There was a touchy relationship between President Reagan and his Vice President George H.W. Bush. They were rivals during the primaries. Bush attacked the Reagan economic agenda as “voodoo economics.” Bush served faithfully as VP for eight years but Reagan and Bush never warmed to one another. There was precious little rapport between the populist figures populating the Reagan circle and the Eastern establishment retinue of the son of the patrician Sen. Prescott Bush.
When George H.W. Bush’s turn came he talked like Dirty Harry, “Read my lips. No new taxes.” When the moment of truth came, George H.W. Bush blinked, raising taxes. His presidency was liquidated by the perfect storm of a Reaganite base revolted by the abandonment of a solemn campaign pledge plus a tax-increase induced recession. Bush pere was a conservative and a very decent man. He was hornswoggled by elegant Mandarins like Dick Darman.
George W. Bush, as good as, and more conservative than, his father, was hornswoggled too. He campaigned on the theme of “compassionate conservatism.” That phrase, like his father’s “kinder and gentler nation”, implied a certain pitilessness in Reagan conservativism. The implications complied with the liberal caricature of Reagan. Pitilessness, however, reflected neither the self-concept of most Reagan loyalists nor our splendidly humanitarian outcomes (such as the dramatic reduction of the Misery Index). Real conservatives saw Reaganomics as a way of creating broad-based opportunity, not as catering to the rich. It worked out exactly that way … in America and throughout the world. The blossoming of free market principles — especially low tax rates and good money — brought billions of souls out of poverty, from subsistence to affluence.
In an intraparty succession barely noticed by the mainstream media the Bush forces supplanted the Reagan forces within the GOP. Keepers of the Reagan legacy tended to end up at positions of respect and influence within the conservative movement. For example Reagan intimate, counselor, and attorney general Edwin Meese III long has held a prestigious office with the Heritage Foundation, the flagship of the Washington conservative establishment. Even though Meese was a General in the Reagan Revolution, though, his influence on a Bush cohort-dominated GOP — one that chiseled Reagan onto Rushmore while ignoring Reagan’s philosophy — is constrained.
Mandarins of the Bush (pere and fils) cohort sought and received mere token presence in the conservative establishment. They sought, and achieved, rather, vast influence in the Republican Party. Mandarin Karl Rove, comrade of Bush pere’s campaign guru Lee Atwater, became the dominant partisan figure.
The enormity of (and surprise at) the defeat of Romney is a huge setback — and perhaps fatal — to the Bush Mandarins’ hegemony over the GOP. If so, the potential re-ascendency of the Reagan wing of the GOP will prove very bad news for liberals and excellent news for the Republican Party. The Reagan wing now can resurge. A resurgence already has begun.
Many of the same Mandarins that delivered a stagnant economy to President(s) Bush had a hand, directly or indirectly, in misguiding McCain, and then Romney, to resounding defeat. This catastrophic performance may discredit, permanently, Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, among others, with the donors. The Mandarins’ Svengali-like power over the donors was the major source of their power. If even a substantial minority of the donors are fed up with Rove it will open the field for a generational change in party leadership … and direction.
The Reagan Renaissance
Dislodging the death grip of Karl Rove from its throat would put a new generation of political leaders in charge of the Republican Party. The new conservative Republican leaders are strikingly formidable. The leaders of the new generation, like Reagan, and Kemp, before them (and Kennedy still earlier), all recognize the power of the “rising tide lifts all boats”.
The Reagan campaign ethos was distinct from the tactics of “naked cruelty” perfected by Bush pere’s political gunslinger Lee Atwater. (Atwater, may he rest in peace, publicly repented and apologized to his victims before his tragic, untimely, death). Yet the politics of naked cruelty were transmitted into the political culture by Atwater’s comrade, Rove, and his doppelganger on the Left, David Axelrod.
And both the Bush Mandarins and Obama Consiglieres have complemented their politics of naked cruelty with policies of economic stagnation. A Reagan Renaissance promises to restore a political culture of hardball political decency, economic growth, and conservative values.
Eight Republican Reagan Renaissance Men are entering their prime. Removing Rove’s death-grip on the party, with party donors now freed to pursue principled victory rather than a prestige brand name, the Reagan Revolution now can morph into a Reagan Renaissance.
The Reaganesque Governors
Mike Pence was just elected governor of Indiana. Full disclosure: this columnist headed up a tiny superPAC whose mission was to persuade Pence to run in 2012. Many consider Pence to be Reagan 2.0. He certainly is a figure who demonstrated extraordinary, perhaps unique, moral courage (and great judgment) in a lonely opposition to Rove when Rove was at his peak of power. Politico, on the unsuccessful effort to sweep Pence onto the 2012 board:
“If he does run, it’s clear that Pence would particularly appeal to an element of the GOP that has always resisted the establishment and been wary of the Bush crowd — the kinds of conservatives who originally preferred Jack Kemp over the elder Bush.
“And at a moment of pronounced regret among GOP and tea party activists about the expansion of government that took place under George W. Bush, Pence’s distance from that brand is seen as an unalloyed asset.
“’I don’t know of anybody else [in the field] who stood up to Karl Rove,’ said Benko, touting Pence’s opposition to No Child Left Behind, the costly prescription drug benefit and TARP. ‘He has fought for fiscal restraint harder than anybody I know.’”
