It may have been serendipitous that soon after The Associated Press released a poll indicating President Bush's approval rating had dropped to 33 percent and 45 percent of self-described conservatives now disapprove of Bush's performance, the news leaked that Bush intended to nominate Gen. Michael Hayden to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Hayden, the former director of the National Security Agency, is best known for his forceful defense of the NSA program ordered by President Bush that -- without first seeking warrants -- intercepts communications in and out of the United States by people with suspected links to al-Qaida.
Bush did not name the highly qualified Hayden to badger liberals into a renewed debate over this program, but renewing that debate is a happy political byproduct of a meritorious nomination.
There are four reasons that defending the NSA program turned out to be good politics as well as good policy: 1) The program addresses a serious issue. 2) It comports with commonsense. 3) Liberals, nonetheless, feel compelled to oppose it. 4) It demonstrates decisive presidential leadership.
The president can begin a political comeback -- and help his party retain control of Congress -- if he takes other actions that share these characteristics. Here are three suggestions:
1) Deploy troops to secure the U.S.-Mexico border.
Bush says he wants to secure the border, which is the aim of the tough immigration bill approved by the House. But at the same time he also wants a guest-worker plan like the one being considered in the Senate, which many House conservatives correctly call an amnesty.
Were Bush to win an amnesty, there would be a backlash in November against Republicans who supported it. But he could begin securing the border immediately, using the same authority he used to order the NSA intercepts: the president's constitutional power to defend the country. The House has already approved an amendment sponsored by Rep. Virgil Goode, R.-Va., authorizing the Defense Department to deploy troops on the border. The Senate has not done so. Bush should just do it. Then he can challenge complaining liberals to explain where U.S. troops ought to be deployed if not along the U.S. border.
2) Offer "supplemental spending cuts" and enforce them with a veto.