A growing proportion of the center-right punditry/blogosphere is bailing on President Bush these days, and in all honesty I'm still on the fence myself. But one commentator who isn't is Thomas Lifson
, who is stubbornly adhering to the old orthodoxy that Bush is poised to fool everybody into "misunderestimating" him again and pave the way for another GOP triumph in next fall's mid-term elections.
He even uses the same poker analogy:
There are two distinct aspects of President George W. Bush's persona. Measured against his immediate predecessor, who obsessively managed his daily standing in popularity polls, President Bush appears indifferent, isolated, surrounded by cronies, and even hapless, mired now in the low thirties [sic] in the polls. But when elections loom, when voters pay closer attention, and when popularity really matters, he becomes a shrewd poker player, who has lured his enemies into betting on weak
I have nicknamed the second persona "The Crawford Kid." It is an identity the President probably would never embrace, because keeping it secret keeps his opponents unwary. But they will never learn. Contempt for the President and their own ego-maintenance demands will not let them recognize reality when they are outsmarted.
The Crawford Kid doesn't swagger, pal around with floozies, or behave like most of the screen versions of a successful itinerant poker player. The Crawford Kid learned long ago that his enemies' greatest weakness is their inflated self-regard, lethally combined with withering contempt for him and his embrace of evangelical Christianity and Texas.
I have always seen George W. Bush in a different light than almost all of his opponents, and even many of his supporters. He is a trained strategist, an MBA graduate of Harvard Business School, where he learned that the point of having a strategy is to win when it counts, not just to feel good about yourself at every moment of the process.
When it counts, right at election time, Bush tends to come out much better than his enemies assumed he would. The positions they embraced when they thought he was down and out turned out to be not such a winning hand.
As comforting as that indulgence in nostalgia is, there are a number of flaws in it.
1) The last time midterm elections approached, in 2002, Bush's approval numbers were in the stratospheric seventies and eighties, not the (as of today's Rasmussen results
) 38% hole they're in now. It's easy to win at poker when you own most of the chips. When you don't, even holding better cards doesn't guarantee victory - and how much more so when you have to bluff.
2) Without post-9/11 public goodwill to draw from, that made it imperative for Bush to "obsessively manage" his day-to-day popularity. As Dick Morris has rightly pointed out, without decent approval numbers it simply isn't possible to get anything done in Washington, D.C. because nobody on Capitol Hill has any political reason to submit to your lead. Or, in other words, a president with no stroke is....a lame duck. And lame ducks do not tend toward much success at poker, again, because they simply don't have enough of that famous commodity, political capital, to parlay it into a significant jackpot.
3) The reason that Bush's numbers are so low, and concommitantly the first step in rebuilding that vanished political standing, is the recognition on his part that he has, of late, and in some cases since he took office, been whizzing all over the wants, desires, and issues important to his core supporters. I refer primarily to runaway federal spending and illegal immigration, two sticking points that have, well, stuck in the craw of the Republican base but got subsumed in the overarching approval of his leadership in the GWOT. Thanks to more recent frustrations over the White House's stubbornly persistent refusal to defend its Iraq policy or trumpet its accomplishments in that theater or any other, and the hideously misguided Dubai Ports World deal - and Harriet Miers, which undercut another overarching priority, reclaiming the federal courts - Dubya's wartime mojo even with his supporters is eroding, and teeters on the edge of becoming irretrievable.
It is, in short, and will be a lot more complicated an endeavor for the President to pull another rabbit out of his hat this November than Mr. Lifson is acknowledging. And when you tiptoe through the Bush tulips from just this past week, it makes you wonder whether the "Crawford Kid" is still playing with a full deck.
***Bush has pre-emptively surrendered on ANWR drilling
for this year, not even making a token attempt to counter the "populist" demogoguery about "Big Oil profiteering" and "price-gouging" and other conspiracist tinfoil hat nonsense blithering out of Congress these days - probably because it's coming from his own party's congressional leadership
. Indeed, GDub even joined
in the hew and cry for a(nother) federal investigation of Big Oil
, although he did, with some fraying cord of sanity, manage to stop short of endorsing Arlen Specter's invocation of Jimmy Carter's old "windfall profits" tax
***The White House is still foot-dragging on releasing its motherlode of captured Saddamite documents
, and downplaying the ones it has let go - which reveal that "Saddam sponsored terror groups in the Philippines
, that the Russian ambassador was passing U.S. war plans to the Iraqis
, that Saddam approved meetings of Iraqi government officials and al-Qaeda
, and Afghani sources claimed Iraqi intelligence was cooperating with the Taliban and al-Qaeda." The Bushies are also still leaving untouched "all of the Democrats who spent most of the 1990s lamenting that the first President Bush didn’t finish the job and go on to Baghdad in 1991". Oh, yes, and the Iraqis broke their political impasse and have a new prime minister. A fact you'd never know if you only had the White House press office as your source of news.
***GWB has [drumroll, please
] threatened a veto
of his own request for supplemental funding for the global war on terrorism and hurricane-related relief if the price tag comes in at anything above $92 billion. Which would be all very-very and to-to if not for the fact that we've seen this particular song & dance so many times before. Witness last year's obscene highway bill, which Bush vowed to veto if it exceeded an itself-bloated $284 billion. Congress just laughed at him because of his failure to veto ANYTHING in his entire presidency. And sure enough, the bill came to something like $40 billion
over his designated ceiling, and Bush meekly signed it because his veto would have easily and inevitably been overridden.
Remember what I said above about presidential stroke. It's a lot like what Mick Foley
once wrote about wrestling props: If you come to the ring with a guitar or a bullrope or a skateboard and never play/use it, fans will know you can't. And if presidents threaten vetoes but never issue them, Congresses will stop taking the threats seriously. And whaddaya know, the Senate is already $24 billion past Bush's limit on its version of the bill - think anybody in the upper chamber is listening to a word that he's saying?
***Last Tuesday the President went into a dark, smoke-filled White House room and cut a deal with the open-borders side of the congressional immigration fracas behind the backs of their border security opponents
, who were not even invited to be in attendance, much less participate. Remember that this puts Bush (1) on the side of Harry Reid, Ted Kennedy, and their RINO stooges, and (2) in the position of flipping the double-bird at two-thirds of the American electorate, prompting the ordinarily measured and temperate Cap'n Ed to thunder
The Bush Administration is about to go squishy on a national-security issue, and....this....has real security implications for the US. It is a national disgrace that more than four years after 9/11, we still have not credibly secured our southern border. During a war in which our enemy moves primarily by stealth and attacks exclusively through individual or small-group terrorist actions, allowing the unfettered movement of people on the vast scale we see presents a clear danger to our nation. Instead of focusing on that, the President has aligned himself with Democrats and the handful of Republicans who put political correctness (and political expediency) ahead of their Constitutional duties.
The President spent the remainder of the week trying to pathetically hide
from the implications and consequences of his not exactly undisguised pro-amnesty stance and the blanket betrayal by which it was delivered - which Mr. Morrissey aptly christened
, "this Republican president conspiring with Harry Reid to give him political cover with immigration hard-liners in his own party."
In his linked post above, Jim Geraghty echoes my conclusion that....
....one of the big reasons the President is in trouble is that his defenders are tired. We see these examples, we remember these examples, we blog about these arguments – but the White House press operation itself too often seems quiet, muted, defensive and milquetoast.
But it's emails like Michelle Malkin has been cc'd on
that should be blasting the Bushies out of this maddening complacency of theirs - these three in particular:
No amnesty. No "guest worker" status. No sellout!
Enforce existing law. Deport illegal aliens to their country of origin. Enforce the border to combat illegal traffic of people, drugs, weapons, biohazards.
What part of "preserve, protect, and defend" doesn't my President understand?
I have a message for the President. The White House is not an Ivory Tower, where you can exercise your power by thumbing your nose at the American people, all the while exclaiming 'Neener, neener, neener.' Every time you fling your fighting words at us, sir, and your smug attitude, it is only inspiration for us to fight for what is right. And we will.
There will be no guest worker amnesty. There will be border security and there will be law enforcement. The people have spoken.
And what form might their words ultimately take?
Mr. President: I am a member of the Republican Base. I give money and the five members of my family vote in every election. I have supported you through all of your troubles because I always thought you had the Country's best interests at heart. I am so disgusted with the current path that immigration reform is going, that I no longer support you. SECURE THE BORDERS AND NO AMNESTY. My family nd I will no longer stand in line to vote for Republicans who act like Democrats. [Emphasis added]
Sure, that'll just give this GOP grass-rootser Democrats who act like Democrats, but when it comes to betrayals of principle, rational calculation has little to do with Pachyderm thought processes. Something for which Bush the son once had a front-row seat with his dad's self-destructed presidency, and which he vowed never to repeat. Until now, it seems.
Preserving a Republican majority this fall ought not be analogous to drawing to an inside straight, but if this past week alone is any indication, the only player the Crawford Kid is successfully bluffing is himself.