At the National Review Conference (which was televised by C-Span), the overriding topic under discussion is how the right got things so very wrong. Reihan Salam interviewed the
Jabba pundit emeritus John Podhoretz about how the Republican Party had gotten away from these great thinkers and have run away from the Bush legacy, ignoring the huge deficits they supported when Bush enacted them, pretending that the economy was booming until a black man moved into the Oval Office.
J-Pod's answer is that Bush's utter incompetence in Iraq made Americans distrust his domestic policy.
PODHORETZ: I think obviously politically Republicans distanced themselves from George W. Bush because it was the politic thing to do. Numbers don't lie. He became very unpopular. Parties tend not to embrace figures and politicians who become unpopular.
My view is that a lot of the distress over Bush's domestic agenda, from which Republicans fled, beginning really in 2005 had... it was an ancillary result of the failure to secure victory in Iraq early and to have a favorable reckoning...
SALAM: So Iraq sank what might have been a successful domestic policy agenda.
PODHORETZ: Right. Well, what I mean is that I think the entire country stopped listening to President Bush on what would be advantageous for the country when it lost faith that he was managing the war effectively and so he found it more difficult to get hearings on some of the issues that now are bedeviling the Republican party.
J-Pod isn't entirely wrong. I think that even the willfully blind loyalty of the Republican Party couldn't ignore that the Bush presidency was an exercise in failure. And so it was natural for many Republicans (including the talking heads, who couldn't turn their back on Bush fast enough) to distance themselves from that sinking ship, to keep the taint of failure off them.
But it also ignores the Frankenstein's monster the Republican Party have created in the tea party. Decades and decades of conservative talking points ("Everyone knows lower taxes means economic growth!' "The free market rises all boats!" "We must cut entitlements to strengthen the economy!" "Abortion is murder!") were given with a wink. Politicians knew that for all their talk about ending abortion, they really would never do it, because they needed that wedge issue to run on for elections. They knew that even though they cried for cutting taxes, they could always sneak tax increases in the forms of fees or adjustments, as Reagan did over and over. They understood that it was all stagecraft. But after decades of these talking points without substance, they have birthed a generation of true believers in the form of the tea party. And let's be honest, the tea party are merely Republicans with another name. These tea partiers have accepted these truisms without examining them and believe them wholly. They missed the winks; they've ignored the reality and they're ready to implement the Republican agenda full bore. The only problem is that the establishment Republicans aren't interested in doing so, because as Bush's presidency proved so well, the Republican agenda is a one way ticket to failure. And hence, the implosion of the Republican Party, between the cynicism of the establishment and the willful ignorance of the tea party.
But for J-Pod, it's all about Bush's suspicious immigration policy, not his disasterous economic policies, that killed the Republican Party. His proof? No conservative radio host wanted to talk about his nasty smear book on Hillary Clinton.
In 2006 I published a book on Hillary Clinton called Can She Be Stopped... (crosstalk)
The morning that I did my... I had 150 radio interviews scheduled. The book was sort of being sent off in a big way... the first book about Hillary Clinton in 2008 and I did eight interviews the first day and every single one of those interviews, I came on, on a conservative radio station somewhere in the country and I said, yes, I'm here to talk about my book, Can She Be Stopped? and the conservative radio talk show host would say, this is April 2006, I don't want to talk about that. I want to talk about immigration and what Bush is doing and what is going on? Why is he doing this? What's the matter with the President? What's going on?
These were... this was supposed to be a friendly audience that hated Hillary and would love to hear about how she should be stopped in 2008 and no... no conservative in the country wanted to talk about the Democrats. They wanted to talk about Bush and distance themselves from him on immigration.
Republicans didn't want to talk smack about Hillary Clinton??? My god, they *are* in disarray!