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.
Of course, it’s easy to make an argument against Christie becoming the inevitable GOP nominee in 2016.
There are actual pictures of him being collegial with a guy the GOP base is pretty sure is the Antichrist — President Barack Hussein Obama. Christie is soft on Sharia, occasionally critical of fellow Republicans when convenient and even willing to admit that gun rights can be well regulated.
He’s also in a post-Bush, post-Tea Party GOP where you can be “primaried” for not being willing to primary yourself.
All of these arguments ignore the simple realities of how 2016 is shaping up. The 2016 election will give the GOP a chance to erase the accomplishments of Obama the way Bush evaporated the gains for the middle class made by Clinton. More importantly, Republicans know that if they don’t win, they lose any hope of maintaining a Supreme Court that reflects the beliefs of the Wall St. Journal editorial board.
Christie is also blessed with far-right opponents with little to no foreign policy experience, who will likely elbow and claw and filibuster each other, hoping to win over the approximately 50 percent of voters in GOP districts that identify with the Tea Party or evangelicals. That leaves the other half of the party — the half that chose Mitt Romney, John McCain, George W. Bush and Bob Dole — as fertile ground for Christie’s message: I will win.
And the governor can point out to his conservative competitors in his well-practiced combative style that he’s a generic conservative who has cut taxes for the rich, taken on the unions and defunded Planned Parenthood — and actual Democrats still love him for it.
Christie reveals a simple truth of politics that Republicans have tried to ignore: People want to vote for someone they like. And they like Christie — even Shaq likes Christie.
If you don’t understand why, watch this video:
He’s an actual conservative politician who can talk like a human being. He doesn’t seem as if he detests you for not being a rich, white conservative.
In today’s GOP, that makes someone with an extremely conservative record a “moderate.” And as we learned from George W. Bush, it also makes him dangerous.
Photo: Bob Jagendorf via Flickr