Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bush Hammered Over Iraq By Key Republicans

Get The War Sorted Out Now, You're Destroying the GOP

The Conductor In Chief : Bush tries his hand at guiding a band. And no, he had no idea what he was doing.

It's surreal to see Republican presidential wannabes taking part in hours and hours of televised debate, and yet the current Republican president, George W. Bush, is rarely, if ever mentioned.

In the first the Republican debates, Bush's name was mentioned only once, while former president Ronald Reagan was praised and hailed repeatedly.

It's like President Bush is already gone from the White House. Are Republicans too scared to even mention his name, lest they be associated with him? Or, God forbid, appear to be supporting the president in any way whatsoever?

While his poll numbers are low, only 30% to 33% of Americans still give him the thumbs up (depending on which poll you view), he is not the most unpopular president in American history, and there are signs that as the Republicans descend into ugly squabbling amongst themselves over the future of the Iraq War and the meaning of true conservative values, Bush's numbers might even go up.

But the Iraq War is going to be a near insurmountable problem for Republican candidates in the 2008 presidential elections, and the presidential wannabes know it.

The Iraq War is causing Republican senators endless headaches, on the Hill, and back at home, where some have reported intense confrontations from military families, or just locals in the streets.

Despite the fact that many Democrats voted in favour of the Iraq War (however reluctantly some of those votes may have been cast), it is 'The Republicans War'. They pushed for it, they denied its reality for as long as possible, and so they must own it.

It is a rare day indeed that you see or hear any Democrat talking favourably about the continuation of the war, and most Americans agree with them that the war is militarily lost and that the troops should come home. But the Republicans, in the vast majority, are still true believers that the Iraq War will turn out for the best, or at least less worse than the predictions that detail a Middle East locked in conflict and desperate struggle for generations to come.

The Democrats will find it far easier to talk about the war they so strongly oppose when the real action of the 2008 presidential elections begin. Republicans are now becoming so desperate, so fearful, about how the Iraq War will impact on their chances of retaining the White House through to 2012, many of them are demanding the president either find a solution to lowering the American death toll, and the daily bloodshed unleashed on the Iraqis, or begin withdrawing troops.

Last week, a most remarkable meeting between the president and 11 House Republicans took place in the White House, and the Iraq War was the chief subject under discussion. So important was the meeting viewed to be for future Republican harmony that there was special guests in the room : Defence Secretary Robert Gates, Bush advisor Karl Rove and Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.

The fallout from the meeting was mostly contained by the Bush media handlers, but word still got out that Bush was left stunned by some of the things that the Republicans told him, as though no-one had talked to him in such a way before, or at least for a long time.

Some commentators claimed it was the day Bush had his 'bubble' well and truly shattered, meaning that the key staff surrounding the president keep him bubbled away from the bad news, and the realities of vivid and deep dissent amongst his fellow Republicans, in Washington and across the United States.

But the message to Bush was loud and clear, and its volume has not been turned down since the meeting : Fix The War, Or You Will Destroy The Republican Party.

From the Washington Post :

Participants in Tuesday's White House meeting said frustration about the Iraqi government's efforts dominated the conversation, with one pleading with the president to stop the Iraqi parliament from going on vacation while "our sons and daughters spill their blood."

The House members pressed Bush and Gates hard for a "Plan B" if the current troop increase fails to quell the violence and push along political reconciliation. Davis said that administration officials convinced him there are contingency plans, but that the president declined to offer details, saying that if he announced his backup plan, the world would shift its focus to that contingency, leaving the current strategy no time to succeed.

Davis, a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, also presented Bush dismal polling figures to dramatize just how perilous the party's position is, participants said. Davis would not disclose details, saying the exchange was private. Others warned Bush that his personal credibility on the war is all but gone.

From the New York Times :
Moderate Republicans gave President Bush a blunt warning on his Iraq policy at a private White House meeting this week, telling the president that conditions needed to improve markedly by fall or more Republicans would desert him on the war.

The White House session demonstrated the grave unease many Republicans are feeling about the war, even as they continue to stand with the president against Democratic efforts to force a withdrawal of forces through a spending measure that has been a flash point for weeks.

Participants in the Tuesday meeting between Mr. Bush, senior administration officials and 11 members of a moderate bloc of House Republicans said the lawmakers were unusually candid with the president, telling him that public support for the war was crumbling in their swing districts.

One told Mr. Bush that voters back home favored a withdrawal even if it meant the war was judged a loss. Representative Tom Davis told Mr. Bush that the president’s approval rating was at 5 percent in one section of his northern Virginia district.

