Hurricane Katrina not only pulverized the Gulf Coast in 2005, it knocked the bully pulpit out from under President George W. Bush, according to two former advisers who spoke candidly about the political impact of the government’s poor handling of the natural disaster.
“Katrina to me was the tipping point,” said Matthew Dowd, Bush’s pollster and chief strategist for the 2004 presidential campaign. “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. P.R.? It didn’t matter. Travel? It didn’t matter.”
Dan Bartlett, former White House communications director and later counselor to the president, said: “Politically, it was the final nail in the coffin.”
Their comments are a part of an oral history of the Bush White House that Vanity Fair magazine compiled for its February issue, which hits newsstands in New York and Los Angeles on Wednesday, and nationally on Jan. 6. Vanity Fair published comments by current and former government officials, foreign ministers, campaign strategists and numerous others on topics that included Iraq, the anthrax attacks, the economy and immigration.