The GOP and the Bush Legacy: Part Three
Published on: April 24, 2013
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  • Tom

    Admittedly, I am a neophyte in these matters, but I wonder if part of the reason why many Republicans at the national level tend towards reflexive Bush-defending is that they believe they’ll end up getting tarred with the same brush anyway.

    • Bruno_Behrend

      Excellent point. We do, and we will, thus we must.

  • Bruno_Behrend

    While there is nothing objectionable about the essays or the debate, I think WRM misses (or is avoiding) an important point.

    The fact is that if Jeb Bush runs, he has a better than 50/50 chance of being nominated. This means that of course, the past will be part of the debate. There is likely no avoiding it.

    Lastly, while no controversial presidency can be fully ameliorated, burnishing the Bush brand does not in any way exclude looking toward the future.

    • Ethan Rosen

      For the good of his party, Jeb Bush shouldn’t run at all.

      • Bruno_Behrend

        Interesting view. Here is what worries me.

        First, if the party moves toward Rand Paul, it will be in the political wilderness for decades, as it is misreading the current turmoil.

        Each American is part libertarian, but we will never elect an explicitly libertarian president.

        However, if the party does move that way, it won’t pick a Bush, or conversely, support him in a general.

        OTOH, if the party DOESN’T move to far right, Bush is by far the best choice. Rubio might be a good heir, but he hasn’t run a state successfully, as Jeb clearly has.

        Lastly, the GOP would be silly to nominate a senator when we have such good governors.

        • azt24

          Who knows how Bush will be regarded after seven or eight years of Obama? He’s already looking better in retrospect.

  • Jim Luebke

    Bottom line — the GOP needs to talk intelligently, persuasively, and *loudly*, about something *other than Bush*.

    Did Nixon’s damage to the GOP brand (and it was horrible damage) prevent Reagan from getting elected? Did the GOP have to have a “national conversation about Nixon” before 1980? Seriously now.

    A discussion of what’s going on RIGHT NOW in the world is far more useful than any discussion of Bush. How do we maintain the Pax Americana in the world of today? How do we maintain America’s economic might, military power, and international prestige? (I’ll give you a hint… “international prestige” doesn’t mean “does Europe like us”… Europe’s twilight and other nations’ rise is the story of the 21st century.)

    Concentrate on reaching out to Asians, whose impact on demographics is gaining ground over Hispanics’. Concentrate on reaching out to “OMG we’re” Republicans, among Hispanics and African-Americans. Concentrate on a square deal for ALL races and colors… not just giveaways for people who aren’t white men.

    Talking about Bush is a trap. If Reagan had been tricked into talking about Nixon, he would never have been elected.

  • Correction: the title is not “Commander AND Chief”, but rather “Commander-IN-Chief”.

    • Fixed. Thanks for the heads-up.

      • Jeff H

        You’re welcome.

  • I’m a lifelong Democrat but would embrace a Republican Party that promised to:

    1. Place a temporary moratorium on immigration until we can integrate and assimilate the 40 million foreign-born minorities (including 11 million undocumented) now living in the country.

    2. Implement a biometric national ID as the only realistic way to enforce immigration law in a society as big and diverse as the US.

    3. End our no-strings-attached trading policy with China and return to the traditional American practice of protective tariffs on imports from low-wage countries as a necessary part of any plan to boost wages and employment of lower-skilled Americans and restore our manufacturing sector.

    4. Place new statutory limits on the length of the workday (six hours) and workweek (30 hours), the aim being to share the volume of employment we have, share the gains in worker productivity, and give working families more time with their kids.

    Of course you will say none of this is about to happen. More interesting is the question of how many Americans would vote Republican if it did.

    • Tom Chambers

      Having deleted some pessimistic remarks about the article and American politics generally, I will still offer this purely personal reply to Mr. Lea’s closing question … I would STOP voting Republican if they adopted those policies.
      But that’s just me.

      • Marty Keller

        And me.

      • Couldn’t have said it better myself

    • azt24

      The Democratic Party of 50 years embraced point 1. But today’s Democrats want an open borders policy. Can you tell me why they care so little about what they will do to the country?

