Robert Novak

 The selection of Davidson incurred the wrath of conservative Christian leaders in her home state of Ohio, but it was perhaps the least troubling of the inaugural week indicators. An old party war-horse and the first woman speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, Davidson did yeoman service in carrying her pivotal state for Bush last year while Republican Gov. Bob Taft was no help at all. She has promised conservatives not to address any pro-choice Republican groups while serving as party co-chairman and pledged support for every part of the president's program.

 The new State Department team is more worrisome. Nick Burns, a foreign service officer named to the department's third-ranking post as under secretary for political affairs, is close to the John Kerry foreign policy team and probably would have had the same position if Bush had lost. There is no Bolton-type conservative stalwart in the second-term lineup.

 The biggest inaugural week concern for the conservative movement was Bush's Jan. 16 interview with the Washington Post, when he was asked whether he would expend his political capital to push the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment. Bush replied: "The point is that senators have made it clear that so long as DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act, barring gay marriages] is deemed constitutional, nothing will happen. I'd take their admonition seriously."

 On NBC's "Meet the Press" that day, presidential counselor Dan Bartlett said Bush "will spend political capital" to pass the constitutional amendment. In his acceptance speech Wednesday as the new chairman of the Republican National Committee, Ken Mehlman hailed the "promotion of marriage." None of that satisfied social conservatives, who note that Bush has not sounded defeatist on Social Security reform just because the odds are against him.

 It cannot be disputed that George W. Bush's tone has changed since the election. The 22nd Amendment, prohibiting a third presidential term, is a two-way street. I reported last month that even loyal Republican lawmakers feel less constrained to follow a term-limited president. But that same president is under far less pressure to obey the demands of his political base.

Robert Novak

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

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