President Bush is handling the kickoff of the 2008 campaign year just right, according to senior Republicans and advisers to key GOP candidates. They like the fact that Bush is responding aggressively to voter concerns about a possible recession by developing high-profile proposals to strengthen the economy and avoid a big downturn. If Bush's legislative package includes tax cuts, as expected, it will be warmly applauded by Bush's conservative base. And that could prompt Republicans to work harder for the eventual GOP nominee in an effort to continue Bush's policies into the next administration. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson also boosted GOP morale last week when he said the administration is considering a significant expansion of a program to help more mortgage holders who are in danger of losing their properties amid the subprime lending crisis. Among other things, the administration is working with the mortgage industry to expand the number of adjustable-rate mortgages that can be frozen for five years, relieving pressure on overextended borrowers. Such moves show that Bush is still taking an active role in trying to solve problems.
On foreign affairs, Bush is getting plaudits for his current Mideast trip, which began last week. One reason is purely political. GOP strategists were happy that Bush was out of the United States when the public was most focused on the Iowa results and the New Hampshire primary. This kept him from being a political distraction at home as voters began the process of choosing his successor. Just as important, his peacemaking mission, even if it doesn't score a breakthrough, could be a PR plus. GOP strategists say Bush might be able to convince some voters that he and his party aren't as bellicose and inflexible as they had thought.