Share

Topics: Obamacare

Conservatives were too forgiving of GOP during Bush, too unforgiving now

By |
Beltway Confidential,Congress,Philip Klein,Barack Obama,Obamacare,Senate,Republican Party,Tea Party,George W. Bush,Conservatism

Any attempt to understand the passion fueling the Tea Party has to start with the White House years of President George W. Bush.

Under Bush’s leadership, rooted in the philosophy of “compassionate conservatism” rather than limited government, federal spending soared by 60 percent.

A Republican Congress passed and Bush signed what was at the time the largest expansion of entitlements since Lyndon Johnson's Great Society - Medicare Part D.

They also pushed through a massive expansion of the federal role in education in the form of No Child Left Behind.

While this was happening, conservative satisfaction with Bush generally remained quite high. Part of this had to do with wanting to support the president during wartime when national security was much more of a focus among conservatives.

But there was also a team mentality in some quarters in which Republicans reflexively wanted to defend Bush, especially given the over-the-top attacks on him coming from the Left.

Either way, it really wasn't until Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court during the second term that the conservative movement revolted against him.

By that time, Bush era Republicans had already enacted their major expansions of government.

So, looking back on the Bush era, the conservative base was far too forgiving of Republicans for far to long. Republicans controlled all of government, and they used that power to expand government.

It's only natural then that, as the Tea Party gained steam with President Obama in office, they'd direct their ire not only at Democrats, but at squishy big-government Republicans.

And as I’ve written on numerous occasions, this is a positive development. For those of us who support limited government, it’s encouraging to see Republicans who don’t act to shrink government getting pressure back at home, because traditionally all of the pressure has come from special interest groups pushing to expand government.

All this having been said, many conservatives have over-learned their lessons and have gone too far in the opposite direction. Whereas before they were too forgiving, now a lot of conservatives are too unforgiving of Republicans in power.

This isn’t to say that conservatives shouldn’t criticize Republicans. I do so frequently and think it’s a good thing to hold them accountable. But I also think that the expectations of many conservatives have completely gotten out of whack.

It’s been dismissed as an excuse whenever anybody points out that Republicans control only one-half of the legislative branch. But that’s actually a very valid point.

There are severe limitations to what a party can achieve when the ruling party controls a double veto – both in the Senate and the presidency.

Republicans can prevent the passage of gun control, as they have. But when it comes to the current debate, many conservatives have been arguing that if Republicans cannot get Obama to wipe out or seriously undermine the signature legislative accomplishment of his presidency, the only reason is that Republicans lack sufficient courage. And that's a completely absurd expectation.

One argument Tea Party conservatives can make - something that my colleague Tim Carney recently pointed out - is that Republicans created the sense of distrust between themselves and conservatives.

I'd agree with that, and I'd add that Republicans ran in 2010 on repealing Obamacare if elected (however they worded the promise, that's how it came across).

So, they also are a big part of the reason why such sky-high expectations exist. But I still believe that to maximize their long-term influence, conservatives will have to find a way to strike a balance between never challenging the Republican Party or demanding the impossible.

View article comments Leave a comment
Author:

Philip Klein

Commentary Editor
The Washington Examiner