Why Do Conservatives Attack McCain and not Bush?


Much has been made of the split in the Republican Party between conservative "purists" and the "moderate" McCain wing.  Similarly, there has been much media attention over the intense criticism of McCain by a variety of conservative superstars led by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter and others.  And, indeed, the distemper and resentment has been palpable.  It is also understandable given many aspects of McCain's record.

There are a host of valid reasons for conservatives not to trust McCain, but what is and has always been a mystery to me is the respect and tolerance these same conservatives have held and continue to hold for President Bush, whose liberalism has been at least as excessive over the last seven years as McCain's and of a far more damaging nature to both party and country given his position as President.  Indeed, when it comes to pursuing a liberal agenda - well, Bush makes McCain look like a Reagan conservative.

I have listed all the various liberal positions and policies that Bush has taken in the name of "compassionate conservatism" (code for liberalism) in my last blog.  I mentioned his expansion of government, the addition of a major new unfunded entitlement (the Medicare Prescription Program), his outrageous spending and deficits (he found religion only when the Democrats took over in 06 - too late), his support of amnesty and open borders, his endorsement of affirmative action, his failure to rebuild the military adequately after the eight years of drastic Clintonian underfunding even while taking his country to war, his miserable execution of the Iraq War (fought basically like a liberal - very "compassionately" and, as a result, miserably), his partnership with Senator Kennedy to increase Federal involvement in education in No Child Left Behind, his putting the American taxpayer on the hook to rebuild New Orleans to the tune of over a hundred fifty billion dollars (and thereby future megadisasters) to compensate for his slow response to Katrina, his new found affection for the Palestinian terrorists (abandoning his own Bush Doctrine), and more recently, his support of the absurd, budget busting, Keynesian, demand side "non-stimulus" welfare package, which will do nothing to "stimulate" the economy at all, but rather will weaken the dollar, increase the deficit and drive up inflation, all for the sake of "doing something." 

So we now find Bush abandoning Reagan-Friedman supply side economics in favor of redistributionist populism. 

There can be no better example of the rejection of conservative principle than this latest embarrassment. 

Unfortunately, there have been many others as well.

In so doing, Bush has undermined the Republican party and destroyed its reputation for fiscal discipline, balanced budgets, and spending cuts.  In the process, he also managed to squander the Republican majority in both houses of Congress, which is what happens to Republicans when they govern like Democrats.  There is, after all, one liberal party already and if voters want liberalism they will go with the real McCoy. 

Signs are also pointing to an electoral Armageddon for Republicans come November courtesy of Mr. Bush, and it is likely that the GOP will see steep losses in Congress and probably lose the White House.  After a brief 12 year stint  in power beginning with the Gingrich Revolution in 1994, a mere blinking of the historical eye, the Republicans may face a generation or more wandering in the wilderness - again - as will the country.  All this, thanks to George W. Bush, the liberal.

Yes, I know about his tax cuts and two Supreme Court Justices, but it does not compensate for the many other misjudgments he has visited upon his party and country.

And yet we find conservatives very tolerant of Mr. Bush while furious at McCain - who has done nothing like the damage the President has.  In fact, I would wager that McCain, if elected President, would likely govern far more conservatively than Bush.

I am of course aware of the many transgressions of Senator McCain, which have so angered the conservative base: McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform (signed by Bush), McCain-Kennedy Amnesty (embraced by Bush), the gang of 14 (to derail the "nuclear" option regarding federal judges), McCain-Lieberman plans for carbon taxes or cap and trade schemes for global warming (Bush, too, has made silly conciliatory noise about global warming), his weakness on agressive interrogation, his preference for shutting down Guantanamo, his betrayal of Republicans at crucial junctures, his love of the so called "Maverick" label, his lack of support for Bush tax cuts, his opposition of the marriage amendment, and others.  And, yes, these are not insignificant. 

But quite frankly, they pale in comparison to Bush liberal defections. 

And Bush's damage has been so much greater as President, particularly considering Republican domination of both houses of Congress for six years of his tenure. 

What a lost opportunity, for example, for Bush to have shown conservative governance at its best.  To show fiscal discipline.  To balance budgets.  To cut spending as well as taxes.  To have continued the Gingrich Revolution of fiscal responsibility that gave Republicans control of the Congress in 1994 instead of his "compassionate conservatism" balderdash (again: code for liberalism).  To reform entitlements before they crack.  To have successfully privatized a portion of Social Security.  To have reformed immigration to serve the national interest (and not that of Mexico's) and secure the border.  To have gained international prestige by running competent and effective campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq instead of losing respect by running inept ones.  To have more effectively gotten the big bureacracies at State and CIA to support our agenda instead of opposing and undermining it.  To have actively promoted marriage and family as centerpieces of American culture and energetically supported the marriage amendment.  To have undertaken litigation and tort reform.  To have moved the country towards true energy independence by increasing exploration, refining capacity, clean coal and liquid coal technologies, and, of course, nuclear.  To have ended divisive affirmative action policies.  To have refitted the military to pre Clinton (ie - Reaganesque) levels that no one anywhere would want to challenge.  To have made patriotism fashionable again as Reagan did, especially after 9/11.  All popular, winning issues that would have cemented the Republican majority.    

Instead we had Republicans governing like Democrats only worse.  Spent more.  Expanded government more.  Increased deficits more.  And after 9/11, with the groundswell in patriotism, he wasted a once in a generation opportunity to unify the nation under Republican leadership.  He failed to engage the entire nation in the war effort, bringing the country together under the banner of an inclusive, assimilative patriotism instead of polarizing it.  He did not pursue a Reaganesque military buildup (which, right after 9/11, no one would have opposed, including Democrats) that would have enabled a far more successful implementation of his war on terror and enhanced American prestige and influence instead of weakening them. 

To paraphrase William F. Buckley, absent a conservative governing ideology, the tendency is to drift left - as Bush did. 

Still, Bush gets a pass.  And McCain gets bile and rage.

There's a disconnect here. 

Where's the vitriol for Bush who has done far worse?

I believe I know why conservatives are so tolerant of the train of liberal derailments provided by Bush.

First, he is, after all, the President and leader of the GOP.  This has been a major part of the problem.  Because he is leader of the country and the party, there has been great reluctance to question him.  Instead, Republicans have been content to follow him over the cliff.

Second, although his execution of his war on terror has been deeply flawed, he has stuck to his guns despite intense pressure, for which he deserves some credit.  The media, the left, and the Democrats (and the international community) have been merciless in their attacks and efforts to undermine him, even shamelessly so, and with no regard for the negative impact on our country and the military effort.  Agreed.  So, conservatives understandably feel some reluctance to jump on the revilement band wagon. 

Third, many conservatives, especially the big guns (Rush and others) have personal relationships with Bush and Cheny and as a result, perhaps, are hesitant to criticize him.

Fourth, many conservatives remain confused about Bush, still somehow incorrectly believing him to be a conservative.  He sort of seems and sounds like a conservative.  He lives in Texas, after all, is a good family man, has a drawl, a ranch, and is a born again Christian.  But take away his drawl and swagger and you'll find a born again liberal. 

Fifth, perhaps, conservatives feel the good outweighs the bad, the tax cuts, two judges, war on terror, keeping the country safe since 9/11, are more important than the other negatives.

But they are not. 

It is also perfectly legitimate, by the way, to extol the few virtues Bush has while strongly rebuking and actively opposing him on his negatives of which there are many more.  I would argue that if Republicans and conservatives had done a better job of countering him when he was failing in so many ways from the incompetent war effort to his outrageous spending, perhaps he would have corrected (as he did, for example, in switching from Miers to Alito and as Congress did in rejecting the McCain-Kennedy Amnesty Bill) before the electorate did it for him in 2006.

On Fox News Sunday last week, Bush referred to McCain as a "true conservative."  My question is how would he know?

Bush conservative loyalists like Rush and others may say they opposed Bush on immigration and spending and so forth.  But not really.  Not with vigor and passion and disgust.  Not, in other words, like they have against McCain.  If they had, maybe things would have been different in 06 and Republicans would be in a far better position today. 

(In fairness, conservatives were very strong last summer about immigration/amnesty, successfully defeating so called "comprehensive immigration reform."  But, Bush, again, escaped the opprobrium.  He should have been the primary target.) 

They may also say that Bush is not on the ballot, which is true. 

But his failed liberal record is.  And the Democrats will run against it (again for mainly the wrong reasons).  They will wrap it around the neck of Republicans like the albatross it is and the people will reject them. 

So, Republicans must run against it, too.  They must also reject it.  They can sift through it for the positives, which basically means tax cuts, two judges, and the absence of a homeland attack since 9/11, and run against the rest. 

