The longer President Bush refuses to completely accept the Iraq Study Group's recommendations the more irked NBC's Tim Russert and Meredith Vieira seem to get. On this morning's Today show Vieira and Russert seemed dumbfounded that the President has yet to wave the white flag in Iraq as they ran down the results of the latest NBC News poll. Vieira declared to Russert: "As polls go it is as bad as it gets for the President." and after running a clip of Bush cynically pondered: "It sounds like the same old President Bush to me. How much do you think he has taken from this listening tour?" Russert, pivoting off the negative poll results quipped: "Real pessimism. When the Iraq Study Group came out and said the situation was 'grave and deteriorating,' that resonated with the American people. I think the President's political condition as we sit here this morning is 'grave and deteriorating."
After briefly running down the political implications of Sen. Tim Johnson's condition Vieira and Russert broke down the poll results in the following conversation that occured in the 7am half hour of the December 14, Today show:
Meredith Vieira: "I want to get to the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. It was taken right after the President announced he was going on this listening tour to discuss policy in Iraq and about a month after the midterm elections. As polls go it is as bad as it gets for the President. His approval rating, job approval rating now stands at about 34 percent. That's the lowest that it has ever been and what's driving this seems to be just one issue."
Russert: "Iraq. It is overwhelmingly Iraq and look at the numbers for Iraq. 71 percent of the American people now disapprove of George Bush's handling of the situation in Iraq. That's 80 percent of independents, 96 percent of Democrats. One out of three Republicans saying no to his handling of Iraq."
Vieira: "And not only do they disapprove but 69 percent say they are less confident that we could win in Iraq. They don't believe we can do it."
Russert: "Real pessimism. When the Iraq Study Group came out and said the situation was 'grave and deteriorating,' that resonated with the American people. I think the President's political condition as we sit here this morning is 'grave and deteriorating.' He has lost support for this war. He's now gonna try to retool and address the country one more time. But it's very difficult to keep an army at war when the American people have not shown support as they are showing today."
Vieira: "Well yesterday he finished this so-called listening tour by talking to people at the Pentagon. I want to show you what he had to say and then we'll talk on the other end of this."
George W. Bush: "I've heard some ideas that would lead to defeat and I reject those ideas. Ideas such as leaving before the job is done. Ideas such as not helping this government take the necessary and hard steps to be able to do its job."
Vieira: "It sounds like the same old President Bush to me. How much do you think he has taken from this listening tour?"
Russert: "Well he's clearly determined for victory but he has to define victory. There seems to be he's leaning towards a surge of more troops into Baghdad to try to retake Baghdad and secure that area. The difficulties we are confronting as a nation are the Iraqis. Are they willing to spill their own blood for their government or are they more loyal to their tribe or to their Sunni or Shiite sect? One ranking American commander on the ground, Meredith, said, 'This is the problem. Do we want it more than they do?' And that's the challenge the President confronts."
Vieira: "Plus you have the public, when asked if we have an obligation to remain in Iraq, 53 percent said, 'no, we have an obligation [to] no one including our own troops to stay there.' So it seems the President is saying that he wants to, to win this, this war, that, that's his goal while the people are saying, 'get out!'"
Russert: "That was a very interesting question. Is an obligation, doesn't an obligation exist because of the number of American soldiers who have been killed or injured and the American people still said, 'no, we don't have to honor them in that way.' The country has turned very hard on the issue of Iraq right now and the President's gonna have to do a yeoman's job in trying to communicate, connect with the country to say, 'we have to take, adopt this new policy.' It's gonna be fascinating to watch to how he deals with that in the coming weeks."
Vieira: "I was gonna say how can he possibly sustain a war policy if the public is not behind him?"
Russert: "That's the difficulty. We witnessed it in early Vietnam when President Johnson was so tormented by the lack of popular support for a war and this President understands that, we all do, from history. Our military commanders, first and foremost particularly if the President decides he's gonna send more troops. That's something that only about 20 percent of the American people support right now."
Vieira: "Tim Russert, thank you."
Russert: "Thanks Meredith."