Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- Two year-end developments have emerged in the war on terrorism: More Americans now approve of President Bush's policies, while fewer trust the Democrats to keep the country safe from harm.

If this trend persists into the 2006 mid-term elections, the Republicans will undoubtedly hold on to their governing majority as voter doubts about the Democrats' soft-on-national security posture continue to grow.

This month's 10-point rise in Bush's job approval polls on Iraq, along with continued majority support for the way he has protected the United States from another terrorist attack represents a clear turnaround over the past year. It is the result of a series of effective speeches that explained why we are fighting in Iraq, a successful election to install a new government there, and the likely start of U.S. troop withdrawals next year as Iraqis soldiers take over more of their country's security.

Bush's turnaround on this score is well known by now. What is not so well known is the deep political damage Democratic leaders have done to their party's future viability on the core issue of keeping America safe.

While Bush and the Republicans have remained tightly focused on the terrorist threat and the need to maintain a permanent war footing against it, the Democrats' focus has been on setting pullout deadlines and attacking the government's post-9/11 surveillance operations to keep the bad guys from killing us again.

But the Democrats' message, aimed at their party's noisy anti-war base, isn't playing well with the rest of the country. Indeed, if their own polls are right -- and I think they are -- the message many voters are getting is that the Democrats' can't be trusted to defend America.

This is the disturbing finding in a survey conducted for the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) earlier this month by pollster Mark Penn, who polled for President Clinton.

While Bush's newly-strengthened polls on Iraq still remain just below 50 percent, Penn's poll found that "the Republicans still hold the advantage on every national security issue we tested," according to a DLC memo.

Notably, the poll showed Republicans held "a 40-36 [percent] lead on which party can better keep the country safe; a 45-40 lead on which party can be more trusted on national security; and a 48-38 lead on which party can be more trust to fight terrorism."

More ominously in political terms, Penn found "Those GOP leads are double digit in each case among married voters with kids, middle income whites and white women."

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.