George W. Bush’s fall from popular grace is literally one for the history books. Since the advent of reliable polling, no president has looked so weak this early in his second term.
Given the self-inflicted hits Bush has taken in recent weeks – the federal indictment of a top White House aide, the Katrina fiasco, mishandling a Supreme Court nomination, surpassing 2000 American deaths in Iraq – it’s easy to forget that his plummeting numbers are not a sudden phenomenon resulting from these setbacks alone. Despite his post-election, hubristic declaration of owning piles of political capital, Bush has been crippled for at least a year.
Immediately after the presidential election, Gallup put Bush at a 53 percent approval rating, which, noted the polling firm, “is actually the lowest of any of the last seven presidents who won a second term in the first poll conducted after their re-election.” By comparison Bill Clinton received a 58 percent approval rating in the post-reelection period, Ronald Reagan stood at 61 percent, Richard Nixon hung tough at 62 percent amidst a growing scandal, Lyndon Johnson had a 70 percent rating, Dwight Eisenhower 75 percent, and even expected-loser Harry Truman racked up a 69 percent approval.
From Truman through Clinton, each chief executive did his best to whittle down his popularity; but not one, right out of the gate, was as successful at self-immolation as George W. Bush.
The latest CBS News poll puts Bush’s job approval at 35 percent – not many points higher than felonious Tricky Dick’s final tally as he left the White House practically in handcuffs. Bush’s Congressional allies are hovering at roughly the same approval rating (34 percent), while sidekick Dick Cheney’s “favorable rating is down nine points this year to just 19 percent.” As Don Imus observed last week, the BTK killer is more loved than that.
What’s more, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found “what may turn out to be one of the biggest free-falls in the history of presidential polling” – said free-fall being that “Bush’s job-approval rating among African Americans has dropped to 2 percent.” Put another way, after all the right’s scheming to bring blacks into the pseudoconservative fold, only 20,000 out of a million would now tell Bush that his coat’s on fire. Commented pollster Peter Hart: “African Americans were not supporters [of Bush before Katrina], but I don’t think that they outright detested him – until now.”
The bad news for Bush just keeps piling up. The most recent Washington Post/ABC News poll revealed that six out of 10 Americans now disapprove of the president’s performance, and about the same number questions Bush’s honesty. In other words, most Americans now believe their president is a liar. Even more (68 percent) believe this country is on the wrong track; 65 percent saw the economy as “not so good or poor”; 60 percent believe we should not have invaded Iraq; “a clear majority – 55 percent – now says the administration deliberately misled the country in making its case for war with Iraq”; and a whopping “two in 3 say Bush does not understand the problems of people like them.”
The most worrisome news for the Republican National Committee, however, must be this little fact from the WP/ABC poll: “Among independents … 66 percent disapproved [of Bush’s performance]. In January, independents were evenly divided, with 49 percent approving and an equal percentage disapproving.”
In short, the all-important swing voters – the nonpartisan crowd, the deciding middle – have been steadily moving against Bush and, it can be safely conjectured, against Bushism. As a result, political strategists are now thinking what was unthinkable just a year ago: not only the White House in 2008, but the House and Senate in 2006 are in serious play.