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Bush's Political Base Seems Restive, Anxious


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By Alan Elsner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Some of George W. Bush's conservative political supporters are increasingly restive and anxious about the president's economic policies as well as his attempts to justify the war against Iraq (news - web sites).

Popular conservative television news anchor Bill O'Reilly, usually an outspoken Bush loyalist, said on Tuesday he was now skeptical about the Bush administration and apologized to viewers for supporting prewar claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

"I was wrong. I am not pleased about it at all and I think all Americans should be concerned about this," O'Reilly said in an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America."

Pollster John Zogby said Bush was on the defensive with some polls showing him slightly behind Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (news - web sites), his probable Democratic opponent in the Nov. 2 presidential election.

"The president is on the ropes right now. The question is, how will he adjust? Right now, the issues are not in his favor. Many Americans still think the economy is poor and his rationale for the Iraq war seems a little thin," he said.

"Bush's greatest asset was his unimpeachable integrity in the eyes of most Americans. But with no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that integrity has been chipped away and right now some large lumps are falling off it," Zogby said.

Bush's White House interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday was designed to calm some of these doubts. But while some pundits gave Bush good marks for his performance, some prominent conservatives were not impressed.


Peggy Noonan, a speechwriter for former President Ronald Reagan (news - web sites) and for Bush's father and an outspoken conservative commentator, said: "The president seemed tired, unsure and often bumbling. His answers were repetitive, and when he tried to clarify them he tended to make them worse. He seemed in some way disconnected from the event."

Conservative columnists George Will and Robert Novak and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough, now a cable TV commentator, have also recently criticized Bush's fiscal programs and his attempts to explain them.

Such doubts, if they persist, could spell trouble for Bush's re-election campaign. But conservative political consultant Keith Appell said Bush would soon be able to unify and energize his base.

"The White House has had a string of misfires but I believe they will soon regain their stride. This last month has been a wake-up call, but maybe that's what they needed," he said.

In the past month, Bush's State of the Union Address and his initiative to send manned spacecraft to Mars failed to generate much enthusiasm. Conservatives and liberals both criticized his budget for failing to seriously confront the country's growing deficit problem.

On Monday, Bush delivered an economic report to Congress promising to create 2.6 million jobs this year. Last year's economic report predicted that 1.7 million jobs would be created. Instead, there was a net loss of 53,000.

"Congress has the power to censure the president -- to formally reprimand him for betraying the nation's trust. If ever there was a time for this, it's now," the group said in a statement posted on its Web site.

Democrats hope they can plant seeds of doubt now. "If you can create a drumbeat of criticism in February, it's easier to make the case when it really counts in September and October," said Democratic consultant Jennifer Laszlo.

But Brown University political scientist Darrell West said he expected Bush to recover. "It's damaging when your friends criticize you in public, but by November they will all be supporting Bush," he said.

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