But even the Iraq effort (and, by extension, the war on terror), although formerly a strength, has become a blaring weakness considering how miserably he managed it and how complicated and prolonged it became.  Notwithstanding the success of the "surge," Bush's bungling the first three years in Iraq, makes what should have been a Republican strength, a major liability.  His mistakes there are legion.  And current Republicans running should be prepared to criticize from the right his war record along with almost everything else. 

For example, he went in with too small a force, foolishly disbanded the Iraqi Army, conquered land but did not hold it, and allowed the terrorists and insurgents to sneak back in.  He was woefully unprepared for the aftermath of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and did not get rid of Rumsfeld until after the 06 election, by which time the electorate had already made up its mind.  It is also downright foolish and dangerous, that while touting his record in defending the homeland he has done nothing to secure the border. 

He is, in other words, a profoundly flawed and confused individual who doesn't recognize the inconsistency of the two positions, and Republicans and conservatives should have recognized that early on and countered him with the vigor they would have had he been a Democrat.  And they should reject it now for his name and record will be the primary issue of the campaign. 

If the conservative movement and Republican party are to resurrect themselves, are to cure their current malaise, are to overcome their illness and disease state, they have to make the right diagnosis.  That diagnosis is Bush.  Bush steered the conservative ship of state into treacherous waters.  He is responsible for the loss of the Republican Congressional majorities in 06 and the anticipated conservative/Republican melt down coming in 08.  He is responsible for the unfortunate loss of such conservative senatorial stalwarts and youthful conservative talent as George Allen (VA), Rick Santorum (PN), and Jim Talent (MO).  Bush has made a mess of things; he has ruined his party and damaged his country, and Republicans must recognize this. 

It is high time, the big name conservatives called him on it and held him accountable.  If Republicans and conservatives  are to be successful, they (including the big guns, ie Rush, Sean, Ann, et al) must run from Bush and his failed liberal record.  They must criticize and even rebuke Bush strongly (at least as strongly as they do McCain) and reject much (not all) of his record; they must oppose it from the right and show how they would have done it and will do it differently.  It can be done politely, in the interests of party unity and decorum, but it must be done.  Republicans must reject the liberal Bush record (diplomatically, again, if necessary) if they are to save themselves.  

You can be sure the Democrats will be running against Bush's record and rightfully so.  They may do so for all the wrong reasons but that will not matter to the electorate who by and larger shares their disgust of Bush.  Although Bush is not running, his record is.  And Democrats will define a vote for Republicans as a vote for continuing the Bush record.  If they are not countered by a defense of the one or two things Bush did right, and a vigorous rejection (from the right) of the many things he did wrong, they will be victorious. 

Republicans must unabashedly indicate that they will depart from many of Bush's policies, that they will do things differently and how.  They must strongly (but politely) reject much of his record, for it is that record that has ruined the Republican party and led to the losses in 06. 

If not, the losses in 08 will be far greater, and the country will suffer greatly as a result.  And it may take decades to win it back by which time great damage will have been done to our country.  

Under Democratic control (brought on by Bush), this nation will take a major swing to the left.  Look for massive tax increases, govt control of health care, massive new spending programs and entitlements, and a devastated economy.  Look for futher deterioration in our culture and fundamental institutions such as marriage and family.  Look for left wing federal judges and appointees for the Supreme Court.  Look for open borders and amnesty and the bursting of our already strained social programs, not to mention our schools, hospitals, and prisons.  Look for more costly global warming nonsense that will harm the economy.  Look for greater energy dependence.  Look for increasing unemployment and inflation.  Look for surrender not victory in the war on terror.  Look for a further weakening of our military and for our enemies to take note.  This is a crucial election and victory is essential. 

The key to victory is to run against Bush and show why he failed as President, and where he departed from conservative principles.  Do it diplomatically, but do it!  Republicans must awaken to this reality if they are to have any chance of success, for the people of the country are unified on one thing: they are as disgusted with Bush and his record as the Democrats are, and the Democrats are ready to take that to the bank.    

Perhaps, Republicans should borrow a page from the Obama campaign and run on "change" as well: a change to the right of the disastrous left turns taken by the President.

In a nutshell, if conservatives are angry about McCain, they should be livid about Bush, for his liberalism, misjudgments and ineptness have been far more destructive than anything done by McCain.

Maybe then, we can rebuild the party and the conservative movement.  And win an election.

(For more details on Bush missteps and debacles see last blog and articles from Nov. 2, 06, Nov. 16, 06, and Jan. 11, 07 in the articles section of my website.) 




  • Mark Messmer

    March 19, 2008

    about the only positive you can extract from the Bush Presidency are his two Supreme Court appointments.

Add Comment