Ex-Bush Officials Flee the Party of Reagan and Trump - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Ex-Bush Officials Flee the Party of Reagan and Trump
Donald Trump at a rally in Florida, October 13, 2020 (Stratos Brilakis/Shutterstock.com)

Here’s the headline at U.S. News & World Report on this story from Reuters:

Exclusive: Dozens of Former Bush Officials Leave Republican Party, Calling It ‘Trump Cult’

And here was the headline on the same story from the Hill:

Former Bush officials leave GOP over failure to disown Trump: report

The U.S. News story from Reuters said, in part, this, bold print for emphasis supplied:

(Reuters) — Dozens of Republicans in former President George W. Bush’s administration are leaving the party, dismayed by a failure of many elected Republicans to disown Donald Trump after his false claims of election fraud sparked a deadly storming of the U.S. Capitol last month. 

These officials, some who served in the highest echelons of the Bush administration, said they had hoped that a Trump defeat would lead party leaders to move on from the former president and denounce his baseless claims that the November presidential election was stolen….

Kristopher Purcell, who worked in the Bush White House’s communications office for six years, said roughly 60 to 70 former Bush officials have decided to leave the party or are cutting ties with it, from conversations he has been having. “The number is growing every day,” Purcell said.

Their defection from the Republican Party after a lifetime of service for many is another clear sign of how a growing intraparty conflict over Trump and his legacy is fracturing it.

The party is currently caught between disaffected moderate Republicans and independents disgusted by the hold Trump still has over elected officials, and Trump’s fervently loyal base. Without the enthusiastic support of both groups, the party will struggle to win national elections, according to polling, Republican officials and strategists.

OK. Full stop.

For those who came in late, this struggle has nothing — say again, nothing — to do with Donald Trump.

What this is all about is nothing more than the latest chapter in the eternal fight between conservatives and the GOP Establishment.

A classic example from the past is 1964. Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater is on the verge of being nominated, having won more than enough primaries and state conventions. Along the way he defeated not one but two GOP Establishment Republican favorites: New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and Pennsylvania Gov. William Scranton. No one was more prominent in his opposition to the conservative Goldwater than Michigan Gov. George Romney. Yes indeed, the father of Mitt. As Goldwater’s victory inched closer, Romney made a point of holding a press conference to denounce him. Said this GOP Establishment favorite of Goldwater:

If his views deviate as indicated from the heritage of our party, I will do everything within my power to keep him from becoming the party’s presidential candidate.

When Goldwater finally was nominated, Romney refused to even sit on a platform with Goldwater, so deeply did he and his Establishment pals loathe the Republican nominee. Suffice to say, now-Sen. Mitt Romney’s loathing for the conservatives who are Trumpers comes with a serious family pedigree.

While Goldwater was defeated in the fall — Lyndon Johnson’s liberal Great Society politics were at high tide and a horrified nation was still reeling from the assassination a year earlier of the very popular President John F. Kennedy — the Goldwater campaign famously launched the career of conservative actor Ronald Reagan.

Two years later, overcoming the GOP Establishment’s staunch opposition, Reagan was nominated and elected governor of California in a million-vote landslide — immediately becoming a prospective future nominee for president.

And the GOP Establishment’s reaction to the idea of Reagan as a GOP presidential nominee? Not to mention the liberal media’s reaction? I described it here in The American Spectator in 2015, saying this:

  • New York Times: “Reagan’s candidacy is ‘patently ridiculous.’ ”
  • New York Times: “The astonishing thing is that this amusing but frivolous Reagan fantasy is taken so seriously by the news media and particularly by the President [Gerald Ford]. It makes a lot of news, but it doesn’t make much sense.”
  • New Republic: “Ronald Reagan to me is still the posturing, essentially mindless and totally unconvincing candy man that he’s been in my opinion ever since I watched his first try for the Republican nomination evaporate in Miami in 1968.”
  • New Republic: “Reagan is Goldwater revisited…. He is a divisive factor in the party.”
  • Harper’s magazine: “That he should be regarded as a serious candidate for President is a shame and an embarrassment for the country at large to swallow.”
  • Chicago Daily News: “The trouble with Reagan, of course, is that his positions on the major issues are cunningly phrased nonsense — irrationality conceived and hair-raising in their potential mischief…. Here comes Barry Goldwater again, only more so, and at this stage another such debacle could sink the GOP so deep it might never recover.”
  • Time: “Republicans now must decide whether he represents a conservative wave of the future or is just another Barry Goldwater calling on the party to mount a hopeless crusade against the twentieth century.”
  • Newsweek: Ronald Reagan is “a man whose mind and nerve and mediagenic style have never been tested in Presidential politics and may not be adequate to the trial.”
  • National Review (a conservative magazine): “Reagan’s image remains inchoate.… At the outset of his campaign, his image is largely that of the role-playing actor — pleasant on stage, but ill-equipped for the real world beyond the footlights. Reagan does not yet project the presidential image. He is not seen as a serious man.”
  • Manchester Union-Leader (a conservative New Hampshire paper): Reagan “lacks the charisma and conviction needed to win.”
  • Pravda, the official newspaper of the Soviet Union: Reagan is a “dinosaur from the ‘cold war.’… It is strange that there are still fish in the sea that are tempered by this putrid bait.”

