The Avalanche Is Starting
Today, 36 percent of Americans approve and 53 percent disapprove of the job Bush is doing as president. For comparison, two weeks ago 41 percent said they approved and 51 percent disapproved, and at the beginning of his second term 50 percent approved and 40 percent disapproved (January 25-26).
Until this week, Bush's approval rating had been at 40 percent or above, buoyed in large part by consistent strong support among Republicans; however, in mid-October approval among Republicans fell below 80 percent for the first time of his presidency and now sits at 72 percent.
In addition, Bush's approval rating is down by double digits among other demographic groups. Since the beginning of his second term, his approval is down 26 percentage points among independents, 16 points among women, 15 points among whites and 11 points among men. Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the national telephone poll of 900 registered voters for FOX News on November 8-9.
"The key to understanding Bush's rating is not the fact that 84 percent of Democrats disapprove or that 72 percent of Republicans still approve "they've been polarized for a long time," comments Opinion Dynamics Chairman John Gorman.
"The real problem for the president is that self-described independents now disapprove by a 58 percent to 26 percent margin. The 'rally-the-base' strategies that have worked so well for the administration are not likely to win back the independents the Republicans need to return to parity."
Then let's go over to the cover article of the Weekly Standard and see why even the "base" is problematic:
THE PRESIDENCY OF GEORGE W. Bush has three years yet to run, but this season of scandal and disillusionment is an opportune moment for conservatives to start thinking seriously about the post-Bush era...When the Conservative intellectuals start talking about you like that, you are not only a "lame duck," you are a dead duck.
It's not just that the American people have shown little appetite of late for dramatically shrinking the scope of the federal government, or taking more economic responsibility into their own hands--it's that there's shrinking support for such goals among reliable Republican voters.
In May, the Pew Research Center released the 2005 edition of its Political Typology, a survey that slices the American electorate into nine discrete groups. Unsurprisingly, the core of the GOP's support turns out to be drawn from "Enterprisers," affluent, optimistic, and staunchly conservative on economic and social issues alike.
But the so-called Enterprisers represent just 11 percent of registered voters--and apart from them, the most reliable GOP voters are Social Conservatives (13 percent of registered voters) and Pro-Government Conservatives (10 percent of voters). Both groups are predominantly female (Enterprisers are overwhelmingly male); both are critical of big business; and both advocate more government involvement to alleviate the economic risks faced by a growing number of families.
They tend to be hostile to expanding free trade, Social Security reform, and guest-worker proposals--which is to say the Bush second term agenda.
This is the Republican party of today--an increasingly working-class party, dependent for its power on supermajorities of the white working class vote, and a party whose constituents are surprisingly comfortable with bad-but-popular liberal ideas like raising the minimum wage, expanding clumsy environmental regulations, or hiking taxes on the wealthy to fund a health care entitlement. To borrow a phrase from Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, Republicans are now "the party of Sam's Club, not just the country club."
Therein lies a great political danger for Republicans, because on domestic policy, the party isn't just out of touch with the country as a whole, it's out of touch with its own base...
George W. Bush, war president and skilled campaigner, was very nearly defeated in his bid for reelection. GOP operatives boast that their electoral efforts were targeted down to the minutest detail, and that their marketing prowess delivered victory for the incumbent. The trouble is that even such extraordinary efforts delivered only a narrow victory.
Let's see how they analyze the frilling of the base down to the minutest detail. No, I'm not going apologize for quoting them so much. Conservative writing based on realism about results is so rare that we should savor it like the Vintage of the Decade:
Since the election, the GOP's position has steadily worsened...Katrina's racially charged aftermath probably delivered the coup de grace to Bush's efforts to woo African Americans--and now the party is struggling to hold on to its white working class loyalists. Last summer, Bush's approval rating among non-Hispanic whites stood at 61 percent. Over the past year, it's plummeted to 44 percent.
And that number understates the party's woes. According to a Pew Research Center survey released in mid-October, 64 percent of non-Hispanic whites want the next president to pursue policies very different from those pursued by President Bush.
