There’s no denying that, for various reasons, the current Republican field of presidential contenders lacks a first-tier candidate with a consistent record of traditional, across-the-board conservatism. But E.J. Dionne overstates his case when he asserts that the campaign “has become an occasion for the collapse of conservative othodoxy.” Indeed, the same complaint about the absence of a traditional conservative candidate in the first tier could have been lodged in 2000, which featured a “compassionate conservative” and a maverick.
Let’s look at the big issues. All of the top-tier and leading second-tier candidates support President Bush’s current policy in Iraq. All favor his aggressive approach to the war on terror. All favor low federal taxation. All favor appointing the kind of judges Bush has placed on the Supreme Court. With one exception, all are right-to-life candidates.
Against this virtual conservative consensus, Dionne is forced to stretch to make his point. For example, he purports to find evidence of a conservative crack-up in Mitt Romney’s support for No Child Left Behind. But that program was the brainchild of President Bush and an outgrowth of his 2000 campaign.
Dionne also cites John McCain’s promise to “reach across the aisle” and work with Democrats. But this was also a centerpiece of Bush’s campaign in 2000, in which he emphasized his ability to work with Democrats in Texas. Unfortunately, the good faith of those Democrats vastly exceeded the good faith to be found among their Washington counterparts, who viewed Bush as illegitimate from day one.
Dionne is justifiably concerned that the Republicans are closer to the poliical center than the Dems, but errs in claiming that this state of affairs stems from a significant change on the part of Republicans.
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