WASHINGTON, February 21, 2016 – Nearly one week ago, former President George W. Bush told South Carolinians he understood “that Americans are angry and frustrated,” but urged them not to nominate a Republican candidate for president “who mirrors and inflames our anger and frustration,” in reference to GOP rival Donald Trump. “We need someone that can fix the problems that cause our anger and frustration, and that’s Jeb Bush.”
Saturday, Palmetto State Republicans rejected the better angels of their nature and instead embraced their seething anger, rebuffing the plethora of GOP stiffs that in the past have campaigned as conservatives, gotten elected and governed like the Democrats voters thought they had rejected.
George made the mistake of dismissing voter anger while insisting his narcoleptic little brother was just the man to “fix” those “problems” neither Bush could name.
Long-time political consultants no doubt filled the tiny heads in the Bush-dynasty with the foolish notion that name recognition was sufficient to carry the day for Jeb.
Instead, South Carolina Republicans chose a candidate who more than “mirrors” their anger, he articulates that anger unapologetically: Donald J. Trump.
And so, Jeb Bush’s fourth-place finish forced him to suspend his presidential campaign.
Not long ago, Jeb told a gathering of supporters in Maitland, Florida, “I don’t have anger in my heart. We shouldn’t be scolding people. We shouldn’t be saying outrageous things that turns people off to the conservative message.”
And what is that “conservative message”? Neither Jeb nor brother George said. In fact, most Republicans that call themselves conservatives have the exact same trouble.
Conservatism seems to be whatever someone with a capital “R” tagged at the end of their name says it is.
So, let us get back to first things.
In 1964, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, the first Republican conservative nominated by his party for president, told the convention delegates in a strong, unapologetic voice, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
What was Goldwater’s brand of conservatism?
In his 1960 book “The Conscience of a Conservative,” Goldwater said “the heart of the Conservative philosophy” is embedded in the U.S. Constitution and the preservation of its principles of natural rights:
“The framers of the Constitution had learned the lesson. They were not only students of history, but victims of it: they knew from vivid, personal experience that freedom depends on effective restraints against the accumulation of power in a single authority… Our tendency to concentrate power in the hands of a few men deeply concerns me. We can be conquered by bombs or by subversion; but we can also be conquered by neglect – by ignoring the Constitution and disregarding the principles of limited government. Our defenses against the accumulation of unlimited power in Washington are in poorer shape, I fear, than our defenses against the aggressive designs of Moscow. Like so many other nations before us, we may succumb through internal weakness rather than fall before a foreign foe.”
Twenty-five years after the fall of the Soviet Union, it’s clear Goldwater’s warning has come to pass: voter “neglect” has allowed Washington to become an expansive, super power-threat equal to, or greater than, expansionist Russia.
And establishment Republicans were instrumental in helping that along.
When George W. Bush announced he would run for the Republican presidential nomination in 1999, conservative columnist and brother of Rush, David Limbaugh, cut the Texas governor’s “compassionate conservatism” some slack:
“My hope is that Bush isn’t trying to distance himself from mainstream conservatism at all. While his father’s ‘kinder, gentler America’ represented a slap at Reaganism, W’s ‘compassionate conservatism’ may imply no indictments of conservatism. He may just be shrewdly trying to present it in a more favorable light, seeking for conservatism a face-lift, not a body transplant.”
By 2002, two years into W’s first term as president, liberal Mark Shields had some fun at the expense of Republicans in a column:
“Let me confess, I really believed conservative Republicans were on the level when they told us for years how much they believed in smaller, more limited government… Boy was I gullible… President Bush has successfully championed the greatest expansion of federal involvement in public education since LBJ’s Great Society. A few conservatives grumbled but did not revolt, maybe willing to swap their out-of-office principles for a White House invitation or a federal appointment.”
Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard came to the defense with a novel description of Bush’s brand of conservatism.
“Big government conservatives prefer to be in favor of things because that puts them on the political offensive,” wrote Barnes. “Promoting spending cuts/minimalist government doesn’t do that. Bush has famously defined himself as a compassionate conservative with a positive agenda.”
That positive agenda was on display when in a speech given at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Bush proposed a new offensive to put more Americans into homes:
“I do believe there is such a thing as the American dream. And I believe those of us that have been given positions of responsibility must do everything we can to spotlight the dream and make sure the dream shines in all neighborhoods. All throughout our country… the single greatest barrier to first-time home ownership is a high down payment. It is really hard for many, many low-income families to make the high down payment. And so that’s why I’ve proposed – urged Congress to fully fund the ‘American Dream Down-Payment Fund.’”
And a Republican Congress did just that.
When he campaigned for re-election in 2004, W touted his first-time homebuyer program, “One of the great statistics of the last couple of years is the homeownership rate is at an all-time high in America. We got a plan to continue homeownership in America. I love the fact when people from all walks of life can open up the door where they’re living and say, ‘Welcome to my home. Welcome to my piece of property.’”
In a column written for Bankrate.com, Holden Lewis noted that a second Bush administration initiative was “threatening to punish FHA lenders that foreclose [on delinquent mortgage holders] too eagerly.”
W may not have started the fire, but his big-government, positive agenda threw plenty of gasoline on subprime-housing’s mountain of kindling.
So, it’s more than understandable that the GOP’s conservative base has turned to post-partisan candidate Donald J. Trump. They find Republican candidates in the mold of George and Jeb, not to mention their apologists in the conservative media, less than credible.
They’ve seen and heard their kind before… and have paid the price.