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Conservatives bailing out on 'Quayle in cowboy boots'

Published April 8, 2007


A prominent Washington columnist wrote recently: "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."

That blow was struck not by a Bush-bashing liberal but by Robert Novak, a hard-right commentator perhaps best known for outing CIA operative Valerie Plame, whose husband angered the White House by challenging some of its prewar intelligence on Iraq.

Novak was commenting on the lack of Republican support on Capitol Hill for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who is twisting in the wind after misleading Congress about the firings of eight U.S. attorneys after the 2004 election. But the Gonzales affair is symptomatic of something larger - the political collapse of the Bush-Cheney administration.

These days, some of the harshest criticism of the president is coming not from Democrats but from Republican strategists and true believers who say they can no longer remain silent about the depredations, scandals and incompetence of an administration that has seriously damaged or broken nearly everything it has touched - the Constitution, the military, U.S. leadership in the world and even the president's own party. They see an increasingly isolated president and vice president hunkered down in denial about the political realities closing in on them.

The Bush camp suffered a stunning political defection recently when Matthew Dowd, a Texan who was Bush's chief campaign strategist in 2004, decided to break publicly with the president in an interview with the New York Times.

Dowd, whose son is in the Army and headed to Iraq, said he has become so disillusioned about the war he even considered joining antiwar street protests. He comes across as a man seeking to atone for the crucial role he played in casting John Kerry as someone who could not be trusted on national security. "Just being quiet is not an option when I was so publicly advocating an election," Dowd told the newspaper.

Dowd switched to the Republican Party in Texas so he could join the political team behind Gov. George W. Bush, whose governing style of reaching out to Democrats he thought was badly needed in Washington. He now realizes his faith in Bush was misplaced. If anything, Bush's "my way or the highway" approach to governing has made Washington an even more poisonous political arena.

"I really like him, which is probably why I'm so disappointed in things," he said. "I think he's become, in my view, more secluded and bubbled in."

At his news conference last week, Bush was dismissive of Dowd's change of heart on the war, saying it was the "emotional" reaction of a father because "his son is deployable." Yes, most parents would have an emotional reaction to seeing a son or daughter go to war. But, of course, Bush and Dick Cheney would know nothing about that.

If Dowd is disappointed with the president, Vic Gold, a self-described Goldwater conservative, is infuriated with Bush and Cheney for the damage they have done at home and abroad.

"For all the Rove-built facade about his being a "strong" chief executive, George W. Bush has been, by comparison to even the hapless Jimmy Carter, the weakest, most out of touch president in modern times. Think Dan Quayle in cowboy boots."

Gold threw that political brick in his new book, Invasion of the Party Snatchers: How the Holy-Rollers and the Neo-Cons Destroyed the GOP.

Cheney gets it upside the head, too. "A vice president in control is bad enough. Worse yet is a vice president out of control," Gold writes.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Gold said he wrote the book because "I really came to the conclusion that there was a threat to our system, to our way of life, and it was coming from those who I thought were my people."

He told the Post he was disgusted by the Terri Schiavo episode, the Iraq war, violations of civil liberties, the expansion of government, the politicization of the Justice Department and the trashing of true conservative values.

Gold started his career in politics as a press assistant in Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign and later was an adviser to Vice President Spiro Agnew. He is an old friend of the president's father, whose campaigns he worked on, and was co-author of George H.W. Bush's autobiography. He was asked to write bios of the Cheneys and Bushes for the official 2000 inauguration program.

As his presidency founders, Bush's swagger and smirk are still there. But you have to wonder if this president, in quiet moments, ever thinks about what might have been had he not led the nation into an unnecessary and disastrous war. No wonder his father is said to be heartbroken.

[Last modified April 7, 2007, 23:37:14]

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