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Where's the Base?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, May 10, 2006; 1:03 PM

In case there was any doubt, today's New York Times/CBS Poll makes it clear: Even a substantial number of Republicans and conservatives are turning against the president.

Adam Nagourney and Megan Thee write in the New York Times: "Americans have a bleaker view of the country's direction than at any time in more than two decades, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. Sharp disapproval of President Bush's handling of gasoline prices has combined with intensified unhappiness about Iraq to create a grim political environment for the White House and Congressional Republicans. . . .

"Mr. Bush's overall job approval rating hit another new low, 31 percent, tying the low point of his father in July 1992, four months before the elder Mr. Bush lost his bid for a second term to Bill Clinton. That is the third lowest approval rating of any president in 50 years; only Richard M. Nixon and Jimmy Carter were viewed less favorably.

"Mr. Bush is even losing support from what has been his base: 51 percent of conservatives and 69 percent of Republicans approve of the way Mr. Bush is handling his job. In both cases, those figures are a substantial drop in support from four months ago."

Here's Nagourney on video: "For an incumbent president, I have to say it's one of the most negative polls I've seen in a long time, maybe ever."

Here's a stunning graphic showing how everything's moving in the wrong direction for Bush.

Here are the complete results .

The Times poll comes on the heels of a similar Gallup poll. Susan Page wrote in USA Today yesterday: "Bush's fall is being fueled by erosion among support from conservatives and Republicans. In the poll, 52% of conservatives and 68% of Republicans approved of the job he is doing. Both are record lows among those groups."

Pollingreport aggregates poll results from all over.

Why Is It Happening?

John Podhoretz writes in his New York Post opinion column with one possible explanation: "Republicans and conservatives have grown weary of defending Bush. They've been fighting and fighting and fighting for years, and they see no letup in the hostility toward him or in the energy and determination of his critics. Faced with that implacable opposition, they've grown not disaffected but disheartened."

Phooey, writes Mickey Kaus in Slate. "Podhoretz can't bring himself to admit the obvious -- that Bush's push for a 'comprehensive' semi-amnesty immigration plan has been a disaster for him. Thanks presumably to Iraq and Social Security he was down to his base of 45 percent or so -- and then he willfully did something that [ticked] off half of them .

Byron York writes in the National Review: "Of several issues specifically covered by the Gallup poll -- the economy, foreign affairs, the situation in Iraq, terrorism, immigration, and energy policy -- immigration is the only area in which more Republicans disapprove of the president's policy than approve. And they disapprove by a significant margin: 52 percent of Republicans in the survey disapprove of Bush's immigration policy, versus 40 percent who approve."

But it's not just immigration, York writes. "What the numbers show is that, with the exception of terrorism, Bush has lost solid Republican support on a number of significant issues. Where that process ends is anyone's guess."

Fine With Them

From the anti-immigrant right, Lou Dobbs on CNN: "Tonight, President Bush, facing the lowest approval ratings of his presidency, is struggling to win support for any of his policies, from the war in Iraq and the nuclear confrontation with Iran, to his Medicare prescription plan and illegal immigration."

From the Bush-bashing left, Maureen Dowd in the New York Times (subscription required): "After trying not to emulate his father's presidency in any way, W. emulated it in the worst possible way. . . .

"The Bush presidency has devolved into an assertion of empty will."

Another Possible Explanation

Reader John Hodson of Sterling, Va., e-mailed me with one of the more intriguing analyses of the poll numbers I've seen yet:

"I don't believe that the president has had a true slide or fall from grace like other political figures might. In my opinion this administration has been pretty consistent in their quest to expand executive powers, focusing on the wrong things . . . and basic lack of accountability since early 2001. What did change during this time were the attitudes of the American public and the press. September 11th changed the way that the American people saw President Bush and the office of the president in general. They gave him much more credit than usual for small successes and refused to hit him hard for the many big mistakes of his first term.

"So many reports now are focusing on why his poll numbers are so low today (Iraq, gas prices, Katrina) but no one has examined the psychology of the American public and press that elevated the man to such high ratings not for what he had done but for what had been done to us. I would be interested to hear this as part of the discussion because if we can't learn what so many of us in America did wrong for five years, we will be sure to repeat these mistakes and give an undeserving leader entirely too much power over us again."

Live Online

I'm Live Online today at 1 p.m. EDT. Send me your questions and comments .

Gitmo Watch

Bush gave two interviews last Friday to German news organizations. In one, he asserted that the finest moment of his presidency came when he caught a fish on his private lake. That one got a fair amount of attention .

But in the other one, with ARD German television , he made this startling assertion: "I very much would like to end Guantanamo; I very much would like to get people to a court. And we're waiting for our Supreme Court to give us a decision as to whether the people need to have a fair trial in a civilian court or in a military court."

Reaction is only now starting to burble up.

Dahlia Lithwick writes in Slate: "His statement was surprising for several reasons, not least because it represents a major reversal from prior policy statements about the camp."

The Los Angeles Times editorial board is agog: "With his latest explanation for the continued confinement of almost 500 detainees at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba, President Bush sounds like the proverbial teenager who killed his parents and then asked for mercy from the court because he was an orphan."

