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Can Bush Recover?

Like it or not, the Republican party is tied to his fate.

12:00 AM, May 15, 2007 • By FRED BARNES
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Blocking liberal bills produces a kind of negative success. It hasn't, and won't, trigger a Bush resurgence. Democrats, after all, are more popular than Republicans at the moment and several of their initiatives--increased funding for embryonic stem-cell research, to cite one--have considerable public support. Democratic presidential candidates, by the way, drew a bigger TV audience for their debate last month than Republicans did for theirs.

In a speech in Punta Gorda, Fla., last weekend, Bush aide Karl Rove had good advice for Republicans. "Now is the time to be bold," he said. "It's easy when the wind's at your back. But the real test is now when the wind's in our face. That's when we find out if we're tough enough, inspired enough, committed enough to do our duty."

Bush should take that advice, too. He needs to make sure congressional Republicans reach a bipartisan agreement on immigration reform this year. Because he's championed the issue for years, Bush would get a large share of the credit. Just as important, it would take the issue that most divides his party off the table and give Republicans a shot at restoring their credibility with Hispanic voters.

Democrats can get by without any fresh ideas or legislative achievements. They took over Congress without offering any. For Bush, a new idea or two would provide a nice contrast with Democrats. He never fleshed out his concept of an Ownership Society that would give individuals more control over their retirement, health care and education funds. Now would be a good time to do that.

President Bush's standing won't be the only factor that decides the 2008 election. But it will be the most important one. If he doesn't recover politically, with progress in Iraq spurring him on, it's hard to see a Republican candidate winning the White House. And the likelihood of a President Hillary Clinton or a President Barack Obama will grow.

Fred Barnes is the executive editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD. This essay originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal.