Bush: the View from the Purple States

Here in the “purple states” of the Rocky Mountain West, President George W. Bush’s job approval ratings have fallen lower than a rattlesnake’s belly. In five of our eight mountain states, Bush approval has sunk well below 50 percent with his standing in Nevada at an all-time low of 39 and Montana at a rock-bottom 42 percent. Even in the most crimson, conservative states in America–Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho–the President’s 2004 election night approval has now collapsed by an average of 10 percent with a dizzying loss of 14 percent in Vice President Cheney’s home state of Wyoming.

It has become clear that the buyer’s remorse here in the Rockies is due to more than simple disagreement with Bush’s policies. Westerns have developed serious doubts about Bush’s judgment and character as well.

A look at westerner’s disagreement with Bush policy shows this: most Americans, 70 percent, disagree with allowing the United Arab Emirates to operate six critical American ports; so do we westerners. Americans, by 52 percent in the latest polls, oppose presidential telephone wiretaps without a warrant. In the West the disapproval of such unauthorized snooping is even higher. We, along with other Americans–by a whopping 60 percent–disapprove of how Bush is handling the overall energy situation. We are overwhelmingly opposed to Bush’s relentless efforts to push roads into our last wild places and westerners are also fighting the President’s effort to sell those public lands.

It is the President’s handling of Iraq, however, that is at the heart of the public’s disapproval. What is remarkable about the latest polls is that Bush is losing support, for the first time in five years, in his strongest base-Republican stalwarts, many of whom live here in the Rockies. More than a third of those who most likely voted for Bush in both 2000 and 2004 now disagree with the war in Iraq. Independents, who narrowly voted for Bush in 2004, disapprove of the way he has handled Iraq by a whopping 69 percent.

However, the Bush collapse among folks out here may have less to do with policy disagreements and more with growing concerns about George W. personally. Time is always required for people to take the measure of their leaders. The last three two-term presidents are Reagan, Clinton and now George W. Bush. Although westerners often opposed many of Ronald Reagan’s policies they continued year after year to support him personally. With Bill Clinton, we recognized his competence and a majority often agreed with many of his policies, however, we had more than ample evidence that to protect himself, he would lie to us. Here in the West that personal flaw did him in.

After watching Bush into his second term, westerners find much that concerns them. He seems halting, has to read every speech and even then bungles the words. Bush is demanding, preachy, stubborn, unable to admit even his most obvious mistakes. Even in supposedly unscripted public appearances–be they a teleconference with troops in Iraq or a healthcare meeting here in Montana–we are surprised to find out that Bush’s handlers had carefully pre-selected the crowd and then actually scripted the questions people were allowed to ask the President. Westerner’s prefer leaders who can stand on their own two feet and, when necessary, shoot from the hip–straight that is.

For a time we westerners seemed impressed by the tilt of the Bush Stetson. Then we learned that his “ranch,” purchased just in time for his 2000 presidential campaign, doesn’t have a single horse or cow. Real cowboys have cows. What they don’t have are unscuffed, tailor-made boots with embossed insignias; they don’t swagger, aren’t bullies, and try not to start brawls they can’t win. And they never declare “mission accomplished” until the other guy hollers quits.

Yep, Bush is in trouble here in the Rockies. He’s earned it.

PAT WILLIAMS served nine terms as a U.S. Representative from Montana. After his retirement, he returned to Montana and is teaching at The University of Montana where he also serves as a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Rocky Mountain West.



Pat Williams served 18 years as Montana’s Congressman. He now lives in Missoula where he teaches at the University of Montana.