The Republican rebellion that President Bush smacked into with the Dubai ports deal was the tip of an iceberg of Republican discontent that is much deeper and more dangerous to the White House than a talk radio tempest over Arabs running U.S. ports.
A Republican pushback on Capitol Hill and smoldering conservative dissatisfaction have already killed not just the ports deal but key elements of Bush's domestic agenda, and threaten GOP control of Congress if unhappy conservatives sit out the November midterm elections.
The apostasy in some quarters runs to heretofore unthinkable depths.
"If I had a choice and Bush were running today against (Democratic President) Bill Clinton, I'd vote for Bill Clinton," said Bruce Bartlett, a former Reagan administration Treasury Department official whose book, "Impostor: How George Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy," is making the rounds of conservative think tanks and talk shows. "He was clearly a much better president in a great many ways that matter to me."
Bartlett may lie at the extreme, but his critique taps into a strong undertow _ reflected in a sharp drop in Bush's support among his typically solid Republican base, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Friday.
"Bush's compassionate conservatism has morphed into big government conservatism, and that isn't what the base is looking for," said David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union. "The White House and the congressional leadership have got to reinvigorate the Republican base. In off-year elections ... if your base isn't energized, particularly in a relatively evenly divided electorate, you've got more problems than you think you have."
Any significant drop in GOP turnout in the November midterms _ when the party in power is historically weak _ could prove disastrous for Republicans.
A Democratic takeover of either the House or the Senate would expose Republicans to a nightmare scenario: loss of control over policymaking and relentless congressional investigations of the White House that would consume the rest of Bush's presidency and damage Republican presidential prospects in 2008.
"Republicans are in a deep funk," said Marshall Wittman, a former aide to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., now at the centrist Democratic Progressive Policy Institute. "They're going to have to send out doses of Prozac in the (Republican National Committee) direct-mail pieces."
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