Abramoff Watch

Watch the Judicial Watch Web site today for the much anticipated release of Secret Service logs that should provide new information on convicted ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff's White House visits. Judicial Watch had to sue to get them.

A USA Today editorial says: "This episode is the latest example of the Bush administration's stubborn and counterproductive efforts to withhold information from the public. Sometimes it has done so in the name of national security. Sometimes in the name of executive privilege, as with Vice President Cheney's energy task force. And sometimes for the simple reason that it appears to enjoy saying no, particularly to reporters.

"Administration officials seem to forget that White House staffers are taxpayer-paid officials doing the people's business on public property. In addition to the Secret Service records of Abramoff's comings and goings, the administration should put out documentation showing whom he spoke to and what topics were discussed. . . .

"Abramoff might have visited the White House only a few times. But if the president doesn't learn this simple lesson about the dangers of not being forthcoming, it will seem as if he never left."

Spin Alert

Hoping that the public -- and, apparently, the press -- will forget all about the spectacularly botched rollout of the highly problematic Medicare prescription drug benefit, the White House is madly spinning the program as a huge success that will lead Republican candidates to victory in November.

Jim Rutenberg and Marjorie Connelly write in the New York Times: " 'I think it's going to be value added as we go forward,' Dan Bartlett, the White House counselor, said at the end of a presidential event here encouraging people to sign up for the program before the deadline on Monday. Asked whether Republicans should promote the plan as they campaign this summer, Mr. Bartlett said, 'They'd be smart to.'

"The calculation, accurate or not, represents a marked shift in thinking on the plan, which emerged as a potential hurdle for Republicans as people voiced growing frustration about complicated enrollment.

"Democrats say Republicans are fooling themselves if they now believe that the plan will help them in November, saying people continue to complain about it, especially about the deadline."

Amazingly enough, Rutenberg and Connelly find evidence in the new poll that they say supports the White House argument that opinion is turning. "Many respondents who said they had signed up said their expenses for prescription drugs decreased -- 42 percent, against 19 percent who said they were paying more."

Talk about low expectations. Shouldn't a new $724 billion federal program be saving money for all of them--or at least not costing them more.

David Jackson writes in USA Today: "The White House sees Medicare's new prescription-drug plan as good political medicine.

"As President Bush travels through Florida warning that the May 15 sign-up deadline is rapidly approaching, polls show rising popularity for the new program. . . .

"As enrollment has increased, so has public approval of the program. Now 36% of people say the program is working, up from 27% in January, according to USA TODAY/Gallup Polls in January and April. But 49% still say it's not working. . . .

"Presidential counselor Dan Bartlett says the Democratic complaints about the program have been addressed. He calls it good government policy, reason enough for Republican candidates to embrace it.

" 'Good policy makes good politics,' Bartlett said."

Or maybe it's just that Bush's low poll standings have him reaching for whatever issues may help. That's what Bill Frenzel tells James Gerstenzang of the Los Angeles Times. Frenzel is "a Republican who represented a Minnesota district in Congress and who now studies economic and political issues at the Brookings Institution in Washington. . . .

" 'When you're at 33% or 35% approval rating, you use whatever assets are available,' Frenzel said.

Sticking to the Deadline

Shailagh Murray and Michael A. Fletcher write in The Washington Post: "President Bush insisted yesterday that the May 15 deadline for picking a Medicare prescription drug plan will stand, even as key Republican lawmakers suggested they may take action retroactively to protect people who miss the Monday cutoff.

"Speaking yesterday at a retirement community in Sun City Center, Fla., Bush urged eligible seniors to act quickly. 'Deadlines are important,' he said. 'Deadlines help people understand there's finality, and people need to get after it, you know?' "

The Oldsters Give Bush Hell

At Bush's retirement-village speech yesterday, there was no sign of the White House's vaunted audience screening. And that's understating the matter.

Here's the transcript from Sun City.

One audience member literally begged Bush to extend the deadline on behalf of her elderly neighbors. Another audience member lectured the president at length about everything that was wrong about the program.

"Q Thank you. First, let me say, I think a lot of people will be helped by this program.

"THE PRESIDENT: They will --

"Q A lot of people will be helped by the Medicare Part D program.

"THE PRESIDENT: Oh, thank you.

"Q But I think there's major deficiencies in it that I think we'd like to hear some comments from you on. The first major issue, I think the program is going to be a lot more expensive both to the user and to the taxpayer than it needs to be, because we don't allow Medicare to negotiate directly with the pharmaceutical companies. This could wind up costing the taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars over the next 10 years.

"Another thing, the insurance companies are allowed to change their formulary once a person is in the program; a person is not allowed to get out until the end of the year. This is a legalized bate-and-switch operation by the insurance companies. How many of them are doing it, I don't know, but it's a danger for our seniors.

"Third, I have a report here from Families USA indicating that the poorest people that are affected by this program are not being helped.

"THE PRESIDENT: Well, I just --

"Q Not helped -- either they're not signed up, they're not being helped compared to the benefits they were getting under a combination of Medicare and Medicaid.

