For many presidents in recent history, getting re-elected has been a mixed blessing. From Richard Nixon and Watergate to Ronald Reagan and Iran-Contra to Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, a second term is rarely another four-year honeymoon.
Ever since his inauguration in January — following yet another nail-biter of an election — President Bush has been on the receiving end of an almost unprecedented streak of bad news. How bad has it gotten? The president, who had a 90 percent job-approval rating in the days following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks and held a higher rating three years into his presidency than Presidents Clinton, Carter or Reagan, is now staring at a rating in the 30s in the wake of the fall-out from the government's slow response to Hurricane Katrina, an indictment in the CIA leak scandal and a rising tide of discontent with the war in Iraq.
On November 20, at the end of his recent trip to China, the president was just trying to walk off a stage and he accidentally went to the wrong door, yanked on it and, through a forced smile, told reporters he was "trying to escape ... it didn't work." It was, of course, a simple gaff, but you can't help but wonder if Bush wasn't telling us a bit more than he let on.
It of course hasn't been all bad news for the president, but when you look at a timeline of his annus horribilis, you can't blame him for wanting to find a trap door to slip through. How did he go from historic highs in approval ratings to near-historic lows? We've chronicled some of the biggest bumps in the road over the past year to try and find out what has led so many Americans to change their tune about our president.
December 8, 2004: A soldier serving in Iraq asks Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld why troops don't have proper armor and have to dig out scraps to protect their vehicles and Rumsfeld tells him, "You go to war with the army you have."
December 11: Bush's choice for new Homeland Security secretary, former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, withdraws his nomination when it is revealed that he employed a nanny whose immigration status was suspect, that there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest due to unpaid bills, that he allegedly had ties to a firm purportedly run by the New Jersey mafia, and that he used an apartment intended for Ground Zero officers to rest in for one of two reported extramarital affairs.
December 27: The administration was slammed for its slow response to the East Asian tsunami that killed nearly 130,000 and pegged as "stingy" by a United Nations representative when it initially offered $15 million in aid. That figure was bumped up to $35 million, and after further criticism, the president pledged more than $300 million.
January 12, 2005: The White House publicly admitted that it was ending the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after finding no evidence that Saddam Hussein's government had stockpiled chemical or biological weapons when the U.S. invaded the country. Saddam's alleged possession of such weapons was the administration's primary argument for the need to invade.
March 21: Though he wouldn't curtail his vacation after the tsunami, the president cuts short his Texas vacation to fly back to Washington to sign a bill at 1 a.m. allowing Congress to intervene in the case of severely brain-damaged Florida woman Terri Schiavo. Polls at the time showed that there was a measure of bipartisan disdain for the maneuver.
May 1: After a nearly two-month tour touting his plan for partial privatization of Social Security, polls show the majority of Americans oppose the president's plan. On the same day, the "Downing Street Memo" is first published in the London Sunday Times, chronicling a meeting of British government officials that suggests the rationales for the war in Iraq were "fixed" in order to justify the invasion.
May 31: Vice President Dick Cheney says the Iraqi insurgency is in its "last throes" and that the fighting will end before the administration leaves office. The months following the statement sees a sharp increase in deaths due to insurgent bombings.
July 4: Senior advisor Karl Rove is confirmed as one of the sources for Time reporter Matt Cooper's reporting in connection with outed CIA covert operative Valerie Plame. A week later, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan says that he cannot comment on an ongoing investigation more than 20 times, though the previous October he said it was a "ridiculous suggestion" to say that Rove was involved in outing Plame.
July 26: For the first time since the beginning of the war, the majority of Americans (58 percent) don't believe the U.S. will win the battle and that the administration deliberately misled the public about whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (51 percent), according to a USA Today/ CNN/ Gallup poll. But the majority still doesn't believe that sending troops to Iraq was a mistake.
August 2: The president begins the longest presidential vacation in 36 years, a nearly five-week trip to his ranch in Texas. The vacation is headline news for weeks because of a vigil by anti-war protesters outside the ranch led by Cindy Sheehan, whose son, Casey, died fighting in Iraq. Despite pleas by Sheehan, Bush refused to meet with her, and during an August 13 bike ride with journalists said, "Part of my being is to be outside exercising. So I'm mindful of what goes on around me. On the other hand, I'm also mindful that I've got a life to live, and will do so."
