The core of the problem as presented in both stories is that Perry has taken shots at the Bush camp, describing Bush as “never a fiscal conservative” among other things. One Perry aide says the two men are “in the same church, different pews.” In political short hand, Perry seems to be presenting himself as a Reaganite.
Both are surely good men, but it does amuse to hear this kind of stung reaction from the Bush folks. It was, of course, quickly noted by Ronald Reagan’s staff that in 1988 then-vice president Bush decided to campaign as both Ronald Reagan’s heir (in the primaries) and the champion of something called a “kinder, gentler” conservatism in the general election. First Lady Nancy Reagan sweetly wondered at the time: “Kinder and gentler than whom?” Be that as it may, Reagan loyally stuck with his VP and, notably, his vice president stuck to the Reagan legacy in that 1988 election against the liberal Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis as if glued.
Once elected, however, things changed. The Bush “read my lips, no new taxes” pledge was famously broken. The Reagan-Bush divide began to yawn into a chasm. The New York Times quoted an irate Bush aide as snapping: “This isn’t the Reagan White House. It’s the Bush White House.”
And so it went, with the Bush version of conservatism getting thumped by Bill Clinton in 1992.
This latest kerfuffle raises an obvious point. George W. Bush is one of the world’s most decent men. And in terms of a robust, Reagan-esque defense of America in response to 9/11 he was superb. Yet still, there was this nagging business of “compassionate conservatism” — presumably the sibling or first cousin of the “kinder, gentler” conservatism of George H.W. Bush — a political concept so bereft it helped induce the Clinton era.
It may be impolitic for the Perry team to say, but among the Reagan crowd the politely unspoken truth of Reagan conservatism versus Bush “kinder gentler” or “compassionate conservatism” is seen in this fashion
1980 election: Reagan 44 states and 50% (in 3-way race)
1984 election: Reagan 49 states and 58.8%
1988 election: Bush 40 states and 53.4% (in 2-way race)
1992 election: Bush 18 states and 37.5% (in 3-way race)
2000 election: Bush 30 states and 47.9% (winning with a 537-margin in Florida and help from the Supreme Court) 2004 election: Bush 31 states and 50.7% (winning with a narrow 118,000-plus margin in Ohio)
In other words, the Bush version of conservatism has lost out to the Reagan version of conservatism every single time.
So to the extent the Bush-Perry kerfuffle becomes a replay of the Reagan-Bush kerfuffle, one can only marvel that the Bush folks think they have the upper hand in an argument about which set of ideas is better at winning presidential elections.
There may well be a thousand reasons Rick Perry shouldn’t be nominated — and those of us who aren’t Texans will see what’s up. But trying to diss Perry because he separates himself from Bush and, in effect, seems to be approaching a potential race as a discernible Reaganite instead of a Bushie doesn’t seem like a real winner of an idea.
Based on the results of not one but six national elections, Rick Perry and his crew seem to be getting the point.
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