President Romney Won’t End Conservatism

December 5th, 2011 at 7:00 am | 44 Comments |

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In an interview with Laura Ingraham, George Will despairs of the choice between Gingrich and Romney as GOP frontrunners:

Ask yourself this: Suppose Gingrich or Romney become president and gets re-elected – suppose you had eight years of this…What would the conservative movement be? How would it understand itself after eight years? I think what would have gone away, perhaps forever, is the sense of limited government, the Tenth Amendment, Madisonian government of limited, delegated and enumerated powers — the sense conservatism is indeed tied to limitations on federal authority and the police power wielded by Congress — that would all be gone. It’s hard to know what would be left.

In a column, Will doubles down on this line of criticism.

Will is no fan of Romney, but he is an even bigger opponent of Gingrich, whom he calls the least conservative candidate. Instead, Will suggests Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman (whom more and more pundits have been giving a second look) as “conservative” alternatives.

I’m not sure that Will’s despair here is entirely justified, however. After all, look at some of the salient points of George W. Bush’s domestic record:

• Tax-cuts that were not offset by spending decreases and thereby added to the deficit (It’s amusing to read a Heritage report from 2001 that predicted that the Bush tax-cuts would lead to the near-elimination of the federal debt by 2011).

• Exploding government spending.

• Anemic economic growth (well below the averages of past decades).

• Enormous deficit spending.

• No Child Left Behind, which sets the stage for the federalization of public education and was probably the greatest expansion of federal power over education that the nation has ever seen.

• Sundry other expansions of federal power, including the ban on the traditional tungsten incandescent bulb, which currently has conservatives up in arms.

• A housing bubble (which the administration’s policies encouraged).

• A near-economic meltdown.

This list is partial, and doesn’t consider the cases of the almosts that the Bush administration fought hard for but failed to achieve (such as Justice Harriet Miers). Bush’s whole “compassionate conservatism” was premised on expanding federal power in order to achieve certain “compassionate” ends.

Somehow, small-government conservatism survived President Bush, and I see no reason why it could not survive some of the GOP presidential contenders, some of whom have a far more conservative campaign theme than Bush ever did. For example, though Will derides Romney as a “manager” or something, Romney’s proposed policies would seem to have no small potential for promoting the aims of small-government conservatism.

To return to Will’s column attacking Gingrinch for a moment, there’s another point I’d like to look at:

Romney’s main objection to contemporary Washington seems to be that he is not administering it. God has 10 commandments, Woodrow Wilson had 14 points, Heinz had 57 varieties, but Romney’s economic platform has 59 planks — 56 more than necessary if you have low taxes, free trade and fewer regulatory burdens.

I think this formulation is a little glib. Consider “fewer regulatory burdens.” The fact is that we currently live amidst a complex of regulations. Every regulation depends upon every other regulation (as traditional conservatism would recognize). So it’s not enough to get rid of regulatory burdens but to revise these burdens in the right way. Under Bush, certain regulations were gotten rid of, but the intersection of this “deregulation” and other regulations that were kept in place brought American to the brink of a financial collapse. Will may sneer at technocratic tendencies, but skill in finessing current regulatory regimes would be no small aid to small-government policies.

Originally Posted at A Certain Enthusiasm.

Recent Posts by Fred Bauer

44 Comments so far ↓

  • Fart Carbuncle

    Anybody But Obama.

    • medinnus

      Huntsman, then Obama.

    • Ray_Harwick

      “if we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose”

      Romney attributing McCain staffer quote to Barack Obama. Go for it.

  • jquintana

    George Will is clearly smoking crack these days. Huntsman as more conservative than Romney? Huntsman is the most left-of-center candidate in the Republican field. And endorsing Perry??? Perry is a dumber, less-articulate version of George W. Bush, if that’s even possible…we don’t need to go down that road again.

  • Reflection Ephemeral

    Bush’s whole “compassionate conservatism” was premised on expanding federal power in order to achieve certain “compassionate” ends. Somehow, small-government conservatism survived President Bush …

    Afraid these two consecutive sentences contradict each other.

