Can Republicans save themselves by changing Bush?

The White House says it won't negotiate with Democrats on Iraq. How about with the GOP?

Published April 11, 2007 1:39PM (EDT)

The White House says the president won't negotiate with Democrats over the troop-withdrawal timetables they've passed in the House and the Senate. One problem for the president and his people: It's not just Democrats who want to see some movement on Iraq.

The Politico's Ryan Grim and John Bresnahan report that five Republican House members -- only one of whom supported the Democrats' legislation -- plan to sit down with National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley in the hopes of getting the White House to compromise on setting a date for withdrawal from Iraq and engaging in diplomacy with Syria and Iran.

The group isn't exactly a bunch of GOP flower children. It features Michigan Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who is the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee; Louisiana Rep. Charles Boustany, who has complained previously that the Democrats' timetable legislation "ties the hands of our troops in the field"; Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, the ranking Republican on the terrorism subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee; and Maryland Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, a decorated Vietnam War veteran who voted with the Democrats on the Iraq bill.

Gilchrest doesn't seem particularly bullish on his chances of changing minds at the White House. "It's worth a shot," he tells the Politico.

And why's that? It may be that these five see that the president has set a course for continued disaster in Iraq -- a new report from the International Red Cross out today says the situation for Iraqi civilians is "ever worsening" -- but it also may be that these Republicans, like a lot of others, believe that their party's prospects for the future will be grim so long as the war drags on.

As the New York Times reports this morning, there's not a lot of joy in Republicanville these days. In interviews across the country, GOP leaders told Adam Nagourney and John Broder that they were "concerned about signs of despondency among party members and fund-raisers" and worried that their presidential candidates face "a tough course without some fundamental shift in the political dynamic."

For all intents and purposes, that means a "fundamental shift" in the political fortunes of George W. Bush. As former Republican Rep. Mickey Edwards tells Nagourney and Border, Republican candidates heading into 2008 may not be able to "run hard enough or fast enough to escape the gravitational pull of the Bush administration." Their best bet may be to get Bush back into the game, to figure out some way to get him on a different course in Iraq that might pay better political dividends at home. Until then? Well, until then, the best they can hope for is that the president somehow becomes irrelevant.

For his part, GOP Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston seems to think the president is already there. "If he plays his cards right, he comes back to relevant," Kingston says. "He is marginalized now."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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Iraq War Republican Party War Room