While the controversy that today ended Alberto Gonzales’ tenure as attorney general has not been front and center of public concerns, he’s hardly been popular – perhaps most tellingly, lacking a strong partisan base that might otherwise have shored him up.
In an ABC News/Washington Post poll we conducted in June, 52 percent of Americans disapproved of the way Gonzales handled the U.S. attorney firings, while only half as many, 25 percent, approved. Barely over a third, moreover (35 percent), were prepared to say Gonzales should keep his job; 43 percent though he should lose it.
On both these questions, quite a lot of people – 23 and 22 percent, respectively – had no opinion, an indication of inattention to the issue. To some it’s probably seemed like more of the usual political fare from Washington, overshadowed by more pressing issues, especially the 800-pound gorilla of current public concerns, the war in Iraq.
All the same, the lack of partisan support for Gonzales among Republicans and conservatives is telling, and perhaps sealed his fate. In our June poll just 38 percent of Republicans approved of how he handled the U.S. attorney firings; nearly as many, 32 percent, disapproved. And just under half of Republicans, 48 percent, said Gonzales should keep his job – a decidedly weak showing in the base. (Criticism of Gonzalez on both fronts soared among independents and Democrats alike.)
The numbers were similar among ideological groups; just 43 percent of conservatives were ready to say Gonzales should keep his job, while his support, naturally, slipped lower among moderates (32 percent) and liberals (27 percent) alike. Nor were George W. Bush’s expressions of support much help, given that Bush himself these days has little spare popularity to loan to his subordinates.
We don’t see any polling specifically on suggestions that Gonzales may have misled Congress – or even perjured himself – in testimony about National Security Agency surveillance programs. But the subject of truthfulness is a sensitive one for this administration; again in our June poll, 60 percent of Americans said they don’t feel they can trust the administration to honestly and accurately report intelligence about security threats facing the United States. Given that credibility gap – and whatever Bush’s expressions of support for Gonzales – an attorney general accused of misleading Congress was probably the last thing this White House needed.