A New Era for Conservatives?

The events of the past two weeks could allow the Republican Party to move forward.


In the wake of the Supreme Court striking down the last challenge to Obamacare and declaring a Constitutional right to same-sex marriage, author and regular OTB commenter Michael Reynolds declared that “The Tea Party hard right wing of the GOP now lies in complete ruin.” At the same time, he observed, Jeb Bush “just got a gift tied up with a bow. He won’t have to talk about gays. And Obamacare is now one of those increasingly dusty, irrelevant issues. Which should leave him with a better shot at focusing on economic issues where he’ll be much more comfortable.”

One of our other longtime commenters has been fixated for years on the notion that demographic changes to the country will make America a one-party state because there’s no way to have a conservative party in a pluralistic society. I’ve pushed back on this, arguing that it’s absolutely possible to have a conservatism that’s different from the model offered by the Tea Party. Indeed, I’d argue that the Tea Party isn’t even conservative in a meaningful sense so much as reactionary and retrogressive.

Lance Mannion points out that American conservatism was much more positive within recent memory.

“Once upon a time, back when I was your age, there used to be conservatives who were actually conservative.

“I mean there were people who thought it was more important to take care of the present as opposed to making the future brighter, which is basically what they thought liberals were up to. They were wrong about that. That wasn’t and isn’t all liberals are up to. The idea is to make the future brighter by taking care—as in fixing and improving—things in them present. But the point is that conservatives believed things were just fine as they were or if they weren’t, it was nothing a little tinkering couldn’t fix. And the upshot was that conservatives were great on tinkering. They could admit there were problems and set out to fix them just not with the zeal and alacrity liberals would bring to the project or with the budgets liberals thought necessary. They were too cautious, too prudent, too skeptical, too cheap, often enough, but they were still realistic which didn’t always mean seeing what couldn’t be done. It sometimes meant seeing what could. That allowed them to be problem solvers.

“And being problem solvers allowed them to be something else. Unafraid of social change.

“They didn’t always like it. They were usually doubtful of anything much good coming from it. And they often didn’t see the need. But sometimes they did. And they understood that it might cost them something in money or privilege or or comfort or peace of mind.

“Because they were something else. Two something elses, I should say.

“Open-minded and open-hearted.

“So, back then, when I was your age, it was possible to be a conservative, to be a Republican, and still be for Civil Rights and women’s freedom of choice. It was possible to be a conservative and a Republican without thinking all government spending was evil or even wasteful. It was possible to be a conservative and a Republican and still want to do things to make life better for the poor and unfortunate and that the government had at least some responsibility and the competence to do that. It was possible to be a conservative and a Republican without thinking the answer to every threat to national security was war and more war. It was possible to be a conservative and a Republican without having to be homophobic, racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, paranoid, reactionary, and otherwise generally angry, hateful, and afraid.

“And finally, because they weren’t always angry and afraid and weren’t wedded to the idea that all social change was bad and that the government wasn’t in one way or another using talk about fixing problems and making the future brighter to take things away from them to give to you know who and what color you know who are, it wasn’t necessary for conservatives and Republicans to deny reality, reject facts, refuse to look at any evidence they were wrong or had made a mistake, hate and fear education, close their minds and shut down their imaginations.”

I plan to tell them this not as a political lesson but as a preface. I won’t get into when and why all that began to change. I’m not even going to mention that now nearly extinct animal, the liberal Republican. What I’m going to be leading up to is this:

“When I was your age it wasn’t necessary for conservatives and Republicans to be anti-science.

“Not only weren’t Republicans and conservatives anti-science, they loved science. And scientists.

“So much so that it wasn’t possible to guess a scientist’s politics by the fact that he or (a lot more rarely then) she was a scientist.”

“Not so much that way anymore.”

Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” is said by many to be the start down the current path and Ronald Reagan took us further down it by making alliance with the Moral Majority and other Christian conservative groups. Both simultaneously broadened the Republican base in the short term but turned it into an ideological party, vice a catch-all party, that appealed mostly to Southern and rural whites in the longer term. Still, both Nixon and Reagan were ultimately quite pragmatic as presidents, championing policies that would make them outcasts in today’s GOP.

George H.W. Bush, he of the “thousand points of light,” was the last of the small-C conservative presidents but he was never really trusted by the big-C conservatives in the party. Bob Dole, the 1996 nominee, was also in that camp.

George W. Bush is an odd case, in that he ran as a “compassionate conservative” and a “humble foreign policy”—I think honestly—and wound up governing quite differently. The Iraq War will likely forever tarnish his legacy as a conservative on the international affairs front but but he did live up to the “compassionate” label on all manner of domestic policies, notably extending Medicare to cover prescription drugs, a very inclusive stance towards Hispanics, and a sane approach to the role of government in the face of the 2008 global economic crisis. (Indeed, even on the foreign policy front, PEPFAR, his massive increase in aid to Africa for fighting disease, will save an amazing number of lives and very much exemplifies the brand of conservatism for which Mannion pines.)

John McCain, the 2008 nominee, was every Democrat’s favorite Republican until the wheels started coming off. His choice of the unqualified ignoramus Sarah Palin as his running mate soured many of us on him and he’s gone off the deep end on foreign policy, in particular, since losing to Obama. Still, he was a small-c conservative on most matters of domestic policy, most notably on immigration policy. I continue to believe that Mitt Romney, the most recent nominee, was as well despite his tortured flip-flops on policy in a vain attempt to please the base by pretending to be someone he wasn’t.

