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Posted by on Apr 5, 2008 in Economy, Politics | 8 comments

Low Bush Polls And Historical Ranking Negative For McCain Presidential Campaign


Republican presumptive Presidential nominee Senator John McCain is now riding high in the polls and in his cross-country image building trip: he can watch the two Democratic Presidential wannabes bloody themselves (and their party) up. But he faces a ticking time bomb in November: he’s running a campaign deferential to President George Bush when polls and historian rankings show Bush to be one of the most poorly-ranked in American history.

Bush’s poll numbers aren’t the lowest in history (yet) but he is so far down that he can see a sign that says SOUTH POLE and he needs to be careful of relief-seeking sniffing dogs.

Even worse worse in terms of the long view and his legacy, just look at this historians’ poll:

A Pew Research Center poll released last week found that the share of the American public that approves of President George W. Bush has dropped to a new low of 28 percent.

An unscientific poll of professional historians completed the same week produced results far worse for a president clinging to the hope that history will someday take a kinder view of his presidency than does contemporary public opinion.

In an informal survey of 109 professional historians conducted over a three-week period through the History News Network, 98.2 percent assessed the presidency of Mr. Bush to be a failure while 1.8 percent classified it as a success.

Can it get yet worse? Yes:

Asked to rank the presidency of George W. Bush in comparison to those of the other 41 American presidents, more than 61 percent of the historians concluded that the current presidency is the worst in the nation’s history. Another 35 percent of the historians surveyed rated the Bush presidency in the 31st to 41st category, while only four of the 109 respondents ranked the current presidency as even among the top two-thirds of American administrations.


And there’s more:

At least two of those who ranked the current president in the 31-41 ranking made it clear that they placed him next-to-last, with only James Buchanan, in their view, being worse. “He is easily one of the 10-worst of all time and—if the magnitude of the challenges and opportunities matter—then probably in the bottom five, alongside Buchanan, Johnson, Fillmore, and Pierce,” wrote another historian.

In other words: it now appears that there is finally a President of the late 20th to early 21st century who is being ranked as a worse President than the hapless Democratic President Jimmy Carter.

Millsaps College’s Robert S. McElvaine who conducted this poll for the History News Network notes some of the polls weaknesses: historians were “self-selected” but the survey was open to all historians, some believe it is still too early to judge Bush. But he also notes that Bush’s rating has gotten worse — not better — as time goes on. He writes:

Four years ago I rated George W. Bush’s presidency as the second worst, a bit above that of James Buchanan. Now, however, like so many other professional historians, I see the administration of the second Bush as clearly the worst in our history. My reasons are similar to those cited by other historians: In the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the United States enjoyed enormous support around the world. President Bush squandered that goodwill by taking the country into an unnecessary war of choice and misleading the American people to gain support for that war. And he failed utterly to have a plan to deal with Iraq after the invasion. He further undermined the international reputation of the United States by justifying torture.

Mr. Bush inherited a sizable budget surplus and a thriving economy. By pushing through huge tax cuts for the rich while increasing federal spending at a rapid rate, Bush transformed the surplus into a massive deficit. The tax cuts and other policies accelerated the concentration of wealth and income among the very richest Americans. These policies combined with unwavering opposition to necessary government regulations have produced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Then there is the incredible shrinking dollar, the appointment of incompetent cronies, the totally inexcusable failure to react properly to the disaster of Hurricane Katrina, the blatant disregard for the Constitution—and on and on.

To be sure, there are those who will hail Bush’s actions, say tax cuts have worked and strengthen the economy, defend the idea of a super executive branch with ever-extending powers, hail the Iraq war as necessary when it was launched and necessary now, and blame Katrina on local officials and not the “good job” done by the Bush administration. But those folks are in the 28 percent noted by the Pew poll.

The link contains a slew of other similar comments by historians. Meanwhile, the immediate political danger that McCain and his advisers (which reportedly include Bush political maven Karl Rove) face is this:

Talk to people on the street, you often hear the phrase “one of the worst during my lifetime” or “the worst during my lifetime” (unless they are senior citizens who lived through Herbert Hoover). Do a random sample yourself if you travel, talk to people in stores, business people and young people — and Republicans.

I know of several rock-ribbed Republicans who would love to vote for McCain, but say they won’t because of his stance on the war or because their businesses are decimated and they want a new crew in Washington. At least two will vote for Obama. One won’t vote for anyone since he hates the Democrats, dislikes McCain and feels Bush has been a disappointment and a disaster.

McCain has yet to differentiate himself from Bush. In a sense, he is giving the impression that on the economy and the war voters will get Bush Administration III if they vote for him. Part of the reason is that he is trying to unify his party, win over conservatives and consolidate his partisan base.

Even if the GOP runs an effective and aggressive negative campaign against the Democratic nominee (no matter who he or she is), McCain will be working within the political context of a polity that has generally concluded in polls that the sooner they can get their CEO away from their troubled company, the better.

The historians’ reactions mirror the viewpoints of an increasing number of Americans — American’s who don’t write (or read) weblogs of the left, right or center. These Americans aren’t wealthy talk show hosts who always defend their party, its leader in the White House, and insist there REALLY is no recession out there but only an inconvenient “adjustment” and that most Americans aren’t suffering (and are absolutely convinced of this, as they ride in their private or chartered jets).

In reality, McCain is indeed the strongest candidate the GOP could run this year.

He has an amazing personal narrative, documented courage and charisma that comes across on television. Many independent voters like and trust John McCain, even if they disagree with him on the war.

But then there is a growing consensus by the bulk of Americans, based on polls and similar in many ways to these historians that if this is what a CEO-led government looks like, perhaps its time to quickly shift to a different model with a new leader who can put brand new players in the White House.

FOOTNOTE: All of this lends credence to the notion that the Bush brand is finished for a while. If Jeb Bush — who by many accounts was a highly popular Florida governor — wants to run, probably the earliest he’d be able to do it would be 2016. Perhaps.

Just look at this graph showing George Bush’s approval ratings:


Cartoon by RJ Matson, The St. Louis Post Dispatch

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