    • Jim Luebke

      As a white male you’re honestly better off voting GOP in any case, as the party that a) doesn’t see discriminating against you based on the color of your skin as a major goal, b) doesn’t see you as simply a cash cow to be milked (and then bled) for your tax money and given little or nothing in return, and c) isn’t interested in reducing you to a level of dependent poverty that will turn you into a slavish client for some powerful politician.

      Of the political parties on offer, the GOP is your best bet.

  • Andrew Allison

    “I am simply saying that a failure to deal with the reality that the Bush administration damaged the national Republican brand to a serious degree . . .”
    I think it would be more accurate to say that the Republican brand was damaged to a serious degree during the Bush administration. As you have frequently written, if President Obama were a Republican the MSM would be howling for his head.
    Regardless, as you point out, the discussion is about the future, not the past.

  • Happycrow

    “As long as the GOP foreign policy message is “We were right last time and history will show just how wrong and ungrateful the doubters and naysayers were,” there won’t be many people outside the choir who want to sing along.”

    ^This (speaking as a guy who stayed home rather than vote for the Repubs — there IS something wrong with the light bulb).
    -Russ in TX

  • Timothy Lane

    The point about problems that can’t be solved is well taken. In all my criticisms of Obama, I’ve never attacked him over his failure in Iran because I don’t think success has ever been possible. As for Harry Truman, he fought a 3-year war in Korea without bothering to seek congressional approval, running roughshod over the Constitution. No wonder modern historians like him so much.

  • Professor, few disagree that Bush left office deeply unpopular, that both McCain and Romney were hobbled by partisan association with “the failed Bush policies,” and that 2016 GOP candidates probably will not stream to Dallas to get W’s endorsement. However, your original post (let’s be honest) wasn’t exclusively a politicak analysis. You pretty much tore into Bush’s supposed policy failures as the cause of an ongoing stain on the “Republican brand.” So, it is not surprising that people who believe that, on balance, Bush’s record wasn’t terrible took to their pens to disagree.

    They have a point. After all, Bush won two national elections (one barely). He won the second comfortably despite — perhaps because of — his waging two wars and an unapologetic Global War on Terror, renditions, secret prisons, Guantanamo and all. On the domestic side, Bush governed in many ways as the moderate “establishment” Republican he is and was, enacting a major new Medicare benefit and making a major push for comprehensive immigration reform.

    I don’t think anyone can honestly appraise the Bush effect on the GOP “brand” without recognizing the powerful impact of the relentless Democratic Party and media assault on Bush: he was stupid, he was a fool, he was Cheney’s puppet, he was an ignorant hick, he was a “Neocon,” he was an evil man shredding our Constitution, he was a racist, he cheated in order to be “SElected” by the Supreme Court. It’s impossible to understand how views of his administration unfolded without taking into account the intense detestation of Bush as a leader and a man that existed in important leadership circles from the day he took office.

    Moreover, while I agree that the GOP “brand” faces challenges ahead, but it’s hardly all Bush’s fault. Surely McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin, the parade of bizarre candidates in last year’s Presidential primaries, the incompetence and tone-deafness of the Romney campaign, the rise of frankly loony candidates in a half dozen key Senate candidates, and some of the excesses of talk radio have had something to do about it.

    • Gene_Frenkle

      Bush did not want his 2nd election “comfortably”!?! He won slightly more electoral votes than he did in 2000. I consider Bush a liberal and have always been puzzled why he didn’t win in a landslide in 2004 when at one point he was at 90% in approval ratings, and once the Democrats came into power they embraced his tax cuts and Medicare drug plan…which is indicative of policies being liberal.

      • Bush won by a margin of 2 1/2 points. Not a landslide but certainly comfortable and by no means a squeaker. Most of our Presidential elections historically have been decided by margins within five percentage points. As for electoral votes, Bush won everywhere except the contemporary Democratic strongholds of the Northeast, Upper Midwest and West Coast. Of course, this does illustrate what has developed in recent years as a structural advantage for Dems with respect to EVs. The GOP needs to be competitive again in Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Winsconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Washington or be faced with a perilously narrow EV path. But that’s another issue.