Now we’re faced with the prospect of a third President Bush, although this time one not named “George.” I thought he was the likely nominee even before recent events and tend to agree with Reynolds that they enhance his prospects. Left out of Reynolds’ list is the shocking turn against the Confederate battle flag in the wake of the Charleston church massacre.

Despite some stumbles in his short campaign, he’s on the right side of these issues. A recent Reuters piece notes that he’s struck exactly the right tone in the wake of Charleston:

Jeb Bush, a Republican contender for president, will sit down with pastors on a visit on Monday to Charleston, South Carolina, where nine African-Americans were shot to death at a historic black church, his campaign said on Friday.

Bush, the former Florida governor who leads many polls of Republican voters in the race for the party’s 2016 presidential nomination, had canceled a planned campaign stop in Charleston a week ago when the shootings took place.

Instead of a campaign event, Bush will hold a private session with pastors from the Charleston community. In an attempt to keep the session low key, the news media will not be allowed in.

Bush has vowed to campaign in places where Republicans have not always gone in recent years, such as black churches and impoverished neighborhoods.

Nor is this a newfound position. As Ed O’Keefe noted in WaPo last week,

In early February 2001, Jeb Bush quietly ordered the removal from State Capitol grounds of “The Stainless Banner,” a mostly white flag that featured the Confederate battle flag design in the top left corner.

The flag flew outside the west entrance of the Capitol in Tallahassee with three other flags memorializing the history of the Sunshine State. Bush had decided to remove the flags in December 2000 — in the wake of a bitterly contested presidential campaign that featured both a primary season debate about the Confederate flag, and the protracted recount that resulted in his brother’s election as president. Two months later, they were gone.

Before his decision, Bush had already telegraphed his opinions on the flag. In Jan. 2000, as national organizations began pressuring Southern states to remove the Confederate flag from public spaces and public property, a resident named Suzi Harper e-mailed: “What is your thoughts on this confederate flag issue?”

Bush responded: “I am happy that we don’t have a confederate flag.”

The flags came down quietly on a Saturday morning, and the decision went unnoticed for another eight days, until news reports spread the word. Within hours, Bush — an avid e-mailer who urged Florida residents to write to him directly — started receiving often-heated criticism in his inbox.

“You are not from the South,” wrote Carole Shelton. “You have no right to impose your northern prejudices and misconceptions on the people of Florida and to snub your nose at its history. I demand that the flags be returned to their original place, around the fountain or in front of the old capitol.”

“Carole,” Bush wrote, “soon you will be able to see the flags in the Florida History musuem [sic]. They will be respectfully displayed.”

He added: “PS I am a Floridian born and raised in Texas.”

Jim Jenkins of Madison, Fla. angrily wrote to tell Bush: “You are a YANKEE trying to run a Southern State, you just don’t get it do you??”

“Sir, I voted for you, but NEVER again,” he added. “I know you will never read my e-mail as you”ll have one of your flunkies respond.”

Bush replied: “Mr. Jenkins, I am reading your email and I don’t have flunkies around me. You will be able to see the flags that flew over Florida in the Museum of Florida History proudly displayed.”

Records suggest Jenkins never replied to Bush.

In a separate message, Wesley H. Frank told the governor: “I am disappointed in your feelings toward this state, your only here to get elected to the next higher political job, you only are worried about your image not Florida, her people, nor her proud history.”

“I agree with you that the flags should be displayed as history,” Bush wrote back. “That is why since there is a fountain project commencing where the flagpoles once were, they will be respectfully displayed in the Museum of Florida History.”

Bush’s decision to remove the flag came more than a year after he declined to issue a proclamation recognizing Confederate History Month — an honor many of his predecessors had issued with regularity, because the month was used as a time to teach schoolchildren about the state’s history.

Recognizing that the month had been advocated for educational purposes, Bush initially proposed signing a proclamation declaring “Civil War history.” But the proposal was rejected by Confederate heritage groups, so he backed off and never signed a heritage declaration over his eight years as governor.

For years, his inbox was flooded with messages blasting his decision.

“I understand that it is a tourist state,” wrote Jane Knowell. “But that doesn’t alter [sic] the fact that it is still a southern state. I feel that in denying to designate April as confederate history month, you are telling the people of Florida that the only ones who matter to you are the ones who have moved here from up north.”

Bush replied: “People of all origins matter to me. I have a great respect for our Southern Heritage and the heritage of those who came from other places as well.”

An Orlando man named Mark Hopper also wrote to Bush, asking “I appeal to you to recognize this day. Many a brave man died doing not what he wanted, but what he was told to do by his state for the cause.”

“I was prepared to recognize the day but using language that was not offensive and was respectful of the organization,” Bush told him. “That effort was rejected. Rest assured that I am appreciative of your contribution to our state.”

In another message, Bush wrote that “We would be denying history if we failed to recognize that Floridians today are in fact descendants of soldiers from both sides of the war. That’s why I offered to issue a broader ‘Civil War Heritage’ proclamation — one that would promote the discussion of the causes and effects of the Civil War from all perspectives.”

Bush copied several aides on that response, one of whom noted that the Union Army had organized two regiments of cavalry from Florida.

“So even though the majority of Floridians sided with the south, Florida residents fought on both sides of the war,” wrote Bush aide Cory Tilley. “And as you can see there were actually Florida veterans who fought for the union.”

