Blood in the water

President Bush finally gave panicked Republicans their ritual sacrifice. Worried about the president’s and their own slump in the polls and a White House repeatedly blindsided by events, they had been demanding a high-level shakeup of Bush advisers.

They got at least one of them. On Tuesday, Bush announced that Andrew Card, his chief of staff since the start of his presidency, was returning to private life. Although Bush telegraphed a staff change last week, he could not have been happy about losing Card, an extraordinarily loyal and hardworking aide with longstanding ties to the Bush family _ he had served in Bush senior’s White House and Cabinet.

And Card, 58, could not have been happy about the change, either. He had hoped to become the longest-serving White House chief of staff _ and thus surpass Eisenhower-era counterpart Sherman Adams _ and, it was widely believed in Washington, had also hoped to cap his service to Bush by becoming treasury secretary. His demeanor at the announcement suggested this was not a voluntary departure.

But it was not exactly what rebellious Republicans had been demanding. They argued that one debacle after another when the White House was caught off-guard _ the sluggish response to Katrina, the Dubai ports deal, the ill-fated Harriet Miers nomination, the failure of Social Security reform _ was due to a staff that was tired, worn out, suffering from battle fatigue.

They wanted a shakeup that would bring in new blood, new ideas and new energy, with perhaps a Republican elder statesman, a “graybeard,” thrown in for gravitas. What they got was Joshua Bolten.

Typically for Bush, he turned to someone in his inner circle with whom, like Card, he has a long history. Bolten, 51, too has been with Bush since the outset of his presidency, first as a staff aide and later as director of the White House budget office. He also served in the White House of Bush senior. He also has worked in Congress and on Wall Street.

Like Card, Bolten has a reputation as more of a manager who makes the trains run on time rather than a source of big, bold ideas. And as of the announcement, it looked as if Bolten would be inheriting Card’s two deputies, Joe Hagin and White House lightning rod Karl Rove. Basically, Bush replaced one apparatchik with another.

It was not what congressional Republicans had in mind, and now the question is: Will the sacrifice of Card be enough?

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at) Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,