Daniel Larison, Talking Sense

I’ve written about this before, but it’s nice to see Daniel Larison making the point with characteristic clarity in an interview with The Economist:

Iraq was also the policy that turned the public so sharply against President Bush prior to the 2006 mid-term elections, and those elections were and were correctly seen as a rejection of the war and Mr Bush’s handling of it. The war was the main issue of those elections, and the GOP lost control of Congress because it had identified itself completely with the war and its members in Congress continued to be its most vocal defenders. By national-security conservatives, I mean those members of the conservative movement who have a primary and overriding focus on foreign policy and national-security questions, and who typically take extremely hawkish positions. They were the leading advocates and cheerleaders for the invasion. Most movement conservatives supported the policy, but it was the national-security conservatives who drove the party into the ditch while the others went along for the ride.

What is most striking is how easily they have avoided much censure from their fellow conservatives. This has happened in part because economic conservatives have concocted a self-serving and baseless story that the public turned on the GOP out of disgust with excessive spending, and Republican Party leaders have been happy to take up this message now that they are in the minority. For their part, national-security conservatives have not accepted responsibility for Republican political collapse because they do not believe they were wrong, and they are not being forced to face up to their responsibility by their colleagues, many of whom to this day support the decision to invade Iraq.

Of all the policies the Bush administration pursued, it was the invasion of Iraq that wrecked the Republican Party’s reputation for managerial competence and destroyed its traditional advantage on national security. These were two of the key reasons why many people backed the GOP for decades even when they disliked other elements of the party’s agenda. The GOP had acquired a reputation, fairly or not, for being responsible stewards and in practice Republican administrations had tended to be reluctant warriors. More than anything else, Iraq destroyed all of this in a few years.

I don’t always agree with Larison, but I think he is right on target here. Political commentators tend to have a simple answer for why their party was defeated: they didn’t listen to me! And so David Frum or David Brooks will blame social conservatism or Rush Limbaugh. Fiscal hawks will blame profligate spending. Larison’s comments could be placed in a similar class here, except that they have the benefit of tracking with Bush’s approval ratings.

14 Responses to Daniel Larison, Talking Sense

  1. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Well, Larison was certainly wrong about the surge which he vehemently opposed and predicted would fail.


    The war in Iraq was quite popular until the casualties began to mount and the Bush administration appeared to have no plan to win the conflict. That is death for popular support of a war. After Rumsfeld was finally dumped, Bush listened to Petraeus and carried out a war-winning plan, but by that time it was too late. I do think however that Republican unpopularity in 2006 had more to do with the accurate perception that Republicans had been profligate in spending in Washington. The Iraq War was a major secondary factor in 2006, but I do not think it played much of a role in 2008, an election in which the economic meltdown in September was devastating to Republicans. Then the Democrats took over the White House with broad majorities in Congress and demonstrated to the Republican amateurs how true pros in wasteful and feckless spending went about things.

  2. John Henry says:

    I have a hard time accepting the idea that deficit spending was a significant factor in 2006. For one thing, the deficit spending was basically half of what it was in 2004 when Bush won re-election, and it was trending downwards in 2005, 2006 and 2007. As the deficit picture was improving, Bush’s approval ratings were sliding.

  3. Paul Zummo says:

    The Iraq War was probably the main reason for the GOP losses, but there were so many factors – scandals, deficits (yeah, they were going down, but the Bush-led GOP was seen as no longer living up to conservative principles economically), an unenergetic base (thanks to the previous point), fall-out from Katrina (which ties in with administrative incompetence in Iraq as well), etc.

  4. Blackadder says:

    The problem with blaming Republican defeats on excessive spending is that such spending went on for years and no one really cared. It was only when the party was already hurting because of Iraq that it became an issue.

  5. Art Deco says:

    The Republican Party never had but quite modest pluralities in both houses of Congress. With few exceptions, it is the norm for the President’s party to lose ground during midterm elections, most particularly during midterm elections held during a second presidential term (for whatever reason). It would have been a historical oddity had the Republicans retained Congress, without regard to the ambient concerns of the electorate.

    The article to which Mr. McClarey links is instructive. Unless I am mistaken, Mr. Larison’s time in the military approximates that of Madonna Ciccone. All of his formal education has been in pre-modern history or in the liberal arts at an institution which (as we speak) offers one (1) course in either military history or national security studies. The guy must be a hell of an autodidact. I see has been adding to his portfolio skills as a diviner of public opinion as well (and the results of his dowsing are that the general public’s irritation is a precise replica of his own – Frank Luntz, your consulting business is in danger).

  6. Donald R. McClarey says:

    “The problem with blaming Republican defeats on excessive spending is that such spending went on for years and no one really cared. It was only when the party was already hurting because of Iraq that it became an issue.”

    Much of the Republican base has always cared. Ross Perot used that to devastating effect against George Bush in 1992. George Bush with his “compassionate conservative” spending programs exacerbated the problem. Contra Larison the response to 9-11 and the seeming victory in Iraq in 2003 helped mask this problem in the 2002 and 2004 elections. When Iraq went South, disgruntled Republicans over spending saw no reason to turn out in 2006, and there was great dissatisfaction with McCain in 2008 and his support of the Bailout Swindle of 2008. The tea parties are merely an outward manifestation of a growing concern with fiscal folly that has been building for well over a decade. Republicans ran in 1994 as the party to bring fiscal sanity to Washingon, and initially they did to some extent. The years under Bush convinced too many Republicans that there wasn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the parties on the issue of government spending. The Democrats this year have convinced many of those same Republicans that they were wrong.

