Rick Perry is now the undisputed front runner in the GOP field. Some pundits think he will be hard to stop. We’ll see; it’s early yet.
I keep reading that Perry is not Bush. And I keep thinking, how are they different? They both are big time crony capitalists whose big issues are tax cuts and tort reform. But here Steve Kornacki spells it out. The difference, really, is a matter of perception on the Right.
After 8 years of being unable to take down Bill Clinton, the GOP establishment decided that it needed a new marketing strategy. Bush was “elected” in 2000 with the solid support of the establishment and empty rhetoric about “compassionate conservatism.”
And for the first half of Bushâ€™s presidency, Perry and most other Republicans stayed on board even as Bush implemented big government conservatism — a massively expanded federal role in public education (courtesy of a deal with Ted Kennedy and George Miller), a giant new prescription drug entitlement program, the creation of a brand new Cabinet department and so on.
I should add that the real impetus behind most of this was to find new ways to funnel taxpayer money to the education, pharmaceutical, and other industries, but let’s go on …
Every now and then, thereâ€™d be some grumbling on the right about Bushâ€™s spending binge, but it didnâ€™t amount to anything. Bushâ€™s approval rating with Republicans remained astronomically high and he was reelected in 2004 thanks in large part to the party baseâ€™s devotion to him.
And let’s not forget … September 11 September 11 September 11 September 11 September 11 September 11 September 11 September 11 September 11 September 11 September 11 September 11, etc.
It was in his second term that everything changed. For the first time in his presidency, due mainly to news from Iraq that seemed to get grimmer each month and to his administrationâ€™s feeble response to Hurricane Katrina, Bushâ€™s poll numbers began to plummet, first under 50 percent, then into the low 40s, and then into the 30s. His formula had stopped working, and when Republicans were blown out in the 2006 midterms (losing the House for the first time since 1994 and the Senate for the first time since 2001), the leaders and activists who had once acquiesced to the supposed necessity of compassionate conservatism began jumping ship. It was because Republicans had betrayed their own ideological principles, they decided, that the Bush presidency had failed and the GOPâ€™s image was in disrepair. Or, as Limbaugh put it a few days after the â€˜06 election:
The way I feel is this: I feel liberated, and Iâ€™m going to tell you as plainly as I can why. I no longer am going to have to carry the water for people who I donâ€™t think deserve having their water carried.
It was in this climate that the Republican Party as we know it today and Rick Perry as we know him today were both born.
Basically, the base has persuaded itself that Bush “failed” because he strayed too far from conservative orthodoxy. He wasn’t pure enough, in other words. Especially after their midterm victory, the GOP is all about ideological purity. And Rick Perry is giving it to them.
This explains a lot of the insanity, including the House vote to privatize Medicare and the call to raise taxes on working people. They’re in self-destruct mode.