Peggy Noonan is ready for a third party.
Mark Tapscott is sensing the world shifting to the Tapscottian view. Instapundit tracks the fight.
I stick to my guns when it comes to turning out and voting this Election Day. (For starters, too many have bled and died to secure our right to vote to just throw that away. Even if you show up just to write in names, take the time and do your duty as a citizen. Don't forget your local races, where your vote can make a bigger impact.) I doubt the "lose in 2006, win in 2008" strategy that so many righty bloggers see as a certainty.
But that doesn't mean I don't understand and relate to the Tapscottian anger and incredulousness. I was very impressed with this comment by Noah Mellman; it rang true; disturbingly, deeply true.
There is something profoundly broken in Washington. This [Senate immigration bill] is not the first bill that has been produced in this decade that seems designed to be a disaster. The farm bill, highway bill and energy bills were hodge-podges designed to waste money and achieve little. Bush's tax bills had a few sensible core ideas but were also filled with anti-productive loopholes and loaded with gimmicks like automatic sunset provisions that no one could possibly favor on the merits; they were designed with public-relations in mind more than policy. The reorganization of the government that created the Homeland Security Department was barely thought-out and has proved a disaster; ditto for the reorganization of intelligence. And then we had the Medicare drug bill, an amalgam of the worst ideas of both parties. And now we have this immigration monstrosity.
This was not always the case. In the 1980s and 1990s, Congress was able to craft a variety of bills that basically did what they said. Reagan's 1981 tax cuts and 1986 tax reform each did basically what they were supposed to do. Welfare reform and farm-subsidies reform in the 1990s each did basically what they were supposed to do. The 1986 immigration bill, for all that it is much-criticized in retrospect, was sold as an amnesty; it failed, in large part because it was not enforced, but it was not designed to fail, nor was it structured and sold in a deceptive manner.
Something has gone very, very wrong in Washington. Occam's Razor would suggest that what has gone wrong is that the Bush Administration is completely indifferent to the legislative process. On some deep level, they don't care whether we have good laws. That is a very, very damning indictment, far more damning, in my view, than the charge that they are simply incompetent or that they are deceptive, saying one thing but intending another. It may also be an insufficient explanation; Congress, and the Senate in particular, seems almost eager to take mediocre bills and by heroic effort transform them into positively awful bills. But if the President cared about whether we have good laws, some of these laws would not be on the books. So presumably he doesn't care.
We’ve all heard the assessment that President Bush is a “big picture” guy, who doesn’t like to focus on the “small-ball” stuff. We’ve also seen, with the Harriet Miers nomination, the President has extraordinary faith in “his people” who have been with him throughout his career, and is in enough of a bubble to be caught off-guard by the fact that appointing his personal lawyer and White House counsel to the Supreme Court would cause controversy.
And now we’ve seen in the immigration debate that when President Bush's gut wants a generous, welcoming guest worker program, and his base wants tougher border enforcement, he'll push hard for his guest worker program and his base will have to settle for the temporary deployment of 6,000 National Guardsmen.
I will add one additional comment. A little while back I heard an anecdote from someone I trust that shook my opinion of the President. Because this was off the record, I’ll give you the broad outlines. A highly-regarded conservative was being considered for an important position in Washington that requires a Presidential nomination. The highly-regarded conservative went to meet President Bush; Bush was at his most casual, “hey, how ya doin’” ease; the highly-regarded conservative was a stiffer, more formal personality. (Picture Kirk and Spock, perhaps.) The President and the potential nominee rubbed each other the wrong way and the meeting didn’t go well.
The potential nominee’s career suggested he (or she) would do great things in that position; but because of the personality clash, the President basically has no interest in appointing this person anywhere. I understand the President needs a White House staff and perhaps a cabinet that he gets along with personally, but this position would not have involved day-to-day work with the President. Because of the President’s deeply personal criteria for who he appoints, this highly-regarded conservative will not be utilizing his considerable talents in this administration.
If you ask Frist, Hastert, or Boehner to assess their work in recent years, they would probably say they’ve done a darn good job. The public and conservatives disagree. One could argue the last truly conservative and truly significant bill to get through Congress was Welfare Reform back in 1996.
So, yes, the Republican Party of Bush, Cheney, Frist, McCain and Hastert has lost its way.
We need one of two things. We need either a new party that is consistently conservative, or for the Republican party to remember it’s supposed to be the conservative one.