“Long live the union,” Bush wrote in reply. “Abe Lincoln would be proud and he was probably our greatest presidente [italics added].”

Rarely, Bush received e-mails complimenting him for his decision to remove the flag and to stop recognizing Confederate Heritage Month.

An NAACP chapter wrote Bush in Sept. 2002 to thank him for his decision on the flag, but noted that some counties still flew it outside courthouses.

“I can only change policies directly as it relates to state government,” he wrote back. “You are correct that I lead on this issue by removing the flags, other than the American flag and the beloved Florida flag on the state capitol premises.

“I can lead by example for the rest of the state,” he added. “I have done so by embracing diversity and having no tolerance for racial hatred. My record has lost me support but it is the right thing to do.”

Additionally, Bush is married to a Hispanic woman, speaks Spanish fluently, and did extraordinarily well with Hispanic voters in Florida. While he’d still do poorly compared to Hillary Clinton (or any Democrat) with black and Latino voters, he could make inroads and start to put the GOP back into contention for their votes by stopping rhetoric that outright alienates and insults them.

With the gay marriage issue hopefully off the radar screen, he’s less likely to be forced to pander on the issue to win over primary voters. While expressing his “disappointment” with Friday’s ruling, he has allowed that  a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage is “unrealistic,” calling for an environment where, “people aren’t discriminated against,” while also allowing “people to act on their religious conscience.”

Even in sounding the traditional Republican line on gun control, he at least acknowledges that we have a systemic problem and that “we as a society better figure out how we identify these folks long before they feel compelled to take up a gun and kill innocent people.”

On Obamacare, he’s bypassed the notion of outright repeal of a program that, while unpopular as a package, contains many very popular pieces and instead is calling for  ”a system that provides people with access to a high-deductible, low-premium catastrophic coverage.” That’s a perfectly reasonable position: one that’s true to conservative principles while at the same time recognizing that there’s a serious problem that needs addressing.

While he was denying the science on climate change even a few years ago, he’s now at least acknowledging that it’s an issue to be addressed, if mostly through market forces: ”We need to restore our competitive posture, which I think our energy revolution will allow us to do, and then simultaneously … be cognizant of the fact that we have this climate change issue and we need to work with the rest of the world to negotiate a way to reduce carbon emissions” and “Right now we are one of the counties that has reduced carbon emissions because of the natural gas revolution, converting from coal, and conservation — the two things that have driven a reduction in CO2 emissions.”

Bush is far more likely than the other moderate governors in the race, John Kasich and George Pataki, to win the nomination. All three of them, though, have the potential to turn the Republican Party back in the direction needed to appeal to the country that America is in 2015 rather than continuing to run as if Jimmy Carter were still in office. Most Republicans under 50 that I know—and I know a lot of them—would welcome it greatly.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. SKI says:

    I’m with Michael Reynolds.

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    The Republican/Conservative’s problem may have started with “The Southern Strategy” but truly came to fruition when the radio talkers and FOX News took over the party.

  3. stonetools says:

    Gotta say this looks like wishful thinking to me, James. But it could happen. More likely, Jeb Bush will lose out to “real conservatives” like Scott Walker or Ted Cruz, who were so successful in the 2014 elections. I see nothing in the current Republican Party that would stop the ratchet to the right. Heck, the likelihood is that Jeb Bush will move right, not left, in an effort to win the Republican primary.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    “The Tea Party hard right wing of the GOP now lies in complete ruin.” At the same time, he observed, Jeb Bush “just got a gift tied up with a bow. He won’t have to talk about gays. And Obamacare is now one of those increasingly dusty, irrelevant issues. Which should leave him with a better shot at focusing on economic issues where he’ll be much more comfortable.”

    You guys are just a few years ahead of the parade. It sounds good but when all the Republican base wants to talk about is ObummerCare and teh Gheys and Religious freedom to ignore the laws, and guns, guns, more guns… Bush is going to have to talk about those things whether he wants to or not.

    As Paul Waldman said this morn:

    So while there will be a lot of discussion among Republicans about where they should go from this point forward on the issues of health care and gay rights, you can be sure that they’re also going to spend a great deal of time talking about how they can make sure this kind of thing never happens again. Conservatives already hated Anthony Kennedy, and now some have decided that John Roberts is a traitor as well. If you’re a Republican presidential candidate, you’d better have a strong argument for why whoever you’ll appoint to the Supreme Court will never, ever, ever betray the conservative cause.

    These issues aren’t going to go away for the base just because a few robed individuals said they were now the law of the land. They said the same thing about abortion and what happened there? This is the Republican party as it is today, and who they will be in 2016.

    Come 2020 it may be a more humbled party, but not now. Right now these people want blood.

  5. JohnMcC says:

    There is an article in TAC by Dr Scott McConnell up just this morning pointing out (in excruciating length & detail) what you say here, Dr Joyce. He contends that JEB! has influences such as his Mexican-born wife and Catholic faith that move his likely policy choices much closer to Bush41 than to Bush43. I admit I didn’t make to the end before finding it rather repetitive and hagiographic. And looking at the shuffling of ‘advisers’ on his staff, I think there are strong reasons to doubt that JEB! has the fortitude to resist his party’s strongest impulses toward craziness. But I’m a Dem and could be wrong.

