Waiting for the Reckoning

February 8, 2013 9:51 a.m.

TPM Reader JB (a former GOP staffer if I remember right) doesn’t think either side of the current GOP struggle has reckoned with the first decade of this century …

I don’t think I rely on analysis dripping with the smugness and self-satisfaction your correspondent NS displays.

Instead, let’s eschew the pop psychology jargon and look at the public record. Both the Tea Party types and the big GOP donors represented by Karl Rove were fully on board with just about everything the Bush administration said or did. For all their zeal now, the only major policy issue on which Republicans now aligned with the Tea Party ever clashed with Bush was immigration reform — for which Bush himself, remember, didn’t actually fight that hard.

Neither side in this putative civil war has been willing to reckon honestly with the consequences of the Bush administration for the country (substantively) or the Republican Party (politically). Both do their best to present their views to the public as if the last Republican President had never existed. This has left both groups of activists somewhat unmoored; in politics, you talk ideology and principles when you can’t brag about accomplishments, because voters are a lot better at relating the latter to their own lives.

Since neither the Tea Party types or the big donors and the campaign operatives working for them are thinking of repudiating a Republican administration that lost two wars and wrecked the economy, they are left to air their differences on issues no one besides campaign junkies cares about. The self-styled conservatives complain that Rove and his people say mean things about them; the moneybags wing is dedicated to recruiting candidates who will avoid gaffes. Big deal.

Republicans in the 1930s and Democrats in the 1980s both resisted strongly the idea that their respective parties had earned defeat at the polls. In each case, several election cycles (and epochal world events) were required to restore the fortunes of the party that had earned the kind of defeat the Republicans suffered last fall — when a black incumbent Democratic President whose first term had coincided with the worst recession in 80 years nonetheless won reelection easily. It’s because neither the Tea Party nor the moneybags faction will face the real reason for that debacle that they are facing off against one another now.

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