The one thing the Republicans had going for them — at least in terms of campaign bloviation and demagoguery — was the issue of security. Poll after poll as well as election results pointed to the fact that the Republicans were seen as being better on keeping the country safe and secure. Well, the air is coming out of that balloon now, and the Republicans are getting nervous and feeling a touch of insecurity about their future.
The breakdown of the Republican consensus on national security both reflects and exacerbates Bush’s political weakness heading toward the midterm elections, according to party strategists. Even as Republicans abandoned him last year on domestic issues such as Social Security, Hurricane Katrina relief and Harriet Miers’s Supreme Court nomination, they had largely stuck by him on terrorism and other security issues.
Karl Rove, the president’s political guru and deputy chief of staff, has already signaled that he intends to use national security as the defining issue for the fall congressional campaigns, just as he did to great effect in 2002 and 2004. But with Bush’s numbers still falling, the Republicans who will be on the ballot have decided to define the security issue in their own way rather than defer to the president’s interpretation.
The release of a new CBS News poll showing Bush’s approval rating dropping to 34 percent, a low for him in that survey, sent tremors through Republican circles in Washington. Scott Reed, who managed Robert J. Dole’s presidential campaign in 1996, called the results “pretty shattering.” Most distressing to GOP strategists was that Bush’s support among Republicans fell from 83 percent to 72 percent.
“The repetition of the news coming out of Iraq is wearing folks down,” Reed said. “It started with women and it’s spreading. It’s just bad news after bad news after bad news, without any light at the end of the tunnel.”
They’re not to the stage where they’re going to throw him overboard (see below), but the number of Republicans who are going to campaign using Bush as a backdrop is going to dwindle down to the point where the president might have to order out for Chinese instead of doing a gig in Grand Rapids. (According to AMERICAblog, they don’t even want Ann Coulter to show up.)
One thing that’s interesting is that George W. Bush has always said that he is steadfast in his course and that he doesn’t change his governing policy based on polls or whims of political expediency:
Bush shrugged off the poll numbers in an interview with ABC News yesterday. “If I worried about polls, I would be — I wouldn’t be doing my job,” he said before leaving Washington for a trip to India and Pakistan. “And, look, I fully understand that when you do hard things, it creates consternation at times. And, you know, I’ve been up in the polls and I’ve been down in the polls. You know, it’s just part of life in the modern era.”
In spite of mountains of evidence to the contrary — the shift on the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the Schiavo case, the Miers nomination — if the president actually believes that he has never wavered from his course, it makes you remember that all motion is relative. Perhaps the president has been the constant he thinks he is and the poll numbers reflect the fact that the country is finally aware of the fact that the guy who polled 91% after 9/11 and narrowly won re-election by exploiting the fear of terrorism is actually doing a crappy job and that he has been the whole time. Even the Kool-Aid Kidz are figuring that one out.