Video: Bush's slumping popularity

By David Gregory Chief White House correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/16/2006 8:09:05 PM ET 2006-03-17T01:09:05

At his lowest level yet in the polls, President Bush is left to wonder: Which way is up?

Iraq, says Republican pollster Bill McInturff, has enveloped the Bush presidency.

"And no matter what the president says, if events on the ground don't match what he hopes to have happen," says McInturff, "these numbers about Iraq will continue to get softer or worse."

Republican leaders have said they're worried the president's strengths — like the economy or tough anti-terror measures — have been overlooked.

White House aides admit that a month-long effort to sell ideas from the State of the Union address has been lost to bad news.

"What history suggests, and you look at Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson with Korea and Vietnam," says presidential historian Michael Beschloss, "is that when a president has an unpopular war, until people feel better about it, they're not going to listen to him."

In his second-term slide, President Reagan focused on ending the Cold War.

Dogged by impeachment at home, President Clinton also looked abroad for peace in Northern Ireland and between Israelis and Palestinians.

Bush doesn't have that option.

"If the reason for their unpopularity is foreign policy itself," Beschloss says, "that's awfully difficult."

Another option is new blood in the West Wing.

Republicans sources say the White House has been pressured to add an experienced hand to the staff. Names floated include former Sens. Fred Thompson and Dan Coats as well as Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt. The president is said to be cool to change.

The other fix is getting it right in Iraq. But the president has little control of that now, and aides deny that Thursday’s muscular offensive near Samarrah was an attempt to turn public opinion back home.

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