“I’ve got confidence in my capabilities. I love to be underestimated.”
—George W. Bush, Quoted in U.S.A. Today, June 8, 2000
“What we anticipate seldom occurs; what we least expected generally happens.”
Perhaps the most consistent thing about George W. Bush’s career is that he has consistently exceeded expectations. Texas punsters said he wasn’t a bush but a “shrub,” and the joke fueled a best-seller by columnist Molly Ivins. But the joke ultimately was on those who underestimated him.
The profits from his oil business paid for his ownership share of the Texas Rangers. When he sold that share, he realized a $15 million return. Few analysts gave him a chance of unseating Texas governor Ann Richards in 1994, yet he beat her in the race. Political handicappers gave him slim odds for a successful gubernatorial term, but he rolled to a huge victory in 1998. He explored a presidential run, but cynics suggested he wasn’t nearly smart enough to be the nation’s chief executive. When he won the nomination, Democrats relished the idea of Al Gore taking him on in the debates, but he astounded everyone by holding his own.
He won the prolonged presidential race but many doubted his chances of accomplishing anything meaningful. A December 2000 USA Today/CNN poll revealed that people did not believe that Bush and congressional Democrats could put politics aside to work together. Only a little more than one in three voters believed it would be possible.
With the September 11 terrorist attacks, Bush faced the biggest foreign policy challenge in a generation and emerged with unprecedented approval ratings. Critics predicted that he would stumble or that the postattack public opinion high would evaporate, but he ended his first two years in office with approval ratings in impressive territory.