The GOP has moved so far to the right that the word “moderate” has a new definition: Moderate – n. A Republican who dares to appeal to people who weren’t going to vote Republican anyway.
Given this definition, George W. Bush ran for his first term as president as a moderate.
“I don’t think they ought to balance their budget on the backs of the poor,” Bush said in 1999, as House Republicans were plotting to defer money from the Earned Income Tax credit that was scheduled to go to low-paid workers. He also blasted the House GOP for projecting a “disdain for government.”
The then-governor of Texas was reacting to a House majority that turned a “Republican Revolution” into two unpopular government shutdowns and an even more unpopular impeachment of an incredibly popular president. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” was an intentional attempt to distance himself from the irascible politics of former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who had been caught in public admitting that he wanted to let Medicare “wither on the vine.”
The governor knew that as anxious as his party’s base was to be done with the Clintons, the country didn’t want the divisive, revenge-happy House GOP in the White House. They wanted someone who was a “uniter not a divider,” as W. described himself, over and over.
The truth was that in 1999, George W. Bush had the credentials to back up his appeal beyond the GOP base. He won almost half of his state’s Latino vote when he was re-elected in 1998 and made the traditionally Democratic wheelhouse of education a central theme of his campaign. He also had the conservative credentials and last name to safely make these appeals to conservatives, who would probably have nominated an actual elephant in 2000 if it was pro-life and could beat Al Gore.
Bush steamrolled over a weak Republican field and was competitive enough with Gore that the Republican Supreme Court gave him the least convincing presidential “victory” in American history. The “uniter” acted as if he had a mandate bigger than Ronald Reagan’s and went on to immediately blow Clinton’s hard-won surplus while dividing the country in seemingly irreparable ways. His complete lack of foreign policy experience was exploited by hawks determined to justify huge military spending, and the rest is history.
In 2013, Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) is trudging down the George W. Bush path to the presidency — and no one seems to be noticing.
Actually, Democrats appear to be going out of their way to help the governor rack up the kind of landslide with the kind of support from non-white voters that made Bush’s nomination inevitable. In unison, it seems, Democrats are refusing to call out how Christie’s failed policies that favor the rich, while bullying workers and women, have resulted in an 8.5 percent unemployment rate — tied with Mississippi and Tennessee for 41st in the nation — along with little improvement to the state’s miserable bond rating.
In fact, the only politicians who have landed any blows on the governor were on Mitt Romney’s VP vetting team.