Tuesday, October 18, 2005

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The dissaffected Republican elites

For many years, Bruce Bartlett has been the epitome of the loyal critic -- someone who has defended the Bush administration on big questions while still highlighting his differences with the administration.

According to the New York Times' Richard Stevenson, Bartlett has joined the ranks of really disgruntled Republicans:

In the latest sign of the deepening split among conservatives over how far to go in challenging President Bush, Bruce Bartlett, a Republican commentator who has been increasingly critical of the White House, was dismissed on Monday as a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, a conservative research group based in Dallas.

In a statement, the organization said the decision was made after Mr. Bartlett supplied its president, John C. Goodman, with the manuscript of his forthcoming book, "The Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy."

....Like many economic conservatives, he has grown increasingly disenchanted with the current administration's fiscal policy, arguing that Mr. Bush has tolerated if not encouraged a federal spending spree, dashing conservative hopes for progress toward a smaller, leaner government.

He has also joined social conservatives in attacking Mr. Bush's nomination of Harriet E. Miers to the Supreme Court. The Miers nomination, more than any other move by the administration in the last five years, has drawn criticism of Mr. Bush by conservative scholars and commentators, though the White House so far appears to have succeeded in limiting the breach with elected Republicans in Congress.

Matthew Yglesias doesn't think this will amount to much:

Despite the tumult in the punditsphere, the latest Gallup poll shows Bush's approval rating still sinking, but not sinking among conservatives. Instead, he's managed to grow even more unpopular with Democrats and Independents. Not only is the rank-and-file still loyal to Bush, but dare I say that the pundits who matter are. Fox News and the talk radio hosts with big audiences are still in his corner. I work professionally in the exciting worlds of small magazines and new media, but the broadcast bohemoths are still the really influential segment of the press.

If Rupert Murdoch decides to turn on the GOP leadership someday, then that would spell huge trouble for them, but there's no indication that's happening.

This is the message that is coming from Bush officials, according to Time:

Bush's friends contend that it is the conservative Úlite, not the President, who miscalculated and that self-righteous right-wingers stand to lose their seats at the table of power for the next three years. "They're crazy to take him on this frontally," said a former West Wing official. "Not many people have done that with George Bush and lived to tell about it." If a Justice Miers eventually takes her seat on the court, vocal critics can only hope the Bush Administration handles the punishment of the treasonous as poorly as it is currently promoting one of its most loyal subjects.

In the end, whether Yglesias (and Bush) are right or not revolves around two really, really big questions:

: 1) Do ideas matter in the short run? One could argue that the people Bush is losing right now have been the idea entrepreneurs. Matt is correct that Bush still has quite the firm grip over important policy and power levers. With a reduced bench for supplying supporting ideas, however, will that advantage hollow out? This Peter Baker story in the Washington Post suggests far from smooth sailing.

2) Will conservative criticism eventually permeate the mass conservative public? The current Gallup poll says no, but if the crack-up continues, there's going to be some trickle-down.


posted by Dan on 10.18.05 at 12:10 PM


Funny, last I checked Republicans (and Republican-leaners) did not actually swear an oath of fealty to the President and are free to disagree, in private AND public.

My take is that, as in so many other internecine conflicts, there will be accommodation to opposition groups--see DeLay's reversal on spending cuts, exhibit A--however, the rebels themselves will have their heads stuck on pikes outside party headquarters, as a warning to all. Ah, progress!

posted by: Kelli on 10.18.05 at 12:10 PM [permalink]

I don't buy the argument that Bush will lose "idea entrepreneurs" whether or not he has upset some of them by exercising his Constitutional powers to nominate who he sees fit to the Supreme Court.

Ideas are important, but I suspect that when you are talking about the highest levels of government, there will always be more good ideas floating around than there is time to process. Further, I somehow doubt that those who are disappointed by a particular decision are going to remain silent and withhold their ideas for the next three years. That is an implausible scenario. While ideas are critical, that doesn't necessarily translate into having to appease a given subset of the population which may or may not have good ideas from time to time. For example, if Mr. Drezner (assuming he has good ideas) were fortunate enough to be asked by the White House what he thought about some matter of public policy, I don't think he would be able to resist the temptation to chime in, whether or not he is happy about the Miers choice.

