He’s Not a Conservative! He Supported Bush!

Nothing quite so nicely illustrates the rightward lurch of the Republican Party than the demonization of GOP candidates for the 2012 nomination on grounds they supported the domestic policy agenda of the 2000-2004 nominee, a guy named George W. Bush. Check out the anathema hurled today at Rick Santorum by conservative opinion-leader Erick Erickson:

Rick Santorum participated in raiding the federal treasury as an earmarxist, perfectly happy to pork away on Pennsylvania’s behalf. He did not join conservatives who fought against No Child Left Behind. He did not join conservatives who fought against the prescription drug benefit.

Rick Santorum was part of the problem in Washington. He was one of the Republicans the public rejected in 2006. The voters in Pennsylvania rejected him in 2006 because of his and the Republicans’ profligate ways. Along with Tom DeLay, Rick Santorum led the K Street Project, which traded perks for lobbyists for money for the GOP funded with your tax dollars through earmarks and pork projects.

Sure, you can say 2006 was a bad year for Republicans, but in 2006 Rick Santorum fell 18 percentage points behind his Democratic rival and his defeat and terrible campaign can be linked to the loss of four Pennsylvania house seats.

That was not a defeat for Rick Santorum. It was punishment. He is a pro-life statist and I see nothing in his career since leaving Washington that shows he has changed his ways.

It’s interesting that Erickson doesn’t object to the K Street Project on grounds that it involved the use of power to reinforce one-party government in Washington–but because it involved unnecessary expenditures.

Moreover, his assumption that no conservative could possibly have supported No Child Left Behind and the Rx Drug Benefit is quite revealing. These weren’t just any old domestic policy initiatives. They were an extremely important building blocks of Karl Rove’s strategy to create an enduring Republican majority, along with another initiative that conservatives now hate with a passion, comprehensive immigration reform.

In any event, Erickson’s tirade against Santorum manifests the central delusion that has animated the right-wing uprising in the GOP since the 2008 election: the belief that Republican losses in 2006 an 2008 were strictly attributable to Republicans “abandoning their conservative principles.” The 2010 performance of the GOP massively reinforced that delusion. They may be saved from its natural consequences by voter anger towards the status quo, mistakes by Team Obama, or a Republican presidential nominee they can’t stand but also can’t figure out how to replace. But it burns brightly all the same.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.