ITWASSOOTED: A Presidency On Life Support

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A Presidency On Life Support

by John Kenneth White
John Kenneth White is a Professor of Politics at the Catholic University of America. He is the author of The Values Divide: American Politics and Culture in Transition (Congressional Quarterly Press, 2003).

This article appears in the October 10, 2005, edition of The Polling Report.

The George W. Bush presidency is on life support. At first, these words seem harsh and overstated. For starters, Bush has more than a thousand days left in office. He can nominate Supreme Court justices and get them confirmed, as the 78 to 22 Senate vote for John Roberts so easily demonstrates. He also wields other important constitutional powers, including the veto which he can use to impose his will on a recalcitrant Congress. Finally, he retains considerable diplomatic and war powers at his disposal. But for the remainder of his presidency, George W. Bush will govern without the consent of the governed.

That last fact has been underscored by a flurry of recent public polls. In nearly all of them, Bush’s job approval is hovering at 40%. Behind the job approval numbers are many other signs of a presidency in trouble. A Democracy Corps survey finds 58% want to go in a significantly different direction away from Bush; 56% believe he is "in over his head;" and 44% say they are "finished" with him.

Two years ago, pollster John Zogby and I penned an article dubbing Bush "The Fifty-Something President." For the foreseeable future, we wrote, Bush’s job approval rating would flutter around 50% -- a forecast that held true on Election Day 2004, when Bush captured 51% of the ballots. After defeating John Kerry, there was every indication that the President could maintain the overwhelming Republican support that kept him at 50% in the polls. In fact, the near-unanimous backing from the GOP rank-and-file and members of Congress gave Bush a unique second term opportunity. After claiming victory, Bush told reporters he had acquired "political capital, and now I intend to spend it . . . [on] Social Security and tax reform, moving this economy forward, education, fighting and winning the war on terror." This accumulation of capital was evident in a Gallup poll taken two weeks after his second inauguration: 57% approved of Bush’s performance, 40% disapproved. As of mid-September, those figures were reversed: 40% approved of Bush’s job performance, while 58% disapproved, according to Gallup. Just nine months into his second term, Bush’s political capital is all but spent. If he were a bank, he’d have to declare bankruptcy
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