The backlash against Bush has long been brewing. Compassionate conservatism was a product of the moment when Bush began to run for president in the late 1990s. The congressional wing of the party had immolated itself in the government-shutdown fights and then the impeachment of Bill Clinton. A rebranding was in order, and Bush wanted to signal to general-election voters that they needn’t fear him.
Bush-style conservatism never really took with the broader party, although it gained acquiescence. The president usually gets his way with his congressional majority, so Bush could push through No Child Left Behind and the prescription-drug benefit. The war on terror and the Left’s hatred for him bonded conservatives to Bush whatever their misgivings. The nomination of John McCain — himself no down-the-line conservative — obscured the anti-Bush feeling.
Now, it’s in full flower and evident on all fronts, from spending and immigration to foreign policy, as Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns point out in Politico. Running on his message circa 1999, George W. Bush would be hard-pressed to gain traction in the current Republican party. Running on his record circa 2008 — the spending programs, the bailouts, the attempted amnesty and the two ongoing “hearts and minds” wars of counterinsurgency — he’d be booed from the stage. If Michele Bachmann didn’t drop-kick him off it first.
The Bush Republican party had grown flaccid and deserved to be trounced and built anew. But Bush had two insights. He realized that the party had to win over the center as well as the right, and that unadulterated doctrine would appeal most only to the doctrinaire. If Rick Perry thinks the 10th Amendment is going to have cachet with voters worried about their jobs, their wages, and the value of their homes, he’s been spending too much time at Federalist Society seminars.
Now that's certainly interesting. Lowry admits that the GOP needs to avoid doctrinaire litmus tests in order to win over the center, but at the same time he freely admits the party should have and has moved sharply right from just three years ago. All today's GOP has to do in order to win over the center is talk about jobs or something, and the center will embrace the hard right on everything else.
That's funny as hell. And yet that's the plan, to dupe the center into voting for the GOP with talk of jobs, but only talk, mind you.