Unsurprisingly, President Bush's polling numbers are tanking in Montana just as much as anywhere.
It doesn't take sophisticated political polling to understand why. Those who voted for him first went from believing that the war in Iraq was necessary and well-handled to believing it to be necessary but not so well-handled. And in increasing numbers, even his strongest supporters are beginning to come to the realization that maybe we shouldn't have been there in the first place.
Dissent within the GOP has been scant to non-existent, since most candidates and conservative pundits remember how the neoconservatives smeared and destroyed everyone who got in their way during the first Iraq War. Like hades was anyone going to stick their head up out of the foxhole on this war. It is unfortunate that it has taken a disaster of a war for conservative Republicans to begin, gingerly, to dare to return to traditional Republican non-interventionist thinking. Not that it is completely safe even now.
Add to this the way that Bush tried to cram the immigration bill down the throat of his own party, with administration members saying some nasty things about people who had faithfully carried water for them through thick and thin, well, it's all been wearing increasingly thin.
All of this goes beyond one man, though. It is also a message for a state Republican party. President Bush has done a few good things for us and his presidency has saved us from many bad things that a President Gore or a President Kerry would have brought. And for that we should be grateful.
But he also personified big-government conservatism and its abandonment of the conservative -- indeed, American -- ideals of fiscal discipline, limited government, and prudence in foreign affairs. In addition, while Bush ran most successfully when he pushed populist buttons, he didn't govern that way.
Compare Bush's numbers to those of Denny Rehberg -- in spite of Rehberg having the drag of an unpopular national GOP and an unpopular President, he still has excellent approval ratings. Of the three major statewide office-holders -- Rehberg, Schweitzer, and Baucus -- Rehberg polls the highest in terms of voters who intend to vote for him in the next election.
President Bush's current unpopularity, far from being a drag on the Montana GOP and our candidates, is actually an opportunity for the party to cut itself free from some of the neoconservative baggage that has been weighing us down. The Montana GOP can forge its own natural course -- conservative, traditional, populist... Montanan.