ow this is interesting. ABC/Washington Post took a poll today, after Saddam's capture, asking respondents to rate the President's performance. Keep in mind that this is directly after the capture, when his bounce should be highest.It's a rare day when I get to say that I overestimated George W. Bush, but there you go.
General approval went up 4 points from the last poll week (the poll is biweekly) to 57%, matching the approval from two weeks ago of 57%. It is well within the general range that Bush has been in. That basically means that this did little to nothing for Bush's approval ratings, which is a terrible blow to the president. It also demonstrates that the nation is divided right at that 57% line, after that, you get people who just won't like the President. That's mere conjecture, but there you have it.
Approval of his job in Iraq jumped 10 points, to 58%. Opinions on the War on Terror (going very well, well, not well, very not well) only moved up 3%, to 65%. People clearly don't see this as very important.
Those who see the war as worth fighting moved up 1 point, to 53% (That's really, really important). 90% think big challenges in Iraq lay ahead and people favor a UN Tribunal versus an Iraqi trial 52% to 39% (UN irrelevant my ass).
Saddam didn't make Bush invincible, in fact, it barely did anything for him at all. People seem quite locked in their opinions, tired of the war over there, and resistant to being swayed by every piece of good news. Contrast that with a couple months ago, when all good things that happened through Bush back into stratospheric levels, and the bad barely hurt him. I don't care what the Right says, 2004 is wide-fucking-open.
Update: I forgot to mention that 95% of poll respondents were aware of Hussein's capture.
If the public isn't swayed, though, then what does it matter? Two words: Media and Politicians. The media is going to be gamboling through this circus for a good long while, especially if the trial goes ahead and they have access to it. That'll color how they cover the presidential candidates, as they'll want to tie the candidates to other personalities (like Hussein) to make the stories easier to tell and fulfill their goal of avoiding policy as much as humanly possible.
(This is the mainstream media, of course. Opinion journalism is going to start calling the left a bunch of Saddam-lovers again, using arguments like "he'd still be in power if you were in charge". These precisely miss what the left was actually saying but are useful for scoring cheap political points.)
As for politicians, well, it depends. Many, like Dean, stand a good chance of alienating the press: even if the public doesn't seem to obsess over Saddam, the press certainly will. I think the Dems did a good job of emphasizing that they support the troops, not the president. This is precisely accurate to this situation: Bush didn't catch Saddam, and his ham-handed management and lack of postwar planning was and is more responsible for the problems in Iraq than anything individual soldiers have done.
Actually, come to think of it, a useful analogy might be the late 90's dot.com boom. The programmers at the bottom may have had toys, but they worked their asses off, and a lot of them were both brilliant and creative in their work. Despite that, their companies failed and they got canned. Should you blame them? No, it's not their fault. The problem was that the company never had a clear plan of action and was subject to incredibly poor management. Even if they succeeded in shipping a product or rolling out a website, the fundamental problems didn't go anywhere.
Just like in Iraq.