GOP Rift on Ports, Poll Dip Hit Bush

I read an interesting story by Susan Page in USA Today this morning concerning President Bush’s sagging approval rating and the growing rift between the Administration and usually supportive members of the GOP. Bush can blame only himself on this one. When doubts arose about the Dubai port deal and objections were raised even among staunch Conservatives and the nutjob talking heads media machine, his most ardent admirers, President Bush and the Administration decided to approach the issue in the same way they’ve approach everything else that people don’t like. They ignored the issue, belittled the naysayers, and tried to steamroll everyone by essentially stating “well, the President thinks it’s a great idea” and then trying to go ahead with it, assuming the Conservatives and the GOP would just fall in line. Surprise, surprise. They didn’t.

Well, they can’t claim the issue is just liberals playing politics this time. Bush has tried his bully tactics on his own party and supporters, and he’s suffering because of it.

I quote liberally from the story below.

According to the article, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., vowed to “kill” that proposed sale of some cargo operations at six major U.S. seaports (and 22 ports total) to a Dubai firm. A USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll found overwhelming opposition to the deal.

The controversy has set up the most dramatic split to date between President Bush and Republicans on Capitol Hill. It also seems to have dented Bush’s standing on handling terrorism and narrowed the Republicans’ long-standing advantage over Democrats on the issue.

Armed Services Chairman Hunter, R-Calif. said he would introduce legislation to block the ports deal and to require foreign companies to divest any holdings of U.S. infrastructure critical to national security.

“I think the Republican leadership in both houses will come to the conclusion that these aren’t the folks you want to operate your ports,” he said.

In January, the Bush administration approved the United Arab Emirates’ government-owned DP World’s purchase of a British company that controls some port operations in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans and Miami. After a congressional outcry, the administration agreed to review it.

The furor is commanding intense public interest. Three of four Americans surveyed say they are following the story closely. Overall, they oppose the deal by a nearly 4-to-1 ratio, 66%-17%. Four in 10 call the proposed sale “a major threat” to U.S. security. They also express broader concerns about seaports. While two-thirds say security at airports has gotten better since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, just 29% say that about ports. Seven in 10 say it would be “easy” for terrorists to smuggle in weapons through ports.

The furor has cost Bush dearly, says political scientist Charles Franklin of the University of Wisconsin. “The issue of security and terrorism was supposed to be the strength that drives Republican victories and generally has been the strongest suit of the president,” he says. “Now they don’t have a strong suit to play.”

Republican National Committee spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt counters with typical Bush Adminstration propaganda, stating that President Bush’s “number one priority continues to be the security of the American people.”

By 3 to 1, Americans say the port deal has sparked controversy because it’s not in the best interest of the country, not because of discrimination against Arabs. Even so, 51% say the United States should trust friendly Arab and Muslim countries less than other allies.

Among other findings:

• Bush’s job-approval rating is 38%, 1 percentage point above the lowest rating of his tenure. The proportion who strongly approve of him has fallen to 20%, the lowest ever. The proportion that strongly disapproves has risen to 44%, the highest ever. (Related: Complete poll results)

• The president’s approval rating on terrorism is 47%, down 7 points in a month and a record low.

• The Republican Party’s advantage over Democrats on terrorism has narrowed to 45%-40%.

And Vice President Cheney, the center of controversy last month when he shot a hunting companion? Cheney’s approval rating — 40% — beats his boss’s.

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