On the first option, I’ll throw out a warning: A separate conservative party will generate the results of the 1992 election over and over again. I know to this day people still debate whether H. Ross Perot helped elect Clinton; I think it’s safe to say that the percentage of Americans who are liberal stayed with the Democrats, and that a coalition of conservatives, centrists, independents, and others flocked to Perot. They split the 57 percent of Americans who didn't like Clinton and Al Gore. Any election in which the options are Outsider Conservative, Establishment Republican, and Democrat, will end with a Democratic win.
Needless to say, I prefer the second option.
So we need the Republicans to be the party that has a bug up its butt about pork barrel spending, and spends a portion of every year trying to get rid of something like mohair subsidies. Yes, the amount of money itself is small potatoes when looking at the entire federal budget, but there’s a principle here. A key conservative mantra is, “Government ought to focus on its top priorities; it can’t be everything to everyone.” And Republicans are supposed to be the ones who keep priorities straight, the ones with brains bigger than their hearts. Democrats are the ones with hearts bigger than their brains, who never saw a problem they didn’t want to throw money at. If this means Ted Stevens has to take one for the team and not get his bridge to nowhere, then so be it.
The party’s leaders have to re-learn a pretty important principle – if you fight with your base, you’re probably going to lose. Perhaps once in a great while, it’s necessary and worth it. But if you act like your base voters' concerns are insignificant – like immigration, or the FBI's ability to persue corruption, even into the halls of Congress - they will despise you.
The next administration, and the next Republican congressional caucuses, need to focus. They need something like Hugh’s mantra: “Win the war, confirm the judges, cut the taxes, control the spending, secure the border.” I’d also like to see the “reforms” of Homeland Security and intelligence reform scrapped and start over with something simple. Maybe we even have the reforms designed or at least proposed by those who have spent their careers in those organizations, instead of committee staffers and lawmakers whose primary motive to complain and look important. (“We need everything run through one national director of intelligence! Oh, wait, now we’re sending all intelligence through one filter, who can suppress different viewpoints and interpretations!”)
I know many find the prospect of re-conservativizing the Republican party difficult, frustrating, annoying, and a pain. A "pure" third-party seems so much easier, even if it means short-term losses. Well, life often gives you two imperfect choices.
A political base has gotta do what a political base has gotta do.
UPDATE: A couple of early reactions here. Andrew Cline of the New Hampshire Union Leader writes:
It is not enough for pundits to write columns and National Review to pen scathing editorials. Grass-roots conservatives who used to make up the GOP's most loyal base have to speak up, now. They have to tell Republicans what they want, not just complain to each other about the jerks who promised to govern conservatively and then didn't.
At the same time, they have to make clear to non-conservatives that they do not stand behind the GOP's recent governance. If Democrats do retake Congress, or even make significant gains, they will proclaim it a victory against conservatism. It would be no such thing. It would be a victory against lying, corruption, incompetence, and a blatant disrespect for the intelligence of the American voter. Conservatives have to separate their own message of responsible, frugal governance from what the Republicans have implemented, and they have to do it now.
He's right. Also, TKS reader Jeff writes in, "I think you anecdote about President Bush and the incompatible interviewee for a Presidential nomination is a bit unreasonable. I’m a business executive who has interviewed at least 1000 candidates for employment." Jeff contends that sometimes an interviewer just "doesn't like the cut of his jib" and has to trust his judgment that the interviewee just isn't right for the job.
I wish I could lay out the details of this anecdote, but I have to honor my source's wishes. Let me just say that if I could disclose the quality of this conservative potential nominee, and the position this individual was interviewing for, I strongly suspect many on the right would say "damn, the President let a good one get away."
For a long, long time, my faith in the president's judgment with people was in line with Jeff's. But as David Frum and others have noted, this administration has really not followed the Reagan administration philosophy that "personnel is policy." As a candidate, Bush had a meaty reform agenda to make FEMA work more efficiently and to eliminate waste in aid funds; "Brownie" actually didn't do a heck of a job enacting that agenda before Katrina.
Paul O'Neill came into the Treasury Secretary position seemingly unaware that President Bush intended to cut taxes, and fought it a great deal from within. Scott McClellan, good man that he is, underperformed as press secretary for quite some time. John Danforth anounced his resignation as U.N. Ambassador an entire five months after he was sworn in. I don't think you have to be a Bush hater to say Porter Goss turned out to be the wrong man at CIA, probably the wrong man to enact the right ideas. I think it goes deeper than Harriet Miers, although she's the highest profile example of it; I think Bush's instinctive loyalty to "his people" means he keeps some talented folk out and keeps some mediocre or worse people in, and it holds this administration back.