It is all George W. Bush’s fault. No, not the economy; rather he is to blame for the Republican Party’s current meltdown. How else to explain the party’s clinging to candidates that cannot win a general election and in most years would have been marginalized well before now? Come on: Pinch yourself. We have an economic climate that screams Republican victory, and the party is still playing around with the likes of Santorum, Gingrich and Paul. To me, it can mean only a perhaps unconscious and self-destructive urge to purge the party of the ghost of Bush.
How does this theory work? Well, if you look at the current Republican field, every one of the candidates owns a different piece of the reaction to the former president’s failure. Ron Paul’s appeal is even greater today because of George W.’s Patriot Act and his preemptive war. Rick Santorum’s cultural conservatism, always latent in the party, is now ascendant, a reaction to Bush’s lack of true commitment and action on abortion and gay marriage. (Santorum voters have crossed out the “compassionate” part of the former president’s hyphenated slogan.) Even Newt Gingrich’s wacky ideas may be part of this anti-Bush surge. At least Gingrich has ideas, and this appeals to a certain strain in the party, disgusted by Bush’s lack of curiosity and anti-intellectualism.
And Mitt Romney? As the candidate closest in background and approach to George W. Bush, he is paying the price for the former president’s perceived failures. Romney is handsome, is successful in business, has deep ties to the Republican establishment and will reliably execute a pro-corporate agenda. He struggles precisely for this similarity and because he owns none of the anger currently driving Republican energy.
Hence, the irony; anger at Bush is a more potent force for dividing Republicans than antipathy against Obama is for unifying it. Another irony? The antidote for the ultimately self-destructive anti-Bush indulgence may be named Jeb.