The perfect candidate to save the GOP’s butt

Facing near open revolt in his congressional majority, President Bush says he is not averse to bringing in a longtime Washington operative to try to calm restive Republicans who fear losing one or both houses in the November elections.

Without any inside knowledge about who that may be, a most obvious candidate comes to mind _ Tom Korologos, the current ambassador to Belgium often referred to as the 101st senator. His contacts on both sides of the aisle are exceeded only by his grasp of the often-byzantine workings of the national legislature. In fact, many insiders believe that Bush would not be in the predicament he is in had he sent Korologos to the Hill instead of overseas.

The president’s concession that the solution to Iraq ultimately will be left up to the next chief executive has caused already nervous Republicans renewed heartburn over a war that clearly has dwindling support. Bush’s approval ratings are in the 30s, and those who believe he is handling the Iraq situation wisely have declined well below 50 percent. None of this bodes well for Republicans going into the midterm voting.

But the GOP is heartened somewhat by the fact that Americans don’t have a lot of faith in the ability of Democrats to do much better.

Korologos would bring significant experience in the inner circles of Washington _ including stints as a congressional aide; key White House assistant on congressional relations; consultant; head of a top lobbying firm; and deputy to then-civilian administrator Paul Bremer in Baghdad.

“It would be difficult to find anyone in the power structure in this city he doesn’t know, including Democrats,” a longtime acquaintance said recently.

As a journalist in his younger days, Korologos understands the press as few in government do and has maintained strong contacts in the media. More importantly, at a time when lobbying has become much-maligned, Korologos and his longtime partner, former Nixon aide William Timmons, maintain a spotless reputation.

It is a long shot whether even someone of Korologos’ reputation for inside maneuvering could quell the unrest among Republican lawmakers. The president’s political insensitivity over such issues as control of American ports and his failure to properly include Congress in such matters as warrantless wiretapping has dramatically set back his support among his own political troops. While he personally is not perceived as uncaring about their fortunes, those making policy around him are. And it was this perception he was trying to address when he indicated he would be naming someone to ease that tension.

Some speculate that Bush should tap a high-profile figure like Bob Dole, a former Senate Republican leader and presidential nominee, as a new super-liaison to Capitol Hill. But many others believe that Dole would be too visible and too partisan a person for a job that needs subtlety and finesse.

Much of the president’s fall from grace with Congress can be attributed to his “light at the end of the tunnel” optimism about Iraq despite clear indications that the nation is on the verge of a civil war. His statements at a press conference that U.S. troops would remain there through 2008 seemed to undercut his own contention that soon Iraqi forces would be able to pick up the burden of suppressing the insurgency or ending religious strife.

The fact that the next three years of the Bush’s presidency are going to be defined not by domestic issues but by Iraq would seem to indicate the need to appoint someone who has been on the ground there and can convey with authority the White House message. Korologos would seem to fit that bill better than anyone else, combining a strong understanding of foreign policy with vast experience in congressional affairs.

Korologos’ appointment to such a position would be a wise decision _ as long as he is allowed to operate without interference from the administration strongmen who brought about the problem in the first place.

(Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.)