn't get it any more," one of the GOP strategists said.
Yeah, that'll work: blame Cheney. If these nimrods think they can pin Bush's problems on Cheney without paying a price, then these guys really are stupid.
The conventional wisdom from Beltway pros like David Gergen is that Bush can save himself by dumping his team and bringing in fresh blood and new ideas, like Reagan allegedly did after Iran-Contra. But such a move would require Bush to do something that he has rarely done: accept responsibility for his mistakes in governance, and admit error in his policies. In fact, there are already signals that Bush doesn’t grasp the real problems facing him; Sunday’s Times says that Bush plans no major changes to his staff, and will in fact play to his base with a conservative Supreme Court pick this week.
Bush is now a victim of his and Rove’s “win at all costs through the base” strategy, where the only thing that matters is getting elected by inciting your base and not worrying about how you will actually govern the country. As a result of thinking that his base would accept whatever he wanted to do, and then revealing himself as an inept user more interested in cronyism and hero-worship than he was in pushing their agenda, Bush has now unleashed the conservatives into a “it is now our time” collective frothing, especially with Harriet Miers’ scalp on their walls. They fully expect to be pleased this time with an overt conservative, not a stealth candidate.
Bush cannot put this genie back into the bottle because his base has finally caught on to him. They own him, and both he and they know it. The days of “trust me; I know what I am doing, so shut up” are over. Bush will nominate someone for the Supreme Court that will please the wingers and chill the independents and enrage the Democrats. His base will love it, but no one else will. And as the public sees Iraq continue to swallow up our tax dollars and our soldiers, and sees high gas prices and more and more ethical problems for this administration, Bush will find himself pleasing a smaller and smaller part of the electorate.
(Thanks to PollingReport.com for the graphic)