President Bush, coming off one of the roughest weeks of his presidency, appears to have rebounded by holding on to his top political strategist and ending a conservative rebellion over the Supreme Court.
“This has been a good week,” a senior White House official said. “Everybody was shrieking about how terrible the president was doing and yet already, through the clouds, you begin to see the remedy take shape.”
Just last week, Mr. Bush endured the indictment of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, and the withdrawal of Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers.
But Mr. Libby, who has resigned, was an obscure figure outside of official Washington. By contrast, the widely known Karl Rove is the president’s top strategist and was not indicted in the probe that ensnared Mr. Libby, contrary to Democratic expectations.
Moreover, the withdrawal of Miss Miers put an end to complaints from Mr. Bush’s supporters about her thin conservative credentials. By replacing Miss Miers with the more demonstrably conservative Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. on Monday, the president rallied his base for a long-desired showdown with Democrats.
“The upcoming days and weeks are going to unfold even better than you would have thought a mere week ago,” conservative Rush Limbaugh said on his radio broadcast yesterday.
“Now we’ve got Alito, everybody ramping up for this fight that we know we’re going to have in the Senate — and we’re going to win,” said Mr. Limbaugh, who had been unenthusiastic about Miss Miers. “Here’s Bush taking control, taking charge of the agenda, ramrodding the agenda through, and the Democrats do not know what hit them.”
White House aides noted with satisfaction that Mr. Limbaugh’s analysis was echoed by some members of the mainstream press.
“Twenty-four hours into the Alito nomination, the right is unified,” ABC News political editor Mark Halperin wrote on the network’s Web site (abcnews.go.com). “The left hasn’t come up with an overarching strategy to drive down Alito’s poll numbers.”
Mr. Halperin asserted that, barring defections by key Republican senators, “it is only a matter of time before Alito joins the High Court.”
Administration officials hoped conservative enthusiasm for Judge Alito will reverse the president’s slide in public approval surveys. Mr. Bush has been hovering at a low point of about 40 percent in recent weeks.
But Democrats continued to insist that Mr. Rove eventually could be brought down by a probe into whether a CIA operative’s name was improperly leaked to the press. They maintained the president still has plenty of problems.
“A cloud now hangs over this administration,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said on the Senate floor yesterday. “This cloud is further darkened by the administration’s mistakes in the prisoner-abuse scandal, Hurricane Katrina and the cronyism and corruption in numerous agencies.”
Other Democrats demanded a major staff shake-up at the White House and called on Mr. Bush to reflect upon the error of his ways.
“That’s not going to happen,” said a Republican strategist who ruled out a display of “hand wringing” by the president. Instead, Mr. Bush will redouble his prosecution of the war on terror and aggressively take charge of domestic policy, the strategist said.