You expect to hear Democratic criticism of the Karl Rove-George W. Bush production in Louisiana, and it came quickly last night: A few minutes after the president's speech ended, John Kerry said that Americans need "leadership that keeps them safe, not speeches in the aftermath to explain away the inexcusable."
What you don't expect to hear -- or at least you didn't until Bush's poll numbers began to make him look like a political liability -- is Republicans speaking out critically about the president's response to Katrina and his plan for rebuilding the Gulf Coast. But open your newspaper this morning, and that's exactly what you're going to see.
In the New York Times, Mickey Edwards, a former GOP congressman from Oklahoma, said Bush's speech missed the mark: "He was giving a speech as if the nation were disheartened and worried and had lost its spirit, but that's not what people were thinking. They were thinking, 'Why did the government screw up?'"
Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn -- last seen working a crossword puzzle during the confirmation hearings for John G. Roberts -- bristled at Bush's plan for a $200 billion reconstruction effort. "I don't believe that everything that should happen in Louisiana should be paid for by the rest of the country," Coburn told the Times. "I believe there are certain responsibilities that are due the people of Louisiana." South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint chimed in that "throwing more and more money without accountability . . . is not going to solve the problem."
As Jonathan Chait notes in the Los Angeles Times, Tom DeLay is complaining that there's no way to pay for a massive rebuilding effort along the Gulf Coast because there's not enough pork to be cut to cover the cost. "After 11 years of Republican majority," DeLay says, "we've pared [the budget] down pretty good." That doesn't sit well with Republicans who are still dreaming of a federal government so small that it could be drowned in a bathtub, and the intra-party fighting has begun.
Why are Republicans, who have spent the better part of five years marching in lockstep with their president, suddenly going sideways on him? Part of it is the president's unpopularity, and part of it is that Bush is -- relatively speaking -- a short-timer. He needs to put on a big show of helping the Gulf Coast to recover from his stumbling performance in the early days of the disaster, but he'll be enjoying his retirement on Trent Lott's new porch by the time the bill comes due. Members of Congress will have to deal with the financial ramifications down the line -- especially if they ignore them now -- and they aren't necessarily happy about picking up the tab then to get Bush out of a jam now. As one senior House Republican official tells the Times, "We are not sure he knows what he is getting into."