Home/Daniel Larison/Bush Wrecked the GOP Long Before Trump Appeared

Bush Wrecked the GOP Long Before Trump Appeared

04-164-170 DOE photo by Lynn Freeny

Max Boot laments Trump’s victory:

That’s why, despite my disagreements with social conservatives, I worked as a foreign policy advisor to John McCain in 2008, Mitt Romney in 2012 and Marco Rubio this year. All of those candidates, different as they were, recognizably represented Reagan Republicanism.

For the time being, at least, that Republican Party is dead. It was wounded by the tea party absolutists who insisted on political purity and rejected any compromise. Now it has been killed by Donald Trump.

Boot is wrong about this, and I can only wish that the Bush-era GOP he mourns really was dead and gone. There’s no question that Bushism has suffered at least a partial repudiation in this election cycle, and I consider that to be as good and desirable a result as Boot considers it to terrible. But it will unfortunately take more than one defeat in the presidential primaries in one year to make sure that Bushism is thoroughly driven out of the GOP for good. While its supporters didn’t have much luck at the polls this year, Bushism continues to be well-represented among the party’s elected officials and pundits, and for all their theatrical declarations about the GOP’s death right now almost all of them will remain in the party and continue to have their baleful influence on it.

One of the remarkable things about this election is the sheer intensity of hostility to Trump from many of the same movement conservatives who shrugged at Bush’s far more serious betrayals and failures. Many movement conservatives have been much more horrified by Trump’s momentary political success over a few months than they were by the real, costly, staggering failures of governance under the Bush administration over a period of eight years. Bush certainly drove some conservatives and Republicans into vocal opposition, including those of us here at TAC, but there seem to be many, many more on the right that thought Bush could practically do no wrong but have been driven into fits by nothing more than Trump’s nomination.

People that now panic about incipient caudillismo and the dangers of a nationalist demagogue didn’t care when Bush expanded the security state, trampled on the Constitution, or launched an unnecessary war of aggression, and people that yawned at the steady expansion of government and creation of new unfunded liabilities under Bush are now supposedly alarmed by Trump’s lack of fidelity to the cause of limited government. They correctly identify many of Trump’s flaws, but refuse to acknowledge the fact that the party was already killed (or at least severely wounded) years ago during the disastrous Bush era. It was that period of incompetence and ideologically-driven debacles that shattered the GOP, and for the last seven years the vast majority of die-hard Trump foes have refused to recognize that and have chosen to learn nothing from it. They lost to Trump, but the part they can’t accept is that they deserved to lose because of their role in enabling the GOP’s past failures. Now they’re touting their abandonment of the wreckage they helped to create as if they deserve applause for running away from their own handiwork. If it weren’t so serious, it would be quite comical.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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