Friday, April 20, 2007
Thursday's disastrous appearance by Alberto Gonzales before the Senate Judiciary Committee brings President Bush and the Republicans in Congress closer to a moment of reckoning that the party clearly wishes to avoid. I'm not going to waste time here explaining why Gonzales needs to go. We're talking about a guy whose greatest accomplishment prior to becoming attorney general was the concoction of a legal rationalization for torture. And about a guy who claims to believe the Constitution does not guarantee the right to habeas corpus. He should never have been confirmed in the first place. As for the U.S. Attorney firings, let's just say that I'm far less interested in what the eight in question did to get fired than in what the remaining 80-plus may have done to keep their jobs.
Instead, let us look at the Gonzales controversy from a crass political perspective. Yesterday's hearing saw Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) add his name to the list of Republicans calling for the attorney general's resignation. Indeed of all the Republicans on the committee, only Orrin Hatch (R-UT) seems to support Gonzales, albeit tepidly. Yet as of this writing, President Bush has not asked for the attorney general's resignation, setting the stage for a showdown in the coming days between congressional Republicans, who are tiring of the embarrassment and distraction the Gonzales affair has caused for the entire party, and President Bush, who has been unwilling to abandon his old friend even in the face of significant evidence of corruption and incompetence.
So why is this important? The events of the next few days could serve as a dress rehearsal for an inevitable showdown over the Iraq war. By the end of this summer, the so-called "troop surge" will have demonstrably failed and the Republicans in Congress, all eyes on the 2008 elections, will have to decide what they're going to do about an increasingly unpopular war. If congressional Republicans and the party as a whole can't find a way to insulate themselves from Bush's failed policies, it could wind up being a disastrous election season. But if they're unable to find the political will to stand up to the president over something as ultimately trivial as the fate of Alberto Gonzales, then how are they going to be able to challenge Bush on the war that has become the centerpiece of his presidency?
With the exception of Nixon is his very last days in office, there hasn't been a president in living memory more isolated from his own party than George W. Bush is right now. Will the Republicans find a way to distance themselves from Bush over the next year and a half or will they passively follow the president as he leads the party over a cliff?