The conservatives’ paradigm shift
When Haley Barbour was chairman of the Republican National Committee back in the 1990s, he used to argue, as part of his effort to hold together the various factions of the Republican party: “If someone agrees with you 80 percent of the time, that person is your friend and ally.” True enough. Unfortunately for the current leadership of the Republican party, the same logic tells us that if someone does not agree with you most of the time, he is not your ally. And if he actively opposes and despises your dearest positions and values most of the time, he is not your friend or your ally.
What has happened in the last two weeks is that a significant number of conservatives have realized that George W. Bush is not their friend or their ally. Previously they had excused his many betrayals of conservative principle as the understandable faults or necessary political compromises of someone who was basically on their side. As the betrayals relentlessly built up, it became harder and harder for them to maintain that position, but they manfully struggled through. But with his nomination of Harriet Miers, the weight of Bush’s political character shifted decisively to the negative side of the conservative ledger. And that has led to a paradigm shift. All the flaws in Bush that the conservatives previously excused as regrettable lapses in their great leader, they now are seeing as the sincere and genuine positions of someone who is not on their side.
Have all conservatives undergone this paradigm shift? Of course not. Many still defend Bush. But it has happened with a decisive number of conservatives, particularly the elites. As a result, instead of the dominant majority of conservatives being Bush supporters, with the Bush critics being relegated to the sidelines, as in the past, the Bush critics are now the dominant voice. So a profound change has occurred not only in the outlook of many individual conservatives, but in the orientation of the conservative movement as a whole.