In March, he wrote a piece for Texas Monthly magazine suggesting Bush had undercut his "gut-level bond with the American public." Finally, applying torch to bridge in spectacular fashion, Dowd detailed his break with Bush in a front-page interview with the New York Times. No one in the White House was alerted.
"I was definitely disappointed I had to learn from a reporter, and not him, that he was going public," said Dan Bartlett, a former White House counselor and a friend of Dowd.
In the seven months since, Dowd has spurned book offers and the talk-show circuit, as well as the antiwar movement. He is not comfortable in the role of Bush basher. "I don't hate the guy," he said of the president, who has not spoken with Dowd since he aired his views. "I don't think he's evil or bad. I think he's a good person that didn't accomplish what he set out to do."
Dowd grew up the third of 11 children in an Irish Catholic family in Detroit. His father was an auto executive; his mother taught elementary school before becoming a full-time mom. If not for all those kids, Dowd said, his family might have been upper-middle-class. Instead, there were hand-me-downs and lots of meatless suppers.
His conservative parents shaped his political views. But that changed at Cardinal Newman College, a small liberal arts school in St. Louis. Dowd became a Democrat, albeit one who opposed abortion and heavy taxation. It made for a good fit with conservative Democrats in Texas, where he moved in 1984 to work for Austin's congressman.
Over the next 10 years, Dowd helped elect Democrats throughout Texas and elsewhere, growing close to one in particular, the state's crusty Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock. Bullock, in turn, hit it off with Bush after the Republican became governor in 1994. Bullock even crossed party lines to endorse Bush's 1998 reelection.
Soon after that landslide, Dowd was approached by Karl Rove, Bush's top campaign advisor. The two were friendly, having lectured together on politics at the University of Texas. Bush was preparing a presidential run, and Rove wanted help. Dowd was impressed with the way Bush worked with Bullock and other statehouse Democrats. "I thought Washington was so screwed up, so polarized, maybe he'd be the guy who could fix that," Dowd said.
His hopes rose during the 2000 campaign. "We were going to change Washington," Dowd said. "There was kind of a mutual agreement that [Bush] was going to be a different kind of Republican."
At first Bush governed that way, Dowd said, working with Democrats to cut taxes and overhaul education policy. But he believes something changed after Sept. 11, 2001. "There was an imperial feel to it," Dowd said. "The things he did in Texas, he didn't do any of that. . . . We didn't build relationships with Democrats in Congress, and we didn't build them overseas."
When Dowd voiced concerns -- about the failure to ask more of Americans after Sept. 11, about further tax cuts -- he felt ignored. "Karl wanted me to worry about other things," Dowd said. "I'd get a nice pat on the head." Rove had no comment for this article.
The GOP congressional gains in 2002 didn't help, Dowd said. "Increasing Republican majorities in both houses," he said, "became a disincentive for consensus building."
Still, Dowd stuck by the president and managed his reelection campaign because he assumed things would change once Bush was in a second term. It was, he said, like ignoring doubts in hopes of saving a marriage. "You say, 'Well, they got drunk last night but it'll be better next week.' Or, 'They had an affair but they're not really that way.' You talk yourself out of it because you believed, and you want to believe."
His disaffection grew, however, when Bush started his second term with an acrimonious fight over Social Security. Dowd felt the president had the chance -- but not the desire -- to reach out to Democrats.
The years between the 2000 campaign and Bush's reelection had been a whirlwind for Dowd, a time of great professional success and personal upheaval. In September 2002, he and his second wife had twin daughters born prematurely; one died after two months in the hospital. Their marriage began unraveling.
He spent much of 2005 co-writing a book on leadership, "Applebee's America," and thinking. His work advising Schwarzenegger pushed him further from Bush. The governor's bipartisanship, Dowd thought, was a favorable contrast to the president's "my-way-or-the-highway" approach.
The White House, however, was not pleased when Schwarzenegger distanced himself from Bush. After some "fairly heated discussions," Dowd said, he and Rove stopped talking before the midterm election. They have not spoken since. Dowd left his job with the Republican National Committee at the end of last year.