Bush decision on Libby rallies loyalists

Most of America may be shocked and dismayed by President George W. Bush’s decision to commute the prison sentence of convicted White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby but the rabid right wing of the Republican Party, the staunch minority of Presidential loyalists, are cheering the President as loudly as they can.

The unfettered glee from the ultra-conservatives is a rare show of support for Bush. The rabid right has never fully trusted Bush and his decision on Libby has put some life into the GOP’s dwindling base.

These are the loyalists who put partisanship above all else and allegiance to the party ahead of the law or America.

And they are happy.

Writes Janet Hook of The Los Angeles Times:

With his decision to keep I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby from going to prison, President Bush has provoked a firestorm of controversy but avoided what might have been even more damaging to his presidency: defections of Republican loyalists who are among the last to support the beleaguered White House.

Libby’s fate had become a cause celebre among conservative GOP activists, even as the public overwhelmingly opposed a presidential pardon.

Bush’s action shows that, with a little more than 18 months remaining in his second term and his influence at its lowest ebb, he is still willing to rely on his signature leadership style — one that risks polarizing the country to take stands that satisfy his conservative base.

After the Republican rout in the 2006 midterm elections, Bush gave signs that he might try a more pragmatic, centrist approach. But his main attempt to do so — backing a bipartisan bill to overhaul immigration law — ended in a spectacular failure when the bill died in the Senate last week. And the immigration debate had badly strained Bush’s relationship with conservatives, who were furious that he supported a bill they believed would allow amnesty for illegal immigrants.

“He’s playing to his base,” said Fred I. Greenstein, a political scientist at Princeton University. “He’s sort of retreating to his hard disk — his core beliefs.”

A CNN poll found that 72% opposed a presidential pardon, and 19% supported it. But many analysts say that Bush had little to lose and much to gain politically by siding with the minority view. Bush chose to commute Libby’s 30-month jail sentence, but did not pardon him.

“He won’t antagonize anyone who didn’t already hate him, and he will give solace and encouragement to the people who like him but are having doubts about his resolve,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster.

Among the encouraged was Eddie Mahe, a former Republican National Committee official, who said, “I shot my fist in the sky and said, “Yay!’ “