Steve Benen points out that the Republican candidates are finally talking about the Bush years. But they aren’t big fans:
We’ve reached the point in Republicans politics at which GOP candidates are considered too liberal if they sided with the Bush/Cheney administration on most key areas of domestic policy.
Indeed, as Jon Ward added, Rick Santorum felt the brunt of these criticisms because he was, by 2012 standards, too loyal to the conservative Republican president in office during his congressional career.
The message to the American electorate is therefore rather striking: “Vote Republican in 2012: We won’t be moderate like that Bush guy was.”
What to make of this? For starters, I actually have some sympathy for this position. I won’t repeat chapter and verse here, but I’ve argued a few times before that although George Bush was a temperamental conservative, he actually governed pretty moderately, especially on domestic issues. With the exception of tax cuts and judicial appointments, most of his legacy is either centrist or actively liberal.
This is an old argument that I won’t rehash except to say that conservatives unquestionably believe it’s true. And this explains a lot about the current race. In 2000, conservatives were determined to avoid another George H.W. Bush, so they picked a candidate whose dedication to conservatism seemed unassailable. And as far as they’re concerned, even that didn’t work out. Not because of Katrina or the wars or the economic collapse — all the stuff the rest of us hold against Bush — but because of NCLB and Sarbanes-Oxley and the Medicare prescription bill and the inexorable rise in spending during his watch. So what are you going to do? If even George W. Bush turned out to be a poser, this time around you’re going to demand absolutely ironclad guarantees of orthodoxy. Thus the right-wing game of one-upmanship that’s turned the Republican primary into such a clown show.
It all makes sense, in a weird kind of way. After all, you know the old saying: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, can’t get fooled again. No one’s going to get fooled this time around.