    Would also add that JEB!’s problem getting elected in FL pretty much duplicated his current dilemma. Virtually the entire land-mass of FL is an extension of south GA and south AL. Mr Bush came from Miami and had to win the votes of the rebel-flag-and-gun-totin’ voters as well as those hispanic voters. On his second attempt, he managed to pull it off. He must feel like he knows how it’s done.

    I wait to be shown.

  6. James Joyner says:


    Gotta say this looks like wishful thinking to me, James. But it could happen. More likely, Jeb Bush will lose out to “real conservatives” like Scott Walker or Ted Cruz, who were so successful in the 2014 elections.

    The last time the GOP nominated the “real conservative” rather than the seemingly more general election-worthy candidate was when Reagan beat GHW Bush in 1980. And Reagan was himself pragmatic by today’s metrics. Bush beat a more conservative field in 1984 and 1988; Dole did so in 1996; W in 2000; McCain over Huckabee, etc in 2008; Romney over Santorum, Gingrich, etc. in 2012.

    Cruz is fundamentally unlikable. Walker seems to have some legs but he has no experience on a national stage.

  7. Gustopher says:

    Bush is far more likely than the other moderate governors in the race, John Kasich and George Pataki, to win the nomination. All three of them, though, have the potential to turn the Republican Party back in the direction needed to appeal to the country that America is in 2015 rather than continuing to run as if Jimmy Carter were still in office.

    This is the same Jeb(!) of Terry Schiavo fame? And the same Jeb(!) who has surrounded himself with his brothers advisors? I wouldn’t call him moderate.

    He’s not unhinged from reality like Ben Carson, and he’s mellower than Ted Cruz, but he’s still nowhere near moderate.

  8. Hal_10000 says:

    @James Joyner:

    As I’ve said many times: the Republican party may flirt with crazy. They may got out on a date with crazy. They may fool around in the back seat of a car with it. But ultimately, they’ll find a nice respectable candidate to bring to the polls. The rank and file of the GOP really don’t vote for crazy.

  9. Pinky says:

    That Mannion screed is just terrible. If’s part of a genre that really bothers me, the Other People Have Changed In Vaguely Referred-To Ways, Not Me essay. All my life I’ve read that conservatives used to be decent but now they’ve changed. Every time, some earlier conservative is held up as an example of virtue, the article citing only the things he did that were against the conservative grain. Every few years, the prior target of these articles is declared reasonable compared to his replacement. It’s silly. A commentator has value only if he has a sense of history.

  10. Peacewood says:

    I just don’t see it. Have the Republicans let go of Roe v. Wade?

    And culture war is just…profitable. For many many entities.

  11. Kylopod says:


    that move his likely policy choices much closer to Bush41 than to Bush43.

    It’s amazing to me that people knowledgeable about how our political system works still operate under the mythology that a president’s policy-making is purely his own doing. Bush41 presided over a Democratic House and Senate. His notorious tax hike that caused the big revolt within his own party (never mind that it was good policy) was part of a deal he made with the Democrats in Congress. If Republicans had been in control of Congress–particularly the taxophobic Norquist-pledged Republicans who came to dominate the party after Bush41 left office–he would never have pushed for such a bill.

    Many commentators made the same mistake when talking about Romney. Romney’s reputation as a “moderate” came from being governor of a blue state with a Democratic legislature. Anyone who thinks his record in that state would have borne the slightest resemblance to what he would have done as president had he won in 2012 simply has a fairy-tale understanding of politics.

    A President Jeb (or Rubio or Walker of Kasich or any other Republican who manages to win in 2016) will almost certainly have a Republican Congress, and a radicalized one at that. Perhaps they’ll show a more moderate temperament than a Cruz or Jindal (though even that may be wishful thinking, as many so-called “moderates” such as John McCain or Chris Christie are in fact hotheads), but their policy platform will be all but indistinguishable.

  12. gVOR08 says:

    the Union Army had organized two regiments of cavalry from Florid

    Historical trivia, IIRC the Union Army, properly referred to as the United States Army, had named regiments for every confederate state except SC. WIKI lists nine Virginia regiments in Federal service. The two FL regiments were formed in occupied areas of FL. I believe several units were formed in the North of southerners residing or traveling in the north or who left Confederate territory and went north, which included freed or escaped slaves. Of course as the war progressed they received replacements and lost their regional character.

  13. superdestroyer says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    The problem with the Republicans is that they deliver nothing but failure. They run on shrinking the government but then grow the government. The run on shrinking rules but then pass massive new regulatory processes. They run on being fiscally sound but then spend like idiots and run up the debt.

    All that is happening to Jeb Bush is that he is pushing the Democratic-lite idea to concede to the Democrats on virtually every issue and them make elections about personality where Jeb and the Bush Clan believe that they can compete against Hillary Clinton. However, the question that Jeb Bush and his advisers never answer is why would anyone want to vote for them when if people really want bigger government, higher taxes, and more spending, they can always vote for the Democratic Party.

    Does anyone really believe that Jeb Bush running for President or being the nominee is going to get one black, Latinos, or Ivy-Leaguer to switch from being a Democrat? Does anyone Jeb Bush is competent enough to answer questions about civil rights regulations applied to sexual orientation or dealing with desperate impact lawsuits? What is more likely: That the Republican Party makes a comeback or the George P. Bush announces in 2030 that his is a Democrat because the Republican Party has left him?

