The approval rating of President George W. Bush is now at the lowest point of his presidency. Bush has an anemic 42% approval rating right now, much lower than Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton at this point in their presidency. In fact, Bush’s approval rating at this juncture in his term is similar to Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, who all lost re-election campaigns.
Bush is suffering because of the problems in Iraq. Over the past few months, casualties have increased dramatically. In addition, there have been mounting questions about the operation in Iraq with concerns about the transfer of power to Iraq authorities on June 30, 2004. With the prisoner abuse scandal making even more people question the conduct of the Bush administration, good news on the economic front has been overshadowed. In fact, in the last two months, economic growth and employment numbers have skyrocketed bolstering claims from the President that his tax cuts would have a beneficial impact on the economy. Unfortunately for Bush, voters are not focusing on the good economic news right now. If voters are concentrating on an economic issue it is the rapidly rising gasoline prices. Now, Americans are facing historically high prices of over $2.00 per gallon for gasoline. These high gas prices are another problem for President Bush, especially with millions of Americans vacationing this summer and facing increasing costs for travel.
In light of the troubling developments in Iraq and at the pump, and with the crumbling poll numbers, the political advisers for President Bush have to be concerned. His re-election is now very suspect and the respected pollster John Zogby has stated that the “election is John Kerry’s to lose.” To make matters worse, Bush is even having trouble holding his Republican base. In a recent Zogby poll, almost 20% of Republicans are not solidly behind the President’s re-election. Bush is having plenty of difficulty garnering Independent and Democratic voters so motivating the GOP base is crucial for the President to win in November. Who are these Republicans questioning a Bush second term?
McCain Moderates—Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) has been at odds with President Bush since the 2000 Republican primaries. Even though he has endorsed Bush in the 2004 election, many of his supporters have been unwilling to embrace Bush. McCain is a deficit hawk and is concerned about the excess spending in the last few years. He also is opposed to an extension of the Bush tax cuts believing that in a time of war all Americans should sacrifice.
Fiscal Conservatives—also concerned about the deficit, but these voters are strongly in favor of continued tax cuts. These conservatives believe that the president has not been conservative enough in limiting the growth of government spending. Ironically, the president’s liberal opponent, John Kerry, has been claiming in recent speeches that President Bush is not conservative due to his big spending ways. In addition, many of these conservatives are starting to really worry about the cost and the conduct of the war in Iraq.
Buchanan Brigades—there are some isolationist Republicans who could be characterized as “America First” conservatives like controversial commentator Pat Buchanan. They are very upset at President Bush’s call for employment opportunities and amnesty for illegal aliens from Mexico. This is an especially urgent issue in states like Arizona, which has seen an increase of 34% in illegal crossings in the past six months. These voters do not believe that Bush has effectively tightened border security or been tough enough with Mexican President Vincente Fox.
Despite all of the Republican concerns, the most pressing involves federal spending, which has grown much more in this administration than in the rather liberal Clinton administration. Whereas there were surpluses in the Clinton administration, there are now increasing budget deficits in the Bush administration. Of course, the 9-11 attacks led to the creation of the Homeland Security Department and increased defense spending. Also, the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are costing billons of dollars with no end in sight. However, some conservatives question whether a massive new federal bureaucracy is the best way to fight terrorism. According to Heritage Foundation researcher Dr. Daniel Mitchell, “…government inevitably wastes money and deprives the private sector of resources that could be used to boost jobs and create growth. This is why discretionary spending should be reduced.” Yet, billions of dollars have been pumped into the war on terror and new agencies like the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have been created.
Has this new bureaucracy made us safer? According to Homeland Security Department’s Inspector General Clark Kent Ervin, the TSA is too bureaucratic and airport security remains much too lax. Our airport security problems are so bad that House Aviation Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) recently stated, “We have a system that doesn’t work.” After federalizing all airport screeners and spending billions of dollars, and with terrorist threats everywhere, such a situation is unacceptable. Federal spending is not just increasing in the areas of defense and the war on terror; unfortunately, all federal spending has been increasing rapidly. This year, the budget deficit is expected to rise over $500 billion. In fact, Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation analyzed Bush administration spending and found that United States government spending has now topped $20,000 per household, a post World War II record. Some reasons why spending has accelerated so rapidly can be found in Bush administration priorities like the “No Child Left Behind” act which dramatically boosted spending in the Department of Education, which Republicans like Ronald Reagan used to advocate eliminating. Also, President Bush signed a $180 billion farm bill, which included wasteful spending, corporate welfare, unnecessary subsidies and plenty of just plain pork.
So, spending and immigration contribute to GOP problems for President Bush as he prepares for the re-election battle ahead. To win, he will obviously need a solid GOP base, yet 20% of Republicans are not on board with his re-election campaign. At this point, the chances of Bush winning re-election are at best 50/50. He needs to work extremely hard over the next few months to not only reach out to Independents and Democrats, but to figure out how to secure the support of his party. His best hope to unify the party is to paint John Kerry as a completely unattractive candidate so that no matter what problems Republicans have with Bush; very few will find John Kerry an acceptable alternative. An anti-Kerry strategy is a time tested political maneuver, which seems to be the one the Bush campaign will try to use to bring Republicans on board and squeak out a victory in November. We’ll know in a few months if it succeeds.