The Republican Crisis And The Bush Legacy

George W. Bush Speaks At Naturalization Ceremony At Bush Presidential Center

Erick Erickson announced this week his intention to primary the GOP Senators who didn’t vote to destroy the US and global economy. Even Mitch McConnell. And sure enough, McConnell’s primary opponent now has new backing – from the Senate Conservatives Fund. Larison shoots the stupid-fish in the barrel:

Having a larger number of uncompromising Republicans in the Senate probably wouldn’t have prevented yesterday’s deal, since nearly two-thirds of the Senate GOP voted for it anyway. That’s a lot of “charlatans” to defeat. Nonetheless, if a deal had been prevented thanks to Senate Republican opposition, Republicans would just as surely have “owned” the consequences of breaching the debt ceiling as they “owned” the shutdown. Those consequences would have been significantly worse for the country, and Republicans would have to start worrying about a net loss of seats in the Senate and the House. In case Erickson missed it, this would be the opposite of advancing. In other words, he wants to punish the Republicans that averted even greater disaster for the party than the failed strategy he urged them to follow.

And yet I am unsurprised. Friedersdorf focuses on the Republicans’ allergy to compromise:

Pretending that compromise is what went wrong during the Bush years helps conservatives evade responsibility for supporting an agenda many parts of which they find indefensible in hindsight.

It permits them to blame Democrats and establishment Republicans for events they themselves only rebelled against after the fact, and to delude themselves into thinking that everything will get better if only they vehemently insist on getting their way, sans compromise, all of the time.

Who wouldn’t want to believe that’s all success takes? It’s a pretty lie that talk radio hosts find it easy to tell over and over again, despite contrary evidence, because conservatives want to believe that it’s true. Reality is much harder to face. In order to mount a comeback and wield influence in American politics, conservatives need to face their own flaws, negotiate savvy compromises with President Obama and Democrats, build credibility and momentum with small gains in the short term, persuade people of their ideas and governing vision in the medium term, and implement their agenda by winning elections rather than brinkmanship. But hard truths don’t attract a large enough audience to sustain a talk radio show.

I do think the refusal to pore over the Bush-Cheney fiasco honestly remains a major block to reform on the right. The rational ones must know that Bush’s Medicare D was far more expensive than the Affordable Care Act, and, unlike the ACA, was never budgeted. They must know that domestic spending exploded under Bush, even as he refused, unlike Reagan before him, to budge on his ruinous tax cuts. They know they cannot attack Obama’s allegedly imperial presidency without confronting the much more expansive claims for executive power made by Cheney et al. They also must know somewhere in their heads that the debt we now have was not created by Obama. he just had to manage it in the depths of the worst recession since the 1930s. The debt is a function of tax cuts we couldn’t afford, wars we couldn’t afford, a new entitlement we couldn’t afford and a recession caused by an unregulated Wall Street run amok.

And on current spending, they must know that Obama’s record – partly thanks to them – is of serious deficit reduction, year after year, from over 10 percent of GDP to just over 3 percent predicted in 2016. Because acknowledging this reality means self-criticism, they cannot do it (and I don’t mean criticism of other Republicans, but of your own responsibility for the mess). But until they engage in self-criticism, especially of the Bush-Cheney administration, they cannot get to a place where they don’t need rigid adherence to purist ideology to keep their own worldview afloat. And that’s the only place – a pragmatic, sane, constructive, reality-based place – where they can rebuild their party and their message. The longer the suppression of the truth about Bush the longer the dysfunction will last.

(Photo: Former U.S. President George W. Bush speaks during a immigration naturalization ceremony held at the George W. Bush Presidential Center on July 10, 2013 in Dallas, Texas. By Tom Pennington/Getty Images.)