Will Condi Rice's Testimony Stop the Bleeding?
Seems unlikely to me based on the parts of that testimony I caught on TV. And especially unlikely given the strongly negative public opinion trends that are buffeting the Bush administration.
Consider the following. After a month where Bush spent heavily on campaign ads attacking John Kerry and where the economy finally turned in a good performance on creating jobs, the president's political position has gotten substantially worse, not better.
The lastest Pew Research Center poll, conducted April 1-4 and overlapping with last Friday's strong jobs report, has his overall job approval rating at 43 percent--the worst rating in any public poll of his presidency--with 47 percent disapproval. The same poll has his approval rating on the economy at just 39 percent with 53 percent disapproval.
In the latest CBS News poll, his economic approval rating is even worse: 37 percent approval/56 percent disapproval (30/59, almost 2:1 disapproval, among independents). And that's at the end of a strong economic month for the administration.
But it is on Iraq, foreign policy and, above all, the war on terror that Bush's position has deteriorated most significantly. That I believe was the most important political development of month of March, not the much-ballyhooed Bush campaign ads and the (completely predictable) diminution in Kerry's lead over Bush in polling trial heats.
In the Pew poll, Bush's approval rating on Iraq is down to 40 percent with 53 percent disapproval. That's a 35 point swing from the Iraq rating Bush received in January in the same poll (59/37).
On foreign policy, the CBS News poll has Bush at 42 percent approval/49 percent disapproval and a dismal 36/52 among independents.
But it's on his handling of the war on terror that Bush has taken the most significant blows to his political standing. That area has been Bush's political fortress ever since 9/11.
No longer--that fortress is crumbling. In the CBS News poll, he's down to 58 percent approval in this area. And in two recent polls--the Pew poll and the Annenberg Election Survey--his approval rating on handling the war against terrorism is down to a distinctly underwhelming 53 percent.
Moreover, by almost 3:1 (67-23) in the CBS News poll, the public now says the Bush administration could have done more to prevent the 9/11 terrorist attacks (more than 3:1--68/20--among independents).
As revelations about the Bush administration's inept handling of the terrorist threat, both before and after 9/11, continue to emerge, the public's view of Bush's performance in this area seems likely to deteriorate even further.
As will definitely be the case with his handling of Iraq, given the increasing violence and instability there (note that the polls discussed here were taken prior to this week's intense street battles in multiple cities). In the CBS News poll, those saying the result of the Iraq war was not worth the loss of US life and other costs now outnumber those saying it was by 54-37 (59-32 among independents, almost 2:1). Only 36 percent believe the war has made the US safer from terrorism; only 34 percent believe the Iraq war is a major part of the war against terrorism; and just 15 percent believe the Bush administration has clearly explained how long US troops will be in Iraq.
In addition, the Pew poll shows that, by 57-32, people don't think Bush has a clear plan to bring the Iraq situation to a successful conclusion. And the public is now close to evenly split on whether to keep troops in Iraq until a stable government is etablished (50 percent) or simply bring troops home as soon as possible (44 percent). That's down from strong 63-32 support for keeping troops there in January.
Yup, it'll take more than Condi Rice's stonewalling to turn these numbers around. And clearly Bush's deteriorating political position has already benefitted Kerry, who leads now leads by 5 points (16 points among independents ) in CBS News' presidential trial heat.
But I am nevertheless struck by how timid Kerry's approach seems given Bush's increasing vulnerabilities. His economic plan is quite cautious, focusing around fiddling with tax incentives and deficit reduction (see his speech yesterday at Georgetown University). Is this really a convincing answer to the challenges posed by outsourcing and the end of the 90's bubble economy? I don't think so--and read these important pieces by Paul Glastris and Brad DeLong/Stephen Cohen to get a sense of how seriously vision-challenged Kerry's current economic policies are.
As for Iraq and the war on terror, Kerry seems content to let the evolving situation drag Bush down without any help from him. That may have been a wise decision over the short run but it is not sustainable over the long run. Here's an excerpt from today's Adam Nagourney/Carl Hulse story in The New York Times:
Mr. Kerry described the president's Iraq policy as "one of the greatest failures of diplomacy and failures of judgment that I have seen in all the time that I've been in public life."
Still, even as he attacked Mr. Bush, Mr. Kerry was notably vague in saying how he would handle the matter as president. His advisers said he had no plans to offer a policy speech about a war that aides to Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry alike said they now expected to provide a bloody backdrop for the campaign for months.
"Right now, what I would do differently is, I mean, look, I'm not the president, and I didn't create this mess so I don't want to acknowledge a mistake that I haven't made," Mr. Kerry said on Wednesday on CNN.
Seems pretty damn weak to me. I think he's going to have to do a lot better than this if he is to reap full political advantage from Bush's increasing vulnerability on Iraq and national security.