Thursday, January 25, 2007

Bush Administration's Key Backers Defect Over Iraq

Today's Wall Street Journal reports that substantial elements of the Republican Party's base have grown increasingly unhappy with the Bush administration, and particularly the Iraq War. Conservatives worry that the administration has lost its focus, and top conservative policy issues will lose their privileged position at the forefront of the Washington policy agenda:

Fallout from the war in Iraq, which already has weakened President Bush among the general public and in Congress, now is causing problems with the group that has been his mainstay: social and economic conservatives.

These longtime loyalists, appreciative of Mr. Bush's record on issues ranging from tax cuts to his veto of federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, also have supported his war policies. But Mr. Bush's annual State of the Union message Tuesday night aggravated their underlying fear: that the president might become so consumed by the worsening conflict in Iraq -- and chastened by Democrats' takeover of Congress -- that he will give up on the issues they care about.

"I think the president left a lot of conservatives shaking their heads" by avoiding the issues atop their agenda, said Bill Lauderback, executive vice president at the American Conservative Union.

Yesterday morning, the weekly meeting of conservatives that is convened by antitax activist Grover Norquist, a White House ally, was marked by "tense exchanges" with administration press secretary Tony Snow over border enforcement and Mr. Bush's immigration proposals, according to conservative activists.

Conservatives are becoming more openly critical, adding to the president's woes and emboldening Democrats for battles ahead. Increasingly, they are looking beyond Mr. Bush for a new standard-bearer, though no one in Republicans' emerging 2008 presidential field has yet captured conservatives.
Actually, there's been some grumbling across the conservative base for some time. Bruce Bartlett, a top conservative from way back in the Reagan years, wrote a book last year entitled Imposter, arguing that George Bush wasn't a true conservative, and that the direction of the Bush administration's policy thrust had betrayed much of the conservative agenda. This Washington Monthly blog entry from Kevin Drum notes that while Bush talks the talk on conservativism, his positions are not genuinely part the broader conservative ideological tradition. Indeed, I've come to see Bush as more of a neoconservative -- especially in foreign policy -- than a true American conservative in the tradition of William Buckley.

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