Many conservatives disliked this whole mind-set and the policies behind it, from comprehensive immigration reform to Medicare Part D.
Many conservatives muted their objections, in part because they actually liked the man personally or because they approved of his stances on tax cuts, judges, abortion and, most important, the war on terror (we can see a similar dynamic with so many antiwar liberals who still support Obama).
Conservatives didn't necessarily bite their tongues (remember the Harriet Miers and immigration fiascoes), but they did prioritize supporting Bush -- often in the face of far nastier attacks than Obama has received -- over ideological purity. Besides, where were conservatives supposed to go? Into the arms of John Kerry?
The 2008 GOP primaries compounded conservative frustration. Because there was no stand-in for Bush in the contest, there was no obvious outlet for anger at Bush's years of pre-surge Iraq bungling or his decision to outsource domestic spending to Republican congressional ward-heelers. Then, as a lame duck, Bush laid down the predicates for much of Obama's first 100 days, supporting both a stimulus and Wall Street bailouts. As one participant of the D.C. Tea Party rally told the Washington Examiner's Byron York, "George Bush opened the door for Barack Obama and the Democrats to walk in."
According to last week's NYT/CBS poll of tea party supporters, 57 percent have a favorable view of Bush, but that hardly captures the nuance of tea party feelings. For instance, when Bush's face appeared on the Jumbotron in the arena, the Cincinnati audience applauded. When speakers criticized Bush and the GOP for "losing their way," the audience applauded even louder.
Going by what I saw in Cincinnati, second to a profound desire to rein in government, the chief attitude driving the 39 percent of tea partiers who describe themselves as "very conservative" isn't partisanship, racism or seizing the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia. It's "we won't be fooled again." In the near term, that spells trouble for Obama and Democrats. In the long term, that lays down a serious gauntlet for Republicans.
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