Something that progressives have a little trouble understanding is the abiding suspicion and hostility many conservatives harbor for the Bush family. I mean, sure, Poppy Bush was a scion of a stereotypically WASPy Connecticut family, and although he made his financial and political fortune in Texas, and slavishly supported Ronald Reagan’s agenda as the Gipper’s vice president, he never shook the Planned Parenthood undertones of his voice. And when he scandalized Republicans by signing a tax increase in 1990, it was more of a “I suspected it” than an “aha” moment.
But W.? The man systematically got rid of every association with Eastern Establishment Republicanism that bedeviled Poppy, dumping Episcopalianism for evangelicalism, sporting a genuine Texas accent, and trading class-based noblesse oblige for church-based “compassionate conservatism.” By the time he ran for president in 2000, he had already been dubbed “the ideological heir to Ronald Reagan” by Robert Novak, and obtained the support of the entire conservative movement from sea to shining sea. After securing the enactment of a vast, government-disabling tax cut, Bush as president presided over the creation of a national security state that probably made Richard Nixon’s ghost ghastly green with envy. By prosecuting a “war of choice” that gave the old anti-communist glue of the conservative movement a new, anti-Islamic solvent, W. was by the time of his re-election being routinely lionized by the Right’s ideological bards as a Churchillian colossus, and he followed that up by going after Social Security. What more could conservatives want–other than competence?
Meanwhile, Jeb Bush was always supposed to be the smarter and vastly more ideological Bush Brother. Had he managed to beat Lawton Chiles in his first gubernatorial race in 1994, he, not W., would have been the clan’s presidential candidate in 2000, and it would not have taken a major Rovian sales job to convince movement conservatives to love and trust him. He did nothing as governor of Florida to sully his reputation on the Right, and he retired in 2006 as someone expected to ultimately become a presidential nominee as soon as a decent interval after the second Bush presidency. In the runup to the 2012 election, National Review briefly turned itself into a cheerleading outfit for a Jebbie bid.
I mention all this because Jeb’s initial movement towards a possible 2016 run has been greeted with genuine anger by some prominent conservatives, notably that great self-appointed keeper of the Reagan ideological legacy, Craig Shirley, who has hurled a cry of betrayal at CPAC for letting the latest Bush speak:
Now the anti-Reagan establishment clamors to attend CPAC. This year, CPAC organizers have chosen as a featured speaker former governor Jeb Bush – whose family has made a career of opposing or attacking the true meaning of Reaganism. A Bush speaking at the Reagan dinner is for True Believers mind-boggling.
We all know the psychological reasons for movement conservatives’ amnesia about their adulation of W.: it is crucial to them to deny responsibility for the mess Bush 43 made of their cherished war in Iraq, the national economy, and the federal budget. But there can only be one explanation for the excommunication of Jeb: the GOP has moved so far to the Right that old favorites have to apply for readmission. And while commissars like Shirley may pretend they are simply extending the Reagan legacy, nowadays it’s really the spirit of Jim DeMint that rules.