“It was a tough meeting in terms of people being as frank as they possibly could about their districts and their feelings about where the American people are on the war,” said Representative Ray LaHood of Illinois, who took part in the session, which lasted more than an hour in the residential section of the White House. “It was a no-holds-barred meeting.”

Several of the Republican moderates who visited the White House have already come under political attack at home for their support of Mr. Bush and survived serious Democratic challenges in November.

Representative Charles W. Dent of Pennsylvania, a co-chairman of the Tuesday Group, an alliance of about 30 moderate Republican lawmakers, helped arrange the meeting. He said lawmakers wanted to convey the frustration and impatience with the war they are hearing from voters.

“It was very healthy,” said Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, who attended but let the moderates do most of the talking.

“I walked away from it feeling I got a chance to make my points,” Mr. Davis said.

Mr. Gates, who also attended the White House meeting on Tuesday, told lawmakers that the Pentagon would evaluate the violence in Iraq and the progress of the administration’s troop buildup plan by early September to determine the next phase of the military strategy.

Here's an earlier report from the LA Times earlier report on the Republican dissent that led to the 'White House 11' meeting, and how Bush is now viewed as a liability by many Republicans as they fixate on the 2008 elections.

So much so that key Republicans are said to whispering to each other that they don't have a chance of retaining the White House, and should already be looking forward to taking it back in 2012. 'Blame Bush' may have been an unofficial motto for Democrats in the 2004 elections, but it is quickly being adopted by Republicans, as they try to dump responsibility for the Iraq War, high fuel prices, plunging property values, the falling American dollar and growing malaise across the country right at the door of the Bush White House.

And why not? The rest of the world Blames Bush, so it should not be unusual that desperate Republicans, trying to distance themselves from the president, would do exactly the same :
President Bush's unpopularity and a string of political setbacks have created a toxic climate for the Republican Party, making it harder to raise money and recruit candidates for its drive to retake control of Congress.

Some of the GOP's top choices to run for the House next year have declined, citing what Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) called a "poisonous" environment. And Republicans' fundraising edge, an important advantage over the last five years, has dwindled.

With GOP clout diminished after November's election losses, the Republicans' national committee and their House and Senate campaign committees together raised the same amount as the Democrats in the first quarter of the year — and Democrats ended the period with more cash in the bank. At this point four years ago, Republicans had more than twice the money Democrats did.

"The reality is the Republican brand right now is just not a good brand," said Tim Hibbitts, an independent Oregon pollster. "For Republicans, the only way things really get better … is if somehow, some way, Iraq turns around."

Jennifer Duffy of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report said the party was "desperately in need of some Prozac."

Though Republicans have recruited many solid candidates in their effort to retake Capitol Hill — and they have more than 18 months to improve their fortunes — the environment could get worse.

Damaged by ethics scandals in 2006, the GOP in recent weeks has seen FBI raids at businesses or homes connected to two of its congressmen. A federal agency last week began an investigation into Bush advisor Karl Rove's political operation, and congressional panels authorized a flurry of subpoenas related to White House political activities and the run-up to the Iraq war.

Broader signs of Republican distress also are turning up across the country.

When voters five years ago were asked which party they identified with, neither Democrats nor Republicans held an advantage. Now 50% of voters say they are aligned with the Democrats, and 35% with Republicans, according to a survey released last month by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

And in New Hampshire, nonpartisan pollster Dick Bennett said the atmosphere was so sour that he was having a tough time getting Republicans to participate in surveys. The war, high gas prices and unhappiness with the Bush administration have dampened their interest sharing opinions, he said.

A few years ago, "they would make arguments in favor of the president, and they don't anymore," Bennett said. "They don't defend the president on anything."

The GOP's relatively weak fundraising totals for the first quarter could also complicate the party's reelection effort, wrote Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report in a recent assessment. Though it can be dangerous to read too much into these early signals, she wrote, "a weak bank account doesn't just make a bad headline, it also makes an incumbent more attractive to a potential challenger."

Democrats outnumber Republicans in the House 232 to 201, with two vacancies

In the Senate, the party breakdown is 49-49, but two independents side with the Democrats, giving them control.

Last week brought more potential bad news for Republicans:

An obscure federal agency, the Office of Special Counsel, said it would investigate several matters concerning the GOP, including whether a U.S. attorney was fired for political reasons. The office also intends to look at Bush administration officials' use of Republican National Committee e-mail accounts for government business, and political presentations by White House staff to Cabinet agencies. The office enforces the Hatch Act, which generally bars the use of taxpayer resources for campaign purposes.