George Bush's Last Campaign

Backed into a corner, George W. Bush gets louder and more deeply West Texas: a high-school football coach, down by 20 points at halftime, banging on the metal lockers for inspiration. He thinks that even a trace of presidential doubt will embolden Democrats at home and evildoers in Iraq. So here he was, at a not-oversubscribed Washington fund-raiser, launching the last drive of his last campaign with grim determination and warnings of apocalypse if Democrats take Congress. "They are the party of cut and run," he said. "Victory in Iraq is vital for the security of a generation of Americans who are coming up. And so we will stay in Iraq! We will fight in Iraq! And we will win in Iraq!"

The Bush administration now administers two Green Zones, one in Baghdad and one in the White House. The question raised by both is the same: can the people inside deal with the people outside? In and around the Oval Office, I am told, there is little mention of--let alone game-planning for--the very real possibility that Democratic insurgents will win the House, and perhaps the Senate, on Nov. 7. Press secretary Tony Snow scoffed at the whole notion. "Why react to silly journalistic predispositions about the nation's destiny?" he asked me. I couldn't think of a reason except for the all-purpose one Bush's father used to cite: It might be prudent.

Bush is not incapable of dealing with legislators, even those of the other party. As governor of Texas, he got on well with the Democrats who controlled the capital, forging a few close friendships. Even after becoming president, he would sometimes materialize on former legislator Paul Sadler's cell phone. "Hey, Pablo, what's going on?" he would ask. After 9/11, Bush briefly transformed himself into a rough approximation of another Texan, Lyndon Johnson--full of solicitude for congressional leaders of both parties. "I talked to him every day, sometimes more than once," former senator Tom Daschle told me. "We had genuine, deep conversations." They ended abruptly, Daschle and others say, once it became clear that the invasion of Afghanistan had been a military success.

Bush's newfound confidence in and focus on his role as commander in chief matched Karl Rove's my-way-or-the-highway theory of public life. He hasn't bothered to meet with Sen. John Warner, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, who recently came back from a fact-finding trip to Iraq. Watch for Warner to reward the president by declaring that American soldiers are now dying there in vain.

Those who know Bush expect nothing but confrontation with a new Democratic Congress--if there is one. "Clash" is the word Bush, Rove and Cheney like best. As affable as Bush can be, he has never fretted over his now-outsized reputation for secretive imperiousness in Washington. The fact is, he loathes the place. His deepest political fear is of "going native." Like a documentary film running backward, many of Bush's top aides--from Rove to Condi Rice to Josh Bolten to Dan Bartlett--were with him when he set up his campaign in Austin in 1999. In Texas, they call it "dancin' with the one that brung ya." In Iraq, they call it "staying the course." Now it is up to the voters to decide what to call it on election night.