National politics has often been compared to the entertainment business. Taking that similarity a step further, a national politician is a brand just as Beyonce or Tom Cruise are brands. Their public images can take a hit—sometimes they can restore their public image and sometimes they can't.
When George W. Bush left the White House in January 2009, only 33% of American adults approved of the way he handled his eight years in office. Today, as President Obama and former presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton join with the 43rd president at the University of Dallas for the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, his approval rating stands at 47%, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll.
What turned the tide in public approval for Bush? Through Obama's first term, many Republicans distanced themselves from Bush, casting him as a big-government spender, and he got no love from the other side of the aisle. Politics and longing looks back at the flush pre-2007 economy aside, what did Bush himself do to revive his personal brand?
The answer: nearly nothing. Bush has laid low since leaving the office, only nominally supporting the Republican ticket last year and making few public appearance and utterances. He surfaced on the world stage just once, at the request of President Obama when he was asked to join Bill Clinton on a tour of Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Regarding his two terms as president, Bush's only message was that history would make the final judgment. There were no defensive gripes about his record, no apologies and no hard-selling of any positive aspects of his legacy.
He was just absent, as soft news filtered out that he had taken up painting and was a new, doting grandfather.
Six takeaways for any damaged brand:
- A period of absence does truly make the heart grow fonder.
- Brittle defensiveness doesn't do much to repair a reputation.
- Hands-on involvement in high-profile relief efforts is rarely forgotten.
- Don't oversell accomplishments to steer attention away from mistakes or failures.
- Have trust in the passage of time to reshaped public opinion.
- Take up painting.
Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI