Cheney and Bush: Is a boat ride coming?
Fredo, you broke my heart
A Time To Regroup
Bloodied by scandal, setbacks and casualties, Bush is looking for fresh troops and a new battle plan
By NANCY GIBBS AND MIKE ALLEN
You have to wonder sometimes why Presidents even run for re-election, given how things usually turn out. Second terms have a way of veering into wild and menacing terrain, spiked with indictments and scandals and betrayal and grief. Some friends become less friendly because they know you are on your way to retirement while they are on their way to the next campaign. Your team gets tired, the ideas stale, and the fumes of power more toxic. It was through those badlands that President George W. Bush trudged last week, and for once he was walking alone. "The problem is that the President doesn't want to make changes," says a White House adviser who is not looking for a West Wing job, "but he's lost some of his confidence in the three people he listens to the most." Those three are his Vice President, Dick Cheney, whose top aide, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, has been charged with brazenly obstructing the investigation into who leaked the name of CIA officer Valerie Plame; Bush senior adviser Karl Rove, who while not indicted has still emerged as a player in the scandal; and chief of staff Andrew Card, who gets some of the blame for bungling the response to Hurricane Katrina and even more for the botched Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers. "All relationships with the President, except for his relationship with Laura, have been damaged recently," the White House adviser says. The closest aide who is undamaged is Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice—who is off minding the rest of the world—and, of course, Bush himself. "The funny thing is everybody's failing now, in which case perhaps it's time to look at George Bush's relationship with George Bush."Bush's rigidity will work against him here. Bush doesn't like change and doesn't like to admit error. The problem is that Bush has so heavily relied on Rove and Cheney that on his own, well, it wouldn't be pretty.
Especially since, above all things, Bush values loyalty, both to his friends and to his own beliefs. He does not abandon either easily, so these next weeks pose an interesting dilemma. The thing about the wilderness is that if you stay there, you die. That's why the worst week of Bush's presidency actually brought with it a quiet sense of relief among some of his restless aides. "This has wakened them from their notion of infallibility," says a Bush adviser. Those who have been arguing for what would count in this White House as radical change—fresh faces, shiny plans, a wider exchange of ideas—felt that at last they had some leverage because Bush could no longer insist that everything was working just fine.
But whether or not he's in trouble with the law, friends say, he's certainly in trouble with Bush. Rove will continue managing the intersection of politics and policy in the White House but will have to regain the unfettered powers he once held. "The President's relationship with Karl has been damaged over the scandal," a Bush friend says. A source close to Rove says when Bush asked Rove whether he was responsible for leaking Plame's CIA identity to columnist Robert Novak, Rove told him "absolutely not." While that may have been strictly true, Fitzgerald's indictment suggests that Rove did at least discuss Wilson's wife with Novak, as he did with TIME's Matthew Cooper. As for Cheney, who retained Libby as the scandal unfolded and did not follow the advice of some to move him out five months ago, his relationship with Bush has suffered "a strain, not a rupture," says a presidential adviser. That much was clear when the White House let it be known that Card had called Cheney to inform him of the choice of Miers. In earlier times, he would have been intimately involved in such a decision.
History is certainly not on Bush's side. Since 1966, if a President's approval rating dipped below 50% at a midterm election, his party lost an average of 42 seats in the House—which next year would be enough to put the Democrats back in power. Still, optimists at the White House have reached the point that they are taking comfort from the example of Clinton, who came back strong after his party's shellacking in the 1994 elections and wound up popular despite his own, very different set of scandals. Next thing you know, Bush will be calling himself the Comeback Kid.
posted by Steve @ 9:26:00 AM