Thursday night, former Congressman J.C. Watts earned a round of applause at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference when he offered that “History is going to be kind to George W. Bush.”
History might be coming faster than anybody thought.
From Democrat-oriented Public Policy Polling, a hypothetical matchup between Bush and current president Barack Obama is almost even, with Obama holding a scant 48-46 edge.
Bush had atrocious approval ratings for his final few years in office, particularly because he lost a lot of support from Republicans and conservative leaning independents. Those folks may not have liked him but they now say they would rather have him back than Obama. 87% of GOP voters now say they would prefer Bush, a number a good deal higher than Bush’s approval rating within his party toward the tail end of his Presidency. Democrats predictably go for Obama by an 86/10 margin, and independents lean toward him as well by a 49/37 spread.
These numbers suggest some peril for Democrats in making Bush a focus of their messaging this fall. A lot of folks who contributed to the former President’s low level of popularity now like Obama even less. Figuring out a way to make voters change their minds about the current President would be a much more effective strategy for Democrats than continuing to try to score points off the former one.
In PPP’s release on the poll, i’s noted that Obama still holds a 49-37 edge on the former president among independents, which though a relatively happy number represents significant erosion.
Obama’s troubles against hypothetical Republicans aren’t limited to those constitutionally barred from running against him. Rasmussen reports that Obama only beats Ron Paul by a 42-41 score, an indication that Paul’s small-government, libertarian message has a great deal of power when weighed against the president’s policies.
But while Paul’s message appears to be resonating, his candidacy isn’t all that strong. Paul’s favorable ratings among Republicans and Independents are 42 percent apiece, while only eight percent of Republicans and 15 percent of Independents give him strong favorable numbers.
The lessons from these two polls? First, while many may groan at the idea, fellow Hayride blogger Ryan Booth probably isn’t off his rocker for suggesting that Jeb Bush could be a viable candidate. The Bush name apparently isn’t as poisonous as media narratives might have people believe, and so long as Jeb could indicate some differences between how he’d govern and how his brother did he would have a chance against Obama. The fact that a candidate with negatives among the Republicans as high as Paul’s are could still come within the margin of error in a head-to-head with the president is also a plus for the former Florida governor.
The second lesson is that if you’re a prospective Republican candidate, the best thing you can do is attach yourself to as much of Paul’s program as you can stomach. Paul isn’t a particularly compelling speaker, he’s as old as the hills and he comes off as one of the loopier major political figures in the country in recent years. If he has better than 40 percent of the American people willing to support him over Obama it’s because America is looking for someone who will drain Washington of its money and power, end corporate bailouts and Fed machinations and embrace a libertarian philosophy of governance. Paul’s foreign policy ideas make Obama look like Ronald Reagan and they’re political poison, though as Mark Zelden notes today the time for an expansive foreign policy is not now. As such, it might be a good idea to split the difference between traditional Republican policy and Paul’s ideas by saying our allies will need to invest more in their own militaries, that border defense will be a higher priority than foreign adventures until the budget is balanced, and that stationing troops in places like Germany and South Korea might need a re-examination.
Either way, while it’s early to talk about the 2012 elections it’s clear that Obama is very beatable. A two-point advantage over Bush and a one-point lead over Paul means the president has a problem.
And continuing to blame the former president? That’s only going to make things worse.