That was just the Establishment media. Next up were the icons of the Establishment Republican Party of the day.

  • The Ripon Society: “The nomination of Ronald Reagan would McGovernize the Republican Party.”
  • Vice President Nelson Rockefeller: Reagan is “a minority of a minority” who “has been taking some extreme positions.”
  • New York’s Republican Sen. Jacob Javits: Reagan’s positions are “so extreme that they would alter our country’s very economic and social structure and our place in the world to such a degree as to make our country’s place at home and abroad, as we know it, a thing of the past.”
  • Illinois Republican Sen. Charles Percy said Reagan’s candidacy was “foolhardy” and would lead to a “crushing defeat” for the Republican Party. “It could signal the beginning of the end of our party as an effective force in American political life.”
  • Former President Gerald Ford: “I hear more and more often that we don’t want, can’t afford to have a replay of 1964.” If the Republican Party nominates Ronald Reagan “it would be an impossible situation” because Reagan “is perceived as a most conservative Republican. A very conservative Republican can’t win in a national election.” Asked if that meant Ford thought Reagan can’t win, Ford replied to the New York Times: “That’s right.” The Times story went on to observe that Ford thought “Mr. Reagan would be a sure-loser in November” and that Reagan held “extreme and too-simple views.”

Sound familiar? Of course it does.

What all these Never Trumpers have exactly in common with the Never Reagan Establishment of years ago is their despising not just the man himself but the voting base that both Reagan and Trump voters represented. Social class — not principle — was and remains the be-all and end-all for Establishment Republicans.

In his memoirs, my old boss Ed Rollins, the Reagan campaign manager in his 1984 landslide victory, wrote this of Reagan’s decision to form a unity ticket with the very Establishment George H. W. Bush, whom Reagan had defeated in the 1980 primaries (emphasis added).

What I didn’t realize at the time was that we’d just cut the fuse on our own revolution. The conservatives had won, but then surrendered the future back to the eastern establishment moderates….

In the end, Ronald Reagan had won the battle and handed his sword to the losers…. At the very outset of the revolution, the seeds had been sown for its undoing.

That future did indeed arrive. To be clear, George H. W. Bush was a genuine American hero and a thoroughly kind and decent man. But he was a GOP Establishment man to his core. And the seeds Rollins mentions produced not only Bushes but also a McCain and another Romney. And this Establishment takeover of the GOP began immediately after the first George Bush, running on Reagan’s record, defeated the left-wing Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee in 1988.

In his book The Age of Reagan: The Conservative Counterrevolution: 1980-1989, Reagan biographer Steven F. Hayward wrote of exactly how this worked with Bush’s election victory.

But the first order of business for the Bush transition was turning out all of the Reaganites as quickly as possible. It was said of Bush appointees that, unlike Reaganites, they had mortgages rather than ideologies.[Heritage Foundation co-founder] Paul Weyrich said that he had always feared that the election of Bush meant the arrival of “country club Republicans who couldn’t wait for the end of the Reagan administration.” [Reagan Secretary of State] George Shultz’s top aide at the State Department, Charles Hill, recalled, “It was suddenly clear that this would be an adversarial transition. The new people were not friendly. The signals were: get out of here as fast as you can.” Newt Gingrich cautioned, “We are not Bush’s movement.”

Thirty-two years later in 2021, nothing has changed. All those headlined “Dozens of Former Bush Officials” who “Leave Republican Party, Calling It ‘Trump Cult’ ” are nothing more or less than the latest edition of Establishment Republicans who despise working Americans they see as so down-scale as to be absolutely unworthy of their party.

In fact? There is a cult inside the GOP. It is the Cult of the GOP Establishment.

As the Trump Revolution, like the Reagan Revolution before it, expands the party’s base, bringing in more African-Americans, Hispanics, blue-collar workers, and others, one can only feel less than sorry at the departure of the GOP Establishment’s members.

Hopefully the door doesn’t hit them too hard on the way out.

Jeffrey Lord
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Jeffrey Lord, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is a former aide to Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp. An author and former CNN commentator, he writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com. His new book, Swamp Wars: Donald Trump and The New American Populism vs. The Old Order, is now out from Bombardier Books.
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