A CNN/Opinion Research poll released today puts President Bush's disapproval rating at 71 percent, which reportedly is the highest for any president since such surveys began in the 1930s. His approval rating currently sits at a lofty 28 percent. As Sen. McCain likes to say, when one's approval rating is that low, it's dwindling down to blood relatives and paid staffers.
This poll illustrates what should be abundantly clear to Team McCain: Every single possible tie to the Bush administration must be severed if McCain hopes to defeat either HRC or Obama in November. McCain is already saddled with baggage -- Iraq, his admitted lack of economic expertise and the "100 years" comment that the Dems will continue to distort from now 'til November. McCain doesn't need to be further tied to a wildly unpopular president when virtually every indicator points to another long November night for the GOP.
That is, except for the fact that McCain is anything but a conventional Republican, and in terms of both personality and policy, is a near-180-degree turn from Bush. This must be highlighted above all else. Dem mouthpieces argue that McCain has spent the last seven years pandering to the far right, but nothing is further from the truth. Last year, according to the nonpartisan National Journal, McCain racked up the 48th-most conservative voting record in the Senate. His rating from the American Conservative Union was a modest 65. (These numbers, of course, are nicely contrasted with National Journal's conclusion that Obama out-liberaled even Ted Kennedy, Dick Durbin and Bernie Sanders.)
Of course, McCain will vote with the GOP on many issues -- from taxes to judges to abortion to defense -- because, as he admits, he is a fundamentally conservative guy. It's been his principled stands on certain issues that he believes shouldn't be partisan -- on things like campaign finance, the rewriting of the Senate rules, climate change and torture -- that have distinguished him.
There is a reason that McCain was the only GOP candidate for president with a realistic shot at beating either Obama or HRC -- because of that independent streak. McCain did not win the nomination by pandering to the likes of Limbaugh, Hannity, Ingraham, Dobson, Santorum or the crowd that followed Huckabee. Devotees of such GOP figures, when faced with the choice between HRC/Obama and any upright mammal, will invariably pull the lever for whatever name has the word "Republican" beneath it.
McCain can only be hurt by allowing Bush to inject himself into the general election. Too much stands to be lost. The battle will be decided in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nevada and New Mexico, and the fight will be for those independent voters who voted for Reagan, jumped ship for either Perot or Clinton, and have found themselves disenchanted with seven-plus years of Bush. McCain must win them. And he cannot win them by allowing himself to be tied to perhaps the most unpopular president in history. (I would offer as an aside that this might even include crossing Condoleeza Rice's name off the VP short list.)
How history will judge Bush is another story entirely. For one, Harry S. Truman was also highly unpopular when he left office in 1952. But in the current political climate, if McCain wishes to realize his longtime presidential ambitions, he must tell Bush to simply stay away, and distance himself from the current administration as much as possible.