Having suffered the most humiliating defeat in Congress by any Republican president in recent history, George Bush in a morning-after reflex reached for more of the previous night's poison by seeking to renegotiate the flawed budget agreement -- with Democrats.

After a White House strategy meeting, President Bush's main operatives traveled to Capitol Hill to meet Speaker Thomas Foley, Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell and House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt. Republican congressional leaders who had supported the budget pact were absent. No wonder then that House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich, who led the GOP rebellion, was a pariah cut off from presidential contact.

Even to critical insiders at the White House, the course taken by the president and his men seemed suicidal. Instead of trying to close the party's self-inflicted budget wounds, the White House was venting its anger against rebel Republicans. Never during nearly two years of budgetary infighting with Democrats was so much venom displayed by the Bush team as on Friday after the great defeat.

These are the pitfalls of bipartisanship run amok. Bush, a former national party chairman, and his chief of staff, John Sununu, at heart are highly partisan Republicans. But in their increasingly obsessive search for deficit reduction, they insensibly were led to abandonment not only of Republican principles but of the party's welfare.

To Bush's agents inured to Democratic demands during five months of haggling, the deal seemed pretty good. But Republicans across the country were stunned. On the heels of the president's retreat from his no-new-taxes pledge and the collapse of his efforts to get capital gains tax cuts, the final proposal befouled Republican sensibilities: a new tax shelter that could benefit fast-buck operators, one of the biggest tax increases in history and no real constraint on domestic spending.

What followed was Bush aides acting "like a bunch of thugs," in the words of one lame-luck GOP congressman, in order to win House approval. The story of moderate Rep. Ralph Regula of Ohio denied use of the presidential box at the Kennedy Center is so ludicrous as to be laughable. But there was no laughter when reports hit the Republican cloakroom of a threatened Sununu visit to confront Rep. Robert Walker, a chief deputy party whip, in his Pennsylvania district.

Gingrich and his fellow House GOP leader, Rep. Vin Weber, sought a way to avert defeat until the eleventh hour Thursday. They met with a frequent antagonist, Senate Republican Leader Robert J. Dole, and tentatively mapped a revised plan that would resurrect the capital gains cut but raise the top individual income tax rate. Thumbs down from the White House.

Instead, Foley was sent out of an Oval Office meeting Thursday to publicly reassure Congress that the agreement would be fine-tuned in House committees. Since those committees are Democratic-controlled, the speaker's mild words chilled Republicans. That led to GOP defections beyond White House expectations. When it then became clear that the budget would lose, Foley could not deliver Democratic votes.

In the aftermath of the debacle, Gingrich sought to repair the shattered party fabric by canceling all television appearances and renewing efforts for a new budget deal that would win back the Republican faithful by putting a real freeze on discretionary government spending. But contact between the White House and Gingrich Friday was mainly by rumor.

Not before and not after Gingrich mobilized his House Republican whip organization to sustain the president's veto of the stopgap spending measure Saturday was he in touch with the White House. The once-intimate relationship between Gingrich and Sununu is now in ruins

Republican congressmen supported the veto even though they question the president's tactics. "I guess he's embittered," a puzzled Rep. Henry Hyde, a widely respected Republican loyalist, told us. If Bush really shuts down the government, said liberal Democratic political operative Russell Hemenway of the National Committee for an Effective Congress, "then we'll win some seats {in Congress} -- a lot of seats.

That fear grips Republicans across the land. Not one serious GOP congressional challenger supported the budget agreement. Incumbent Republicans, contaminated by inside-the-Washington-Beltway wisdom, were less prudent. Rep. Peter Smith, fighting for his political life in Vermont, faxed his endorsement to the news media before anybody could dissuade him. That may well elect Bernie Sanders, the longtime socialist mayor of Burlington running as an independent, who could then thank the White House for the excesses of bipartisanship.