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ELECTION 2012: Majority of Americans Blame Bush for Bad Economy

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It's been three glorious years since George "Mission Accomplished" Bush took his presidential sideshow circus back to Texas.

When he left, Bush was one of the most controversial political figures in modern American history. He had seen, in his tenure, a budget surplus turn into a massive deficit; the beginning of two wars (one of which he flat out made up evidence to drag us in to); and, at the very end, the collapse of the stock market and near-collapse of the world economy.

Needless to say, Bush will not be adorning Mount Rushmore anytime soon.

Still, presidents tend to expect some easing off of the blame in the years after they leave office. It appears that George Bush left the country in such dire straits that the majority of Americans (all Americans, not just Democrats) blame him for the economic mess we're in.

According to a poll by the Associated Press, 51 percent say George W. Bush deserves “almost all,” or “a lot but not all” of the blame, while only 31 percent said the same of President Obama. This is incredible news and could change the way both political parties approach the issue of the economy in the 2012 election.

The assumption all along has been that the economy would be the defining issue for President Obama's 2012 re-election prospects. If the economy improves, he probably wins easily. If the economy stays sour, Obama probably loses. This poll suggests that calculus may be off. But, if a majority of voters blame the bad economy on Bush, they are unlikely to punish Obama for the bad economy.

For the Republicans
This poll is obviously bad news for Republicans, who were hoping to coast to victory in 2012 on the heels of a bad economy. It's an historical trend that incumbents lose when unemployment is high. Absent a miraculous turnaround, unemployment will be very high by the time the 2012 election rolls around.

If voters are not going to immediately blame Obama for the bad economy, then Republicans have to change their game plan. There are signs that perhaps they're already doing so. First is the pushback to the entrance of Rick Perry into the race.

In a normal election cycle, Perry plays a fairly typical Texas Republican: he's proud of being less-than-brilliant, he's very conservative, he loves Jesus and he's proud to cut taxes at the expense of social programs. This all plays well with the Republican base. With some packaging and a focus on jobs, Perry could have become a shoo-in to replace a vulnerable Obama.

But with Obama not as vulnerable as originally expected on the economy, Republicans may want to nominate someone more versed in Republican economics and less seen as a social conservative figure. In that sense, prayer-rally leader Rick Perry has to make the GOP operation nervous — particularly since he has vaulted to front-runner status.

For the Democrats
More difficulty for the Republicans does not correspond to less difficulty for the Democrats. President Obama will now have two enemies in the election: the Republican nominee and his/her policies, and former President Bush and his policies. It does not help the matter that Obama has extended some of Bush's policies, particularly when Bush is now so unpopular with the electorate.

Obama's strategy is going to have to center around tying the Republican nominee to the crisis of 2008, either directly (by sticking the Bush label to the candidate) or indirectly (by tying the candidate to Wall Street banks.) Given that Bank of America was just overheard offering support to Rick Perry, this appears to be the easiest line of attack for the Democrats. Add in Mitt Romney's "Corporations are people" gaffe, and you have a campaign strategy that even I could write.

Conclusions
If this election were merely a referendum on the economy (as most presidential re-election campaigns are, historically), then perhaps the tone could be somewhat civil. Obama would either be the villain or hero, and his election prospects would rise or fall on that analysis.

This will not be the case. George Bush has already been set up, at least as of now, as the villain in this story. The fight will be vicious, as Democrats seek to pin blame on Republican policies, and Republicans try to push the blame onto Obama's policies.

I would not be surprised to see the forthcoming 12 months as the most divisive, most negative, most intense in recent political history. The election of 2012 will almost certainly go down in history as the nastiest of our lifetimes...and if the polls are correct, it's (somewhat ironically) all George Bush's fault.

You can reach the author by email john@benzinga.com or on twitter @johndthorpe.

 

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