The following article isn't written by some liberal hack - it comes from Byron York the White House correspondant for the National Review.
BUSH VERSUS THE GOP.
From The New Republic by Byron York
Post date 03.07.06 | Issue date 03.13.06
As the weekend of February 18 began, most members of Congress were just getting home for the Presidents' Day recess. There, they were experiencing the first blast of anger from constituents upset over the Bush administration's decision to allow a company owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to manage operations at several big U.S. ports. People had heard about the deal on talk radio, and they seemed to be growing madder by the minute.
Back in Washington, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, preparing for a cross-country trip, was getting a steady stream of phone calls and e-mails about the issue. His last scheduled event in Washington was an appearance that Sunday morning on CBS's "Face the Nation." Expecting a question about the ports, Frist was prepared to make a very public break with President Bush. "He was going to say that he had reservations about the deal and it should be reviewed," says a GOP aide. But host Bob Schieffer, still working over the week-old story of Dick Cheney's hunting accident, never asked. "That's the old media for you," the aide says.
Forty-eight hours later, everyone was asking. And Republicans in Congress--Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert and just about everybody else--abandoned Bush with astonishing speed. Such a mass desertion has never happened before in Bush's presidency, not even over the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court (when it took many Republicans weeks to go public with their reservations). The instant furor over the ports deal was different, and it revealed something that has been mostly below the surface for quite some time: Republicans on Capitol Hill are furious at George W. Bush.
They're mad for a bunch of reasons, the first being their genuine concern about the deal. Will the port operators be confined to moving and storing containers, as the White House says, while Americans remain in charge of security? Is the UAE as reliable an ally in the war on terrorism as the White House claims? Was the administration's process of approving the UAE deal as thorough as it says? "People are saying that this is all about an election," says one House leadership aide. "But this is probably an issue that a year ago--just after an election--would have caused a firestorm."
But, of course, Republicans are angry for political reasons, too. For them, the port deal is symptomatic of the high-handed way the White House treats its congressional allies. For years now, many lawmakers have been willing to put up with such treatment, because they believed there was a finely tuned political machine in the White House that would ultimately prevail. Now, they no longer believe that, and they're worried.
It's not that Bush's approval numbers are bad, although they are (34 percent, according to a recent CBS survey). In their view, Bush is not a political liability because his approval ratings are low. His approval ratings are low because he's a political liability. Shortly after the ports controversy blew up, I called a strategist who often works with top GOP lawmakers and asked whether the Republican revolt would be happening if the president had a 60 percent approval rating. That's the wrong way to look at it, he said. Presidents have high approval ratings because they avoid the dumb mistakes that Bush made in the ports affair. "When you're at 60 percent, you don't do these sort of things," he said.
he first political misstep Republicans cite in the ports deal is that the president blindsided them. News of the deal took them all by surprise. Talk to any Republican, from the intern who answers the phones to members of the leadership, and they'll tell you they learned about the deal from press reports. Would it have killed the administration to tell its GOP supporters in Congress about it in advance? "It may be that the deal is a fine deal, but it should have been done in a way in which they said, 'OK, here's our decision, let's go brief people,'" says one well-connected Senate aide. "Nobody should have been surprised, but, instead, everybody was surprised." (The aide, like nearly every Republican who vented about the president for this article, spoke only on the condition that he or she not be named; the president is weak enough for Republicans to oppose him, but not so weak that he can be openly dissed without consequence.)
Blindsiding Congress once was bad enough, but then the White House did it again when Bush vowed to veto any legislation that would stop the deal. Hastert and Frist were taken aback. Why was the president threatening war when they hadn't even talked about it? "We didn't know it was coming," says yet another top aide, who guessed that Bush's statement was the ill-considered result of emergency strategy sessions in the isolation of Air Force One, on which he was returning to the White House from Colorado. "It was a huge mistake to threaten to veto legislation that will have the support of 70, maybe 80 percent of the American people."
Another point of resentment among Republicans is that, having surprised GOP lawmakers, the White House then expected them to defend the president. "The administration really expected that members of Congress who hadn't been given any explanation, who hadn't been briefed, and who didn't know what was going on, were going to go out in public and sell it," says a former leadership aide who keeps close tabs on the issue. "Members are tired of using their political capital to cover for the administration."
More than one Republican uses the A-word--arrogance--to describe the president's attitude toward his GOP allies. The White House's we-know-best approach worked better when Bush was riding high, or at least higher than he is now. Now, Republicans say, what does the president, struggling to keep his job approval ratings from dropping below 30 percent, have to be arrogant about?
All that might have been tolerable had the ports deal been a one-time-only mistake. Instead, a number of Republicans view it as just the latest in a series of screwups that began with the Social Security reform campaign and continued with the Miers nomination and the response to Hurricane Katrina. "They don't like how it's not working," says the well-connected Senate aide. "There's a perception, and it's an accurate perception, that these are mistakes that shouldn't be happening in the fifth year." Both House and Senate Republicans have laid into White House officials for their respective retreats, urging that the White House get its act together--so far, to no avail.
Put all that together, eight months before an election, and you have a lot of frightened Republicans. These days, GOP lawmakers are polling behind Democrats on issues like health care, education, and the deficit. National security is pretty much their only strength--and now Bush has hurt them on that. When a Rasmussen poll reported that 43 percent of those questioned trusted congressional Democrats to handle national security, versus 41 percent who trusted Bush, many Republicans' first reaction was to question the poll. Their second reaction was to lash out at Bush for angering the Republican base. GOP lawmakers know that he could determine whether they retain control of the House and Senate. "Each one of these candidates is tied to the White House," says the well-connected Senate aide. "The president is the leader, so, no matter how hard somebody fights, they can go down because the White House is lousy."
After Social Security, Katrina, Miers, and the UAE, the bottom line is that Republicans don't want to bet their futures on Bush anymore. "It's just been going on for so long," says the former aide. "We're in final-straw territory."
Byron York is the White House correspondent for National Review.