Electoral post-mortem in advance
If there is any politician who has a right to blame George W. Bush, it's John McCain. In 2000, the one man standing in the way of McCain's quest for the presidential brass ring was Bush. In 2008, the one man standing in the way of McCain's quest for the presidency is Bush (and his sub-30% approval rating and 90±% nation-going-in-the-wrong-direction rating). Sure, McCain's opponent this time around is Barack Obama, but the Bush legacy of incompetence and cronyism--ladled with a big helping of economic crisis--is going to crush the McCain campaign into little tiny bits. A good debate performance won't change a thing. I'd like to be wrong, but the electoral map paints the picture .
There were several major presumptions the GOP held that George W. Bush frittered away during his time in office: We had better answers on the economy, we were superior to the Democrats in national security, we knew how to control spending, we were the party in favor of a smaller and more retrained government, and we were the more ethical party in the wake of the Clinton years. All gone.
Bush did not impose enough fiscal discipline while in office, then a mortgage crisis happened on Bush's watch, followed by a financial markets crisis. There goes the economic presumption. Bush blew it on Iraq, first by screwing the pooch on WMD intelligence and then by mismanaging a war for three-and-a-half years, costing us thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of our money. There goes the majorities in both houses of Congress, there goes Donald Rumsfeld and there goes the presumption that military-friendly Republicans knew how to run a war.
During the Bush years, we doubled our national debt and our president signed one big spending bill after another. Our budget deficit is going to be around a half a trillion. So much for controlling spending. In terms of ethics, we've had Rovian campaign tactics, an administration that was okay with violating international conventions on detainee treatment, and presidential appointees whose politicizing was only exceeded by their gross incompetence.
Bottom line, we deserve to lose, but given the substandard performance of the Democratic majority in Congress, not by much.
So how to go forward? To me, the first step is new leadership, especially in the House. Second, we need to challenge Barack Obama if and when he moves too far to the left. I predict he'll have a decent honeymoon period, given the dismal approval ratings of the Reid-Pelosi Congress. Back in 1993, Bill Clinton had more serious challenges with Congress because his Congressional counterparts weren't hyper-partisan lightweights. Obama has a natural advantage, not only of winning this election but of confronting fellow party members while in office, if he has the stones to do it.
What else? Plenty. Militarily, the GOP can stand behind the Petraeus plan for Iraq and a similar counterinsurgency plan for Afghanistan, and we can challenge Obama if (and perhaps when) he guts our military presence in Iraq too quickly. Conservatives should push for a more highly trained and adaptable and versatile military, combining high tech with high training.
Ethically, we need to clean house. Given the 2006 electoral aftermath, quite a bit has been done already, but we can do more and better. This is another reason why we need new leadership. We can't adequately combat Democratic corruption if we allow corruption in our own party.
Fiscally, we need to focus on eliminating waste, and we can do so by re-allying with Citizens Against Government Waste and the Concord Coalition and other similar groups.
Philosophically, we need more conservative think tanks, and those think tanks need to re-think what conservatism is all about. To me, we need to recognize that 20% of our economy is the government, and that it needs to be run competently while at the same time we should try to restrain its growth and intrusions. On immigration, conservatives have lost the argument. We should settle for comprehensive reform and try to work in as much border control as can be had. Conservatives should work to expand political and economic freedoms, both domestically and abroad, and protect rights.
We've lost the debate on health care, and I honestly have no idea what a conservative model for health care is. We've partially lost the debate on taxes. When it comes to income taxes, Obama prevailed. Because of this, we should push for tax simplification and for reasonable reductions in taxes on business and capital gains.
Communications-wise, we could use a conservative version of Media Matters and ThinkProgress to challenge the narratives and storylines put out by a non-conservative media (only 7% of national media were self-described conservatives in a survey a few years back). We need better internet forums (the 3.0 version of Redstate sucks , for example). We're going to be in the wilderness for a while, so conservatives are just going to have to get more chatty and more activist. In talk radio, Rush Limbaugh and others were influential in growing the conservative movement, but they also dumbed it down. We need fewer Hannitys and Levins and more Medveds and Bennetts. We need fewer slogans and more complete thoughts. Rush Limbaugh needs to untie the half of his brain that's tied behind his back.
Just a couple of thoughts.