As to dissatisfaction trickle-down, I think that it is correct that disatisfaction will probably trickle down somewhat, though the magnitude is not likely to be very large. It does not seem that relevant however, since Bush will not be eligible for re-election in any case and it is unlikely that some dissatisfaction in the mostly elite parts of the base is going to translate into excessive acriminony between the President and Republican members of Congress (though I am sure that is a Democratic dream scenario).

The bottom-line: certain parts of the Republican base think they are more influential than they really are. There is not much they can do to gain much leverage over a second-term President from their own party, delusions to the contrary notwithstanding.

posted by: David Welker on 10.18.05 at 12:10 PM [permalink]

The dissatisfaction has gone farther thanjust a few elites.

The real test is when Bush tries to rally the troops for the 2006 election, the GOP may be in for a rude surprise.

There is plenty of lingering dissatisfaction with the economy, the recovery has not hit most Americans yet.

Could get ugly for the Bush-ster. Many of us think that is fine.

posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 10.18.05 at 12:10 PM [permalink]

Thing is, the GOP and its intellectuals has another potential path -- the Roosevelt--McCain one. Stir fiscal conservatism. foreign Wilsonianism with populism against "Big" something or others who lobby Congress and season with a lot less moral majority and a lot more immigration skepticism (as much as I hate that), and you have something potent that probably appeals to the base, and can attract a share of the moderates.

Bush begins to look like Nixon -- circa 1971. He assumes he has the right covered because his people say the right banalities about social issues (remember Spiro Agnew, folks?) But who today reveres detente, or thinks wage and price controls are a good idea?

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 10.18.05 at 12:10 PM [permalink]

save_the_rustbelt suggests that Bushes woes means
the GOP loses big time in 2006.

While we can all hope so, nothing prevents a
Republican politician to run a campaign AGAINST
the president, in order to survive in office.
It's a time-honored American political tradition
to do so.

And GWB would 'look the other way' if it meant
senate/house votes in his favor come 2007 and

It's WAY too early to count votes in November
2006. Something else is bound to happen that
will change things. Maybe even to favor
the blues.

posted by: Ted on 10.18.05 at 12:10 PM [permalink]

"Not many people have done that with George Bush and lived to tell about it."

Just a little ol' voter here. The kind that votes straight ticket Republican. I think of myself as a "progressive" Republican.

I've defended Bush in the past and still think he's been a fine president - voted for him twice. But he is definitely pushing my limits.

Where's sensible immigration policy? Where's the appointees for Supreme Court leadership? Why can't he control the budget? Why did the Energy Bill take so long and wastes so much money and accomplish so little?

He's neither ominipotent nor omniscient, I understand, but he can at least lead!

posted by: Whitehall on 10.18.05 at 12:10 PM [permalink]

But, AM, Nixon did have the right covered. He lost it over Watergate, period.

Rank and file Republicans do not stand up to Republican Presidents perceived as strong leaders and hostile to liberals and the media. Such Presidents, not the base or the pundits or even the Congressional leadership, determine what "conservative" means. One can argue -- I certainly would -- that Bush is no Reagan conservative and that Nixon went farther in the direction of statist economics than he ought to have. But these would be arguments over substance.

As to politics, Bush absolutely retains his support among people who define themselves as conservatives, especially if they also define themselves as Republicans. The greatest threat to that support is probably not something like the Miers nomination, but rather things like the disorganized federal response to Katrina that damage Bush's image as a strong leader.

posted by: Zathras on 10.18.05 at 12:10 PM [permalink]

The administration has run a very effective machine by using Rove's brilliance tied to groups like the dittoheads and making promises to various core groups.

However one of the strengths of this system has been historically such well disciplined political forces break apart. There is a vast number of contradictions among various groups on the right.

One thing to understand is that the administrations conception of economics is feudal. Bush got government to condemn land (the courts later ruled at one third value) and build him a baseball park. Cheney and Rumsfeld sold government contacts to corporations. This is crony economics where government serves to concentrate wealth among the "ownership society."

Those committed to competitive capitalism have fundamental differences with these visions. But the Bush administration has blatantly pursued it's vision. Here's some criticism from the American Conservative:


posted by: mary on 10.18.05 at 12:10 PM [permalink]

"They're crazy to take him on this frontally," said a former West Wing official.

What's crazy is to have waited to do this after the election when they lost all their leverage.

posted by: fling93 on 10.18.05 at 12:10 PM [permalink]

"While we can all hope so, nothing prevents a
Republican politician to run a campaign AGAINST
the president, in order to survive in office.
It's a time-honored American political tradition
to do so."