        • Gene_Frenkle

          By your logic Al Gore won the 2000 election–electoral votes count and Kerry did not even bother to make a play for the popular vote. Bush didn’t even get as many electoral votes in 2004 as Carter in 1976. Bush’s 2004 win was the weakest by an incumbent since 1916, generally incumbents win BIG or go home (Obama’s 2012 win was weak by historical standards as well). Winning over 350 EVs has been pretty common throughout our history.

    • azt24

      It’s also curious that WRM spends so much time talking about the damage Bush did to the GOP brand without mentioning what to my mind was Bush’s strongest failing: his inability to clearly articulate the reasons for his policies and defend them from attack. Compare Bush to how the late Prime Minister Thatcher dealt with attacks, and the difference is stark. Thatcher always answered her critics. Bush let himself be savaged.

      Charges that go unanswered become political dogma. So now WRM can say it doesn’t matter if the policies weren’t actually failures. You must deal with the perception that they were.

      • AK

        “Charges that go unanswered become political dogma.” Exactly, and describes the Romney campaign as well.

  • Gene_Frenkle

    Bush’s domestic policies have been embraced by Obama–the Bush/Obama tax cuts are permanent! Medicare Part D is popular! NCLB is not popular but it was actually bipartisan so blame Ted Kennedy and Democrats equally for that one. The Democrats really need to aplogize to America for lying about Bush’s tax cut and prescription drug plan. That said, the Bush/Obama economic policies have not really contributed the strong economic and job growth.

    • Ah, so “Bush’s tax cut and prescription drug plan” are considered lasting Republican achievements. You might just as well say deficits.

      • Gene_Frenkle

        I am a Democrat so I would have agreed with you several years ago, but once Democrats came into power in 2009 they did nothing to pay for these inititives, so Democrats and Republicans celebrate the Bush/Obama tax cuts and Medicare part D is only criticized by people that voted for Bush. In 20 years Bush will be seen as the greatest liberal since LBJ! Obama embraced the Bush economic policies and the Bush War on Terror policies, so if you voted for Obama in 2012 that means you think these Bush initiatives were successful…I did NOT vote for Obama in 2012 because I am a Democrat that opposed Bush.

  • SalMoanella

    Bush II did more damage to the gop and conservatives than any lib could ever hope to. His two biggest mistakes still haunt us to this day. One was his amnesty push for illegal aliens and the other was the bank bailouts. He spent like a dem too.

    Having said this, I accept responsibility for voting for him twice and as bad as he was, he is nowhere near as bad as the empty suit now in the white house.

  • Anthony

    “It is a foolish nation or political party that casts valuable human capital aside.” Lesson learned and let us move country ahead also makes for sound advise as end point to trio. But a caveat: “we can consider America’s political system today to be not so much a true democracy as a stable duopoly of two ruling parties….”
    That said, Bush essays intimate sensible emphasis by GOP going forward on challenging domestic affairs (dislocations brought about by both globalization and technological change) and retooling of foreign policy emphases. Yet, WRM’s Bush essays skirt pass inumerable social tensions ((“red states vs. blue states, suburbs vs. urban centers, rural vs. urban, whites, vs. minorities, fundamentalist vs. mainline religious denominations, conservatives vs. liberals, and sunbelt vs.snowbelt”) GOP must surmount to bring message to electorate meeting 270 electoral vote threshold. That is, though social tension in America is nothing new; acting upon shared U.S. principles and values have become more vexing – creating both riddle and answer for GOP.
    As America continues to reveal itself as a tensely divided society (in all its pluralistic majesty), the Bush essays though cleavage omission undermines (in my opinion) its thematic thrust – GOP resurgence nationally. America’s divisions are real as are our domestic and foreign challenges. This is reality GOP must contend and essays could have cited specifically that past consensus within limited demographics will no longer sustain party. In “Why Nations Fail” Daron Acemoglu writes about inclusive institutions prevailing over exclusive for any number of reasons but primarily as a result of creative destruction
    Acemoglu’s narrative can be applied to WRM’s GOP/Bush essays when one considers inclusiveness, ideas, lessons learned, and creative destruction worthy components of national GOP strategy going forward.

  • I’ll say this for WRM, he has a bi-partisan readership.

    • Jim Luebke

      Maliki beats Hussein, anyway.

