Prof. Bainbridge preaches ashes and sackcloth:
Coupled with losing Congress in 2006, losing the presidency in 2008 will provide a pair of defeats that surely will prompt “attentiveness” on the part of the GOP leadership and the intellectual base of think tanks and academics who helped lay the foundation for the Reagan and Gingrich revolutions.
But attentiveness to what? There is something frustratingly vague about Bainbridge’s complaint, just as there was always something frustratingly vague about Thompson’s campaign message. Going back to first principles is a fine idea (assuming that you have sound first principles), but Thompson never made clear how he would differ from the current administration in those areas where it was most ruinous for the reputation of the party and the name of conservatism. There is reason to think, given what he has said and who is advising him, that Thompson would have been worse and more prone to the same mistakes of this administration on foreign policy than would Romney or Huckabee. In other words, in the one area where a return to first principles seems most necessary, Thompson plainly failed to deliver.
2006 should have been a deafening wake-up call to the GOP that most of the country was not with them on Iraq, but that wasn’t the lesson they learned at all. They decided to hang it all on corruption and overspending, as if Indiana ousted three Republican incumbents and New Hampshire turned into a Democratic state because of Abramoff and earmarks. Depending on the nominee, the aftermath of an ’08 defeat will result in slightly different conclusions, but whatever explanation “the intellectual base” gives to account for the defeat they will remain oblivious to the party’s blind spots on the war and foreign policy, and so will be unable to fix what is wrong. Remarkably, many of the same people who have winked and nodded at executive usurpation and infringement on civil liberties, the ones who mock Paul’s constitutionalism as hopelessly antiquated, are all the more rigidly, inflexibly adhering to the memory of “the Reagan coalition,” as if conservatism existed for the sake of the coalition rather than the other way around.