I was puzzled last week by all the stories out of Washington -- during the congressional debate over Irag -- declaring that President Bush was politically on a roll, that the Republicans were recouping lost ground on the war, that the public was more turned off by "Democratic disarray" than by the GOP's stay-the-course mantra. Newsweek takes first prize, in its upcoming July 3 issue, with its decree that "Democrats lost the week in the war over the war."
I'm not a member of the Inside-the-Beltway commentariat, which perhaps affords me a little more perspective. The fact is, those stories are a crock. An examination of the latest Gallup poll, conducted last weekend after the congressional Democrats supposedly suffered ignonomous defeats on two resolutions urging the start of troop withdrawals, indicate that there has been virtually no change in public sentiment. Most people were reportedly ticked off about Bush and the Republicans prior to the Democrats' supposedly lost week, and most people still feel that way.
Here are the numbers from Gallup, in its poll co-sponsored by USA Today: Back on June 11, registered voters were asked about the '06 election, and said that they favored a Democratic Congress over a Republican Congress by a margin of 12 percentage points. In the new survey, completed last Sunday, that margin has actually widened -- to 16 points (the biggest Democratic lead all year). And Democrats, notwithstanding their internal divisions, are still perceived as the better party to handle Iraq, by a 10-point margin.
Gallup's June 11 survey reported that 38 percent of Americans approve of Bush's job performance; the June 25 survey reports that 37 percent approve. The June 11 survey reported that 49 percent of Americans want the troops withdrawn either immediately or within a year; the June 25 survey puts that share at 50 percent.
And here's a new Gallup question, asked this past weekend, after the congressional GOP defeated the two Democratic withdrawal resolutions: "Which comes closer to your view? Congress should pass a resolution that outlines a plan for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, (or) decisions about withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq should be left to the president and his advisers?"
The response: 57 percent said that Congress should outline such a plan; 39 percent said the decision should be left up to Bush.
That's not exactly a vote of confidence in the imperial presidency; rather, it refutes the widely reported perception that Bush is enjoying some kind of public opinion "bounce." Rather, it appears to indicate that the Republican message of "stay the course" strikes restive Americans as being synonymous with "more of the same."
So maybe conservative Joe Scarborough, the ex-Republican congressman, has a better reading on the situation than the so-called "liberal press." As he suggested the other night on his cable TV show, after reviewing the polls, "This (Iraq issue) sounds like a complete loser for Republicans, come this fall."
And speaking of the Republicans and Iraq, Pennsylvania's own Curt Weldon appears to be one step away from winning the Dan Burton Award.
As my colleague Tom Ferrick noted yesterday, congressman Weldon was hot to trot on a plan whereby, acting on an alleged tip, he would personally travel to Iraq and dig down 25 feet until he discovered what nobody else has been able to discover: Saddam Hussein WMDs. Apparently he was all excited about an ex-investigator based in Texas who suspected that four caches were buried near a stretch of the Euphrates River - and was set to go over the Memorial Day weekend until the investigator squelched the idea.
At first, Weldon brought to mind Geraldo Rivera, the TV shlockmeister who arranged to open Al Capone's vault on camera in 1986, and found only dirt. But no, I think Weldon is flirting with the Dan Burton Award -- so named for the Clinton-hating Republican congressman who, after adamantly refusing to accept the 1993 police report which determined that Clinton aide Vince Foster committed suicide, went about trying to prove that Foster was murdered by Clinton confederates. At one point, he invited the press to his backyard, pulled out a gun, and pumped bullets into a pumpkin (the pumpkin standing in for Foster's head), in some kind of attempt to dispute the police ballistics.
You get the point. If Weldon gets a plane ticket and a shovel, the Burton Award is his.