Tuesday, June 13, 2006

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In which direction is Bush headed?

As of late, George W. Bush has suffered a few bad news cycles days weeks months years. If you don't count Rasmussen, Real Clear Politics' archive has his polling numbers consistently below 40% for the past three months.

So what does the future hold? There are two takes on the web today.

In The New Republic, Jonathan Chait argues that conservatives have ditched the sitting president:

The American Spectator recently published a special issue devoted mostly to detailing the litany of Bush sins. One recent book (Impostor, by conservative columnist Bruce Bartlett), a forthcoming book (Conservatives Betrayed, by right-wing activist Richard Viguerie), and innumerable op-eds (e.g., "HOW THE GOP LOST ITS WAY," by Reagan biographer Craig Shirley) condemn the president as an ideological turncoat.

Of course, conservatives have been demanding greater fidelity from Bush since he first ran for president. But that was all part of the normal give-and-take of conservative politics--the true believers staying ever-vigilant to ensure their three-quarters of a loaf does not get whittled down to half. What's happening now is different. Conservative intellectuals and activists, the right's ideological vanguard, have decided that Bush is not Reagan's son after all. Indeed, they have discovered that he is not, and never has been, a conservative, but rather that he is a fraud masquerading as one.

Meanwhile, John Dickerson at Slate notices a small countertrend:
Boy, that Josh Bolten is good. Since taking over as White House chief of staff, he has successfully installed a new spokesman, landed a Wall Street wizard to run the Treasury Department, killed the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, got the Iraqis to form a government, and brought about the exoneration of Karl Rove. Political observers search for a turning point. When the narrative is written, Bolten's promotion will seem like the moment everything changed for the White House.

Bolten, of course, had nothing to do with the good result for Rove, or the developments in Iraq, but he did play a role in creating an atmosphere that allows White House aides to perhaps enjoy today's news. After months of relentless bad headlines, disappointments, and public failures, Bush officials have been reluctant to embrace glimmers of good news, knowing they would be quickly overshadowed. There is a sense now in the White House, though, that they may be back on their game or at least back off their heels. "People are just more confident," says one top White House aide.

This could be wishful thinking. With the president's approval ratings still low, Republicans in a funk, and Democrats energized, there's an incentive for West Wing aides and partisans to overplay good news. But their optimism springs more from the other event that took place on Rove's good day, which poses more troubling problems for Democrats in November than the absolution of the president's chief political adviser. George Bush flew to Baghdad Tuesday to highlight the coming together of the Iraqi government. The trip came after meetings at Camp David between Bush and his military advisers, meetings that are almost certainly the prelude to a pre-November announcement that troops in Iraq will start coming home.

So is the wheel turning or not?

My two cents is that it actually doesn't matter. In 2004, the residue of George W. Bush as the resolute post-9/11 leader was strong enough for him to eke out an electoral victory. I suspect the hangover from the Iraq occupation will be so massive that there is little Bush could do between now and November to affect the Republicans' political fortunes.

But I could be wrong... and I welcome readers telling me that.

posted by Dan on 06.13.06 at 04:23 PM


You're not wrong.

posted by: John-Paul Pagano on 06.13.06 at 04:23 PM [permalink]

do you have any empirical evidence that approval for a president had anything to do with congressional elections?

The inside the beltway guys think its all dems vs gop, but congressional elections come down to "all politics is local" imo.

(somehow ive just about finished a PhD in political science without haven taken (even in undergrad) a course on US politics)

posted by: jv on 06.13.06 at 04:23 PM [permalink]


Why is the burden on Drezner to prove his point, versus you offering evidence of yours?

He's the one with a faculty position and well-known blog, let see you make something of yourself.

posted by: Bill K. on 06.13.06 at 04:23 PM [permalink]

jv, not to slap you around anymore -- yo' pappy Bill K has done that already -- but I offer this:

My understanding is that Dick Morris, political consultant of Bill Clinton fame, states that whenever a politician's approval ratings go below 50% he/she is a cooked goose. His argument is that when you go under the magical 50% approval number, your focus becomes doing whatever you have to do to get it back over 50% and you are more likely to screw up and make things worse.

He's writing a book which will include the empirical part.

posted by: St. James the Lesser on 06.13.06 at 04:23 PM [permalink]

You are not incorporating the economy into the equation.

The plunge in the stock market stems from a shift in foreigners willingness to finance the horrible Bush economic policies. Moreover, it suggest that at the time of the election the economic environment will be a major negative for the administration.

when you add this to the equation the positive points you are expressing will turn out to be insignificant.

posted by: spencer on 06.13.06 at 04:23 PM [permalink]

I think Bush will get a bit of a boost now that Rove is cleared, Zarqawi is very dead and there is an Iraqi government. The trip to Baghdad was a clever move today. However, I suspect any bounce will be short-lived. The trendlines in Iraq - this week aside - remain really bad and the housing market in the US is flat (meaning America is now officially broke), so I don't see Bush creeping up more than a few points for any sustained period.

posted by: SteveinVT on 06.13.06 at 04:23 PM [permalink]

I believe you're wrong. The Democrats have not shown the voters a reason to vote for them. Should the news, that has indeed been poor for the past year plus, turn enough, they will be out in the cold. My feeling is they will be out in the cold even if the news doesn't turn around.

posted by: Jim Temple on 06.13.06 at 04:23 PM [permalink]

Its like Slate is countertrend, unconventional wisdom central. They will take any conventional wisdom and take the opposite.

