WASHINGTON – 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.”
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 nationally on Jan. 6.
Lawrence Wilkerson, top aide and later chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, said that as a new president, Bush was like Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee who critics said lacked knowledge about foreign affairs. Experienced advisers like Vice President Dick Cheney and Powell ended up playing damage control for the president, Wilkerson said.