Blaming the tea party for Bush’s mess

W. James Antle III Managing Editor
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A group aligned with Karl Rove’s super PAC believes it can rescue the Republican Party from itself. These self-appointed saviors of the GOP call themselves the Conservative Victory Project, but many Republicans suspect they’re out to prevent conservative primary victories.

This new outfit’s spokesman claims, “Our party has lost six Senate seats over the last two election cycles not because of our ideas but because of undisciplined candidates running weak campaigns.” There is more than a kernel of truth to this. Todd Akin and Christine O’Donnell were terrible candidates whose abysmal performance in turn highlighted gaffes by other slightly less ham-fisted GOP candidates, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

But Akin wasn’t necessarily the tea party favorite in the Missouri Republican primary. Democrats spent heavily to promote his candidacy for a reason. Moreover, in only two of those six races — Delaware and Indiana — was the establishment candidate a sure bet to win the race the conservative upstarts ultimately lost. Unless you believe, for example, that a candidate who blows a primary lead against Sharron Angle would have proved more adept against Harry Reid.

Moreover, Tommy Thompson, George Allen, Rick Berg, Denny Rehberg, Linda Lingle, and Heather Wilson were all establishment favorites in the primaries. They all won the Republican nomination. They all lost the general election.

It also seems likely that Senators Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul will do more to advance conservative principles than Arlen Specter, Charlie Crist, David Dewhurst, and Trey Grayson would have.

Specter and Crist ultimately left the GOP. Grayson runs the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, that notorious bastion of conservatism. All were the smart set’s candidates against the Republicans preferred by the unwashed masses.

But even all this somewhat misses the point. Who got the Republican Party into this mess in the first place? Would Barack Obama even be president without George W. Bush?

After all, the Rove Republicans’ claim to fame is getting Bush elected twice. (Albeit by losing the popular vote to Al Gore and getting just 51 percent against noted man of the people John Kerry.) For the GOP, however, these turned out to be costly victories.

For two years, Republicans controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. They held 55 seats in the Senate. What do conservatives have to show for unified GOP control of the federal government?

John Roberts, who after the Obamacare ruling is looking like much more of a mixed bag, and Sam Alito on the Supreme Court.

Bush boasted of his political capital after the 2004 election. But he spent much of it on failed immigration amnesties. Social Security reform went nowhere. Free-market health care reform and an effort to tame the reckless monetary policies inflating the housing bubble — which would burst painfully on Bush’s watch — weren’t even attempted.

The tax cuts and the pro-life policies came in the first term. So did No Child Left Behind, which ballooned the Department of Education, and the deficit-funded Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Thanks to the quagmire in Iraq and second-term Bushie bumbling, Democrats retook Congress in 2006 and enlarged their majorities in 2008. Despite a unified country after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the most Republican federal government since Hoover was president, Bush’s legacy was nation-building, budget-busting deficits, bigger spending than Bill Clinton, bailing out the Wall Street banks, and Katrina.

The Iraq war, with its missing weapons of mass destruction, destroyed a Republican advantage on foreign policy that existed since Richard Nixon trounced George McGovern. The financial meltdown at the end of the Bush presidency was the final nail in the coffin for GOP credibility on the economy gained during Ronald Reagan’s boom years.

By the time it was over, the party of Reagan looked like the party of Jimmy Carter.

Obama’s tendency to blame Bush is an un-presidential evasion of responsibility. But when he claims his predecessor blew a budget surplus and put two wars plus an expensive Medicare expansion on a credit card, he is telling the truth.

Thus by 2008 the country was ready to turn to a former community organizer and freshman senator described by National Journal as the most liberal member of that chamber. Four years later, after an unpopular health care law, a stimulus program that failed to stimulate, and a fiscal policy that made the country’s debt problem even worse, Obama was re-elected.

Why? Because more voters still blamed Bush rather than Obama. If the tea party is to blame for anything, it is not distancing the party from Bush enough. Jamie Radtke, the Virginia activist beaten by George Allen in 2012, correctly observed that the movement “would not exist today if the Republicans had not failed under the Bush years.”

When trying to determine what ails the GOP, Bush-Rove Republicans should look in the mirror.

W. James Antle III is the editor of The Daily Caller News Foundation. Follow him on Twitter.