Two months after he left office, in March 2009, Gallup had Bush at 10 percent favorability among Democrats. Ten percent.
And now? Now, the Bush era seems like a lost golden age by comparison.
On the day this blog launched in 2006, in the doldrums of the Iraq war, it was hard to overstate how despised Bush was by the left. There were Bush/Hitler comparisons, sure, but focusing on the most extreme examples of anti-Bush hysteria risks creating a false impression that it was the most hysterical Democrats making most of the noise. Not so. The liberal commentariat hated him, pretty much one and all. And now?
Dubya’s more popular right now with Democrats than he is with independents. Never did I think I’d see the day. If you’re wondering how Obama stacks up with Republicans by comparison, here’s what YouGov found:
Bush is at 51/42 among the other party. Obama’s at 19/79. How come? Time, mostly. As noted, Bush was actually polling worse among Dems in the first months after leaving office than Obama is right now with Republicans. As memories of a president’s tenure recede, replaced by reminders of the sort of feelgood charity work and national-unity ceremonies that ex-presidents now specialize in, opinion improves. (Dubya was famously gracious in lying low and not criticizing Obama during his presidency. Democrats seem to appreciate it.) One’s emotional investment in undoing a former president’s legacy also declines over time. A president from the other party who left office recently has a robust legislative architecture that needs to be urgently dismantled. Frequent reminders to the party base of how much they disliked that guy provides the motivation to do it.
We’re kidding ourselves, though, if we don’t think Bush’s obvious antipathy to Trump has something to do with it. Gallup measured his favorability among Democrats at 41 percent just four months ago. He’s up 10 points since then, not coincidentally hot on the heels of a much publicized speech in which he went after certain unnamed politicians’ fondness for “nativism.” The surest paths to Strange New Respect among the left for a right-winger are (a) dying and (b) attacking a fellow right-winger who threatens them politically more than you do. No one threatens them more than Trump right now, therefore Bush’s popularity among Democrats rises.
In fact, scroll through the crosstabs of YouGov’s poll and you’ll find that there isn’t much distance between Clinton voters and Trump voters anymore in their views of Bush. There’s still a gap between Democrats and Republicans, the latter of which split 76/22 on Dubya, but among Clinton voters he’s at 54/42 and among Trump voters 64/33. After last week’s anti-Trump speech, it’s possible we’ll soon see Bush’s favorable rating higher among Clinton fans than Trump fans. And if he were to go on criticizing Trump sporadically over the next three years, there’s a small but nonzero chance that he might end up … more popular with Democrats than Republicans. George W. Bush. Imagine it.
I rapped Trump fans this morning for valuing cultural skirmishes more highly than policy wins so let me do the same now to Democrats. It’s bananas, even a decade removed, that Bush is this popular among them *if* they were being honest about why they disliked him circa 2006. The Democratic critique of Bush was substantive: The Iraq war was a disaster, his handling of Katrina was inept, and he didn’t do nearly enough to identify and prevent the financial crisis before it struck. Trump has barely dented America’s policy edifice, though. His intentions are bad from a Democratic standpoint insofar as he wants to upend ObamaCare, but he’s failed. He’s failed to build a wall, his travel ban is tied up in the courts, tax reform appears headed nowhere, he hasn’t even torn up the Iran deal (although he has decertified it). Patterico is a harsh Trump critic but he noted correctly this morning that Trump has been no worse than okay on policy to date; the real worries about him have to do with intangibles like temperament, his commitment to the country’s civic culture, and his grasp on policy details. As much as Democrats may loathe Trump personally, it’s weird that they view him much, *much* less favorably than the guy whom they blamed for a holocaust in Iraq and for supposedly leaving Americans to die in New Orleans.
If you think this is weird, though, wait until 2027 when Trump has a 55 percent rating among Democrats. With the way the GOP’s breaking towards populism and nationalism, it’s possible that he really might stack up favorably to whoever’s leading the party at the time.
Q: Should you be more civil?
Trump: Press makes me more uncivil than I am… I went to an Ivy League college. I'm a very intelligent person pic.twitter.com/x2sYu4tYV2
— David Mack (@davidmackau) October 25, 2017