Pence, however, has a worthy gubernatorial rival for the Reagan mantle. Sam Brownback is a dazzlingly Reaganesque success as governor of Kansas. Brownback just implemented the largest income tax cut in Kansas history. At the same time, he reversed a $500 million deficit into a $500 million surplus, reducing the size of state government by 4,000 positions. Brownback’s state budget director, Steve Anderson, is pioneering a method of accounting that holds government programs accountable for their cost-effectiveness — just like private sector companies have to be. He’s posted it to the Kansas Budget Director’s Office website for the world to emulate. This is revolutionary.
The Reaganesque Senators
Three Senators stand out as leading New Generation Reaganites: Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and the newly minted Ted Cruz. (The great Jim DeMint, of course, has term-limited himself into the role of a deeply respected elder statesman.)
Rubio already has earned rock star quality, both for his personal charisma and the charisma of his ideas. Rubio is a leader in presenting prosperity-with-social-equity, fostering Reaganesque economic policies:
“We don’t need new taxes. We need new taxpayers, people that are gainfully employed, making money and paying into the tax system. And then we need a government that has the discipline to take that additional revenue and use it to pay down the debt and never grow it again. And that’s what we should be focused on, and that’s what we’re not focused on.”
Rubio leads the pack among GOP Insiders in the most recent National Journal Political Insiders’ Poll. He’s built a major league team and is first tier.
Suave Rand Paul does not have the same “Insiders” appeal. Yet Paul almost certainly will be able to capture the energy of many of the followers of Ron Paul, his retiring father, while continuing to champion a refinement of his father’s profound Jeffersonian libertarianism. Paul will be formidable in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, a chance to catapult himself into contention. And Rand Paul is far more Reagan Renaissance than Bush Mandarin.
The most interesting newly minted U.S. Senator is Texan Ted Cruz … who campaigned on a distinctively broad-based economic growth platform. Mother Jones’s Tim Murphy calls him “the Republican Barack Obama.” Cruz, in NRO:
“President Obama has presided over a substantial dollar decline against gold and other commodities, and a highly unstable dollar relative to other major currencies. The volatile dollar distorts investment, reduces business confidence, and hampers international trade.” … “In sum, rather than take the proven path to economic boom — the path of Reagan, as well as Jack Kennedy in the Go-Go 1960s and Calvin Coolidge in the Roaring ’20s … President Obama has willfully added huge new costs and red tape on business, proposes a major tax increase starting on January 1, and has presided over a highly unstable dollar.”
A Reagan Renaissance man.
The Reaganesque Congress
In the House, three rising stars stand out as leaders of the Reagan Renaissance. These are Kevin Brady, Jim Jordan, and, of course, Paul Ryan.
Kevin Brady, vice chairman of the Joint Economic Committee, makes himself a man to be reckoned with by a proposed comprehensive spending reform — “the MAP” to cut federal spending fat by more than trillion dollars over the Ryan Plan. Brady also gains national respect with his Sound Dollar Act — about which America is likely to be hearing much more, soon. Brady promises thereby to place the growth potential of a rule-based monetary policy at the fore of the national debate. With Obama re-elected, picking a smart monetary policy fight is among the smartest things the GOP can do.
Rep. Jim Jordan has made a smart crusade for economic growth policy a signature matter. He promotes a five point economic growth agenda, including, unprompted, monetary reform. It is reminiscent, in its simplicity and potency, of Reagan … and of Kemp. Of possibly equal importance to his policy agenda is Jordan’s disposition. Jordan — like Kemp — is one of few championship athletes to have served in the House. Athletes instinctively understand winning and losing. They know that incremental gains are important only in respect of whether they bring one closer to final victory. Jordan, a Hall of Fame collegiate wrestler, clearly understands the Agon.
And then there is Paul Ryan. Rep. Ryan’s status as Romney’s running mate, notwithstanding the loss, brings him to the fore. Ryan has focused more ardently on balancing the budget than on generating growth. This is a complicated issue and has minuses as well as pluses. Yet Ryan is a savvy, disciplined, energetic leader. He successfully made himself into a conservative rock star and shrewdly wooed most of the mainstream conservative establishment into backing his Plan. And Ryan has an authentic grasp of the critical importance of monetary policy. This is an ace up his sleeve.
Economic growth and the equally important cultural, values, and civil liberties issues such as life, marriage, and religious liberty, are issues that were marginalized by the Bush Mandarins. Yes, the Mandarins were kind of mostly against tax increases and kind of for some tax cuts and sometimes for spending restraint, except when they weren’t. But the Mandarins were not obsessed with generating economic opportunity as was Reagan and his Revolutionaries. And the Mandarins proved far too squeamish to engage with the values issues which are both principled conservative and vote rich. But the elitist Mandarins, not the populist Revolutionaries, seized control of the party apparatus. And it was all down hill from there.
Neither the left nor the mainstream media understand the existential difference between the Reagan Revolutionaries and the Bush Mandarins. Will the Republican financial, media, and other elites grasp this very critical distinction? Whether 2012 was the liberal triumph or the liberal last hurrah depends, in part, on whether the GOP Bigfoots notice the distinction and take heed.
If the party elites begin to shift some meaningful resources, and authority, to the Reagan Renaissance … as embodied by the rising new generation of officials dedicated to prosperity and moral courage … the election of 2012 will prove out not to have been a liberal triumph. 2012 will prove to be the calm before the storm as the Reagan Revolutionaries return from the political wilderness and settle in to generate the long-delayed Reagan Renaissance.