GOP Frets Over Impact of Ex-Spokesman's White House Disclosures

Will McClellan's harsh critique hurt the party?

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Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan's harsh critique of the administration will intensify the news media's story line that President Bush has gone badly off course over the past seven-and-a-half years and further undermine the Republican party's credibility, according to GOP insiders and strategists who are planning this fall's general-election campaign.

One GOP official who knows McClellan said he was "shocked" at the harshness of the former press aide's criticisms, given how loyal McClellan has been in the past. But the official said McClellan makes a convincing case that "he was lied to" and then fired unfairly from his White House job, making his bitterness understandable.

McClellan argues in his new book that he was given inaccurate information and urged to spread it to the media over who leaked the name of a CIA operative and the reasons for the Iraq war. He has been making the rounds on TV and getting extensive coverage of his explosive charges—which parallel what Democrats have been saying about Bush for a long time.

The result could be serious damage to Republican candidate John McCain's bid to be Bush's successor if he is tied too closely to the unpopular president, which the Democratic National Committee and Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are trying to do. "It's a man-bites-dog story," says a senior adviser to Clinton. "So I think it will resonate outside Washington. You rarely get an insider providing this kind of view [of Bush]. This will confirm a lot of what people already thought."

Democrats have been arguing that a McCain election would result in a third Bush term, a characterization that the McCain team disputes. McCain strategists say the Arizona senator is an independent thinker who has already diverged from Bush on climate change, the need for more diplomacy abroad, and other issues, They plan to make that case more aggressively in the coming weeks.

—Kenneth T. Walsh