Monday, October 16, 2006

Bush family dynamics and other tidbits

Let’s welcome the new week with some short hits:

Is it any wonder that so many Americans seem to be suffering from “Bush fatigue,” given all the intramural sniping within the Bush family dynasty? The keepers of the father’s legacy think that the son is messing up, especially with his war in Iraq, thereby tarring the dad with his misdeeds.

So the courtiers of Bush 41 are dumping on Bush 43, leaking their disdain to the media in the time-honored Washington tradition. They've been ticked off for years, ever since Bush 41 national security adviser Brent Scowcroft wrote a 2002 column warning that a war in Iraq would devolve into a disaster, and the 43 courtiers blew him off.

The sentiments of the 41 camp permeate Bob Woodward’s new book; in fact, Scowcroft is virtually speaking through Woodward in this pungent passage: "In his younger years, Scowcroft thought, George W. couldn't decide whether he was going to rebel against his father or try to beat him at his own game. Now, he had tried at the game, and it was a disaster."

In other words, the 41ers basically think that the kid is way over his head. And this weekend they unloaded on him with a vengeance in the New York Daily News.

I generally hesitate to recommend reports based in part on anonymous reports, but Tom DeFrank is a seasoned political writer with extensive sources, and the comments generally underscore what we already know about 41 camp sentiment. So this tidbit, from a “Bush 41” loyalist, is worth noting:

"Everyone knew how Rumsfeld acts. Everyone knew 43 didn't have an attention span. Everyone knew Condi (Rice) wouldn't be able to stand up to Cheney and Rumsfeld. We told them all of this, and we were told we don't know what we're doing.”

And another 41er seethes: "Forty-three has now repudiated everything 41 stands for, and still he won't say a word," a key member of the elder Bush alumni said. "Personally, I think he's dying inside."

They feel somewhat emboldened by the fact that 41 alumnus Jim Baker (as I mentioned last Friday) is co-helming an Iraq commission that is mandated by Congress to help the son find some light at the end of the tunnel. But all this intra-family tension will probably underscore most Americans’ traditional suspicion of family political dynasties. And as a measure of the public’s Bush fatigue, look no further than the recent Fox News poll which posited a hypothetical 2008 match-up between Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. The president’s brother came up short, by 15 percentage points.

That’s how you know things are bad for the Bush family, when Hillary winds up looking good.


Speaking of disparaging remarks, David Kuo, a Christian conservative activist who once worked in the Bush White House, was on CBS’ Sixty Minutes last night, seeking to amplify the theme of his new book Tempting Faith (mentioned here the other day), which argues that Bush and the Republicans have long been playing Christian conservative voters for suckers by selling out their agenda and privately disparaging their leaders as (among other things) “the nuts.”

That’s not exactly the kind of message that the GOP would like to see on national TV at this time, especially since Republicans are facing a very tough election night unless Christian conservatives are sufficiently enthused to vote Republican in massive numbers.

In fact, Kuo, who resigned in 2003 as the deputy director of Bush’s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, told CBS last night that Christian conservative voters would be wise to stay home: “The name of God is just being destroyed in the name of politics…Evangelical Christians need to take a step back and take a fast from politics…(The Bush administration) is taking the sacred and making it profane. You’re taking Jesus and making him into a precinct captain.”

The Bush team offered its initial defense last Friday, pointing out that Kuo’s resignation letter had praised Bush for his “unwavering support,” and insisting that Karl Rove (who was cited by Kuo as one of the disparagers) had never called the religious right leaders bad names behind their backs.

Bush spokesman Tony Snow said: “I know Karl Rove, we've asked Karl, ‘did you say the things attributed to you?’ He said, no.” (Perhaps. But Rove is also the guy who told Snow’s predecessor, Scott McClellan, that he, Rove, had played no role in the Valerie Plame leak case. That claim turned out to be, shall we say, at variance with the facts.)

Meanwhile, Jim Towey, who was Kuo’s boss in the faith-based initiatives office, last night told CBN, the Christian news network run by Pat Robertson, that Kuo was wrong to criticize the president: “Good Lord, he was (our) main advocate, it’s in his heart…Evangelicals have a friend in George W. Bush.”

CBN plans to air more about Kuo this week, which is exactly why it’s troublesome for the Republicans. Whatever time and energy the White House and the GOP have to spend knocking down the Kuo story is time and energy not spent on conveying a positive, consistent message about why Christian conservatives should vote heavily in 2006.


Speaking of the ’06 election, it’s fair to say that when Fred Barnes, of all people, is waxing pessimistic about the GOP, you know that the Republicans must be in major trouble.

Barnes, the conservative commentator who has enjoyed great access to Rove and Bush, generally puts the most upbeat GOP spin on the political zeitgeist. But a sunny forecast is difficult when black clouds are looming on the horizon, even in the red states. For instance, a Republican incumbent congressman in Indiana - repeat, Indiana - is now reportedly trailing his Democratic challenger by 23 points; and national Republican operatives are playing defense, by reportedly spending a disproportionate chunk of their campaign money on GOP incumbents who need appear to need extra help keeping their jobs.

Which is why Barnes' latest piece in the conservative Weekly Standard is a useful barometer of GOP angst:

“Republicans and conservatives, brace yourselves! Strategists and consultants of both parties now believe the House is lost and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi will become speaker… (T)he Democratic crossover vote on which Republican candidates often rely has dried up. Democrats have gone home in droves…Rove is clever, but not that clever. Which is why Republicans and conservatives need to prepare themselves for bad news on Election Night.”

He thinks this situation is very unfair, of course, since he considers the Democrats to be “obstructionist, anti-tax-cut, soft on terrorism, and generally obnoxious.” Not to mention “wimpy.” Nevertheless, he doesn’t foresee any scenario that would help the GOP keep the House…although he does say this: “There's little time left for a major event to occur. The North Korean bomb test wasn't big enough to change the course of the campaign.”

He's hoping for a "major event?" What’s he rooting for, anyway - a bigger nuke? a horrific terrorist attack? Whether he intended to imply that or not, at the very least he was signaling the current state of conservative desperation.