  7. restrainedradical says:

    Find me two people who voted Democrat in 2006 because the Republicans were spending too much.

  8. Art Deco says:

    Find me two people who voted Democrat in 2006 because the Republicans were spending too much.

    More likely, it would be people who abstained and added to the plurality of the Democrats by default.

  9. Paul Zummo says:

    Again, I don’t know that it was deficits per se, but rather a feeling that the GOP had lost its way generally on economics issues. As Art Deco noted, the primary impact there was influencing core GOP voters to stay home.

  10. John Henry says:

    Well, maybe, but my guess is that it deficits were more of a second order effect. By 2006, Bush’s approval ratings had tanked, primarily because of Iraq (and Katrina). To say that deficits were the real problem or even a major one requies an explanation for

    1) Why Republican voters did turnout in 2004 when deficit spending was much higher, and why reductions in deficit spending between 04-06 convinced those voters to stay home.

    2) Why Republican voters were so different from the rest of the electorate that it wasn’t Iraq, Katrina, etc that depressed turnout when it pretty clearly was what drove most of the rest of the country.

    There’s not any way to prove this one way or the other, of course. But I think the fiscal irresponsibility account is pretty implausible as a primary driver, even if it undeniably is a first order consideration to a vocal but small contingent on the right (like, for instance, Ron Paul supporters). Most people don’t pay attention to politics much, and that’s certainly true of the deficit.

  11. jh says:

    I have a feeling it was more of a “Change” election in 2006 than any one factor. It happens. It does nto seem fair but it is what it is.

    We should also recall in 2006 that “Joe” Lieberman” was target number one over the Iraq war and he won.

    What the various branches of the GOP and the conservative movement really hate to admit is that they were too busy fighting each other and calling each other RINOS. They seemed to have forgot there were democrat challengers. This nasty counterproductive scorched earth policy started happening around the Dubai Port controversy and just got worse. Add to that a few unfortunate scandals and the Washington Post making all out war on the VA GOP Senator and it was a bad day.

    Also another point. WE lost a ton of hispanic vote largely because we could not police our own on a highly emotional debate.

    Did the Iraq war play a role in some places. Perhaps but when I look at some blue dog victories that occured in other places the ansewer is no there.

  12. jh says:

    Regarding fall out from Katrina. I really wonder how much that was a factor. I think on the whole the public was much more sophisticated about that. In Louisiana the GOP did not suffer for it from what I can tell. It did not show up in the Congressional races in the last two cycles

  13. Pinky says:

    Larison’s argument assumes that the fiscal and defense conservatives are two separate teams.

    “Most movement conservatives supported the policy, but it was the national-security conservatives who drove the party into the ditch while the others went along for the ride.”

    That sounds like scapegoating. If all the hawks jumped off a bridge, the movement conservatives shouldn’t have followed them. In reality, hawks are movement conservatives. There may be some conservatives who promote military strength, fiscal soundness, or traditional social values more, but there’s too much overlap between their policies to identify many of them as single-issue conservatives.

    Furthermore, the invasion of Iraq didn’t harm the Bush Administration. The apparent failure in Iraq, along with the Mark Foley scandal, added to the natural midterm loss for the president’s party.

    The lack of Republican fiscal high ground was a major cause of their losses in 2008. And again, there weren’t economic conservatives who lost their way, or who are trying to spin old military failures to their advantage. The Party lost its way fiscally.

  14. American Knight says:

    Y’all keep referring to Republican voters and who they voted for, I don’t get it. Republican voters always vote for Republicans. Republicans lose because non-Republican voters who tend to vote for Republican candidates may or may not vote for them depending on what they actually do.

    Iraq could have been over in 18 months if we fought it right. The problem was Rumsfeld and the liberal neo-cons that were extending the conflict for nefarious purposes. Compassionate conservatism was code for spending like Democrats to sway the liberal-leaning Hispanics because they are seen as the future of the party, since it is a forgone conclusion in Republican circles that blacks are lost to the murderous Democrats (responsible for the murder of a third of all conceived Negros over the last 40 years!). ANd white voters are being overrun by brown immigrants and lack of reproduction. This is all conventional thinking and it is wrong.

    Republicans only win by default because they are less bad than the Democrats. Of course a charismatic leader, an orchestrated economic crisis and non-conservative Republican stooge makes for a great way to intentionally lose an election and keep the money rolling in to ‘win’ next time. Gimme a break.

    There is hardly a difference between the two parties and most Americans are so ignorant of the purpose and intent of government that they will vote for the jerks that promise the most stuff or the idiots who promise not to let them, but let them anyway.

    This is a dying system, if it isn’t dead yet. How do the Republicans recover?

    Oddly enough it will be the same way the Church will. Ditch the lying, sniveling, liberal relativism and honestly stick to principles of truth and Truth. Do the right (pun intended) thing especially when it is unpopular. And be doers of the conservative principles.

    Republicans have the same choice to make as the two sons from yesterday’s Gospel reading. Are they going to keep saying the are conservative and act like slightly less liberal Democrats, or are they actually going speak moderately and behave in a principled, conservative manner?

    Republicans lose because they lie, Demoncrats win because they will double your freebies if you vote for them within the next 15 minutes. Call now for more free crap.

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