Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Bolten is quite a Card

In my print column today, I noted that the White House personnel shuffle - chief of staff Andrew Card, a veteran Bush loyalist/insider, is being replaced by budget chief Josh Bolten, a veteran Bush loyalist/insider - does not exactly signal an influx of new blood and fresh thinking within the beleaguered administration. After all, Karl Rove has long conferred his blessing on Bolten, saying, "I love him in an entirely appropriate way."
It's arguably charming that Bolten rides a motorcycle and likes rock music - the inevitable humanizing factoids that show up in first-day profile pieces. (Maybe he should play that '71 song by The Who: "Meet the new boss/same as the old boss...") Far more important is the evidence that top Republicans - some of them are even on the record - agree that the Bolten ascent doesn't begin to address the woes inside the White House bubble.
For instance, Mississippi Senator Trent Lott tells CNN, "I think they need people with greater stature and gravitas to come in and work all over the place in the White House." (Lott doesn't mind saying these things out loud, because he has been steamed at the White House ever since 2002, when he uttered some insensitive remarks about segregation and Bush refused to stand by him, thereby triggering Lott's downfall as Majority Leader.)
Most Republicans prefer anonymity, however. Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper that is kept behind a subscription wall, had this passage today:
". . .One senior GOP Senate staffer said more shakeups are a must to ensure the political health of the administration and the party, saying, 'I think they've hit rock bottom.' This aide said Card's departure is a mixed blessing: 'The good thing is new ideas and a burst of energy is really needed. The bad is that it's more of the same. It's not someone new coming in. . . Let's just hope there will be more [changes], for all our sake.'"
I also mentioned in my newspaper column today that Bush will never get widespread credit for a serious housecleaning unless or until he moves Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld out of his job. The conservative Weekly Standard magazine has been pounding at Rumsfeld for years, blaming him for bad execution in Iraq. But perhaps the most stinging assault on Rumsfeld comes this month from conservative columnist David Brooks, who had just read the devastating and bestselling book on the early days of the war, Cobra II. Since Brooks' stuff is behind the New York Times subscription wall, you might have missed this nugget:
"Rumsfeld and (General Tommy) Franks stifled the free exchange of ideas, and shut out the National Security Council. They dismissed concerns about the insurgents and threatened to fire the one general, William Wallace, who dared to state the obvious in public...''Cobra II'' makes Rumsfeld and Franks each seem like Barry Bonds: a formerly intimidating figure who now just seems pathetic."
But there's a big reason why most rank-and-file Republicans have not been openly assailing the Bush bubble, nor the minimal changes announced yesterday. It's because they have been told by Republican operatives that criticism of their leader will ultimately reflect badly on them. I have heard that this advice was offered in a memo, and now, finally, I see that the memo has surfaced. The key passage:
"The President is seen universally as the face of the Republican Party. We are now brand W. Republicans....President Bush drives our image and will do so until we have real national front-runners for the '08 nomination. Attacking the President is counter productive for all Republicans, not just the candidates launching the attacks. If he drops, we all drop."
If he drops? Have these guys checked out the polls, from Gallup to Fox News?