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So what's next for George Bush after having his party stripped of Congressional control? The final two years of a two-term presidency normally get devoted to The Legacy, as Oval Office occupants start to look longingly at the history books and wonder how their own presidencies will be recorded in them. No President wants The Legacy to be gridlock and can-kicking, and so Bush has made moves towards the Democrats in a manner similar to what Arnold Schwarzenegger did in California after a series of ill-conceived referenda:
If Bush was willing to dismiss Rumsfeld, which the president said only a week ago that he had no intention of doing, it was in part because he and his party have so much at risk. Tuesday's elections proved to be a reaction not only against the war and the corruption scandals that have scarred Congress but also against the kind of base-driven politics that Bush used in 2004 to win a second term.
That model has often elevated policies and tactics designed to energize conservative activists over an appeal to what many GOP strategists saw as a shrinking middle of the electorate. But on Tuesday, the center struck back, voting decisively for Democratic candidates in House races.
The president responded with a renewed call for bipartisan cooperation, saying leaders on both sides should resist the temptation to divide the country into red and blue. "By putting this election and partisanship behind us, we can launch a new era of cooperation and make these next two years productive ones for the American people," he said.
Olympia Snowe made the same point in her press conference yesterday. She claimed that yesterday's election proved that the idea of a conservative mandate from the 2004 elections was a bad misreading of the electorate. This opens up a huge debate in the Republican ranks, as various GOP factions argue over the blame for the collapse. Mark Tapscott makes the conservative case rather brilliantly in his blog from yesterday, in which he also makes the case that the "base mobilization" tactics were doomed to failure anyway. One thing all factions should acknowledge is that the party failed to keep its majority because it failed to operate as a big-tent organization, and further purges will only ensure a lengthier stay in the minority.
In that context, the Arnoldization that Bush appears to have begun makes some sense. He doesn't have a dog in the party fight that will arise over the next few weeks; in two years, he's retiring no matter what. People forget that Bush never has been a doctrinaire conservative, and that he chose Dick Cheney as his running mate to build confidence among conservatives in his leadership. He cut taxes like a conservative, but his social policies outside of abortion and embryonic stem cell research have been centrist, and his foreign policy Wilsonian. The removal of Rumsfeld and the selection of Bob Gates as his replacement, along with Condoleezza Rice at State, moves that foreign policy significantly back towards the foreign policy of his father and further away from Cheney and the "neocons".
Bush wants to still be able to get work done in the final two years, and he understands that he will have to compromise on a broad front with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi to do so. He isn't Ronald Reagan in that sense, but that's because he doesn't have Reagan's approval ratings, either. He's a minority president beset by a wave of disapproval, and he has few options outside of outright political warfare -- and in this case, the Democrats have all the big guns now. It's realpolitik in a different arena; Schwarzenegger showed how to survive and even thrive in that environment, and Bush appears ready to use his playbook.Sphere It View blog reactions
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