The editors of the National Review have spoken, and it isn’t good for Alberto Gonzales.

We do not need more evidence, however, to reach a conclusion about the suitability of Alberto Gonzales for the leadership of the Department of Justice. While we defended him from some of the outlandish charges made during his confirmation hearings, we have never seen evidence that he has a fine legal mind, good judgment, or managerial ability. Nor has his conduct at any stage of this controversy gained our confidence.

His claim not to have been involved in the firings suggests that he was either deceptive or inexcusably detached from the operations of his own department. His deputy, Paul McNulty, insulted the fired prosecutors by claiming that they had been asked to resign for “performance-related issues.” But many of them received good reviews, and none of them said he was told about any disappointment with his performance. If Justice wanted to clear them out to make way for new blood, or to find attorneys who shared their prosecutorial priorities, that would have been perfectly legitimate. By saying what he did, McNulty guaranteed that the fired attorneys would lash out in the press. Gonzales’s latest tactic has been to concede that improper motives may have played a role in the firings, but to blame his underlings for any misconduct and to pledge to get to the bottom of it.

What little credibility Gonzales had is gone. All that now keeps him in office, save the friendship of the president, is the conviction of many Republicans that removing him would embolden the Democrats. It is an overblown fear. The Democrats will pursue scandals, real or invented, whether or not Gonzales stays. But they have an especially inviting target in Gonzales. He cannot defend the administration and its policies even when they deserve defense. Alberto Gonzales should resign. The Justice Department needs a fresh start.

This is all part of a more general house cleaning as the Republicans prepare for a general election. In 2008 we will see something that we haven’t witnessed since 1952…an election where no one from the sitting administration is a candidate. Part of the reason that Iran-Contra was not a bigger scandal was that George H.W. Bush was at the heart of the conspiracy and he was the Republican front-runner for the nomination in 1988. The Republicans closed ranks to protect the Reagan administration as a way of salvaging Bush.

But, this time, there is no one in the administration to protect. If the public sees the 2008 election as a referendum on the Bush presidency, the Republicans are doomed. They will continue to run away from the Bush administration. But they will also run away from protecting the worst performers of the Bush administration. Gonzales is a case in point.

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