    As Bush left office, he had a 28 percent approval rating from independents– and a 75 % rating from Republicans, according to Gallup. According to an ABC/WaPo poll, Bush left office with 34% approval from independents, and 68% from Republicans– but 82% from self-professed “conservative Republicans”. Over the course of his presidency, Bush received an average of about 80% approval of “conservative Republicans”. (Substantiation here: ).

    Bruce Bartlett– who was excommunicated from conservatism for bringing up the deficit during Bush’s presidency– helpfully explained, “Today, Republicans believe that deficits are nothing more than something to ignore when they are in power and to bludgeon Democrats with when they are out of power.”

    Also– you could include Raich v. Gonzales, torture, warantless wiretapping, and the botched & unnecessary occupation of a foreign country in the parade of not-exactly-small-government conservative actions that conservatives cheered all throughout the Bush administration.

    Small-government conservatism is dead. Today’s US conservatism is about hating perceived enemies. Nothing less, nothing more.

    • medinnus

      “Small-government conservatism” cannot exist besides an imperial interventionalist military state, which is what America has become; you can’t throw trillions of dollars at defense budgets and have a small government administrate it, let alone orchestrate it as a defense posture.

  • mlindroo

    > Huntsman as more conservative than Romney?
    > Huntsman is the most left-of-center candidate in the Republican field.

    Hm, I am not so sure! Others have pointed out Huntsman’s tenure as Utah governor was not particularly left-of-center.

    What Huntsman’s done is that he’s made a number of contrarian, left-of-centre statements about the GOP needing a dose of tough love. Predictably, Republican partisans strongly dislike him for saying it! But if they were smarter, they would see through Huntsman’s BS smokescreen (=the Rolling Stone article etc.) and instead look at this track record as Utah governor. I think deeds matter more than words, but of course some Republicans still long for NJ “RINO” Chris Christie just because he likes to insult unions and other Democratic interest groups.


    • Reflection Ephemeral

      Well, this is exactly the issue.

      Conservatism no longer involves any policy beliefs. It is, instead, a negative attitude toward outsiders. Huntsman has a conservative record of governance, but Republicans don’t care about governance. They want to hear mean, false things about the president and about people and groups they believe to be not part of the tribe. Huntsman worked for the president, and has indicated that he’s an empiricist on climate change and evolution. So he has zero chance.

      • Demosthenes

        I think it is beneficial to distinguish between dispositional Conservatism and movement Conservatism. The idea being that Conservatism as a disposition is more about resisting change than about a set of policy prescriptions (such as ending the Fed or getting rid of various Cabinet departments), actually I would describe those kinds of ideas as dispositionally radical in the sense of calling for quick and dramatic changes in the social/political order. Movement Conservatives are currently in control of the internal Republican discourse, however there are still dispositional Conservatives out there, and part of what makes them Conservative by disposition is their patience. There is a reason Mitch Daniels and John Thune and others decided not to run in 2012.

        • Reflection Ephemeral

          Mitch Daniels was George W. Bush’s budget director. Paul Ryan voted with the Bush administration over 90 percent of the time, as I believe did Thune.

          So sure, there are dispositional Conservatives out there. But they’ve all left the Republican Party.

    • Graychin

      It’s very hard to place Romney on the liberal/moderate/conservative spectrum because he doesn’t show any signs of having core beliefs at all.

      Except in making money in vulture capitalism, and out-doing George Romney with a successful run at the presidency.

  • dante

    Lol, I hadn’t seen this angle of spin coming…

    Neither of the GOP frontrunners are ‘Conservative’, so that when they lose we’ll still be able to claim that it’s because we didn’t nominate a *true conservative* to run.

    That’s…. brilliant! The story from 2008 was “we didn’t nominate a true conservative, McCain was a liberal, and *that* is why we lost”, and this is just the 2012 version. Whichever guy is #1 or #2 in the polls obviously isn’t a true conservative, and therefore they still have that line of attack to continue taking over the Republican party. I’d hoped that the Tea Partiers would get it all out of their system with Perry/Cain/Gingrich, but now apparently Gingrich *isn’t* a true Conservative (but Huntsman is?). You can bet that if Huntsman starts leading in the polls, suddenly he’s not going to be Conservative enough either.

