Robert Taft

A specter is haunting the Republican establishment—the specter of Barry Goldwater. With recent polling data suggesting that Rick Santorum has surged ahead of Mitt Romney among Republican voters nationwide, the people whose livelihoods depend on Republican electoral victories are terrified by the growing possibility of a massive wipeout in November, much like the one that Republicans experienced in 1964, when Goldwater was their nominee. But even if the magnitude of the Republicans’ defeat this year resembles that previous debacle, the path there will be significantly different.

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It was not so long ago that George W. Bush seemed to embody the future of conservatism. He had entered office amid doubts about his rightful place there, but pressed ahead nonetheless with grand ambitions, conducting an ideologically potent foreign war while also promising much at home. Which led some to wonder: Was this lavish spender really a conservative? Bush’s champions rushed in to explain.

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The Obama administration has managed to upend the laws of ornithology. The simple fact of a Democratic commander-in-chief has transformed yesterday’s Republican hawks into today’s doves. No less miraculously, and certainly for no more high-minded reasons, Democratic doves have metamorphosed into something like hawks.  In both cases, however, the transformation has been less than complete.

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It has been widely reported that economic growth and job creation will be the principal focus of President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address, and the president’s comments in recent weeks add credibility to those reports. At first blush this sounds promising: Not only would a speech along these lines track public concerns, but it would also invoke a goal that both parties ostensibly share. Most conservatives say they are gung-ho for growth; most liberals understand that without it, not much else is possible.

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Conservatives at the moment are evincing stratospheric levels of hubris. It is a nearly universal belief on the right that President Obama has exploded the deficit, voters have turned against him for this reason, and embraced the Republican vision of more limited government. All these myths are usefully contained within Peggy Noonan's column today.

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Crisis and Command: A History of Executive Power from George Washington to George W. Bush By John Yoo (Kaplan, 544 pp., $29.95) Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State By Garry Wills (Penguin, 288 pp., $27.95)   I. In December 2008, Chris Wallace asked Vice President Cheney, “If the president, during war, decides to do something to protect the country, is it legal?” Cheney’s answer included a reference to a military authority that President Bush did not exercise.

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