DEAD MAN WALKING….This whole controversy over “Portgate” ? a decision by the Bush administration to allow the operations of six big U.S. ports to be managed by a company owned by the United Arab Emirates ? is fascinating. Not so much for the substantive issues it raises, which are disturbing but a bit murky, but for what it says about the waning political power of the Bush White House.

What it shows is that Bush still doesn’t understand how much influence he’s recently lost with his conservative base. In the brave new post-Harriet, post-Katrina world, outrage over the Dubai port deal has been driven equally by both liberal critics and conservatives like Michelle Malkin and administration uber-stalwart Hugh Hewitt, who are no longer willing to simply take Bush’s word for it that they should trust him on this issue. For today’s chastened conservatives, it’s “trust but verify” when it comes to the Bush administration.

This is a fairly stunning turnaround for a White House that has made the care and feeding of its base practically the Eleventh Commandment. Conservatives in Congress have recently held Bush’s feet to the fire over his handling of Katrina ? a first for the 108th/109th Congress ? and have also been disturbingly unwilling to simply roll over and play dead on the NSA wiretap issue. Bush is a dead man walking these days, and the Dubai port deal shows that he still doesn’t quite get this. He better figure it out fast.