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January 25, 2008

Did Bush Destroy The Republican Party?

Peggy Noonan aims her considerable cannon at George Bush this morning in the Wall Street Journal in the middle of her analysis of the primaries. She fingers him as the main culprit in the destruction of the Republican Party, discounting other and perhaps better causes and engaging in just a little hyperbole:

On the pundit civil wars, Rush Limbaugh declared on the radio this week, "I'm here to tell you, if either of these two guys [Mr. McCain or Mike Huckabee] get the nomination, it's going to destroy the Republican Party. It's going to change it forever, be the end of it!"

This is absurd. George W. Bush destroyed the Republican Party, by which I mean he sundered it, broke its constituent pieces apart and set them against each other. He did this on spending, the size of government, war, the ability to prosecute war, immigration and other issues.

Were there other causes? Yes, of course. But there was an immediate and essential cause.

And this needs saying, because if you don't know what broke the elephant you can't put it together again. The party cannot re-find itself if it can't trace back the moment at which it became lost. It cannot heal an illness whose origin is kept obscure.

I love Peggy Noonan's commentary, but this is a little over the top. The party has lost exactly one national cycle in the last four. I don't consider them dead after a single setback, and anyone who does appears more interested in garnering attention than in providing trenchant analysis.

It doesn't mean we don't have trouble, but Noonan's wrong to lay the whole thing on Bush. While it's true that he hasn't provided much in the way of fiscal discipline, he didn't run for office as a Steve Forbes conservative, either. He spoke of compassionate conservatism, a code for big-government approaches for center-right policies, and he delivered. Bush talked about working on bipartisan solutions to national issues, and he pretty much did that before the Iraq war turned sour. Republicans elected Bush knowing what they were going to get, and Noonan can't seriously claim shock over the result.

The seeds of Republican discontent took root in Congress, not the executive. It was the succession of Republican Congresses that refused to cut spending, and instead blew wads of cash on non-defense discretionary spending. Bush led in some of these efforts, but he didn't multiply pork exponentially; that came from House and Senate Republicans. He didn't climb into bed with K Street, either -- that project started before Bush ever arrived at the White House with Tom DeLay and others.

It may be fashionable for Republicans to cast all blame on the President, but that falsely absolves those who created the problems that plague us at the moment. It may also sound rhetorically spectacular to declare the party "destroyed" by having its constituent coalitions debate about its direction, but it's both inaccurate and hyperbolic. It's not unusual for parties to have these debates -- and maybe if we'd had it in 2000, we would have elevated leaders more supportive of traditional Republican fiscal discipline rather than just blindly supported the people who threw that legacy in the wastebin.


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» Did Bush Kill the GOP and other questions from The Anchoress
Peggy Noonan writes today, that President Bush has killed the GOP: George W. Bush destroyed the Republican Party, by which I mean he sundered it, broke its constituent pieces apart and set them against each other. He did this on spending, the size of g... [Read More]

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