Sit down with a Republican member of Congress, party leader or political strategist and you hear a recurring theme: President George W. Bush has gotten too big for his britches and needs to be taken down a notch or two.
“The White House has been non-responsive and arrogant,” admits South Carolina GOP Senator Lindsey Graham, who adds that he and fellow Republicans “put up with it when things are going well” but says “problems rear their heads when things are not going well.”
And things are not going well for the troops at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Public opinion polls show Bush’s job approval and popularity ratings in free fall, especially among Republicans. A new poll by Pew Research says 70 percent of Americans feel the President went into the Iraq war without a clear plan. More than half feel he lied about his reasons for invading the country.
“This President has a political tin ear,” says Minnesota Republican Senator Norm Coleman, normally one of Bush’s strongest supporters. “He needs to shake up his staff and those around him.”
Other Senators have suggested new blood in the White House, including Indiana Republican Richard Lugar. Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott, former Republican leader, joined the chorus of those calling for new blood in the White House, even suggesting Bush hire a former GOP Senator who help the administration deal better with the Hill.
Pennsylvania Republican firebrand Arlen Specter is a frequent critic of what he calls “the President’s highhanded attitude.”
Republicans in both the House and Senate still fume over the aborted Dubai ports deal, the Harriet Meirs Supreme Court nomination debacle the failed Iraq war and other administration screwups which they see as hurting them back home with voters.
Others say Bush’s arrogance when a lawmaker approaches the White House for help adds to the anger.
They point to how the White House hung South Dakota Republican Senator John Thune out to dry as a prime example. Thune, recruited in the all-out GOP effort to defeat House Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, won by promising to keep Ellsworth Air Force Base open. When the Pentagon targeted Ellsworth for closing, Thune appealed to Bush for help.
Bush’s response? “Why are you whining?”
“This administration needs to help us if they want us to help them,” an angry Thune says.
Republicans complain openly about how they feel Bush misled them on the true cost of the Medicare drug prescription program. Florida Republican Rep. Tom Feeney calls it “buyer’s remorse” when he talks about finding out he was lied to by the White House.
“It was probably our greatest failure in my adult lifetime,” he adds.
The anger is not limited to Republicans who hold office. Conservative budget expert and author Bruce Bartlett calls Bush a “traitor to the legacy of Ronald Reagan” and adds that Bush has sold out both the party and the nation. Even staunch White House defender Peggy Noonan says recent scandals surrounding the White House and Congress show a “new Republican culture indifferent to government largesse.”
William F. Buckley, the conservative’s conservative, now labels the invasion of Iraq a mistake.
“The most damning critique of the Bush administration is that it has failed to foster political surrogates and intellectual allies,” says Daniel Casse, senior director of the White House Writers Group and an advisor to four Republican presidents. “There are few ‘Bush Republicans’ who champion his type of strong government. With his approval rating in the low 40s, it is safe to assume no one is running in the 2008 presidential race on a platform of continuing his legacy.”