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Blame the Bush Era for Current Republican Dysfunction

A bad bargain.

Ross Douthat offers an explanation for the behavior of what he calls Republican “Intransigents”:

So what you’re seeing motivating the House Intransigents today, what’s driving their willingness to engage in probably-pointless brinksmanship, is not just anger at a specific Democratic administration, or opposition to a specific program, or disappointment over a single electoral defeat. Rather, it’s a revolt against the long term pattern I’ve just described: Against what these conservatives, and many on the right, see as forty years of failure, in which first Reagan and then Gingrich and now the Tea Party wave have all failed to deliver on the promise of an actual right-wing answer to the big left-wing victories of the 1930s and 1960s — and now, with Obamacare, of Obama’s first two years as well.

This may account for some of what we’ve been seeing recently, but the experience of the Bush era is a much more important factor than disappointments with inadequate conservative victories of the past. During the Bush era, most conservatives either supported the administration’s domestic and foreign policy agenda or they didn’t put up much of a fight against any of it for at least the first five or six years. Not only did they end up backing a huge expansion of the welfare state and extraordinarily costly foreign wars, but in order to justify these moves they emphasized the value that these things supposedly had for the political fortunes of the GOP. The Bush-era GOP didn’t just fail to roll back previous government expansions, but did a great deal to increase the size and scope of government. Not long after making this bad bargain, conservatives saw the Republicans lose control of Congress, and they were still associated with one of the most unpopular presidents of modern times. Most conservatives backed almost every bad political and policy bet that Bush-era party leaders made, and it all went horribly wrong for both the GOP’s electoral prospects and conservative priorities. Many conservatives realized too late that they had put the political goals of the party first too often, and had deferred to party leaders too frequently, and so now there is great reluctance to do these things under any circumstances.

When any of those same leaders warn them against a certain course of action now, many conservatives, especially those members of Congress elected in the years since the defeats of 2006 and 2008, are not inclined to pay any attention to them. Given the track record of these leaders, it’s easy to see why they have so little influence. Having failed to reckon with or punish the failures of their party and movement conservative leaders and the policies they endorsed, Republicans find themselves pulled between leaders that have been utterly discredited over the past decade and insurgent members that have latched on to self-defeating tactics of their own. The current parlous state of the Republican Party is one of the longer-term effects of the disastrous Bush administration, and it will take many more years before the party has fully recovered from its wreckage.



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