Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- As happy conservatives gathered in Washington last week to celebrate the presidential re-election of one of their own, haunting questions were raised for some of them. Now that George W. Bush never will have to face the electorate again, is he sidestepping toward the middle? Is he looking more like his father and less like Ronald Reagan?

 The inaugural address, which evoked lavish praise from many Republicans attending the ceremonies, sounded less conservative than neo-conservative in advocating a global crusade for democracy. But it was not the speech that generated unease among some of President Bush's staunchest supporters. A re-elected president's speech at his inauguration is not supposed to be an ideological manifesto. 

 Instead, concern about Bush's second-term course is derived from a variety of signals, small and large, coming from the White House. None of them separately signifies a president abandoning the principles upon which he was elected. But taken together, they generate doubt and more than a little unease on the right.

 -- In pre-inaugural comments, Bush sounded defeatist about prospects for a constitutional amendment to bar same-sex marriage. After campaigning on the issue last year, he appeared resigned to failure in the Senate this year.

 -- The second-term nominations abound with officials who are comfortable personally with George W. Bush, but do not necessarily follow an ideological course. The first round of nominations contained names provoking outrage on the left: John Ashcroft, Ted Olson, Gale Norton, Linda Chavez (whose nomination was withdrawn) and John Bolton. The second round is less combative.

 -- The State Department appears likely to be dominated by careerists under Condoleezza Rice more than it was under Colin Powell. There seems to be no place for Bolton, the conservative bulwark at State as under secretary for arms control since 2001.

 -- The new co-chairman of the Republican National Committee, Jo Ann Davidson, has been a member of the abortion rights group Republicans for Choice since its founding 15 years ago. While handpicked at the White House for the party post, she has opposed the president's position on abortion.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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