Robert Novak

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- When Dick Cheney finally broke his silence by answering questions from Fox's Brit Hume last Wednesday, four days after the hunting accident, many Republicans could hardly believe it. They were stunned that the vice president indicated he had no regrets about the way the incident was handled. Every Republican I contacted had regrets in abundance.

Bush-bashers delighted in exaggerating Cheney's post-accident conduct as a metaphor for everything wrong with George W. Bush's presidency in its sixth year. Nevertheless, there are supporters of the president (and the vice president, as well) who believe the handling of the accident does reflect structural problems in the Bush White House. Those defects were present from the start of this presidency and remain, in the absence of a basic reconstruction after Bush's re-election.

Republican malaise in Washington derives less from anemic poll ratings than from overriding concern about how the Bush team functions. This anxiety is enhanced because Republican criticism of the White House is seen as evidence of disloyalty and consequently discouraged.

A vivid illustration is provided by Vin Weber, a former congressman who has been a major player in Republican politics for the past quarter of a century. While he now is a Washington lobbyist, he has remained deeply engaged in Republican politics (particularly back in his home state of Minnesota). Following the 2004 election, Weber was reported possibly to be coming to the White House as part of a staff reconstruction. In fact, Weber was willing to accept the economic sacrifice for him and his family by returning to public service.

But no call came from the White House because the president decided to stand pat in his staffing for a second term. Because Weber always has been a team player rather than an open-mouthed critic of his own administration, his comments on page one of last Wednesday's Washington Post attracted special attention. Weber specifically criticized Cheney, contending that the disclosure of the accident "should have been handled differently." In character, the White House let out the word that such mild criticism put this faithful Republican out of line.

Robert Novak

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

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