EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the April 10, 2006, issue of National Review.
George W. Bush’s sagging approval ratings have been accompanied, not coincidentally, by an increasing amount of criticism from his allies in Congress. But while some Republicans have decided that it’s time to declare independence from the White House, other party strategists have a warning: If Bush sinks too deep into lame-duck territory now, we will see a large flock of GOP dead ducks in the upcoming election season.
@ad@Bush’s poll numbers are undeniably poor. In a mid-March Pew Research Center survey, only 33 percent of respondents approved of the president’s job performance, down from 50 percent a year ago. Bush’s ratings on the handling of specific issues have also declined significantly, with only 42 percent now approving of the way Bush is handling the threat of terrorism. That’s down 11 percent from mid-February. The poll also reports that negative descriptions of the president now outnumber positive ones, with “incompetent” topping the list at 29 percent, and “honest” slipping to 14 percent. Even more alarmingly, much of the erosion of Bush’s support has come from his political base. In the last year, his approval among conservative Republicans has dropped by 16 points. Among people who voted for him in 2004, it has fallen by 24 points.
Many congressional Republicans are among the disenchanted. “Arrogant” and “insular” lead the list of adjectives that Republicans in Congress volunteer when asked to describe what ails the White House. They recount the sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina, the doomed nomination of Harriet Miers, the back-biting following the Cheney shooting incident, and the defiant, tone-deaf response to congressional objections over the Dubai ports deal.
A common criticism holds that the Bush administration has become more insular over time as departing officials have been replaced by less experienced junior staffers. One congressional critic echoes a common criticism of the White House’s hiring policy. “Unless you get in on the ground floor, you can’t get on the elevator. You can’t penetrate the White House unless you have been there from the very beginning.” An administration ally adds, “There are only so many times you can promote the deputy’s deputy without paying a price in competency.”
Like a troubled marriage, the latest spat between the White House and congressional Republicans reflects longstanding, unresolved problems…
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