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The 'Quagmire' President

The 100-day assessments of President Bush’s 2nd term are now appearing in newspapers near you, and it’s not a pretty picture. In fact, if his current streak continues, Bush may soon be dubbed “The Quagmire President,” as a result of the failure of his Iraq and Social Security initiatives and his plummeting numbers in recent opinion polls on both topics. As John F. Harris and Jim Vandehei put it in their Washington Post article, “Doubts About Mandate for Bush, GOP,”

As the president passed the 100-day mark of his second term over the weekend, the main question facing Bush and his party is whether they misread the November elections. With the president's poll numbers down, and the Republican majority ensnared in ethical controversy, things look much less like a once-a-generation realignment.

Will this translate into Democratic gains in the congressional elections next year? Possibly, say Harris and VandeHei:

History suggests the possibility of major losses next year is not beyond imagination. The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll showed support for Bush's handling of Social Security at just 31 percent. That is several points lower than support for Clinton's handling of health care in the summer of 1994 -- just before the failure of what was widely perceived as an over-ambitious plan helped fuel the GOP takeover of Congress that fall.

The President’s miscalculation that a 2.5 percent margin of victory in the popular vote constitutes a mandate for trashing the New Deal’s most popular program was a blunder that even has conservatives starting to use “quagmire” in describing Bush’s predicament. As VandeHei and Harris report:

Even among many influential conservatives, there has been a growing consensus that the Bush governing theory, at least on Social Security, has been proved wrong. The conservative Weekly Standard magazine recently warned in a headline of a "Social Security Quagmire," and argued that Bush should position himself so that a defeat on the issue does not cripple other parts of his agenda or produce big Republican losses in next year's congressional elections.

And it’s not just President Bush’s leadership that the public is calling into question. The fallout from the Terry Schiavo affair, Tom DeLay’s ethical problems and the prospect of the “Nuclear Option” being used to undermine the judicial confirmation process reflect poorly on the Republicans in Congress in the eyes of the public. If the Democrats can stay united and focused on supporting policies that clearly serve the majority, ’06 could be a very good year.