Peggy Noonan: Conservatives Should Break From The Bush Administration And Family

The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan has written a column that is perhaps the bluntest call yet for conservatives to distance themselves from the Bush administration.

And it contains an even even more no-holds-barred comment on the two Bush Presidents’ governing styles.

What political conservatives and on-the-ground Republicans must understand at this point is that they are not breaking with the White House on immigration. They are not resisting, fighting and thereby setting down a historical marker–“At this point the break became final.” That’s not what’s happening. What conservatives and Republicans must recognize is that the White House has broken with them. What President Bush is doing, and has been doing for some time, is sundering a great political coalition. This is sad, and it holds implications not only for one political party but for the American future.

The White House doesn’t need its traditional supporters anymore, because its problems are way beyond being solved by the base. And the people in the administration don’t even much like the base. Desperate straits have left them liberated, and they are acting out their disdain. Leading Democrats often think their base is slightly mad but at least their heart is in the right place. This White House thinks its base is stupid and that its heart is in the wrong place.

And, indeed, immigration is just the teeny-weenie tip of the iceberg.

In considering Noonan’s main point, you could slice the immigration issue totally off, and you’d still have to note profound differences between this administration’s central ideology (to retain and expand political and executive branch power) and traditional Republican conservatives who insist upon following Barry Goldwater’ and Ronald Reagan’s cherished principles.

Yet, traditional conservatives have been driven into the circled covered wagons by the Bush administration to defend policies that are in some cases radical. And how? By using the late 20th century America’s most identifiable and potent political tactic: demonization of the opposition. If you believe your opponents have horns and pitchforks, you’ll work until your last breath against them.

Noonan writes a paragraph that suggests that now even Republican critics are concluding that the Emperor has no clothes…or if he does, they’re awfully tacky ones:

The president has taken to suggesting that opponents of his immigration bill are unpatriotic–they “don’t want to do what’s right for America.” His ally Sen. Lindsey Graham has said, “We’re gonna tell the bigots to shut up.” On Fox last weekend he vowed to “push back.” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff suggested opponents would prefer illegal immigrants be killed; Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said those who oppose the bill want “mass deportation.” Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson said those who oppose the bill are “anti-immigrant” and suggested they suffer from “rage” and “national chauvinism.”

Why would they speak so insultingly, with such hostility, of opponents who are concerned citizens? And often, though not exclusively, concerned conservatives? It is odd, but it is of a piece with, or a variation on, the “Too bad” governing style. And it is one that has, day by day for at least the past three years, been tearing apart the conservative movement.

But it’s NOT just the conservative movement that has been dealt with “insultingly,” almost contemptuously by this administration. The U.S. for the past six years has had many “concerned citizens” who are Democrats, independents and moderates who’ve received the exact same treatment that conservatives are now experiencing.

Never in American history have we seen a presidential administration so intent at utilizing ‘divide and rule’ as a way to stay in power. History is not peppered with Presidencies where the words “consensus” or “compromise” are considered words for wusses.

Nor have we seen an administration that so frequently uses the tactic of whipping-up hatred against those who oppose it on policy and/or routinely discrediting them, rather than trying to engage critics on the left AND on the right with substantive arguments that counter criticism of policies or proposals.

Meanwhile, Noonan takes this a step further by saying something about both Bush presidencies that others may have been too polite to write:

One of the things I have come to think the past few years is that the Bushes, father and son, though different in many ways, are great wasters of political inheritance. They throw it away as if they’d earned it and could do with it what they liked. Bush senior inherited a vibrant country and a party at peace with itself. He won the leadership of a party that had finally, at great cost, by 1980, fought itself through to unity and come together on shared principles. Mr. Bush won in 1988 by saying he would govern as Reagan had. Yet he did not understand he’d been elected to Reagan’s third term. He thought he’d been elected because they liked him. And so he raised taxes, sundered a hard-won coalition, and found himself shocked to lose his party the presidency, and for eight long and consequential years. He had many virtues, but he wasted his inheritance.

