Matt Latimer, a disillusioned former speechwriter for George W. Bush, claims in the Washington Post that Margaret Thatcher “was for turning after all.” But Latimer fails to point to any specific instance in which Thatcher turned away from a core principle.
He comes the closest when he cites Thatcher’s famous statement that Mikhail Gorbachev is someone with whom the West “can do business.” But here Thatcher was simply recognizing, sooner than almost anyone else, that Gorbachev was for turning. Thatcher did not yield anything to the Soviet Union; she basically accepted its surrender.
Latimer’s piece isn’t really about Thatcher, though. It is an attempt to misuse Thatcher to make a point about the alleged unwillingness of the Republican Party’s to entertain and appreciate “thoughtful dissent.” That, I imagine, is why the Washington Post published it.
But Latimer’s analysis of Republicans isn’t much more persuasive than his discussion of Thatcher. He asserts that the GOP is “allerg[ic] to spirited but civil disagreement.” Yet its last three nominees for president all disagreed with significant aspects of the conservative orthodoxy Latimer believes the Party ruthlessly enforces. George Bush deviated through his compassionate conservatism; John McCain through his stance on a range of issues, most notably tax cuts and immigration; and Mitt Romney through Romneycare.
Yet the GOP nominated all three, and conservatives stood fairly solidly behind each in the general election. There was some balking, to be sure. But Latimer was among those who balked, to the point that, if I read his book ( Speech-less: Tales of a White House Survivor) correctly, he declined to vote for McCain.
Given that decision, and his ferocious attack on certain Bushies, it’s odd to see Latimer complaining about the pillorying of Republicans by fellow Republicans. It’s also odd to see Latimer complaining about those who hold up Reaganism as a guide to “the needs and priorities of the 21st century GOP.” In a post for Power Line, he criticized Bush for viewing Reaganism as obsolete and for attempting to redefine the Republican Party. In his book, Latimer is an anti-pragmatist; in his Thatcher piece, he’s all about pragmatism.
Looking ahead to 2016, we find that the two men generally considered frontrunners for the Republican nomination both deviate significantly from conservative orthodoxy. Marco Rubio does so on immigration; Rand Paul on foreign policy, immigration, and some social issues.
Both have been criticized for these positions and both have fired back. Occasionally, this has led to rhetorical excess, but that’s to be expected in a vigorous debate over vital issues.
The key point is that Rubio and Paul remain popular among Republicans despite their dissenting views on key issues, and both receive invitations from skeptical conservative talk show hosts to advocate these views. The debate may be imperfect, but by modern political standards it is healthy.
Some of Latimer’s complaints make no sense. He argues that Thatcher’s statement following 9/11 that no new order can replace the disorderly conduct of human affairs would have caused her, had she been a Republican Senator during the Bush years, to lose her primary. But to my knowledge, no Republican Senator has lost a primary for taking such a view. Moreover, the Bush administration was, if anything, too tolerant of dissenting Republican Senators facing primary fights (see Arlen Specter). In the post-Bush era, Republican Senators have lost primaries due to their views on domestic issues, not foreign policy.
Latimer also complains that Chris Christie “still suffers ostracism from national Republicans for daring to praise work with Obama.” Yet, says Latimer, Ronald Reagan periodically praised Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy.
But Reagan, once he became a Republican, never praised an incumbent Democratic president on the eve of an election involving that incumbent. It’s one thing to dissent from this or that traditionally conservative position. It’s another knowingly to boost the prospects of a left-liberal president just before the election.
But did Latimer see defeating Obama as a priority? His book suggests that, at least in 2008, he did not.