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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

You Know Bush Is in Trouble, When Even He Admits It

Last night, Bush basically admitted things were going poorly in Iraq, that the US needed lots of help from other countries and that the Iraq occupation was going to cost a lot more money than he had previously said. That’s highly significant politically because, as Dan Balz put it in a good Washington Post analysis of Bush’s speech:
[Bush] is on the defensive over Iraq now, just as he is on the defensive at home over the sluggish economy, which continues to shed jobs despite the latest infusion of tax cuts. The irony is that, if there was anything White House officials and Republican leaders assumed, it was that Bush’s strength as a wartime leader would be a major political asset in his reelection campaign, offsetting persistent public concerns about his handling of the economy.
That may well continue to be the case, but only if the progress the president and other U.S. officials have promised in Iraq and the Middle East becomes a reality before too much longer. Whether Americans are ready for the kind of expansive commitment that the president described last night is an open question.
Just so, just so.
Here’s some evidence about just how open this question is. In a just-released ABC News poll, Bush’s approval rating on Iraq has sunk to 49 percent (with 47 percent disapproval), down 7 points since August 24. By almost 20 points (57 percent to 38 percent), the public now believes the number of casualties in Iraq is unacceptable, given the goals versus the costs of the war. And by 48 to 40 percent, the public now says the long term risk of terrorism to the US will increase as a result of the Iraq war. That’s a stark contrast to mid-April, when people believed by 2:1 that the war would decrease the long term risk of terrorism.
And here’s some evidence from the new CNN/Time poll about just how much political trouble W is in. In this poll, more independents–a rough proxy for swing voters–now disapprove of Bush’s job performance (49 percent) than approve (45 percent). By 48 percent to 42 percent, independents also believe Bush has done more to divide than unite the country. By 55 percent to 39 percent, these same voters do not believe the phrase “compassionate conservative” describes Bush. And twice as many independents say they definitely plan to vote against Bush (44 percent) than say they definitely plan to vote for him (22 percent). Wow.
Guess it’ll take more than earnestly looking into the cameras and invoking 9/11 to get out of this one.