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November 9, 2004
Ashcroft Resigns, Presents Bush With Golden Opportunity

Attorney General John Ashcroft and Commerce Secretary Don Evans resigned today, the first cabinet-level departures after George Bush's re-election. Ashcroft plans on staying until a successor is named, while the plans of longtime Bush confidante Evans were less clear. CNN has the details:

In the first signs of a second-term shakeup for the Bush administration, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Commerce Secretary Don Evans have resigned, the White House announced Tuesday evening.

Ashcroft's resignation will become effective upon confirmation of a successor, Justice Department officials said. There were no immediate details on when Evans' resignation would take effect.

Ashcroft, a former senator and two-term governor of Missouri, has garnered criticism during his nearly four years as attorney general on issues like the Patriot Act, which backers say helps the government in its fight against terrorism and critics say infringes on civil liberties.

I probably have a different view of Ashcroft's departure than many of my friends on the right. While I think that Ashcroft has been a good AG, no one can doubt that Ashcroft served as a political lightning rod. Most of that came from Democrats itching for a partisan war, but Ashcroft's demeanor and occasionally petty decisions did not help endear him to the American public. His dour public personality fostered a sense of secrecy and disengagement, while the decision to cover up a bare-breasted statue in the DoJ press briefing area gave his enemies an easy opportunity to paint Ashcroft as Puritan and theocratic. Ashcroft served his country well operationally, but he would have been an albatross in 2005 for the Bush Administration.

And in 2005, Bush cannot afford distractions from its fight against terror. The Patriot Act expires in 2005 and requires renewal from Congress. More importantly, law enforcement needs more tools to keep track of potential domestic threats, and the White House planned to introduce some form of the Patriot Act II to address some of those needs. With Ashcroft at the helm, Congress and the media would have torn the country apart, casting Ashcroft in the familiar role of a creepy Big Brother trying to peek under every windowshade and listen in on every breathy act of passion in American bedrooms.

With Ashcroft gone, Bush has an opportunity to make a strong bipartisan gesture, bolster the chances for both the Patriot Act renewal and Patriot II enactment, and bring a big gun on board for his second term. Bush should press Rudy Giuliani into service as the next Attorney General. Not only has Giuliani built nationwide appeal as America's Mayor after 9/11, his role on the front lines that terrible day gives him enormous gravitas on terror-related issues. His years as a high-profile federal prosecutor -- the bane of Mafioso in New York -- builds his resum as a bona-fide operational AG rather than a mere political appointment.

Conservatives may decry Giuliani's centrist politics, arguing that after the base turned out for Bush in 2004 he owes them this appointment, especially since a hardliner like Ashcroft is leaving. In particular, pro-lifers will probably object to his more pro-choice bent. They should get over it. The AG will have little effect on abortion until the Supreme Court has changed radically to reverse Roe v Wade, and that is years away and has nothing to do with the Department of Justice. Giuliani's centrism will guarantee a speedy confirmation process and allow Bush to show that he has made the first "healing" gesture, while his overwhelming public support for the Patriot Act will cause hardly a burp in his nomination.

Bush needs to keep his partisan powder dry for the upcoming Supreme Court nominations and the critical renewal of the Patriot Act. While Bush could count on Giuliani's support whether Rudy remains outside the administration or not, having Giuliani on the team gives Bush a much better opportunity to leverage Giuliani's appeal to broaden his own and to get more bipartisan support for the Patriot Act. Hopefully Giuliani can be convinced to join up -- if the Administration recognizes the golden opportunity Ashcroft's resignation has provided them.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 9, 2004 9:14 PM

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