Bet that headline got your attention, right? (Either that, or the shock of me posting twice in two weeks.) Of course it’s an attention-grabber as well as being something utterly unlikely to happen, but as an academic exercise it provides a little fun. And while I’m deliberately being provocative, I want to make some serious points as well.
First of all, in the interests of full disclosure I should mention that I've never considered myself a Bush supporter. I didn't vote for him in 2000 (don't worry, I didn't vote for Gore either), and only voted for him in 2004 with reservations. And I do consider myself a former Republican, as well as a former politico. I’m one of those conservatives who feels deserted by the Republicans over the last few years, and I’ve also come to see the folly of depending on politics to answer life’s burning questions (at least politics unsupported by faith). But having said that…
Throughout the Bush administration, but most especially in the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, we have seen the party hierarchy acting as an adjunct of the administration itself. When the RNC campaigned in behalf of Miers (or, more precisely, Bush’s nomination of Miers) it was saying, in effect, that what was good for Bush was good for the party. Not just good, but essential. Taken in conjunction with the typical party line – Republican policies are better for the country than those of the Democrats – one can assume the logical continuation of this thought, which is that Bush’s agenda is good for the country.
Looking at Bush not only as president but as leader of his party it is (to me) an inescapable fact that he is no longer capable of providing leadership on the issues most important to the party’s national agenda. In state after state we saw many incumbents losing because of their relationship to Bush, i.e. being in the same party with him. Not withstanding the loss of the abortion law in South Dakota and the ESCR amendment in Missouri , many of the referenda up for votes last night – same-sex marriage in several states, the MCRI in Michigan , the popular vote on the death penalty in Wisconsin – provide confirmation of Republican core issues. Issues that many Republican candidates failed to connect with, at least until it was too late.
This is not to mention the several cases where the national party organization viciously opposed conservative Republicans involved in primary contests with liberal Republican incumbents (Rhode Island this year, Pennsylvania two years ago). Nor can we neglect the abuse that conservative Republicans have taken from the party organization when they opposed Bush’s policies – on immigration, for example. (Rumors swirled last night and this morning that he would try to work out a deal with House Democrats for a more liberal policy on immigration.)
One wonders where the party goes from here. Are Bush’s policies still the gold standard for the Republicans, or is it every man for himself? If Bush can no longer function as leader of the Republican party, the party that is now committed to providing the loyal opposition, what happens to the Republican agenda?
If we equate the president in his role as party leader with that of national leader, and if we conclude that Bush can no longer credibly lead the party (remember, this is only an academic discussion – a man with nothing to lose may yet surprise us in his final two years), it then follows that Bush can no longer adequately function as president. He cannot manage his party’s agenda, whether through Congress or to the American people, and if that’s a significant part of his role as president then he is failing the test.
Logically then, he should resign.
There are a number of reasons why this won’t happen. We’re not a parliamentary government after all, where the leaders are periodically subject to votes of no confidence. (You have to wonder how many presidents we would have gone through in the last fifteen years or so if that option had been available). Furthermore, on a more purely practical political level, if Bush resigns we get Cheney. In addressing Bush’s shortcomings, would we really be any better off? Cheney is at least as closely identified with the Iraq fiasco as is Bush; to the extent that Iraq cripples the administration, Cheney is at best a push. And while Cheney may well lean more to the right on other issues than Bush, it’s doubtful that he’d have the popular support to get a more conservative agenda through. Besides, he’s not a candidate for president in 2008; allowing him to run as an incumbent through resignation (as Clinton should have done with Gore during Bill’s impeachment) isn’t a factor.
So what then? Bush and Cheney ran as a team; do they step down as one? Leaving the president pro-tempore as the new chief executive? And who is it, anyway? What’s that? Ted Stevens? Uh, never mind. Don’t even suggest the next in line, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. And as a reasonable Democratic friend mentioned to me, there’s no telling what kind of havoc this kind of turmoil would wreak on the economy.
Given the circumstances, this is a scenario that just ain’t gonna happen, except in political potboilers. And yet, my suggestion is only slightly on the facetious side. The president has been a disaster – his foreign policy, while well-intentioned, has lacked vision and failed to correctly anticipate what would come next. One can hardly doubt that Bush recognizes the importance of the war on terror – he knows this perhaps as well as anyone and certainly better than most in the Democratic party. But he no longer has the credibility to carry this fight to our enemies. Domestically, Bush has betrayed the fundamental principles of the conservative, i.e. Reagan, revolution. Certainly in this he has had company, for much of the Republican Congressional leadership has joined him in jumping over the edge. But were they simply playing follow the leader? Was the makeup of Republican leadership inevitable given the disposition of the man at the top of the ticket?
The bottom line is this: the president should either lead, follow, or get out of the way. Bush has demonstrated that he cannot lead, and as president he certainly should not follow the lead of the Democrats. That leaves only one option.