      Sub-Saharan Africa’s improving too, and as I recall Bush had some good policies there.

      I prefer Bush’s inaction on a multitude of issues to Obama’s destructive hyperactivity any day. Also, it’s tough for me to come up with a serious issue that Bush screwed up (the budget, medical giveaway programs, foreign policy in the Muslim world) where Obama hasn’t been a poor performer as well — sometimes far worse.

      As far as bipartisanship goes, I’m still a bit surprised that a self-confessed Democrat has so many Bush-defenders on his site, and so few defenders of the present administration.

  • Mr. Mead in your appraisal of Margaret Thatchers career you say she did not build a consensus. Now that President Bush is retired you make no mention of consensus. From Charles Krauthammer’s latest article he describes all of the Bush policies continued in the Obama term: “indefinite detention, rendition, warrantless wiretaps, special forces and drone warfare, and, most notoriously, Guantanamo, which Obama so ostentatiously denounced — until he found it indispensable.”

    • Finally, a list of Bush’s enduring achievements: “indefinite detention, rendition, warrantless wiretaps, special forces and drone warfare, and, most notoriously, Guantanamo.”

      Perhaps some of our Republican friends would like to add to that list?

      • azt24

        All these policies but Guantanamo started under Bill Clinton.

  • AK

    By 2016

  • Lorenz Gude

    I’ve found the series helpful and I think whoever the GOP nominates in 2016 they will have to be very good to beat Hillary if she runs. In my view the Democrats have become the new conservative defenders of the status quo and nominating another big government Republican, like Jeb Bush, isn’t going to get us into the future. I think having a a clearly unBush candidate would be a really good start. It is impossible to look at Christie and be reminded of W. Or Jindal. Or Rubio. I’m talking visual here not politics. All these guys are somewhat problematic politically, but all of them are actively engaged in trying to find post blue ways of doing things. Actively trying to find a way into the future. I think both W and Obama tried quite different versions of liberal interventionism in foreign policy and have not found an effective way to deal with Islamism. Likewise the similarities in domestic policy are quite clear if we hark back to seamless Keynesian transition between W and Obama. Would have McCain or Romney done much differently? (I like to think that they might not have been so cavalier about the debt, but believe they would both have done Keynesian deficit spending.) In foreign policy I actually think Hillary might have learned something trying to implement Obama’s policy of appeasement and have better ideas on how to proceed differently than anyone else in either party. (I wonder what she thinks privately of Mr. Kerry.) But in general I would look to any Republican candidate to put a stop to trying get on side with Islamism. Domestically, I think a Republican trying to reduce the size of the deficit would encourage the energy industry to really do some serious drilling.

    • azt24

      Hillary has been covered for the last four years with hagiography from the press. We’re told she’s the best Secretary of State ever when nobody can name a single positive accomplishment. She has plenty of skeletons (think Benghazi) and is no better a natural politician than Mitt Romney was. After all, she let a nobody from Illinois named Barack Obama outsmart her and steal the nomination in 2008.

      I’m not at all sure that the Democrats will even nominate Hillary in 2016. There have to be other would-be Obamas waiting in the wings. Besides, it’s the Republicans who habitually nominate the next guy (gal) in line. Democrats want to fall in love with a fresh face.

  • MikeSchilling

    There was a serious case to be made in 2008 that a McCain presidency was the country’s surest road to lasting peace.

    Though given the number of places McCain has insisted the US needs to intervene militarily since then, that would be laughable.

  • Paul J. Delmont

    Jeb Bush will probably run, but not win nomination. He would have been a more able president than his brother and, like Colin Powell, would likely not have gone to war against Iraq, which would have kept him free to deal with Iran. GW Bush squandered not only a trillion dollars, but the willingness of the American people to deal with a foreign threat, thus leaving Iran free to build nuclear weapons (Obama is doing no better, it should be noted). GW Bush also left the borders wide open, thus increasing illegals by an estimated 50%, precipitating the crisis we now have and the amnesty proposal country club Republicans like McCain have fashioned (which would kill the two-party system as dead nationally as it now is in California). He did a few good things, but GW was a disaster for the Republican Party and for the nation.

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