  14. CSK says:

    The thing about the “base” is that it’s fickle. First it was Palin who was going to save them, then it was Walker, then it was Cruz, and now it seems to be Carson, though there was a brief flirtation last week with Trump. There always seems to be a new flavor of the week.

    In one thing they’re consistent: They loathe Jeb Bush more than they do any living human being, including Barack Obama.

  15. JohnMcC says:

    @Kylopod: I agree with you. The article I was citing did not.

  16. superdestroyer says:


    The probability of the Republicans retaining control of the Senate is every low. The Republicans always lose Senate seats during a presidential election and many of the Senators running for re-election were elected in 2010 in states where they stand no chance of staying in office during a president election year.

    All that Hillary Clinton has to worry about is how long will it take for the Democrats to win control of the House. Given the election results in California is off-year elections, the Democrats know it is only a matter of time until they regain control of the House. In 2022 when the Democrats regain control of the House and have a lock of all parts of the government even moderates like James will have to admit that Republicans and conservatives are no longer relevant to policy or governance in the U.S.

  17. Argon says:

    Give it a decade at least. Probably two. This is a generational thing.

  18. gVOR08 says:

    I continue to believe that Mitt Romney, the most recent nominee, was as well (a small-c conservative)

    I would see that as based more on projection than evidence. There’s also the concern that whatever Romney was, or might have once been, he’d tied himself to statements and advisors that would have constrained his actions.

    If you wish me to believe that Jeb Bush is a “small-c conservative” you’ll need evidence. And the evidence will have to go beyond culture wars and civil rights. It will have to include non-neocon foreign policy and evidence based economic and environmental policy. Or does your definition of small-c conservative not extend that far?

  19. michael reynolds says:

    Really good, thoughtful piece and I especially enjoyed Mannion’s peroration on conservatism. That was exactly my view of conservatism as well. A conservative didn’t so much object to the kids deciding to put on a show, he just wanted to know how you were going to pay for it, and who was cleaning up afterward. Conservatives used to be society’s decent but kinda boring parents.

    And then they turned into raging, ideological haters. Wallace (D) to Nixon (R) to Reagan (R) to Limbaugh. The media took over conservatism after Reagan and since conservatism is inherently, almost by design, boring, they made it less boring by adding lots of rage and denial and hatred. And thus poisoned American politics and destroyed the functionality of American government.

    I’m actually a small ‘c’ conservative. Strong on defense, interested in practical solutions, skeptical of grandiose plans, a willing captive of logic and scientific evidence, anxious to keep eager do-gooders from becoming too annoying, but also I hope compassionate toward those who’ve been screwed by life. And I’m conservative enough to believe that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are the birthright of all Americans regardless of their race, religion or gender because I don’t see the words, “Unless you’re gay,” in the constitution.

    Conservative to me isn’t an ideology, it’s a state of mind, it’s the weight of experience, it’s the guy who says ‘Yes, of course I wish everyone could have a pony, but who’s buying the hay and who’s shoveling the manure?’ It’s a practical, results-oriented, engineering sort of mentality. It’s also the mindset of people who don’t instinctively curl into a ball when some bully threatens them. It’s the mindset that wants to look through that box of old ideas and see if there’s something valuable before we chuck it out.

    In a perfect world conservatives and liberals understand that they need each other. We need the people forever pushing for more and we need the people fretting over the cost; we need both the idealists and the pragmatists. Yin and Yang don’t need to hate each other.

    Liberals in my lifetime – from the 60’s to the present – have become much more practical. Back in the day a true-blue liberal scarcely even considered how some grand vision was to be paid for. Unintended consequences weren’t even considered. “Something” always had to be done, nothing could be allowed to just coast along, nothing could be put off for a while. But that sort of liberal is mostly gone. Liberals took economics and business courses. Liberals grew up.

    Conservatives did not grow up, they became infantilized. It started with Ronald Reagan and his magical economics in which we could all stop paying taxes and yet be rich; where we could buy every single weapons system ever and pay for none of it; and where white people were being victimized, abused, by minorities. It was Ronald Reagan who set the Republican party and conservatism generally on a path to racism, homophobia, fantasy, bombast and paranoia, much amplified and infantilized even further by Fox News et al, resulting finally in a bizarre reversal that now requires conservatives to loudly and vociferously deny reality itself in service to an incoherent and nonsensical ideology.

    Reagan succeeded in pushing liberals toward pragmatism, but at the same time, destroyed the intellectual underpinnings of conservatism and ended up by making the Republican party an instrument of intolerance and seething resentment addicted to absurd fantasies and incapable of dealing with reality. Incapable of performing its most essential function. Hence a ‘conservatism’ that threatens default and giggles at the prospect of destroying the national credit rating.

    Ronald Reagan and Roger Ailes killed conservatism. An ideologue who cannot do his job – which describes virtually the entire Republican congressional caucus – is by definition not a conservative. The only conservatives I see now call themselves liberals.

    You know what’s conservative? Putting stability first by propping up the banks. Conserving jobs even when it means subsidizing a vital automotive industry. Creating a health care reform that preserved most of the old ways while expanding inclusion and bending the price curve downward. Reducing our footprint in war zones and lowering the tone of belligerency. Integrating gays in the military after the consensus had shifted and not before. Pushing a “free trade” deal. Supporting moderate and prudent financial reform.

