Could it possibly get any worse for George Bush?
Could he possibly be any less popular?
Yes, if diehard Republicans start to abandon him.
And that, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, is what is now happening.
Bush's approval rating fell to the lowest level ever in the poll -- just 29 percent.
That's a drop of six points since April, the last time when the NBC/Journal pollsters were in the field.
Polls by various media groups have for weeks been showing a decline in approval ratings for the president. But the acceleration in that decline in recent surveys has pushed the president into what even Republican analysts suggest is dangerous turf: the territory where it becomes hard for him to get a serious hearing even from formerly friendly members of Congress, and where a risky act like pardoning Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, I "Scooter" Libby, could embolden Congressional Democrats to mount serious inquiries and challenges to the president's authority.
Where's the trouble?
According to NBC's analysis, "Back in April, 75 percent of Republicans approved of Bush's job performance, compared with 21 percent who disapproved. Now, only 62 percent of Republican approve, versus 32 percent who disapprove."
A lot of the problem is with the immigration issue, according to poll analyst Jay Campbell. The Republican right has worked hard to stir anti-immigrant sentiment at the party's base. Now that Bush is working with Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy Ã¢ËœÂ¼ to achieve comprehensive immigration reform, the most avid Grand Old Partiers are none to happy with their president.
But immigration is just one piece of a broader puzzle. If Bush had not already raised serious doubts with his handling of the war in Iraq, his budget-busting approach to spending and his antipathy toward basic freedoms that conservatives hold as dear as liberals, he would probably have been better positioned to maintain the faith of the party faithful.
That faith is slipping fast, however. And the latest polls numbers may not be the last stop on Bush's downhill ride.
Indeed, if numbers pointing to a growing sense of malaise are right, Republicans may be coming to the conclusion that the president they defended against all comers for six years just can't handle the job.
In that sense, they are like most Americans.
Should Democrats celebrate? Perhaps, but not too much. While the Congress, which is now under Democratic leadership, is almost as unpopular as the Republican-led Congress it replaced in January, the divisions within the Republican camp are likely to lead to more infighting -- not to mention panic -- within an increasingly uncertain Grand Old Party. That will probably help the relatively united Democrats survive their own slipping approval ratings.
Of course, Democrats would be doing much better if they noted the distaste that American's are expressing for the current direction of the country. A mere 19 percent believe George Bush's United States is headed in the right direction.
This is the first time in 15 years that the "right direction" number has fallen below 20 percent.
At a point when what NBC refers to as a "whopping" 68 percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track, Democrats might want entertain the notion that it is time to break with Bush on the war in Iraq, trade policy, tax policy and just about everything else.
John Nichols' new book is The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders' Cure for Royalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"
Copyright © 2007 The Nation