Bush the younger came forward, presented himself as a conservative, garnered all the frustrated hopes of his party, turned them into victory, and not nine months later was handed a historical trauma that left his country rallied around him, lifting him, and his party bonded to him. He was disciplined and often daring, but in time he sundered the party that rallied to him, and broke his coalition into pieces. He threw away his inheritance. I do not understand such squandering.

Now conservatives and Republicans are going to have to win back their party. They are going to have to break from those who have already broken from them. This will require courage, serious thinking and an ability to do what psychologists used to call letting go. This will be painful, but it’s time. It’s more than time.

Can Republicans say in a crystal-clear manner that it’s time to move on from the Bush eras? And can they stand for principles that won’t shift with the latest White House talking points or campaign to whip up its supporters against its opponents — proudly and firmly figuring that the strength of their ideas and arguments will persuade voters?

Or will they they fall into this administration’s trap of assuming that when voters agreed to lend George Bush I and II the executive branch it was actually a kind of divine entitlement, with nearly-unfettered power and that the rest of the country — Democrats, independents, AND Republicans with whom they don’t agree — could go Cheney/McCain themselves?

  • casualobserver

    Yes, the watershed has occurred for me as well and Noonan puts a nice articulation to it.

    Thanks for posting this article, Joe.

  • Shaun Mullen

    Noonan deeply values loyalty to party and cause. She gets it exactly right in stating that Bush has devalued both. As casualobserver notes, this indeed is a watershed moment in the great exodus from the Bush Disaster.

  • kritter

    ‘But it’s NOT just the conservative movement that has been dealt with “insultingly,” almost contemptuously by this administration. The U.S. for the past six years has had many “concerned citizens” who are Democrats, independents and moderates who’ve received the exact same treatment that conservatives are now experiencing.’

    This is certainly true enough. It was fine when the Democrats and moderates were the ones who were unpatriotic but now that its Bush’s own base, Noonan finally notices the divisive nature of this administration? Its ok to allow this country to be torn in two and ignore gross administrative incompetence out of party loyalty?

    The scary part is we have a CIC who’s expanded the executive role in an unprecedented manner for Republicans, yet whose public support diminishes daily because he doesn’t know how to win over opponents only how to crush them. Bush and Cheney only understand legalities, they don’t get that soft power-i.e. popular support is just as necessary for an chief executive’s success as constitutional powers.(many of which they expanded in a debatable way)

  • Rudi

    They’re going to leave because of “brown skinned” people are coming. Yet, the poorly planned war is OK. If they’re breaking up because of immigration, good riddance.

  • casualobserver


    I accept you are entitled to your day of “indignation justified”. Have at it.

    I will be waiting to see, however, how well the Dems “eschew party for country”.

    Rudi, if you must insist on propagating partisan slander, at least get your criminal charges correct. If there is a motivation at work other than “existing laws and logical enforcement”, then it is would be much more believable to charge economic and cultural driven classicism than racism.

  • casualobserver

    And no, the poorly planned (and EXECUTED) war was not OK.

    But you failed to grasp a key point of Noonan’s article as to why the “defense” lasted as long as it did.

  • Chris

    Glenn Greenwald has some interesting analysis about the Noonan piece:

    The idea that there were more than a tiny handful of conservatives who thought “the war was wrong” is absurd on its face, but Noonan’s claim that conservatives objected to “expanding governmental authority and power” is so false that it does not belong in any newspaper, not even on The Wall St. Journal Editorial Page. What rank revisionism that is.

    To the extent that the “conservative base” has split with the President at all on the question of “expanding governmental authority and power,” it has been on the ground that they think he has not expanded such power and authority enough. They crave more.

    The “conservative base” in the last GOP presidential debate reserved their cheers for Mitt Romeny’s moronic call to “double Guantanamo,” and for Tom Tancredo’s yearning for Jack Bauer. The more enthusiastically a candidate defended torture and lawless detentions, the louder the cheers were. The “conservative base” favors torture, and arbitrary detention powers, and oversight-less surveillance — even beyond what the Bush administration has embraced.

