The Republican Base: Slow Learners

>> Monday, November 10, 2008

Sort of a no-brainer considering 64% of Republicans want Sarah Palin to run in 2012. But really, Jonathan Chait gives some better details:

A year and a half ago, around the time thoughtful conservatives started to realize that George W. Bush might not in fact be a combination of Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill, National Review editor Rich Lowry wrote a cover story pinpointing the source of the president's failings: He had a competence problem. Going forward, Lowry suggested, the party might want a new leader a bit less, well, meatheaded than the incumbent. Republicans would seek out someone who "doesn't run the government like George W. Bush," he predicted--someone "detail-oriented" and "proven (in jobs more demanding than part owner of a baseball team or governor in a state where the office is weak)."

Yet the Republican who has emerged from the wreckage of the 2008 elections having captured the loyalty of the party faithful--Sarah Palin--does not quite fit this description. The base does not appear concerned. "At a recent meeting of conservative activists," writes an approving Midge Decter, "the very mention of her name set the whole room cheering and the women present all but dancing on the tables."

The outpouring of Republican enthusiasm for Palin suggests that the party faithful have not quite digested Lowry's critique of Bush--or, for that matter, any critique of Bush whatsoever. This week, Republicans are holding a series of confabs to plot their way forward. The most popular themes appear to be Palin in particular and the return to a more traditional conservatism in general. A recent, pre-election Democracy Corps poll found that Republican voters, by a two-to-one margin, think their party "needs to get back to Republican issues," as opposed to devising "better ways to make government work for people, make America secure and address new problems." I have seen the future of the Republican Party, and it is the present of the Republican Party. Only perhaps more so.

The enthusiasm generated by Palin shows that the party intends, wittingly or not, to replicate not just Bush's policies but his whole operating style. She is the most Bush-like figure conceivable. Jeb Bush would be a far more dramatic departure from the incumbent than her. Her utter lack of interest in policy, her obsession with certitude ("you can't blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission"), her folksiness masking incoherence--all reflect the style of The Decider. The way Palin filled her government with grossly unqualified high school cronies eerily apes even the Bushian qualities that many conservatives have come to regret.


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