Noam Scheiber is clearly right that it’s a bad sign for Bush that he’s still struggling to shore up and rally the conservative base (posts here and here). I think his characterization of the political tactics and stakes are all just right. But there’s something odd in his diagnosis of how relations between Bush and conservatives have come to this pass.
Rove’s grand plan was to spend the first three years of Bush’s term stroking conservatives’ erogenous zones–lots of tax cuts, conservative judges, regulatory rollbacks, and religiously hued social policy (the administration’s marriage initiative, its efforts to restrict access to abortion, its retrograde stem cell research policies, etc.). The idea behind this stuff was that it would give Bush the political capital to tack leftward during his re-election campaign. But a funny thing happened on the way to the center: Rove discovered that conservatives don’t just want to win on some issues, they want to win on every issue. Conservatives went ballistic over last year’s Medicare prescription drug bill, over additional money for the reconstruction of Iraq, over the deficit and the failure to control spending generally, and over the administration’s perceived indifference to gay marriage. Equally maddening to conservatives were proposals like a manned mission to Mars and immigration reform.
I suppose that every committed activist “wants to win on every issue.” But that doesn’t mean that conservatives unreasonably expect to win on every issue.
Noam’s a smart analyst of party politics; does he really think it’s surprising that conservatives didn’t say, “Well, yeah, we lost on the 400-billion dollar entitlement that was really a 550-billion dollar entitlement, but we won on rolling back the OSHA ergonomic workplace regulations, so we can’t complain”? The marriage initiative is small potatoes. The anti-abortion efforts are (necessarily) restricted to marginal and overseas cases, as long as Roe remains good law, so it’s no surprise that social conservatives don’t feel much placated by them. (NB: I don’t approve of those efforts, but the fact that I don’t like them doesn’t mean that pro-lifers have any reason to be satisfied with them.) The tax cuts seem a lot less appealing when combined with the farm bill, the Mars mission, the drug benefit, the costs of the wars, and the general explosion in spending and deficits; very few conservatives outside a small group of supply-siders think it makes sense to say “Well, we’ve lost big-time on spending and deficits, but we won on taxes, so that’s OK.”
Moreover, it’s not as though Bush has vetoed some spending bills and conservatives are saying “more!” He’s vetoed none.
Protectionism doesn’t appear on Noam’s list, but it matters, too.
As far as the convention goes:
House conservatives are demanding that a prominent pro-life speaker be given a prime-time slot. And this, mind you, is after the White House had spent much of the campaign reaching out to conservatives, as that Post article pointed out yesterday. The convention was really the one campaign event (albeit a big one) the Bushies wanted to put a moderate face on, and even that won’t fly.
I want to emphasize: I’m strongly pro-choice. But, c’mon. Would it really be nuts for social conservatives to want one prime-time pro-life speaker? Does it necessarily make for an immoderate convention to have any social conservatives in evidence– where “social conservative” is defined, not by a fringe position like supporting sodomy laws or stoning for adultery, but by a position that (depending on how the question is worded) between a third and nearly half of voters share?
(In fact, it’s not the case that there are no pro-life speakers. Both John McCain and Zell Miller are pro-life, though one’s a Democrat and one is little-loved by social conservatives. But Noam seems to endorse the thought that demanding even one pro-life speaker would mean that the convention couldn’t have a “moderate face.”)
Bruce Bartlett reminds me via e-mail that
Even we [supply-siders] aren’t happy with Bush. His tax cuts conformed to supply-side principles only in a small way. Most of the revenue was wasted on give-away tax cuts, like tax rebates and child credits, with no supply-side effect.
With all the revenue that was used over the last 3 years on various tax cuts, we could have completely reformed the tax system and probably had money left over to reform Social Security, too. I think most supply-siders view the tax cuts as wasted opportunities. And what was good in them will
probably be reversed when, inevitably, taxes are raised to pay for all the spending Bush has initiated or acquiesced to.
Indeed. Serious tax-cutters want real tax cuts, not intertemporal shifts in the tax burden.