Jonathan Chait

Bushism And The GOP Today

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Ryan Lizza notes that last night's Republican debate reflected, in large part, the triumph of a faction of right-wing dissidents from the Bush administration:

On nearly every major issue, Bush haunted the stage. A hallmark of Bush’s post-September 11th leadership was a public-relations offensive to show the world that America did not discriminate against Muslims. Just six days after the terrorist attacks, Bush visited the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., on Massachusetts Avenue, and talked about interfaith coöperation. “These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith,” Bush said. “And it’s important for my fellow Americans to understand that.” Bush quoted the Koran, and used language he would repeat for years: “That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.” No Republican Presidential candidate uses anything close to Bush’s old formulation when talking about Islam these days...

When it came to foreign policy, there was another notable moment of backlash against the Bush years. A voter named John Brown asked, “Osama bin Laden is dead. We’ve been in Afghanistan for ten years. Isn’t it time to bring our combat troops home from Afghanistan?” Not long ago, most Republicans answered such a question by immediately declaring that troops could not come home until victory on the battlefield was achieved. Nobody used that formulation last night...

Afghanistan was not the only issue on which candidates sounded a lot less like George W. Bush and more like Ron Paul. When it comes to government spending and bailouts, the issue that burns the hottest among conservatives these days, the candidates came alive with stinging rebukes of policies that all began in the Bush years. Romney called the bailouts a failure and accurately pointed out “the Bush administration and the Obama administration wrote checks to the auto industry” before he attacked that policy.

“We should not have had a TARP,” former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum added. “We should not have had the auto bailout. Governor Romney’s right. They could have gone through a structured bankruptcy without the federal government.” He did not point out that every dime of TARP money Obama used was appropriated by a Republican congress and signed into law by George W. Bush.

Michele Bachmann, who impressed many commentators last night, made the clearest statement about how the current anti-Bush surge of populism among Republicans actually began in the last days of that Administration. “I was behind closed doors with Secretary Paulson when he came and made the extraordinary, never-before-made request to Congress: Give us a seven-hundred-billion-dollar blank check with no strings attached,” she said. “And I fought behind closed doors against my own party on TARP. It was a wrong vote then. It’s continued to be a wrong vote since then. Sometimes that’s what you have to do. You have to take principle over your party.” What she did not need to say is that the views of her once-maligned faction have now taken over the party of George W. Bush.

Of course, this doesn't hold true on every issue. As Ross Douthat notes, there was nothing whatsoever for anyone "who would like America’s opposition party to advance an domestic policy agenda that consists of more than just capital gains tax cuts and corporate tax cuts, rinse and repeat." I suppose the conservative analysis is that trying to court non-extremist Muslims failed, TARP failed, the auto bailout failed, but the policy of regressive tax cuts plus industry-friendly regulation was a huge macroeconomic success that needs to be tried with even more vigor.

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