    I’m not the first to point it out, but Barack Obama is a small “c” conservative. It’s why he frustrates so many liberals. The inability of so-called conservatives to understand this just points to how far out of touch with reality Reagan-Ailes conservatism really is.

  20. JohnMcC says:

    @superdestroyer: I can’t believe I’m replying to S/D. However, your complaint that Repubs “…run on shrinking government then grow the government. The (sic) run on shrinking rules then pass massive new regulatory processes. They run on being fiscally sound then spend like idiots and run up the debt.”

    Have you thought that there is someone, somewhere who profits amazingly well from that? Someone who makes billions from it? Humm…. Maybe there is a constituency for the Repub party OTHER than the people they fool into voting for them? Ya reckon?

  21. humanoid.panda says:


    He contends that JEB! has influences such as his Mexican-born wife and Catholic faith that move his likely policy choices much closer to Bush41 than to Bush43. I

    I am going to call BS on that. In the end, the President is not just an individual- rather he (ore, inshallah, she) represents a political coalition, and draws the staff for his adminisration from the functionaries of that coalition. The GOP in 2015 is much closer to Bush 43’S GOP than to Bush’s 41’s, and the Jeb! will govern accordingly.

  22. Louis C DePasquale says:

    @Gustopher: The Terry Scaivo case was over a decade ago I think we can let it go. The advisers you referred to are all unpaid and not part of his campaign team. As the primary process goes on I think you will find that unlike most of the Republican candidates Jeb will not pander to the right wing. Whether he can win the primaries is somthing we will have to wait and see. If he is still in the race I will vote for him.

    Queer Republican

  23. Neil Hudelson says:


    Indeed. Or that perhaps that is why the Republican party is dying, and not the scary brown people?

  24. gVOR08 says:

    @michael reynolds: I upvoted that, but I don’t actually agree with it. You, and James, are describing what you feel conservative should mean, and I haven’t looked, but Webster probably agrees with you. I know Burke only second hand, but I believe he’d agree with you.
    I’ve recently read Russell Kirk, and reread Corey Robin. They both show conservatives through history as something else, Robin explicitly, Kirk unintentionally. There are really two kinds of conservatives, the .01% who profit from it and what I think was best expressed by Davis X. Machina in a comment at Balloon Juice:
    The salient fact of American politics is that there are fifty to seventy million voters each of who will volunteer to live, with his family, in a cardboard box under an overpass, and cook sparrows on an old curtain rod, if someone would only guarantee that the black, gay, Hispanic, liberal, whatever, in the next box over doesn’t even have a curtain rod, or a sparrow to put on it.

  25. C. Clavin says:

    I mean…yeah…sure…you are probably right.
    But let’s review the track record for a moment:
    Repealing Obamacare – fail
    Stopping SSM – fail
    Economic theory – fail (See; Bush Contraction, also, Kansas, Wisconsin, New Jersey)
    Domestic Security – fail (See: 9/11)
    Foreign Policy – fail (See Afghanistan, Iraq)
    I guess if you can’t think for yourself, and have always voted Republican and so you will always vote Republican…you might cast your vote for failure.
    I just for the life of me cannot understand why.

  26. Moosebreath says:

    @Louis C DePasquale:

    “The Terry Scaivo case was over a decade ago I think we can let it go.”

    Because…? Is there any evidence he regrets his actions then?

    “The advisers you referred to are all unpaid and not part of his campaign team.”

    And they don’t expect to continue to be advisers if he is elected? How unlikely.

  27. Moosebreath says:

    I think the substance of the post is interesting, but is likely just wishful thinking. And as @gVOR08: pointed out above, it does not extend to either foreign policy or economic policy.

  28. Franklin says:

    If there was one thing I wish Conservatives were actually conservative on, it would be the environment. As in conserving the environment.

  29. C. Clavin says:

    @C. Clavin:
    I forgot one.
    Governing – fail (See: 114th Congress)

  30. stonetools says:


    IF you grew up in a time when parties were diverse coalitions , then you have a different understanding of Presidential policy-making.Today, they are expected to carry out their Party’s programmes. Look at Romney. Hewas an extreme case, in which it was clear that he would say literally anything he had to to get elected, but the Romney of 2012 was a long way from the Romney of 20006. Heck, the man denounced his own health insurance plan in order to get nominated!
    To use Ha1000’s metaphor, the candidate that the Republicans married in 2012 wasn’t quite the respectable moderate that he started out as . He had learned a few tricks from the crazies. If you see Bush start talking about his “Catholic faith” and about the need to “protect the border”, then you will know what kind of Presidency we can expect from Jeb should he win. And I gaurantee you, what JeB! says now is going to bear no relation to his Supreme Court nominations, which are going to be as conservative as possible.

  31. wr says:

    @Louis C DePasquale: “The Terry Scaivo case was over a decade ago I think we can let it go.”

    Jeb! Bush decided it was the right of the head of government to kidnap a comatose woman at gunpoint from her husband and take over the most intimate personal decisions for her.

    And he still stands by that.

    Why should we let it go? It’s a moment he claims as a defining one for him. If he wants to be defined by it, why should we turn our heads from who he claims he is?

  32. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Louis C DePasquale:

    I think you will find that unlike most of the Republican candidates Jeb will not pander to the right wing.

    Lou, you sound like a reasonably intelligent human being, but that is one of the stupidest things I have ever read. In today’s GOP? Really?

