Bush's Accountability Moment?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, July 2, 2008; 12:47 PM

Will the 2008 election be President Bush's long-awaited accountability moment?

After it was all over, Bush famously declared that the 2004 election had been his "accountability moment." But thanks to Karl Rove, that election was at least as much about John Kerry as it was about George Bush.

Bush won't be on the ballot this fall, of course, but his policies -- and his legacy -- will be. Voters will face a dramatic choice between a continuation of core Bush policies or a repudiation of them. On such issues as staying in Iraq, how to fight terror, the economy, tax cuts, health care and Social Security, John McCain basically adheres to Bush's views. Barack Obama represents the alternative.

And according to the polls, there is a pretty overwhelming hunger out there for a change.

John D. McKinnon writes in the Wall Street Journal: "President Bush's record unpopularity is playing an unprecedented role in the 2008 campaign, complicating John McCain's task among key constituencies.

"Mr. Bush received a 66% disapproval rating in The Wall Street Journal/NBC poll for June, tying his own record for the highest ever for any president in the Journal/NBC poll. The previous highs were a 56% rating for Mr. Bush's father in late 1992, and a 50% score for President Clinton in 1993. In the long-running Gallup Poll, Mr. Bush's disapproval rating reached 69% this spring -- a record going back to the Truman administration. . . .

"Mr. Bush's second-term slide in the polls has been especially sharp among independents, a group that Sen. McCain depends on. Now for Mr. McCain to win in November, 'at least one-third of McCain's voters will have to be people who disapprove of the job George Bush is doing,' most of them independents, says Republican pollster Neil Newhouse. And Sen. McCain must accomplish that feat while continuing to align himself with Mr. Bush on some of the administration's most controversial policies, notably the Iraq war."

What's the White House response to these polls?

"White House aides contend that polling methods fail to sufficiently sample their sympathizers, noting that the gap between self-identifying Democrats and Republicans tends to close dramatically in Election Day exit polling.

"More broadly, it's been common for voters to express a desire for change at the end of a two-term presidency, says Ed Gillespie, counselor to the president. . . .

"White House officials believe they've had a series of policy successes recently, including improving stability in Iraq, combating global HIV/AIDS and restoring close ties with Western Europe. They note that approval ratings for Congress are even lower than the president's -- at an abysmal 13% in the latest Journal poll. 'There's frustration with Washington, and our numbers reflect that,' Mr. Gillespie says. Unhappiness with the economy and high fuel prices is another factor. Aides insist that Mr. Bush's willingness to make unpopular decisions eventually will be vindicated."

McKinnon notes: "Mr. Bush's impact on the race could depend on whether voters blame the president's policies, or the president himself, for his administration's perceived failings. . . .

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