One should not underestimate the ability of the Democrats to form circular firing squads and to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Even in Ohio, the home of GOP incompetence and crime, the Dems may find a way to blow the 06 election.

posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 10.18.05 at 12:10 PM [permalink]

First I'll open with the point that what Bartlett is arguing here, is a point I've been making since 1989; Bush is no conservative. He is at best a centerist.

Consider W's background. Remember, that GHWB was selected by Reagan and his people not because he was a conservative, but because Reagan was, and balance was needed for the 1980 ticket. The son, meanwhile, is the spitting image of his father... with the difference being he's more cautious about negotiating with Democrats than his father was. He's not about to make that same mistake once.

(Yes, W cut taxes in the total, something Dad didn't do too well... but that, I would argue was a product of negotiating with Democrats. Think; What did Bush get burned on? His 'no new taxes' pledge'. Why? Because he was trying to be enough of a centerist and give the Demorats what they wanted. THey ended up using this as a tool against him. W's cut more taxes than his father simply because he lened the lesson about dealing with the Democrats... a lesson that cost his father a second election.)

That said, Bork (in this morning's column...)is off the mark, and with him the recently axed Bartlett. Both of them are arguing from a idealistic view of what conservatism is. And I admire that, but the fact is, it's not real.

Nor, can it be in the near future.

The fact is that the electorate in this country has as a whole been pushed so far to the left, that the idealised version of conservatism belonging to the conservative critics of W, won't make it past the voting booth... not without some time to push said electorate back to the center, or farther yet, first.

Consider the state an an electorate where Bush the younger, (a moderate if there ever was one), can be labeled 'Hitler', and where such labels find traction. Think conservatism is going to sell in such an environment? I don't. Not in the near term, anyway. I tell you true; Reagan himself couldn't get elected in the current evnironment.

There are ways, long-term ways to push us towards that goal of a more conservative government.. But bitching about the small steps we take in that direction (ala Bork and Barftlett and more recently, Limbaugh as regards Bush) isn't one of them.

posted by: Bithead on 10.18.05 at 12:10 PM [permalink]

Do ideas matter in the short run?

Yes. They matter beyond your base, which cannot be expanded for more than one electoral cycle without a compelling vision that appeals to and inspires people who otherwise would have little interest in your party. If Bush is putting out Miers-Rove fires and dithering over Katrina, then he's not advancing his vision for the middle east (crucial to retaining support of liberal hawks) or his faith-based agenda (crucial for converting hispanic Democrats over to Republicanism).

Perhaps Zathras is right on style vs substance as regards Republicans, but Bush's style doesn't attract any Democrats, at least none that I know. Most of us cannpt bear to listen to him speak, and yet there were at least 2 million Dems who voted for Gore in 2000 and switched to Bush in 2004. I believe that these crossover voters, who were primarily either national security Democrats along the east coast or hispanic Dems in Texas and other border states, were responding to the relative strength of Bush's ideas, not his swagger or style.

Case in point: by putting forth an idealistic vision of aggressive interventionism abroad, Bush captured perhaps 1-1.5 million national security Democrats, many of whom live in south Florida and the tri-state NYC area. Bush increased his vote total from 2000 to 2004 by 100,000 votes in Manhattan alone, and by about twice that margin in Dade and Broward FL. If Hillary is the Dems' nominee in 2008, nearly all of these voters will return to the Democratic fold. Good-bye, Florida.

Presumably due in part to the appeal of his faith-based agenda, Bush also substantially increased his share of the hispanic vote, adding about 800,000 hispanic votes nationally between 2000 and 2004. If Hillary can capture these voters, then the crucial southwest states swing Democratic in 2008. Goodbye, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico. (Win two of the above and you don't need Ohio).

posted by: thibaud on 10.18.05 at 12:10 PM [permalink]

Incompetence and corruption trump ideology every time.

Ideas at the top? If the idea is nothing more than a bumpersticker for a PR campaign, what is the point?

Power-that-be -- the Republican powers-that-be in this Administration have always had only one goal and that's to make the rich, richer and only one "idea": IOKIYRAR.

Conservative Republicans, by their deeds, hate America and are out to destroy it, along with all that is decent and right. Some thinking people will find themselves unable to march in that parade.

posted by: Bruce Wilder on 10.18.05 at 12:10 PM [permalink]

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