It goes without saying that George Bush has been very unpopular for a very long time. In fact, it looks like the last time George Bush cracked 50 percent in an approval poll was in December in 2004. Even that poll was an outlier, because you have to go all the way back to July of that year to find multiple polls in a row showing W. at even or better in popularity.
So obviously, what the Bush Administration has been doing politically for the last couple of years has been an enormous failure and even though Bush doesn't have to run again, his lack of popularity is a big problem. As long as Bush is sitting at 35% in the polls, the Democrats will be emboldened, it will hurt the war effort, and it will make it very difficult for Republicans to make significant gains in 2008.
But, isn't it too late for George Bush to turn things around? Not at all if he's willing to change his tactics and start taking advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. So, what does he need to do?
#1) The war has obviously been a big drag on Bush's approval. However, the surge has proven to be extremely effective so far and we now have good reason to be optimistic about how things will turn out in Iraq. If, as expected, the Iraqis take over day to day policing of their own country by the end of the year, not only will American casualties in Iraq plunge, we'll be able to bring large numbers of our troops home in 2008. That may not make much of a difference to the hard core left wingers, but the rest of America would be quite pleased with that turn of events and it would certainly have a positive impact on Bush’s poll numbers.
#2) The tough on illegal immigration crowd, which comprises most people on the right, has been slugging it out with George Bush, John McCain, the Wall Street Journal and the rest of the open borders crowd for two years now. That has kept the right divided on the illegal immigration issue.
Moreover, that situation seems likely to continue into 2008 because the Democrats may push through an amnesty with the help of George Bush, John McCain, and a few other renegade Republicans, but it seems more likely that the Republicans in the House, with the help of some blue dog Democrats, will stop the bill in the House.
But, the status quo doesn't have to continue. If Bush were to shift his position to enforcement first and a guest worker program and normalization later, after the wall is built and our illegal immigration laws are being enforced, it would likely unite the Republicans and divide the Democrats. Why not have the Republicans on the same page while people like Ted Kennedy and Company demand amnesty for illegals over the protestations of poor and middle class Democrats who don't want the competition for jobs and still believe in the rule of law?
#3) When Republicans held the Congress and the White House, they were expected to control the agenda. However, with the Democrats in charge, the situation has changed and Bush is now the last line of defense for conservatism. So, instead of getting blamed for pork being sent up by Congress, Bush can prove his mettle simply by vetoing pork laden bills. If the Democrats get a tax increase, a bill that hurts the troops, or a new government program through, George Bush can be the guy who gets all the credit for stopping them cold. Every sigh of relief from a conservative or moderate who is thrilled George Bush stopped a bad bill gets W. that much closer to the magic 50% mark.
#4) Last but not least, people in this country are clamoring for a strong, tough leader in the White House. They miss the guy who put his arm around a firefighter in the rubble of 9/11 and said, "I hear you. The rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear from all of us soon."
They want a Commander-In-Chief in the White House who's sitting tall in the saddle in the war on terror and who isn't going to stand there and take it, day after day, when the Democrats flog him like a rented mule. The Democrats are hubristic, they're overreaching, and this phony baloney "scandal" over the fired US attorneys shows that they're not going to let the truth get in the way of attacking George Bush. Fighting back against people like that would only make George Bush more popular. That's why he needs to get into the habit of standing up for himself, standing up for Republicans, and standing up for the war on terrorism that we're currently winning in Iraq and across the world. If Bush is willing to defend himself and give the Democrats hell for the way they're acting, conservatives and the rest of the American people will respond positively to it.
If Bush were to take all these steps, he could heal his rift with the conservative base, and once the 41 percent of the American people that self-identify as conservatives start regularly backing him, instead of criticizing him, his popularity would rebound -- and it doesn't have to go all that far to make a big difference. Get the conservatives back on board, get a quarter of the 34 percent of the public that considers themselves to be moderate to go along, and Bush would practically be back to even. If Bush is willing to show a little bit of flexibility, toughness, and willingness to defend himself, getting back to a 50 percent approval rating should be very possible.