Mr. President? They trusted Bill Clinton more

A new poll and a new low for Bush. Can he dig himself out?

Published November 15, 2005 1:57PM (EST)

Maybe folks at the White House are immune to the polls now. Maybe they've read "all-time low" so many times now that the words don't carry much sting anymore. But deep in the new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, there's a statistic that's got to hurt: By a substantial margin, Americans say they trust George W. Bush less than they trusted Bill Clinton.

Remember the guy who was going to restore "honesty and integrity" to the White House?

Four years ago -- which is to say, two months after 9/11 -- Bush enjoyed an approval rating of 87 percent. That number is 37 percent today. On every front, from the economy to immigration to federal spending to Iraq to terrorism, a majority of Americans disapprove of the way the president is doing his job.

Other presidents have suffered similar woes, of course: Clinton and Gerald Ford both bottomed out at 37 percent, and Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Lyndon Johnson and George H.W. Bush all saw their numbers dip even lower than that. Some of them recovered, and some of them didn't. Can this president make a comeback?

We never say never, but it's hard to see how he does it on his own. Aside from the war on terror, Americans have never much cared for the president's policy positions. But they liked him -- they trusted him -- and that aura of good feeling served as a sort of cover for everything else. Now, for the first time in the Gallup poll, a majority of Americans -- 52 to 46 percent -- say that Bush is neither honest nor trustworthy. The cover is gone, and there's nothing under it to prop Bush back up. Fifty percent of the poll's respondents said they dislike the president. Six percent hate him.

Ruy Teixeira put it well the other day when, confronted with poll results not quite as bad as these, he asked whether we were witnessing the end of "Bushism." "Of course," Teixeira wrote, "Bushism could be defined in a number of different ways, but on one key definition it clearly is coming to an end. If we define Bushism as 'the political project of building a majority coalition, despite a commitment to unpopular policies, based on a superior cultural, national security, and leadership image among voters,' that project is now failing."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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