Gonzales resigned his post Monday.
(CNN) - For the second time in two weeks, a goodbye that hit home.
Alberto Gonzales is stepping down. Like Karl Rove, Gonzales has been at this president’s side dating back to his days as Texas governor. And like Rove, Gonzales had become a political piñata for an administration whose days are numbered.
Seventeen months left, and lame duck is a term that makes the president bristle. But Mr. Bush is a president defined by an unpopular war, and lacks the political muscle to see through his big-ticket domestic priorities.
At the State of the Union address in January, Bush pushed for domestic policy reform, saying, “With enough good sense and goodwill, you and I can fix Medicare and Medicaid - and save Social Security.”
Those State of the Union ideas went nowhere, and Mr. Bush also failed to make his 2001 tax cuts permanent or pass major immigration reforms. Now, the departures of old friends magnify this president’s increasingly lonely place.
His approval ratings are in the dumps, the effort to define a post-Bush Republican agenda is well underway, and the opposition Democrats run the Congress.
“The one saving grace is that the only group that is rated lower than the president right now is Congress,” says Neil Newhouse, a Republican pollster. “That doesn’t bode well for Democrats in Congress. Truthfully, their numbers are even lower than the president’s.”
Even most Republicans are dubious, but those close to Mr. Bush see a small window of opportunity, and to that end a housecleaning makes sense.
Say goodbye to political liabilities, even if it stings a bit, and move quickly to change the subject. For the president, that means fresh pressure on the Democrats to give his Iraq strategy more time.
“I congratulate Iraq's leaders on the agreement reached yesterday in Baghdad,” Bush told reporters on Monday during a stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Voicing confidence that Iraq’s brawling political factions might finally find a path to reconciliation is a huge gamble, yet trademark Bush.
"His hair is grayer, his wrinkles are deeper, but he still smiles, he stills sustains the impression of being at peace with himself and confident with the decisions he has made,” says Bruce Buchanan, a professor of government from the University of Texas.
Trademark too, were the departures of Rove and Gonzales after months of defiant White House promises that they would not bow to pressure from Democrats.
"On at least a number of occasions, he has stuck by people longer than it was in his interest to do so,” said Buchanan. “[I’m] thinking of Secretary Rumsfeld and, to a degree, Attorney General Gonzales. And yet that has been his modus operandi and he is going to stick with it."
His way, even as the job gets increasingly lonely.
- Chief National Correspondent John King