August 31, 2004


Freed Radicals: WOULD REAGAN RECOGNIZE THE GOP? (John B. Judis, 08.29.04, New Republic)

"The party of George W. Bush is very much the party of Ronald Reagan," declared Ed Gillespie, the chairman of the Republican Party, in September 2003. It's a contention that one speaker after another will echo at the Republican National Convention. But they will be largely wrong. While there is continuity between the Reagan and Bush GOPs--as evidenced by Bush's tax cuts, for example--the outward similarities conceal a deeper truth: Bush's Republican Party is far more conservative than Reagan's ever was. [...]

Reagan's GOP brought together Sun Belt conservatives, such as Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, who were hostile to labor unions and the New Deal but who also opposed government interference in citizens' lives; Deep South conservatives, such as Strom Thurmond, who had turned Republican when the Democrats backed racial desegregation; a large group of moderates or "Old Guard" Republicans, such as Kansas Senator Robert Dole, who supported the New Deal but worried about budget deficits and welfare and who, unlike the Deep South Republicans, still identified themselves as members of the party of Lincoln; and a few Northeastern liberals, such as Pennsylvania Senator John Heinz.

This diversity was reflected in Reagan's administration, but his White House was actually dominated by moderates. These included Vice President George H.W. Bush, who had criticized Reagan's "voodoo economics"; White House Chief of Staff James Baker, who had run Gerald Ford's and Bush's primary campaigns against Reagan; and others like Treasury Secretary Donald Regan and Secretary of State George Shultz. The most extreme Cabinet officials, such as Interior Secretary James Watt, a fundamentalist who wanted to hand over the wilderness to energy and timber interests, were forced to resign. Republicans in Congress were even more centrist. They were led by Dole, who advocated a tax increase in 1982 to keep the deficit under control; Tennessee Senator Howard Baker, who was reviled by conservatives for his support of the Panama Canal treaty; and Illinois Representative Robert Michel, whom The Washington Post described as an advocate of "consensus-oriented, non-ideological politics."

Today's Congress, by contrast, is dominated by hard-line conservatives. Texas Representative Tom DeLay, now the majority leader, has virtually run the House of Representatives since Newt Gingrich resigned six years ago. DeLay, Speaker Dennis Hastert, and Majority Whip Roy Blount all boast 90-plus percent ratings on the American Conservative Union and Christian Coalition scorecards, as do all seven of the GOP's elected Senate leaders, from Majority Leader Bill Frist and Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell to Chief Deputy Majority Whip Bob Bennett and Policy Committee Chairman Jon Kyl.

Bush's administration reflects this conservative predominance. The most influential members are White House political adviser Karl Rove, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Attorney General John Ashcroft. The administration's most notable moderate, Secretary of State Colin Powell, has been marginalized, and will be conspicuously absent from this year's convention (see Notebook, page 10). Its two other well-known moderates, former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman, have resigned.

If you told Mr. Reagan his legacy would be a party where the White House insiders didn't conspire to get the president to raise taxes just because of a little deficit spending he'd be overjoyed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 31, 2004 8:46 AM

Speaking as someone who was conservative in the '80s, this is the hilarious, feel-good article of the summer.

Posted by: David Cohen at August 31, 2004 9:12 AM


Amen, brother. What makes it especially delicious is that Mr. Judis's argument that there's an emerging Democratic majority seems awfully hard to square with a GOP-dominated national politics and a Republican Party that is more conservative than Reagan's was.

Posted by: oj at August 31, 2004 9:36 AM