President Bush has a problem. Disasters are generally followed by a bounce in approval for the executive who takes charge. But after Hurricane Katrina there has been no such person, and post-Katrina polling has shown growing frustration with the embarrassing and tragic failures on the local, state, and federal levels. Bush himself has not fared particularly well in the most recent polls on his handling of the disaster:
Thirty-eight percent approved and 58% disapproved in a CBS News poll, 38% approved and 52% disapproved in a Pew Research Center poll, and 41% approved and 55% disapproved in the latest SurveyUSA poll, while 35% called Bush’s response to the hurricane “great” or “good,” 21% called it “neither good nor bad,” and 42% called it “bad” or “terrible” in the Gallup poll, and 38% called it “excellent” or “good,” 17% called it “fair” and 43% called it “poor” in the Zogby poll.
These numbers are only a little worse than Bush’s overall job approval ratings — 42% according to CBS, 40% according to Pew, 40% according to Zogby (that’s the “excellent”/”good” total). Only Rasmussen’s tracking poll, which uses a weighting method that has generally made it kinder to the president than other outfits, shows him breaking into the mid-forties. While it’s worth noting that Rasmussen did very well at predicting election results in 2004, the general impression given across several polls that Bush is low on political capital can’t be discounted, especially in light of the upcoming judicial battles.
John Roberts is still likely to be confirmed, perhaps even more so now that he is for all intents replacing his mentor William Rehnquist rather than Sandra Day O’Connor. But the next nominee could face trouble, especially if he or she is a strong conservative. Erick Erickson of RedState.org reports that a source of his says that “we are unsure if we could keep 51 of our own in the Senate” were conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Edith Jones nominated. “We’re doing the math and we’re pretty sure, but not fully sure.”
They’ll be less sure if Senators start to conclude, with the 2006 election upcoming, that cooperating with the Bush Administration is politically perilous. Seven GOP senators signed onto the compromise in May promising not to support stopping judicial filibusters as long as their Democratic counterparts refrain from filibustering nominees except under “extraordinary circumstances.” Three of them are up for reelection, and two — Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Mike DeWine of Ohio — appear likely to face credible challengers. DeWine is particularly important as one of three compromisers (along with John McCain and Lindsey Graham) who has expressed an explicit willingness to support a rule change if the compromise breaks.
Given that, it’s past due to show some leadership on the Katrina clean-up. Slate‘s John Dickerson makes the terrible suggestion that Bush “schedule a press conference, or, better yet, a town hall meeting with residents.” This would be a major blunder; neither forum would play to the President’s strengths. Instead, he should do what he’s best at, and give a primetime speech before an audience with plenty of specifics on how the rescue operation has gone, what went wrong, and how problems are being fixed.
There’s also the matter of one Michael Brown. Unless conservatives like Michelle Malkin are suddenly to be written off as carping Bush-haters, calls for the hapless FEMA head to be fired can’t be written off. National Review‘s Kate O’Beirne hears that the President has been told that “if Brown stays around, calls for his head from Repub[l]icans will grow.” If there’s anything Bush hates, it’s punishing people who are loyal to him. But he ought to bite the bullet and tactfully announce that while we thank Brown for his service, he’s being replaced by someone with the expertise to execute needed reforms. It can be done without being cruel. But it must be done.
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