|Matthew Dowd, President Bush's chief strategist during the 2004 campaign, said the US response to Hurricane Katrina was the beginning of the downward slide of Bush's approval ratings.|
Katrina called Bush's biggest blunder
In all the recriminations and reviews of the Bush presidency, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and subsequent Iraq war have loomed large.
But according to some confidants of the president, the turning point of his eight years was the government's inept response to Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the Gulf Coast and New Orleans in particular in 2005. That started Bush's downward slide to what are now historically low approval ratings, they argue.
"Katrina to me was the tipping point," Matthew Dowd, Bush's pollster and chief strategist for the 2004 presidential campaign, told Vanity Fair magazine. "The president broke his bond with the public. Once that bond was broken, he no longer had the capacity to talk to the American public. State of the Union addresses? It didn't matter. Legislative initiatives? It didn't matter. PR? It didn't matter. Travel? It didn't matter."
"Politically, it was the final nail in the coffin," agreed Dan Bartlett, former White House communications director and later counselor to the president.
They spoke for an "oral history" article in Vanity Fair's February issue, which hits newsstands in New York and Los Angeles today and nationally on Jan. 6. The article includes commentary from current and former government officials, foreign ministers, campaign strategists, and others on topics including Iraq, the economy, and immigration.
In another interview, Lawrence Wilkerson, top aide and later chief of staff to former secretary of state Colin Powell, compared Bush to Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, the GOP vice presidential nominee, in their lack of foreign policy knowledge and experience. Wilkerson argued that Bush's failing opened the door to Vice President Dick Cheney increasing his power over foreign affairs.
"It allowed everybody to believe that this Sarah Palin-like president - because, let's face it, that's what he was - was going to be protected by this national-security elite, tested in the cauldrons of fire," Wilkerson writes in the magazine.
Cheney, he says, filled "the vacuums that existed around George Bush - personality vacuum, character vacuum, details vacuum, experience vacuum."
In a series of recent exit interviews, Bush and Cheney have struck markedly different tones. The president has expressed some regrets, saying he was "unprepared" for war, but Cheney has been steadfast, even defiant, on issues such as the war on terror, which critics say has frayed civil liberties at home and damaged the US reputation abroad.