  33. superdestroyer says:


    I have made the same point many times in relation to the first illegal immigration amnesty. The cheap labor Republicans pushed for amnesty to increase the quantity of cheap labor without thinking about the public sector costs of cheap immigrant third-world labor. Now California is lost to the Republicans forever and the number of middle white voters in California is going down because there is no place for them to live and raise a family.

    I have also pointed out many times that Karl Rove and his fellow consultants believe that they could move the Republican Party to the second big government, big spending party. However, those same consultants failed to add up the total number of voters that the Republicans could pay off versus the number that the Democrats could pay off.

    If government is about special privilege, set asides, and entitlements, the Democrats area always going to benefit. All that Jeb Bush is doing is showing that there is no reason for a second political party in the U.S.

  34. Pinky says:

    Why is it that no one ever talks about politicians pandering to the middle?

  35. EddieInCA says:


    Because the one guy that does – and does it regularly – gets painted as a Kenyan-born, Muslim, Socialist, Communist, Marxist that wants to destroy America by his personal connection to the Muslim Brothehood, his programs that only help African Americans, and his desire for every Mexican to end up in the USA – taking good jobs from all those hard-working Americans.

  36. Gustopher says:

    @Louis C DePasquale:

    The Terry Scaivo case was over a decade ago I think we can let it go.

    Is there a statute of limitations on incredibly scary government overreach? Has Jeb(!) shown any signs that he thinks he was wrong to do what he did?

  37. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @EddieInCA: Touche!

  38. Tony W says:

    This article is a great example of why the Republican establishment tolerates – even encourages – the crazies. As others have mentioned, the leftmost candidate typically gets the nomination. They clearly know they can only win with the big tent, but have to get through the primaries first in a way that sets up the candidate for a legitimate shot. If Jeb (or Mitt or W or whomever) looks sane by comparison, then he can claim the middle ground even while pandering to the true power – moneyed benefactors.

    It is all well orchestrated theatre and everyone plays a vital role. That said, I’m fairly certain Huckabee, Trump, Cruz, Jindal, etc. don’t realize they’re being played.

  39. CSK says:

    @Tony W:

    I must disagree that Trump, Huckabee, and Cruz, at least, don’t realize they’re being played. Trump isn’t serious, for one thing–he’s just in this for the ego satisfaction. Cruz is pandering to the fringe; he knows he has no shot at the nomination, but again, it’s an ego-massage to lead the gullible around by the nose, and it’s a money-maker. Huckabee is marketing his brand.

  40. David M says:

    It could be a new era for conservatives, but it won’t. Congress is where the change is needed, reasonable sounds from the GOP Presidential candidates are meaningless.

  41. Desperada says:

    Two words that will haunt Jeb:

    Terri Schiavo

  42. michael reynolds says:

    Terri Schiavo will not hurt Jeb, that’s a fantasy. It was a long time ago, the issues will seem muddy and his people will make them muddier still. That’s not going to be the way to stop Jeb. Sadly, I don’t know exactly how to stop Jeb unless the GOP does it for us. The only two guys I worry about in the general are Jeb and Kasich. Hillary wins easily over any of the rest. Those two concern me.

  43. Michael says:

    Mr. Reynolds,

    I could not agree with you more. However, I think you did miss one point. You state: “Conservatives used to be society’s decent but kinda boring parents. And then they turned into raging, ideological haters.”

    Take note that when they were society;s decent but kinda boing parents, they held Congress for all of 2 years and the WH for 8 (President Eisenhower). When they turned into raging, ideological haters, they were rewarded by the voters with the WH the majority of the time and the Congress the majority of the time since 1994. In other words, they learned crazy pays.

  44. Michael says:

    Mr. Reynolds,

    Everyone always says that the current Presidential election is the most important in our lifetime. I don’t believe 2016 (or any particular) election qualifies for that designation until you look back in time. I do however think that the 2016 might just be the most interesting election in our lifetime even if its Jeb v. Hillary. It’s going to test the believe of some that the emerging democratic majority is really here, that there not enough true independents left, and the new theory of “negative partisanship” (i.e., that people really vote against the other party more than for theirs) will control the election versus fundamentals (economic growth, presidential approval status, one party trying for a third term . . .).

  45. de stijl says:

    The era of of Rockefeller Republicans and Nunn Democrats is over. That era is best seen as an aberration, an anomaly; maybe it could only exist in that post WWII timeframe.

    Ideological sorting is now complete. Within the context of the American definition of these terms, everyone on the Right is now a Republican and everyone on the Left is now a Democrat.

    The Civil Rights Movement was the impetus. The Southern Strategy was the tactic. After a period of flux, where the Democrats came to be seen as increasingly influenced by the New Left (which itself was a historical aberration), the inflection point was the election or, perhaps, the re-election of Reagan. The old Confederacy was the battleground. Southern whites who had never voted for a Republican in their lives voted for Reagan. Seemingly overnight, the Solid South went from D to R. The 1994 Gingrich Revolution was the dawn of our new modern era. Bob Dole was the tombstone. (Somehow, I forgot to mention the rise of the Religious Right, which from it’s birth has been invariably a Republican political movement.)

    Back in the day when there were “conservative” Democrats and “liberal” Republicans, party and inter-personal dynamics kept the the parties, if not centrist, but certainly away from radical policy. That dynamic doesn’t exist anymore.

