To Fight Bad News, GOP Claims ‘It’s Better Than It Looks’

Posted October 3, 2003 at 2:24pm

The Bush administration is experiencing one week of woe after another, dimming the president’s re-election prospects. As Democrats pounce, Republicans have to seek solace in the fact that other presidents have had it worse and in the belief that things are better than they look. [IMGCAP(1)]

GOP pollster Ed Geoas, for instance, writes in analyzing his latest Battleground survey that President Bush’s standing is better than his father’s was in 1991 and at least as good as Bill Clinton’s in 1995.

Currently, 54 percent of voters approve of Bush’s performance and 48 percent say they are inclined to re-elect him, Battleground found.

In 1991, George H.W. Bush had a 48 percent approval rating and only a 35 percent re-elect number. He went on to lose the 1992 election, of course. Clinton had a 52 percent approval and only a 41 percent re-elect and won in 1996.

Bush’s prospects, of course, depend on events, his continuing performance and the effectiveness of Democratic attacks.

On that basis, if the outcome were a straight-line projection of recent developments — which it isn’t — Bush would be cooked.

In Iraq, the rate at which Americans are being killed is three to six per week, and the general in charge says that “the enemy has evolved — a little bit more lethal, a little more sophisticated and, in some cases, a little more tenacious.”

Worse, chief U.S. weapons inspector David Kay has been able to turn up no evidence whatsoever that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, undercutting Bush’s primary justification for taking the country to war.

The Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll showed that the percentage of Americans who believe the war was “worth it” has fallen from 64 percent in April to 46 percent last month.

And now Democrats, assisted by a scandal-hungry media, have seized upon an apparent White House leak of the name of a CIA undercover agent to challenge Bush on what’s been his strongest suit — a reputation for integrity and trustworthiness.

Retired diplomat Joseph Wilson merely speculated that the culprit in leaking his wife’s name was the president’s closest political adviser, Karl Rove, and now the press has seized upon the prospect, even though Wilson himself has admitted he has no proof.

The bipartisan Battleground survey found that 67 percent of Americans approve of Bush personally. A Pew Research Center poll found that Bush is regarded as “trustworthy” by 62 percent and “able to get things done” by 68 percent.

Those are the towers the Democrats are attacking — and hoping, somehow, to drive out Rove, the architect of Bush’s re-election strategy.

Previously, Democrats have been trying to attach an ethical scandal to Bush’s other “brain,” Vice President Cheney, over the fact that his old company, Halliburton, has won fat contracts to rebuild Iraq. They’ve failed to prove, however, that Cheney has anything to do with awarding contracts.

Bush’s re-election prospects will markedly improve if it appears that Iraq is becoming more stable and secure. There’s considerable evidence, contrary to news media reports, that things are improving, but the administration is having a difficult time getting the message out.

In an interview last week with Roll Call reporters and editors, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld expressed considerable frustration that the public and Members of Congress don’t understand that the U.S.-led coalition has recruited and trained 56,000 Iraqis for security duty in less than five months and has another 14,000 in training.

It hasn’t gotten through, either, that Iraqis are taking over management of their government much faster than has occurred in previous occupation situations and that progress is being made toward a constitution and free elections.

Part of the problem is that the administration has found no systematic way of communicating progress. Officials write op-ed pieces, Members of Congress take trips and report things are better. Yet the press plays the bad news.

Rumsfeld said that, at the suggestion of Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the Pentagon would produce a regular progress chart in various military and social categories. It ought not to be sent just to Congress, but be made public.

On the domestic front, in the meantime, the Battleground survey showed that 61 percent of voters will consider the economy to be improving if the jobs picture improves. So far, it is not improving.

Last week, there was finally a net increases in jobs, but the unemployment rate remained stuck at 6.1 percent.

The administration is relying on hopes — which are historically sound — that employment is a lagging economic indicator and that other “fundamentals” are good, including corporate profits, the stock market, productivity and factory orders.

The Battleground survey found that Bush and the Democrats are favored about equally as able to “keep America prosperous” and that Democrats are favored, 48 percent to 38 percent, on “creating jobs.”

In a matchup against an unnamed Democratic opponent, Bush wins by only 47 percent to 43 percent. If the news stays bad, one of these days Bush will be running for his political life.