The term "base" is not in William Safire's political dictionary, but he tells me it will be included in the next edition. "Base" refers to that solid core of political supporters who will stick with you through electoral thick and thin as long as you are perceived as advancing their principles. Most often, the term is applied to religious conservatives.
Something seems to have gone off the rails between President Bush and his base, judging by a recent Gallup poll that shows his support among conservatives down from a long-standing 80 percent to a current 50 percent.
Religious conservatives have found the administration and Congress falling short on issues such as same-sex marriage, obscenity, and abortion. They have expressed disappointment that the president has not been more active in seeking a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
The issue of the week is immigration. In what he called a compromise proposal in his television speech on Monday night, the president sought to allay the criticism of conservatives by proposing to deploy 6,000 National Guard troops along the Mexican border.
There may be less there than meets the eye. The Guard troops will be mainly in support roles. The arrangement may not last more than a year. And the president, who also has a business base, felt compelled to propose a "guest-worker" (not amnesty, repeat, not amnesty) program.
At the same time, the administration was trying to shift attention to consensus Republican issues such as tax cuts and judicial nominations. But, the dissension within Republican ranks was evident. The $105 billion war-spending bill, passed by the Senate, was called "dead on arrival" by House speaker Dennis Hastert. When Senate majority leader Bill Frist called Gen. Michael Hayden the "ideal man" for CIA Director, Speaker Hastert announced his opposition to having a military man in the job.
Influential conservatives have begun speaking openly of their reservations about the Republican leadership. Dr. James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, has said that he might turn critic of the administration unless it does more to deliver on conservative goals.
At this point, the thunder from the right may be in the nature of admonition. But I can recall a time when evangelicals shunned the ballot box. If that were to happen again, it would change the face of American politics.
• Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.