Its meaningless.

But really, barring some impeachment worth revelation, Bush can only go up. It saddens me to say this.

posted by: mickslam on 06.13.06 at 04:23 PM [permalink]

it's politics so one i supposed shouldn't complain about the political nature of arguments and agendas - but where in this 'good news' is anything of substance? It's all theatre - watching the highly staged events of the last week says one thing: the opurtunity is still there to fool enough people into thinking that we actually know what we're doing and the situation is 'viable' so let's milk it people! I mean, video of Bush flying into the war zone and the cheering troops and his thoughful advisers staring thoughtfully at monitors back at Camp David - it's farcical! Where in any of this is something that is not purely political?

It's not surprising that the average polled citizen who get's their info from glancing at headlines and watching Katie god damn Couric might
be stupid enough to believe that Zarqawi getting concused is some miraculous turning point and now everything's gonna be ok and I can stop worrying about those desert folk : and it's even less surprising that a liberated Rove would conjure up the theatrics to exploit this stupidity -

but you supposed enlightened people buying into this crap? C'mon.

posted by: saintsimon on 06.13.06 at 04:23 PM [permalink]

The Democrats have not shown the voters a reason to vote for them.

It's ancient tradition all over the world that when the crops fail, you kill the king and anoint somebody else. Does that apply to the senate too? I think so. The Republican congress has failed to adequately restrain Bush. So it's their failure too.

If democrats are the alternative, then this is their big chance.

I'd like to see the libertarians get more of the vote in 2008 than republicans. They deserve to be a second party and the GOP deserves to be a third party. But I don't really expect it.

posted by: J Thomas on 06.13.06 at 04:23 PM [permalink]

My take: the summer will be awful newswise - as it always is - and the polls will appear to guarantee a Dem victory in November. But by mid September, gas prices will drop fairly precipitiously, the summer stockmarket swoon will be over with, and Iraq will be firming up as the new government gets on its feet. By Nov, Bush's approval ratings will still suck as people can't admit to "approving" of him, so the pundits will predict a Dem landslide.

In Nov, Republicans lose a few seats - and upset a couple of Dems in others - and keep control of everything. Leftist heads explode as they see yet another stolen election - after all, any election they lose is stolen by definition...

posted by: Foobarista on 06.13.06 at 04:23 PM [permalink]

I agree with Foobarista, and the real story will be those exploding democrats after 2006.... they'll take the whole party down with them.

posted by: Bill Baar on 06.13.06 at 04:23 PM [permalink]

But by mid September, gas prices will drop fairly precipitiously, t

Yup, maybe Bush can get his buddies the Saudis to pump more oil again to drive down prices !!

Leftist heads explode as they see yet another stolen election - after all, any election they lose is stolen by definition...

Yes, thsoe rightwingers were so willing to accomodate President CLinton. Warmed the cockles of the heart, that did.

posted by: Josh on 06.13.06 at 04:23 PM [permalink]

If Bush does begin to withdraw troops this fall, it would not at all be incompatible with winning back the Republican base, which was never comfortable with nation-building in Iraq or elsewhere. IIRC Rumsfeld's original idea was to knock off Saddam and the fedayeen and then bolt, ie stage a punitive expedition only, which is much closer to the Pat Buchanan-Taftite-Father Coughlin view of the wicked old world than to anything articulated by Bush since the war's launch.

Unfortunately, isolationism's coming back. Battle fatigue and weariness with the complexities of the middle eastern swamp are driving the Republican Party, and most of the nation, revert to its traditional isolationist impulses centered on wariness over entanglements with morally suspect foreigners. This applies to Mexican governments that export a rural proletariat they cannot employ or educate to the US, it applies to foreign oil producers, and it applies to the middle east and southwest asia. Fully 60% of registered Democrats now oppose the war-- in Afghanistan.

Those candidates, be they local or national, who capture this world-weary mood and re-direct it toward problems and bogeymen at home will do well in November and in 2008.

posted by: thibaud on 06.13.06 at 04:23 PM [permalink]

I hope you're right about isolationism making a comeback. The Middle East isn't worth the bones of one american soldier. Let them cut each other's heads off until there's no one left. Like they were 100 years ago, 500 years ago, 1000 years ago, 2000 years ago, 5000 years ago, etc.

posted by: b on 06.13.06 at 04:23 PM [permalink]

It's obvious that most Americans don't really care about Iraq anymore. Iraq pieces almost never feature mong the NYT's "most emailed articles" these days, and even the wonkiest of publications are downplaying their Iraq coverage. In 2006, The New Republic has had 5 cover stories on culture and style/fluff issues (Oprah, the MoMa, the NYT Style page etc) and only 2 on the bloodiest and most significant overseas engagement for the US in the last thrity years.

Iraq as an issue is not dead, but it's a lot less compelling than immigration or gay marriage or even gas prices. Isolationism's back. Whoever recognizes this fact and all its implications will win the White House in 2008.

posted by: thibaud on 06.13.06 at 04:23 PM [permalink]

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