It looks like the issue of having American ports managed by a Dubai-based company is producing a definite decline in President Bush’s poll numbers. Gallup shows Bush’s approval rating at 38% and 66% opposed to the ports deal. The latest FoxNews/Opinion Dynamics poll has results that are quite similar and LA Times finds even less support for the ports deal. While the last CBS News poll dramatically oversampled Democrats it is quite clear that Bush has taken a political hit from this issue.
Even if the policy behind the ports deal is a solid one, and it does look as though Dubai Ports World is a decent enough company, the politics of the issue were completely bungled. Bush’s support levels seem to have a floor right around 40% when he has the support of his party – which is consistant with partisan ID in America today. However, in cases where Bush has managed to offend members of his own party – Katrina, Harriet Miers, and now the ports deal, his approval ratings continue to fall.
Bush has done the dumbest thing he could possibly do, which is undercut himself on his signature issue. He’s not only hurt himself, but he’s also undercut the whole GOP on the security issue. If the Democrats can start outflanking the Republicans on national defense and security, the GOP will be in a whole lot of trouble in the upcoming midterm elections. Despite the fact that the Democrats remain weak, disorganized, and hyper-partisan, the GOP is hardly doing much better at this point. If the GOP loses their edge on security, things will get pretty interesting – and if you’ve seen Serenity you know what I mean by “pretty interesting.”
Bush’s boneheaded move on the ports issue has cost him politically, and it’s hardly surprising that it has. Bush has once again managed to play right into the hands of his critics by looking like he and his administration were asleep at the wheel. The threat of a veto on this ports issue was never prefaced by an adequate explanation of why anyone should support the deal despite the fact that there were plenty of reasons why it did not represent a threat to US national security. It seemed like a complete overreaction and instantly burned bridges with Congress and the public.
Bush seems absolutely uninterested in playing political hardball these days, which is understandable given the vitriolic nature of the media. The problem is that when you’re a target, you damn well better start firing back if you don’t want to end up being cut to shreds. Bush has not done this. There’s been very little effort to craft a coherent message on key issues. Congress and the White House seem to be utterly disconnected. On immigration and national security, Bush is alienating the conservative base. If it comes down to leftist anger and conservative apathy, the Republicans are going to find themelves in a very bad place in 2006.
The issues we face are too important to have the unhinged Democratic Party take control of Congress. The Republicans have to start getting their heads in the game, and if Bush continues to make one political blunder after another while taking fire from all sides from a relentlessly hostile media the captain may take the ship down with him.