Bush was preparing to give a speech to the annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC. The conference is the event of the year for conservative activists; Republican politicians are required to appear and offer their praise of the conservative movement.
Latimer got the assignment to write Bush’s speech. Draft in hand, he and a few other writers met with the president in the Oval Office. Bush was decidedly unenthusiastic.
“What is this movement you keep talking about in the speech?” the president asked Latimer.
Latimer explained that he meant the conservative movement — the movement that gave rise to groups like CPAC.
Bush seemed perplexed. Latimer elaborated a bit more. Then Bush leaned forward, with a point to make.
“Let me tell you something,” the president said. “I whupped Gary Bauer’s ass in 2000. So take out all this movement stuff. There is no movement.”
Bush seemed to equate the conservative movement — the astonishing growth of conservative political strength that took place in the decades after Barry Goldwater’s disastrous defeat in 1964 — with the fortunes of Bauer, the evangelical Christian activist and former head of the Family Research Council whose 2000 presidential campaign went nowhere.
Now it was Latimer who looked perplexed. Bush tried to explain.
“Look, I know this probably sounds arrogant to say,” the president said, “but I redefined the Republican Party.”
Perhaps York, or Latimer, expects this anecdote to shock. But it confirms what everyone with two neurons to rub together has known for a long time: the con movement takes its cues from the GOP and whatever Bush or Dole clone leads the party. There hasn’t been a “conservative movement” for a long time: there’s a Republican auxiliary that calls itself conservative and a movement. It’s arguable, though, whether Bush redefined it or merely pushed the absurdity to its logical conclusion.