Then there are female voters--many of them the indispensable "social" and "pro-government" (think "war on terror") conservatives, without whom the current GOP majority wouldn't exist. Between 2000 and 2004, Bush wooed them successfully: His margin of victory among white working class women climbed from 7 percent to 18 percent; among married white working class women, it rose from 15 percent to 31 percent.
But Bush's electoral success with this group has not translated into lasting gains for the GOP; white working class women now favor congressional Democrats by wide margins. The "achievements" of the Republican Congress--massive highway spending that goes straight to well-connected contractors and an energy bill that does nothing to address gasoline prices at the pump--are unlikely to bring them back.
Chris Bowers couldn't have said it better.
So lets draw the conclusions. George W. Bush is gone as any kind of effective leader, even of his own faction. Tom DeLay is gone and the House can finally legislate once again. The moderate Republican house members broke yesterday, dropping not only the Alaska drilling, but forced postponement of the entire $50 billion in cuts of things like Food Stamps, Student Loans, and Medicaid. The moderates couldn't stand the pressure from their constituents.
Bill Frist was never there in the first place. In the Senate, only the White House had clout. But the moderate Republicans in the Senate, since circumstances have finally allowed them to show some sense, are not only balking at new tax cuts, they are balking at extending the old ones.
And the observers of this are considerably less genteel that the Weekly Standard about the problem:
"The fractures were always there. The difference was the White House was always able to hold them in line because of perceived power," said Tony Fabrizio, a Republican pollster. "After Tuesday's election, it's 'Why are we following these guys? They're taking us off the cliff.' "
In addition to this, Dick Cheney has returned to an "undisclosed location", where he is likely to stay for a while what with his right hand man indicted and all. We probably won't see very much of him until he testifies in the Plame/Libby trial.
And Karl Rove is an even deader duck than George Bush. Prosecutor Fitzgerald, by not indicting Rove, but still investigating him (undoubtedly waiting for what the Libby trial will reveal to nail Karl down far tighter), has assured that no Republican campaigner can now afford to openly tap Rove's expertise.
They may not even be able to afford to acknowledge that we have a Republican president. George's travels around the country will be a lot lighter of eminent guests, I think, for some time to come.
It should be noted that the American public, of all shades of political opinion, are quite perturbed about the Plame Affair and don't wish it swept under the rug, though the wingnut attacks against Plame and Wilson grow shriller every day. There are no pieces of good news in the Libby trial for the President or his party, and the wingnut shrieking is making the story stay alive rather than making it go away. All news will be bad news on that front for the duration.
Oh, yes, and speaking of that cliff, there is the problem of Jack Abramoff, put so elegantly by Tim F. of Balloon Juice:
Remember these two things: practically every Republican in DC connects to Jack Abramoff, and practically everything he did was in some way illegal.
It shouldn't surprise anybody that the Abramoff scandal reaches deep into the White House. Where did Karl Rove's chief of staff, Susan Ralston, work before she joined Karl Rove's staff? As Jack Abramoff's secretary, of course.
It should also be noted that Susan Ralston is going back for a new round of questioning by Prosecutor Fitzgerald in the Plame Affair.
As an effective leader, George W. Bush is history. The only events even partially under his control are now the military operations in Iraq. Condi Rice showed up there on a surprise visit, with the usual "stay the course" rhetoric. Probably the real reason she was there was to calm the nerves of the Iraqis who've thrown their hat in our ring, and are now wondering if domestic pressure will force the President to unilaterally withdraw (a bad option for them) or follow John McCain's advice to really beef up the troops and make a serious effort to actually occupy the country (an even worse option for them).
They needn't worry. All George has left is the ever evanescent hope that what we are already doing will actually quell the Iraqi insurgency, and he hasn't the leverage with Congress or the people to send in more troops. Iraq is the only place George can now possibly succeed enough to win back his "political capital" from his "mandate" that he spent so profligately. To withdraw would be to admit failure. And he will have to "run with what he brung" there.
He is history. I just wonder where history will place the turning points of where it all came unstuck. If I think about it a little more, I may have a few suggestions of my own.