Who Will Be the Last Bush Loyalist?

Whoever you are, don’t forget to kill the lights.

Things have gotten so bad for President Bush that the June 6 Washington Post quotes an unidentified White House adviser suggesting that if Bush were to pardon I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the consequences would be minimal because Bush’s current political difficulties are already as bad as they can get. “You can’t hang a man twice for the same crime,”says this anonymous source. A separate Post piece, by Dan Balz, published the same day, pronounced Bush the “unexpected loser” in the June 5 Republican debate, noting that “on issue after issue” the candidates “shredded the president’s performance over the past four years.” Bush’s approval rating, at 35 percent, remains in the same toilet it’s been flailing in for most of the past year.

Two years ago, when I inaugurated a series of Chatterbox columns under the rubric “Bush Abandonment Watch,” the desertions were coming so fast and furious that over the course of one month I ended up writing nine columns on the topic. More recently, I’ve been writing about outright betrayal among the Bush faithful, but even those folks have become too numerous to keep track of. As an election year approaches, the relevant question is becoming not “who’s going to jump ship?” but rather “who’s not going to jump ship?” Already the Bush faithful have winnowed down to the fiercely devoted. An informal effort to identify the members of this fight-to-the-finish Republican Guard yields the following names:

Andy Card
Alberto Gonzales
Don Evans
Harriet Miers
Karl Rove
Karen Hughes
Fred Barnes
Mary Matalin
Laura Bush
Barbara Bush

There are some notable-but-deliberate omissions. A week ago, I’d have put White House counselor Dan Bartlett on the list, but the timing of his announced departure on June 2 strikes me as ever-so-slightly disloyal, because it invited the Washington Post to insinuate (falsely, I suspect) that Bartlett’s exit was linked to Bush’s “sagging public approval ratings.” Hey Dan, couldn’t you wait until things were going a little better for the chief? What’s that you say? Oh. You’ve been waiting six months already. Point taken.

I leave the Bush twins off the list because their relationship with their father is something I know zero about, which is just the way Bush wants it. I leave the president’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, off the list because too many rumors have accumulated alleging that Poppy thinks Dubya screwed the pooch in Iraq. (Why does he even stay friends with that Scowcroft guy?) Michael Gerson, Bush’s former speechwriter, is now a columnist for the Washington Post, a position that sooner or later will occasion criticism of his former patron. The same will hold for White House spokesman Tony Snow when he returns to journalism; he knocked Bush before he was his press guy, and he’ll knock him again when he’s done. I leave Vice President Dick Cheney off the list because right about now I imagine he’s having one hell of a shouting match with President Bush demanding a pardon for Libby (Cheney’s former chief of staff) that Bush doesn’t feel ready to give. Probably my most controversial omission is Condoleezza Rice, whose lifelong good-daughter tendencies have persuaded the secretary of state never to tell her president/work husband when he’s full of it. But is ass-kissing the same thing as loyalty? Cordelia didn’t think so in King Lear, and neither do I. Condi has shed daddies before when they’ve outlived their usefulness. Just ask her onetime mentor, Brent Scowcroft. Apparently it wasn’t the first time  (subscription required).

So much for who won’t stay loyal. Among those who will, who will be the most devoted, the most fervent, the most steadfast? Who will be George W. Bush’s Rabbi Baruch Korff? Alberto Gonzales and Karl Rove many years ago hitched their wagons to Bush, and Bush in turn stood by them when it would have been far more prudent to cut them loose. Don Evans has drunk the Kool-Aid, and Harriet Miers has subjected herself to endless personal humiliation on the president’s behalf. Laura Bush plighted her troth, Barbara Bush bled in labor, and Barney slept at his feet. But the greatest love of all is the love that is most freely given. I therefore name Fred Barnes, Bush’s most enthusiastic defender in the press, the Last Bush Loyalist. If not Bush’s Rabbi Korff, he is certainly Bush’s Sidney Blumenthal. Long may he reign.