One of the surprising aspects of this second term of the Bush Administration and Reign Of The Republicans is how quickly the momentum has been lost. Not just by the President, but by Congressional Republicans. It has been at least partly self-inflicted – by equal parts of trying to manipulate the House ethics rules to cover for Tom Delay and by having Tom Delay as their leader to begin with. Despite how the Stepford Gun Owners of the NRA reacted to Delay at their recent convention, most people look at Delay and think “slime”. And the Republicans hold him up as Mr. Republican. Not exactly a poster boy for family values and morals they have there. And then the shameless (until very recently) rewriting of the ethics rules to try and insulate Delay from the consequences of his actions turned into a sort of communion where each House Republican dipped his own small portion of slime from the communal bowl held by the Majority Leader.
So the House of Representatives has it’s very own momentum killer. Not to be outdone, Senate Republicans devised their own, by talking about changing the filibuster rules so they could ram through all of Bush’s federal court nominees. Unfortunately, it appears that people “out there” began to listen when Democrats pointed out that they had given Bush more of his judicial nominees than the Republicans ever gave President Clinton. And the more Senate Republicans tried to bind themselves to the “Religious Right”, the more uncomfortable their constituents became. I had expected the Republicans to over-reach, seeing a mandate where there was really only a narrow election victory and a set of lukewarm approval ratings for Bush. But I didn’t expect them to do it so soon.
Meanwhile, President Bush apparently didn’t want to be left out, so he spent two months trumping a social security plan that a) didn’t do anything about the problems with social security he said were there, and b) introduced an investment that people didn’t really want. All the while, voters watched as Medicaid deficits and gas prices continued to rise, and began to notice that the Administration wasn’t really mentioning them at all. And just in case he had some momentum left, Bush sent John Bolton forward as his nominee for ambassador to the United Nations, a choice so bad that even some in his own party were quickly seeking an exit strategy. That capital he claimed to have won last fall is dwindling as fast as the value of his buddy Ken Lay’s Enron corporation. Five months into his second term, the term “Lame Duck” is beginning to be heard. If his social security plan doesn’t go anywhere, and Bolton is forced to withdraw (or worse, is voted down), Bush may have plenty of undisturbed time at his Crawford ranch.
He’ll be undisturbed because his fellow Republicans will begin queueing up with a vengeance for the 2008 nomination. Bill Frist is all but printing bumper stickers with the “t” prominently displayed as a cross, so it’s obvious what part of the Republican revival tent he’s targetting. John McCain, I suspect, will be content to let those uncomfortable with the evangelical lockstep of the right-wing coalesce loosely around him for a while. There’s a group of northeastern Republicans – Mitt Romney, George Pataki, Jud Gregg – who would all dearly like to figure out a way to get national exposure. Rudolph Guiliani has national exposure by the bucketload, but he’s on the wrong side of the 1,000 pound gorilla in the corner. Others will push themselves forward, all the while denying they’re trying to get noticed. And occasionally, someone will remember that the President is George Bush, and might even try to get their picture taken with him. Especially if it can be taken at Ground Zero in New York City.