America is freedom, and freedom must be strong. ~Mitt Romney
The lesson I draw from Raban’s essay [link added-DL] is that the Tea Party issues — spending, taxes, and American strength — have been the key to Republican fortunes over the last year [bold mine-DL]. They are the glue that binds a Republican-leaning independent in Arizona to a die-hard social conservative from Georgia to a Democratic-leaning independent in Massachusetts. They are the same issues that drove the Reagan Democrats to the polls in 1980 and 1984. They are the basis of the conservative revival — not any GOP attempts to copy whatever gimmick David Cameron’s Tories are deploying today (ineffectively, one might add). Deviate from these three, as the Republicans did during Bush’s second term, and you lose the Tea Party. And thus your majority [bold mine-DL].
There are several things wrong with this. First, there is the unfounded claim that Republicans deviated from an anti-tax position during Bush’s second term. They did not do this. Continetti cannot show us evidence of this, because it did not happen. Then there is an equally unfounded claim that “deviation” on spending in Bush’s second term had something to do with losing Republican majorities in Congress. Spending had little or nothing to do with this. The most egregious example of adding to our ruinous debt came in 2003 well before Bush’s re-election with Medicare Part D, and the Iraq war that cost hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars continued to be and remains to this day broadly popular in Republican and conservative circles. The worst of Bush-era spending excesses came long before 2006, and voters did not expel the GOP in 2006 because of spending deviations.
Next there is the idea that the second Bush term represented some “deviation” from “American strength.” This claim is partly true, but not for the reasons Continetti thinks. What Continetti means by this is that second-term Bush was more inclined to listen to foreign policy realists after he was chastened by setbacks in Iraq, and he backed off from the more aggressive, confrontational positions he had staked out in his disastrous first term. Bush stopped being quite so reckless, and even refused to escalate into full-scale war with Iran, and this disappointed the hawks and interventionists who had been cheering him on until then. So when Continetti says that Republicans in Bush’s second term deviated from support for “American strength,” he means that they stopped listening so readily to the incompetents who had encouraged them in their most aggressive instincts earlier.
Far from “deviating” from what Continetti thinks “American strength” means, Republicans up until 2006 backed an aggressive, confrontational foreign policy that repeatedly yielded bad results. The electorate recoiled from the disaster they had unleashed in Iraq and grew disgusted with their inability to cope with the mess they had helped make. Republicans lost their majorities in Congress. Even after 2006, Republicans continued to endorse the same morally and intellectually bankrupt foreign policy ideas they had supported all along. Romney’s ridiculous foreign policy arguments and Continetti’s claim about the importance of “American strength” as an issue show that these people have learned absolutely nothing.
In reality, American strength was waning during the last half of Bush’s presidency because it was being wasted needlessly in an ongoing occupation of Iraq. This was when Iraq was consuming itself with sectarian violence that was partly enflamed by the democratization the administration insisted on carrying out. The invasion of Iraq had also empowered Iran by eliminating one of the main checks on its influence. Relations with Moscow were in deep freeze as the administration frittered away American credibility with its provocative backing for NATO expansion in Ukraine and Georgia, which the 2008 war exposed to be meaningless. Administration policies of indefinite detention and torture had badly damaged America’s reputation around the world. A combination of ideological blindness and rank incompetence helped ruin Iraq even more and drove the majority of the public fleeing from the party that had identified itself completely with the war and the administration. It was actually the GOP embrace of what Continetti calls “American strength” (i.e., destructive, counterproductive policies that harm American security) that led to the party’s political failures. This so-called “American strength” position involves supporting policies that exhaust our resources, alienate allies and needlessly antagonize other major powers. Obviously, Continetti is oblivious to the domestic political consequences of the foreign policy he advocates, or else he might acknowledge that it was the so-called “American strength” issue that did most of the work of discrediting and defeating the Republican Party four years ago.