  • kritter

    CO Well, I remember the Carter years when the president’s biggest enemy
    was not anyone on the Republican side- but Ted Kennedy, who thought that the president was not sufficiently dedicated to liberal causes. Before him LBJ split the Democratic party over his handling of Vietnam and civil rights legislation. Even in the Clinton years, the Democrats were angry because Clinton was a fiscal conservative and supported welfare reform.

    I think the amount of rubber-stamping from the GOP under Bush 43 has been unprecedented- maybe it comes from an uber-partisan identification brought on by Ronald Reagan’s 11th amendment, which forbade criticizing someone from one’s own party. In any case, it has proven disasterous for the country at large. As frustrating as its been to see the Democrats’ disunity over the war, at least they didn’t vote in lockstep out of party loyalty alone.

  • Rudi

    causual – The Mexican illegals worked in Michigan for many, many years. Todays “brown skinned” law breakers are the 1970’s and 1980’s “migrant workers” who harvested crops and performed day labor. Today they clean rooms, do factory meat cutting and construction, what is different today. If corparate farms and service industry had a modern “cotton gin”, the illegal labor would dry up.

  • casualobserver

    Chris, thanks. Clearly, conservatives were waiting for guidance from the world’s most famous leftwing sockpuppet on how they “really felt” about things.

    I concede you need to gloat, but insulting our intelligence will only gives us motivation to regroup faster.

    The left would be wiser to recognize when things would be better (for them) left alone.

  • casualobserver

    Rudi, I take your point on the “economics” of illegal laborers. However, this issue is going to also rip asunder the assumption that conservative grassroots are in lockstep with business.

    I am assuming BushII is doing this mostly, if not fully, for his business constituency…….but the polling already confirms it comes at the cost of his individuals constituency.

  • kritter

    I still think conservatives like Peggy Noonan should have broken with the president long before this, especially since there were a host of other issues they were deeply unhappy with. He broke with conservative principles they claim to care deeply about, yet they did nothing until this immigration issue came to the forefront.

    That the conservative base gave him a pass and continued to defend the indefensible makes them culpable as well, for the damage he has wrought. Noonan is a little late in coming to the table.

  • Chris

    Remind me again, are you for or against our use of torture?

  • casualobserver

    Chris, Entropy convinced me he’s got the most learned view on that subject here. Nonetheless, I would not hesitate to use a waterboard on Glenn Greenwald.

  • Chris

    And what’s Entropy’s view… it’s hard to keep track :-)

  • casualobserver

    Since left leaning browsers cannot open Redstate, Here’s a snapshot of just how riled “the base” has become…………..

    Which of these would you prefer?

    The final two years of the Clinton Administration

    The final two years of the G. W. Bush Administration

  • casualobserver


    I have no earthly idea of why you are hijacking this thread onto torture, but basically he said “befriending” has shown more productive results……unless the person was trained to resist (in that case, you just shoot ’em in the head and move on.)

  • casualobserver

    ‘But it’s NOT just the conservative movement that has been dealt with “insultingly,” almost contemptuously by this administration. The U.S. for the past six years has had many “concerned citizens” who are Democrats, independents and moderates who’ve received the exact same treatment that conservatives are now experiencing.’


    I said I would, today, agree to ratify your idignation. However, extending this to apologies and TMV group hugs, I’m not THAT beaten down yet…lol!

  • Sam

    I think this is great. What she is really calling for is for the ultraconservatives to leave the party. The moderate ones, those who can look down the road farther than the ends of their noses, those who have read the constitution once or twice and remembered it, those who understand fiscal responsibility, will be left and the republican party can get back to what made it appeal to so many in the first place.

    I can only hope that at some point a similar call goes out to the Dems and then we can get some real statesmen back in DC and start living up to the reputation past generations have earned for us.

  • J. Eugene Norton


    Cheap season agricultural labor is very economically advantageous; cheap citizens – Mexicans who do not return when their contract is over is very disadvantageous.

    Example: the socially and economically deplorable conditions in all of the border towns in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California – a fast spreading cultural rot throughout these states.

    With each deportation these states will look, smell, and sound less like Mexico.

    Ron Paul, as president would permanent solve this chronic problem, by total deportation and immigration law reforms.

    Contrary to the belief of the powerful Mexican Lobby, not every American can be bought, to betray his country.