- The Washington Times - Monday, December 3, 2001

President Bush, who is enjoying astronomical approval ratings among Americans for his war against international terrorism, will have a hard time translating that support into leverage on his domestic agenda, presidential historians say.
Mr. Bush's term so far bears some resemblances to that of his father a one-term president who held a 90 percent approval rating until a recession left him jobless.
"Bush has overwhelming and powerful support for his war efforts, including those domestic aspects of war tribunals and security measures," said Marshall Wittmann, a presidential scholar with the Hudson Institute. "But no president has had that ability to translate the commander-in-chief popularity into domestic political success.
"It certainly didn't happen for his father. It seems the American people and the political class in Washington make a distinction between a president's stellar conduct of the war and his domestic political agenda."
No one disputes the popularity of Mr. Bush, who pundits one year ago doubted would be able to govern, much less win over critics and Democrats.
But a Los Angeles Times poll last week found that more than half including half of Democrats said that Mr. Bush had been a stronger leader than they expected. His overall approval rating in a USA Today poll was 87 percent.
Although Mr. Bush is coming under increasing fire from civil liberties groups and the media for his creation of a mechanism to employ military tribunals to try non-Americans accused of terrorism, Americans overwhelmingly support the idea almost 2-1 an ABC poll found Thursday.
Still, the party that holds the White House traditionally has lost seats in Congress in the off-year election, which makes 2002 that much more important for Mr. Bush. While his popularity is high a new television commercial by the travel industry even shows speech snippets of the president powerfully reassuring Americans few expect that appeal to result in victories for Republican candidates.
"Congressional Republicans are getting very nervous," Mr. Wittmann said. "They fear that the president's popularity will not benefit them and they are anxious for an economic-revival program. Consequently, you now have infighting between the House Republicans and the Senate Republicans."
Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said Mr. Bush has proved to have no ability to sweep Republicans to victory.
"George Bush had no coattails in 2000; he had no coattails in 2001, when he had a 90 percent approval rating," he said. "Everyone on the Republican side should be worried. They had better come up with a better message of what they're going to do to get people economically back on their feet and feel good about the economy."
Mr. Bush expended little of his newfound political capital during the 2001 elections, when Republicans lost both governor's races. And while he traveled the country earlier this year urging Americans to write to their congressional members in support of his proposed tax cut, he has made no such effort to push his latest economic-stimulus package, now stalled on Capitol Hill.
The president's father, riding high on a 90 percent approval rating after the United States' overwhelming victory in Desert Storm to liberate Kuwait from Iraq, made a similar mistake.
"His father did not push an economic-revival agenda, and that cost him," Mr. Wittmann said. "As Bush learned, the attention span is very brief as far as military victories. The administration has a window, but that window will rapidly close."
Mr. Bush likely knows that.
"He may not be a student of history, but he sure has proved to be a student of his father's history," said Stephen Hess, a presidential historian with Brookings Institution. "It has been very clear all along that he has worked very hard at not making what he considers are the mistakes his father made."
Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said Americans are not ready to return to partisan politics.
"The American people expect us to get things done. … You have some in the Democratic Party, partisan types, that are now trying to ratchet up for the election. That's the furthest thing from American people's minds. They are focused on the economy," he said.
Although Mr. Bush's popularity might not translate into support for his domestic agenda, he still has an advantage in approval from Americans.
"Bush has an opportunity to build a much broader political coalition than the one that elected," Mr. Wittmann said. "He won with the support of a strong Republican base plus a sliver of independent votes. The opportunity now is to broaden that coalition significantly."

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