Conservative and Republican pundits (not necessarily synonymous terms) are lining up to whack the Bush piñata in the time-honored tradition of kicking ‘em when they’re down. There appears to be a broad understanding that the president is weak. Analyst after analyst tries to forecast the outcome of November’s midterm elections based on what we know today (see here, here and here). Authors pen books ascribing historical significance (both pro and con) to the Bush presidency with almost three years yet to go (see here and here). People that write and/or talk for a living endlessly pelt elected officials with advice on how to do their jobs (see here).
Of course, this is America, where we are the government. Not only do we have a right to tell our politicians how to do their jobs, we have a duty to do so. But as is the nature of advice, much is useless blather. Some of it, like Fred Barnes’ suggestion that the President deny the loyalty that is a core part of his personality in favor of a complete administration overhaul, borders on insanity.
Most of all, I think a lot of these people are disappointed. Everyone assumed Bush would be a weak president in the aftermath of the 2000 elections, but he surprised us all by governing with a strong hand. Then 9/11 changed everything. After gaining decisive control of both houses of Congress in the 2002 elections, Republicans (especially conservatives) figured that they were finally poised to achieve their greatest aspirations. They looked forward to a golden era where all of the goals that had been impossible for so long would soon become reality.
Less than four years later, many of these people are asking what happened. Americans have grown weary of the war. They question whether democracy can be achieved in the Middle East and whether it will make us more secure if it is achieved (see here). On the domestic front, President Bush has turned out to be far from a Reagan conservative. He’s not even a Rockefeller Republican, but spends more like a Lyndon B. Johnson on steroids (see here). The pay-to-play spendthrift Republicans in Congress that have exposed the way politics has always worked there haven’t helped matters much either. They are casting about for some strategy that will look good to constituents, at least until November 8. Uncomfortable supporters are abandoning ship (see here).
Jonah Goldberg says here not to make too much of the current level of dissatisfaction. He chalks it up to an internecine power struggle resulting from Republican conservatives feeling like they’re being taken for granted. Goldberg notes that conservatives didn't squawk much about the President's agenda when the President was more popular. He echoes the common sentiment among Republicans looking ahead to November that at least they’re not as bad off as Democrats, who lack any kind of coherent agenda beyond hating President Bush.
I truly don’t understand this type of self-delusion. Republicans with this kind of attitude don’t ignore conservative dissatisfaction, but they seem to discount it, assuming that conservatives have nowhere else to go. Some are quick to note that President Bush gave them two Supreme Court justices, cut taxes (at least temporarily), and deposed Saddam. What more can they expect?
Despite the strident calls by some for third party activism, most conservatives that see the Republican Party looking less and less like themselves will simply express their disenchantment by abstaining from the political process. Echoing Peggy Noonan’s disappointment, many conservatives wonder if it could be any worse with a Democrat controlled Congress and/or White House. If Democrats by default gain control of one or both chambers of Congress, it will not be due to their superior ideas, but because they seem like the least bad alternative to the people that actually vote.