    At the national stage the Ds have basically kept their radical, go-for-broke crazies locked in the outhouse, but the Rs have allowed their crazies a place at the table. Current Rs are now addicted to rhetorical and legislative go-for-broke Hail Mary’s and Home Runs. The Ds had a brief leftward lurch in 1968 – 1972 but changed course after an electoral setback. The Rs are still going through their rightward lurch although it looks like the momentum might be flagging.

    Outside of unforeseen events the Ds will nominate a solidly centrist as their 2016 nominee, just like in 2008, with little dissent and marginal flirting with their crazies. The Rs will likely nominate a Jeb or a Walker after majorly flirting with / French-kissing the crazies. And in order to win the nomination, Jeb or Walker will likely have to commit to policy or rhetoric that will be impalatable in the general election. When the base is radically reactionary, the candidates will have to at least pay lip service to the issues that animate and / or enrage the radically reactionary base. The Cruz / Huckabee / Santorum “True Conservative” candidate (or the combination thereof) will finish second and will garner > 40% of the delegates.

    It actually might be in the long-term interest of the Rs to nominate one of the Cruz / Huckabee / Santorum crowd and suffer the blow-out, and take the lumps as long as they learn to move on and understand that being the dominant party in the Old Confederacy with an outpost in the inter-mountain West is not a path to the Presidency. Being ideologically pure and not garnering at least 272 electoral votes gives you exactly three things: jack, diddly, and squat.

    I forgot to mention that Jeb’s last name is Bush.

  46. OzarkHillbilly says:

    One more sign of the delusion that the GOP is now “freed” from the social wars:

    In wild, wild west conservatives come out with guns blazing on gay marriage This is JEB!s party and like it or not he will be painted with their homophobic, racist, oligarchical policies because he will pander to them. He has to.

  47. stonetools says:

    @de stijl:

    Being ideologically pure and not garnering at least 272 electoral votes gives you exactly three things: jack, diddly, and squat.

    Seems to help a lot with winning Congress and at the state level, though. Which is why liberal celebration about our “stranglehold” on the Presidency might be premature. You can’t advance the liberal program by just winning the Presidency.
    It’s why Republicans continue to court the crazy. As long as it continues to bring them electoral success ev erywhere but the Presidenc, they’ll continue ith the current strategy-and hope that some economic crisis or other fluke will net them the Presidency.

  48. al-Ameda says:

    Whomever is president will have to deal with a radical Republican Congress. And frankly, I’d rather have a Democratic president (at this point, Hillary is the odds-on) making nominations to the Supreme Court, than any so-called non-radical Republican.

  49. de stijl says:


    Seems to help a lot with winning Congress and at the state level, though.

    I absolutely agree with you and had had some first draft text to that effect, but my comment was getting too long.

    At the state level, the Rs are generally much more savvy. They actually can draft and pass legislation that addresses a real problem. Their policy solutions would not be what I would choose, but they can and do pass legislation that a governor would sign. They don’t (and wouldn’t) horse-trade, but where they hold the reins they can bum-rush the show with the best of them. It helps when the actual text was drafted by an outside entity.

    Which is why liberal celebration about our “stranglehold” on the Presidency might be premature. You can’t advance the liberal program by just winning the Presidency.

    Here’s why the Presidency is important: the veto and the Supreme Court.

    Currently, the House and the Senate Rs are so dysfunctional that they can’t even get legislation to Obama’s desk to be vetoed. McConnell and Boehner are laughingly, unbelievably bad in their roles. They can’t count votes, one third of their caucus is completely outside of their influence or control, and they have no idea when and how to advance legislation. They excel at messaging, but only to their core base.

    (My personal theory is that more seasoned professional staff have aged out and ideological folks have taken the jobs that the more process-oriented folks left. Now, the go-to move and the only move is the Hail Mary. Maybe the 52nd vote to repeal Obamacare will work this time. Hope, hope, hope [crosses fingers]. 30 year old Patrick Henry grads will be ideologically pure, but tactically inept and strategically naive.)

    Future Supreme Court nomination control is, right now and will always be, the big prize.

    Republicans overwhelmingly control the House and are (for now) the majority in the Senate, yet they cannot get any bill on Obama’s desk to veto. It’s frankly pathetic.

    The Presidency is the Ds to lose in the next election or two. The House will likely remain firmly in the Rs hands but with a smaller margin, and the Senate will very likely flip back to D majority in 2016. Rs can’t really advance their agenda without the Presidency and a compliant congress and their dibs on the next one or two SCOTUS nominees.

    You can’t advance the liberal program by just winning the Presidency.

    But you can stop a reactionary program by winning the Presidency.

  50. de stijl says:


    As long as it continues to bring them electoral success everywhere but the Presidency, they’ll continue with the current strategy-and hope that some economic crisis or other fluke will net them the Presidency.

    Let us sincerely hope that the next crisis isn’t a a politically manufactured one.

    But, I agree with the premise. The only Presidential path for the Rs in 2016 is probably a major economic slowdown or an exploitable major terrorist attack in the US.

    This sounds nasty, but unfortunately it is true. A small squad of hard-core activists would be thrilled if we had a repeat of 9/11 between now and spring 2016. They would see it as the necessary trigger and impetus for the needed change. If you want your party to thrive even though the nation will suffer, you are definitively a very bad person.

  51. de stijl says:


    Sorry, man. When responding to stonetools I completely missed your comment on the SC. You said it way fewer words, too!