"So, finally, I think there are several major changes that should be made in the program. Number one, let Medicare negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies. Number two, stop the formulary switch. If we do that, by reducing the costs, I think we can possibly reduce the size or even eliminate the doughnut hole that people are exposed to.

"THE PRESIDENT: Okay, thanks.

"Q And I think -- (laughter.) One last thing -- okay. If we don't bring our costs down this way, we're never going to control health care costs in the U.S. And we're subsidizing the pharmaceutical companies, and we're subsidizing health costs in every other country around the world because every other country negotiates directly with the pharmaceutical companies. (Applause.)"

And then at the end, Bush called on a gentleman who complained at some length that no one was paying any attention to his invention to control hurricanes.

This morning's event , during which Bush only called on pre-selected ringers who joined him on stage, was much more sedate.

Bushism Watch

From Bush's explanation of the options he is considering to make sure Iran doesn't get a nuclear bomb: "A President has got to be able to say to the American people, diplomacy didn't work."

No Kiss for You

Thomas M. DeFrank and Helen Kennedy write in the New York Daily News: "President Bush was in Florida yesterday trying one last time to cut the political legs out from under the woman who helped put him in the White House in 2000.

"Rep. Katherine Harris met the President when he landed at MacDill Air Force Base and they chatted briefly while she gripped his hand, but the body language said it all: Bush's face was grim and he didn't bestow the usual kiss."

Jim Rutenberg writes for the New York Times: "After saying hello to his brother and straightening his tie, the president shook hands with Ms. Harris and spoke with her for roughly 30 seconds, with Ms. Harris talking far more than the president, who did not kiss her or put his arm around her -- or do anything more than pat her on the back.

"An aide to the president said later that they were only speaking about 'the weather,' and a spokesman for Ms. Harris refused to divulge the details of the conversation."

Jeb for President?

Bush did a roundtable interview this morning with Florida newspapers including the Miami Herald, St. Petersburg Times, Palm Beach Post, Tampa Tribune and Orlando Sentinel.

Bill Adair writes on the St. Petersburg Times Web site: "President Bush would like to see his brother Jeb run for office again and says he would make 'a great president.'

"In an interview with Florida reporters, Bush said his brother had been an excellent governor and is well-suited for another office. 'I would like to see Jeb run at some point in time, but I have no idea if that's his intention or not.'

"Bush said he had 'pushed him fairly hard about what he intends to do,' but Jeb has not said."

Costly Words

Christine Perez reported in the Dallas Business Journal on Monday that Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson recently told a Dallas group about a conversation he had with a prospective advertising contractor.

" 'He had made every effort to get a contract with HUD for 10 years,' Jackson said of the prospective contractor. 'He made a heck of a proposal and was on the (General Services Administration) list, so we selected him. He came to see me and thank me for selecting him. Then he said something . . . he said, 'I have a problem with your president.'

" 'I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "I don't like President Bush." I thought to myself, "Brother, you have a disconnect -- the president is elected, I was selected. You wouldn't be getting the contract unless I was sitting here. If you have a problem with the president, don't tell the secretary." '

" 'He didn't get the contract,' Jackson continued. 'Why should I reward someone who doesn't like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president? Logic says they don't get the contract. That's the way I believe.' "

Al Kamen writes in The Washington Post today: "Aside from violating the Constitution's prohibitions on government retaliation for speech, we're told Jackson's peculiar view may violate federal procurement law, which requires 'complete impartiality and . . . preferential treatment for none.' "

Stephen Ohlemacher writes for the Associated Press: "A spokeswoman acknowledged that Jackson told the story. But, she said, the story was untrue."

Kavanaugh Watch

Charles Babington writes in The Washington Post: "As White House staff secretary, Brett M. Kavanaugh has a desk near the Oval Office, and he sees most letters and documents that go in there before President Bush does. But Kavanaugh, nominated by Bush to an appellate court judgeship, testified yesterday that he knew nothing about the administration's warrantless surveillance program, a now-rescinded memo on torture and White House visits by former lobbyist Jack Abramoff until they were in the newspapers. . . .

"Throughout yesterday's hearing, Democrats complained that Kavanaugh's responses were so unenlightening that they could render no judgment on his fitness for the appellate court."

Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post: "Kavanaugh, rubbing his hands together nervously and jiggling his leg, proved elusive even on such simple matters as why it took him so long to respond to the committee's questions after his first hearing two years ago."

Who's Right?

The Daily Show's Jon Stewart (shown here via Salon's Video Dog ) danced a jig after he showed these two video clips Monday night:

Bush introducing Michael Hayden as his nominee to replace CIA Director Porter Goss: "He's the right man to lead the CIA at this critical moment in our nation's history."

Bush introducing Goss 18 months earlier: "He's the right man to lead this important agency at this critical moment in our nation's history."

Preparing for Snow

In yesterday's column , I asked you readers to send me tough, important questions for Tony Snow's highly anticipated first full-fledged press briefing on Monday.

About 500 of you have responded already -- thanks! I'll continue to accept submissions until Thursday evening.

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