No Scooter Bounce

“Bush’s move cheers conservative base,” is how the Los Angeles Times treated the President’s decision one week ago to commute “Scooter” Libby’s 30-month prison term.

The story, one of many like it that appeared in newspapers and on television newscasts, was inevitable, since the most pundits had, in the run-up to the commutation, fixated on the dwindling minority of voters who still approve of President Bush’s job performance, speculating that this right-wing base would somehow be re-energized by clemency for Libby.

You didn’t think it would be that easy, did you?

Today, a new ARG poll shows – not surprisingly – that Americans oppose the commutation by a two-to-one margin, and that Republicans themselves are evenly split on it (favoring it by a negligible 50-47 percent spread). And by a staggering 70-23 percent margin, the GOP faithful oppose a full presidential pardon for Libby, a step Bush has refused to rule out.

It seems that the idea that the conservative masses ever cared that much about Libby, a Beltway power-player whose voice most grass-roots activists have probably never even heard, was mostly a myth from the start, one spread by his influential friends in the administration and D.C. GOP circles and lapped up a little too easily by the media. Scooter Libby’s Republican friends in Washington are giddy over his commutation, but what does it really mean to the rank-and-file Republican in Kansas?

Sure, Rush Limbaugh has been beating the pardon drum, but for four years now, it seems that all sides in this drama – the Democratic activists who saw it as a chance to take down the administration, the White House loyalists who wanted to defend their own, and the media members who saw some of their colleagues emerge as central players – have failed to notice that, like Whitewater in the 1990s, few people who don’t live and die politics have paid any attention.

In the end, I’d bet, the only thing most people (of all ideological stripes) took from this is that Bush took care of one of his buddies even though his buddy had done some bad stuff.