Byron York reports that the Republican base is suffering from Bush fatigue to the point of wanting a divorce and of looking forward to the arrival of a new president in January 2009. I would have thought that a conservative Republican’s eagerness for that event would depend on the identity of that new president. It would be self-indulgent to look forward to a Hillary Clinton presidency just because one feels fatigued.
Byron states that despite his diminishing popularity among Republicans, Bush acted “like a man with poltical capital to burn” when he pushed for immigration reform and commuted Scooter Libby’s sentence instead of pardoning him. I would say he acted like a man who sees himself as President of the United States, not president of the Republican base, and who (reasonably enough) isn’t concerned with polls in his second term.
With Libby, Bush apparently concluded (and I tend to agree) that perjury, even during an investigation that should already have been over, is too serious an offense to warrant doing away with all consequences. With immigration, the fact that Bush’s views were compatible with those of most Democrats gave him the opportunity to reform a system most people agree is broken, along lines he strongly believes in. Even if one thinks, as I do, that Bush’s position on the merits was fundamentally misguided, it’s easy to understand from his perspective why he would forge ahead notwithstanding opposition from the base.
There is, of course, one reason why Bush should have some concern about husbanding political capital with his base, and Byron identifies it — the need to retain Republican support for his policies in Iraq. But quarrels over the difference between commuting Libby’s sentence and pardoning him won’t affect this matter. And the moderate Republican Senators Bush is hoping (against hope) to keep on the reserevation when it comes to Iraq were, as a rule, not particularly upset with Bush’s stance on comprehensive immigration reform. If in the end they voted against cloture, it was more a question of reading tea leaves than a matter of conviction.
Unlike Bush, they are not conviction politicians.
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