August 28-September 3: Hurricane Katrina devastates New Orleans and other areas on the Gulf Coast on August 29. The federal response is slow to non-existent in the first few days as televised images show desperate survivors living in the squalid Superdome and tales of looting and lawlessness are rampant. As the hurricane is making landfall and officials are warning that the levees may give, the president is flying to Arizona to promote the Medicare drug benefit program. Later in the day he will visit California for the same purpose. Bush finally makes his first statements on the catastrophe on August 31.
August 31: Between Iraq, sky-high gas prices, Katrina and the CIA leak investigation, the president's poll numbers fall to what is by this point an all-time low. According to a Washington Post/ ABC poll, more than half of Americans disapprove of how Bush is handling the presidency and his job-approval rating is at 45 percent.
September 12: Less than a week after botching the response to Katrina, Federal Emergency Management Agency head Michael Brown — whom President Bush praised in the days after the catastrophe ("Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job!") — resigns from the agency.
October 3: President Bush nominates his personal lawyer, Harriet Miers, to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. The nomination immediately draws fire from both the right and left, who question Miers' lack of experience as a judge and virtually non-existent paper trail when it comes to significant issues facing the court.
October 4: Bush throws in the towel on his Social Security overhaul, saying in a press conference, "There seems to be a diminished appetite in the short term" for reforming the system.
October 20: FEMA official Marty Bahamonde testifies in front of a Senate committee that former FEMA boss Brown blithely ignored his warning about the devastation wrought by Katrina and was slow to send help.
October 25: After weeks of flak from his normally dependable Republican and conservative base, the president accepts Miers' withdrawal of her nomination. On the same day, the military records its 2,000th fatality in the Iraq war.
October 26: USA Today reports that the president may have overstated the threat from al Qaeda in a nationally televised speech he gave on October 6 in which he said the U.S. had foiled at least 10 al Qaeda terrorist plots since September 11, 2001. According to the report, more than half of the plots were not close to execution.
October 28: Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald announces the indictment of vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby for lying to a grand jury and investigators looking into who leaked Valerie Plame's name to reporters.
November 1: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid calls for a rare closed session in order to discuss intelligence issues and why the United States became engaged in the Iraq war and whether the administration manipulated pre-war intelligence.
November 2: The European Union vows to investigate a Washington Post report that the U.S. has been holding terror detainees in secret CIA prisons overseas in Eastern Europe.
November 7: The New York Times reports on declassified Defense Intelligence Agency documents that cast new doubts on the White House's claims of a link between the al Qaeda terror network and Iraq that were based on information supplied by a now-discredited source.
November 9: The Times also reports that a classified report issued by the CIA in 2004 warned that interrogation methods approved by the intelligence agency following September 11 might violate the Geneva Conventions. In the meantime, Vice President Cheney continues to press senators to grant the CIA an exemption from the interrogation rules when questioning high-level terrorists overseas.
November 15: A USA Today/ CNN/ Gallup poll has the president's approval rating at a new all-time low of 39 percent, with 60 percent of Americans disapproving of the way he's handling the war in Iraq. Also, Congressional Republicans join the chorus of those asking the administration for a clear plan on withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq when they sponsor a resolution asking for Iraqi forces to take the lead in policing their country next year and requiring the administration to provide quarterly reports on the war's progress.
November 17: Democratic hawk John Murtha calls the war in Iraq a "flawed policy wrapped in illusion" and tells the administration that "it's time to bring the troops home." The decorated Vietnam veteran, retired Marine colonel and senior House leader is compared to liberal filmmaker Michael Moore by Bush spokesperson Scott McClellan and branded a "coward" by Republican Congresswoman Jean Schmidt, who quickly takes back her comments. Murtha notes that his White House critics, including Vice President Cheney, had secured deferments during the Vietnam War and had "never put on the uniform."
November 21: Iraqi leaders meeting in Cairo, Egypt, also ask for a timetable for the U.S. withdrawal from their country.