As President George W. Bush jets off to Asia, he flees a country bitterly divided by his policies and a Republican party in open revolt over his many failures.
Bush leaves behind a nation in turmoil, ripped apart by an unpopular war in Iraq and increasingly distrustful of the leader who sent Americans to die there. His use of Veterans Day to attack opponents of his war has angered and further alienated veterans’ groups – another political misstep by an administration marred by frequent and escalating screw ups.
“The president resorted to his old playbook of discredited rhetoric about the war on terror and political attacks, as his own political fortunes and credibility diminish,” says Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.
With polls showing 57 percent of the American people believe Bush lied to lead this country into war in Iraq, Republican political strategists now tell their candidates to avoid any association with the President and to moderate their views away from the extreme right wing positions of the GOP.
Even notorious conservatives like Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, are avoiding appearances with Bush. Santorum citied “scheduling conflicts” that kept him from appearing with Bush during the President’s Veterans Day attack on Iraqi war critics but Santorum also told radio talk show jock Don Imus that he does not intend to appear with the President for the time being.
“Santorum needs a degree of separation, to establish independence from the President so voters believe he represents their interests,” says Terry Madonna, political analyst and pollster at Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania. “Republicans like him have every reason to be concerned and they are.”
Republican Rep. J.D. Hayworth of Arizona says he won’t campaign with Bush. When asked is he wanted the President to come to his district, Hayworth replied “In a word, no. Not at this time.” Hayworth also says he will not use the President in any campaign ads.
Other Republicans admit Bush is dragging the party down.
“Bush is in a funk,” says former Senate majority leader Bob Dole. “He’s about hit rock bottom and the party is down there with him.”
But others say the President’s fall can continue and, with it, the fortunes of the GOP. A last-minute visit to Virginia to stump for Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore is cited as one of the reasons Kilgore lost a race he had in the bag weeks earlier and the losing GOP candidate in New Jersey blames the President’s unpopularity for his loss.
“If Bush’s numbers were where they were a year ago, or even six months ago, I think we would have won,” Doug Forrester said after losing to Democrat Jon Corzine.
Other Republicans mired in scandal face tough election battles next year. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, caught up in an insider stock investigation, would lose if the election were held today, a poll by Middle Tennessee State University shows.
Bush is trying to turn the tide by launching a new series of attacks on his opponents, a well-worn strategy often used by chief political advisor Karl Rove to rescue his President in times of crisis.
But backlash against the Veterans Day speech suggest the public isn’t buying the act this time around.