Yes, polls show that even many Republicans now think the war was a mistake, but the poll numbers vary widely -- a 2014 New York Times/CBS poll said that 63% of Republicans think the war was not "worth the costs" -- but in an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that same year, 46% of Republicans said the war was worth it, as opposed to 44% who didn't.
What's more, a 2015 Fairleigh Dickinson University survey reported that 51% of Republicans think WMDs actually were found in Iraq, as do 52% of Fox viewers. Oh, and George W. Bush has an 88% favorable rating among Republicans, according to a 2014 Gallup poll.
So why does the entire GOP presidential field seem to be running away from the war? I think it has less to do with W's war than with Jeb's defense of the war (and of his brother). The problem is that Jeb is defensive -- look at the way he defended the decidion to go to war:
[Megyn] Kelly: "On the subject of Iraq, very controversial, knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?"He's defending it from a defensive crouch. He's using Hillary Clinton as a human shield. He's opening himself up to attacks from the "liberal media," and he's acting as if he expects such attacks, and believes they're completely understandable.
Bush: "I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got."
Kelly: "You don't think it was a mistake?"
Bush: "In retrospect, the intelligence that everybody saw, that the world saw, not just the United States, was faulty. And in retrospect, once we invaded and took out Saddam Hussein, we didn't focus on security first, and the Iraqis in this incredibly insecure environment turned on the United States military because there was no security for themselves and their families. By the way, guess who thinks that those mistakes took place as well? George W. Bush."
The Republican base embraces politicians who are on offense against liberals, Democrats, and the media. If you're attacking, and if you have the enemy (us) sputtering angrily at what you're saying, you're a hero. But as soon as you're the subject of our mockery and scorn, you're a loser. That's what's happened to Sarah Palin, Chris Christie, and Bobby Jindal, as well as, to some extent, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson. By contrast, Scott Walker has large amounts of screw-the-liberals capital from his union fight and three election victories in Wisconsin -- which is a big reason why, even though he's down from his peak, he's still near the top of the GOP polls, despite not being an establishment or media darling.
If Jeb had given a defiant, unyielding answer like the one Rubio gave on Fox in March, we'd be horrified, but he'd be cheered on the right (apologies for this faulty transcript, which is directly from Fox):
RUBIO: The world is a better place because Saddam Hussein does not in Iraq. Here's what I think might have happened, had we not gone. And you might had an arms race to put Iraq in Iran, they are both would purse the weapon. I will be dealing with two problems, not just one. We forget that Iraq, at the time of the invasion, was an open defiance of numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions, that the United Nations refused to enforce. They were, they were, they were refused to comply with allowing inspectors in. Repeatedly, this was a country whose leader had gassed his own people on numerous occasions. So I think, Hindsight is always 20/20, but we don't know what the world would look like if Saddam Hussein was still there. But I doubt it would look better in terms of -- it will be worst -- or we are just bad for different reasons.Similarly, if Jeb had acknowledged his brother as an advisor openly and proudly, rather than in a statement at a closed-door meeting that was leaked to the press, the reaction would have been different. Jeb could have said, Did my brother make mistakes? Sure. All presidents make mistakes. But he understood the nature of the threat, which is radical Islam. He knew that American strength and resolve are needed, not weakness and vacillation. A president's first order of business is to keep America safe and free, and my brother never forgot that.
... Saddam Hussein was an open violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, including not allowing inspectors to come in on the ground, et cetera, and the world refused to enforce it. So that, that's another point that means to be remembered that after time of that invasion, Saddam Hussein was an open defiance of numerous Security Council resolutions to refuse to comply with.
Jeb, that's what the rubes want. You blew it, and now everyone's running away -- not from your brother, but from you.