    Damn this guy’s good…

    • think4yourself

      Yep, if the eventual GOP candidate loses, no matter who it is they’ll say it’s cause he wasn’t conservative enough (maybe they won’t say that if it’s Ron Paul). If the GOP candidate wins – and then must govern with a Senate that will require 60 votes to do anything, they’ll still say he isn’t conservative enough – just like Daily Kos, et al are saying Obama has abandoned liberals.

      • dante

        Ron Paul’s not conservative! He doesn’t believe in “exporting democracy” at the end of an M-16, therefore he’s obviously not a conservative…

        But yes, whoever gets the nomination (and loses) is going to be accused of not being “conservative enough”.

  • TerryF98

    Somehow, small-government conservatism survived President Bush, and I see no reason why it could not survive some of the GOP presidential contenders,

    Yes it did, the country however was nearly destroyed. We do not want another dose of that for at least 50 years. The country will not survive another dose of ‘Conservatism”.

    • medinnus

      As with the Constitution, the current Right Wing pays lip service to small-government ideology, but the lie may be found in many of their positions.

      “The Constitution is great… except for that thing about the judicial branch, and pretty much the whole Bill of Rights. Also, any social engineering we want to do needs to be done by amending the Constitution, because otherwise liberal states won’t play along.”

  • ottovbvs

    This is such a nonsensical debate. Federal and state budgets exceed $5 trillion which makes it the largest amount of govt expenditure in the world. We live in what has been called the Administrative State that is dominated for all practical purposes by the Executive and bureaucracy which have a virtual monopoly of knowledge and control of all the management processes. Who does Will think he’s kidding? This is purely a debate about moving the goalposts a few feet and management competence at guiding and operating that immense machine that is THE ADMINISTRATIVE STATE. This is more important than it would seem not because government is going to shrink but because it clearly isn’t going to shrink. When Bush took office he was clearly a lightweight but in all honesty I didn’t think he could do too much harm. How wrong I was.

    • Demosthenes

      Who does Will think he’s kidding?

      The same people who buy his in-Washington-but-not-of-it schtick.

  • Nanotek

    I’d hate to be a Republican…

  • Frumplestiltskin

    Bauer left out two biggies under Bush, the Patriot Act and Medicare prescription drug plan.

    Here is (failure of the) Will: I think what would have gone away, perhaps forever, is the sense of limited government, the Tenth Amendment, Madisonian government of limited, delegated and enumerated powers

    Yet Will never states that why this would be a bad thing, he just assumes saying Madison like he is a Jesus like figure is sufficient. Less and less government does not automatically equal awesomer and awesomer. When are Republicans going to realize it is not 1800, that there is no vast untapped continent out there, that the conditions of government that were sufficient in 1800 are not sufficient now? For example, the reason we need federal education standards is because Americans move and a uniform system of education benefits all children, it will also benefit employers as children will be educated in a more efficient manner, this will also help out global competitive advantage. Or we can pretend it is Little House on the Prarie, where kids learn ciphering in a one room school house. (and for Conservatives they really seem to think this is an idyll)

    • Demosthenes

      Or we can pretend it is Little House on the Prarie, where kids learn ciphering in a one room school house. (and for Conservatives they really seem to think this is an idyll)

      The alternate intellectual universe of FOX and friends seems to be popular in the homeschooling movement. Epistemic closure + insulated environment. Recipe for disaster.

    • jakester

      It matches their literalistic and fundamentalist outlook on religion. Founding Fathers, blah blah blah

      • Reflection Ephemeral

        You know, the concept of sharia didn’t develop in Islam until well after Muhammad’s death. Later clerics constructed it by trying to determine what the prophet & his closest pals thought about given issues.

        The glib, determinedly disengaged view of the Founding Fathers from folks like George Will and Michele Bachmann– “the Founding Fathers were God’s perfect oracles on Earth! They have the answers to all problems! They worked to end slavery!”– comes from a desire to substitute self- and ancestor-worship for moral reasoning. Presumably, Bachmann is so preoccupied with sharia because she recognizes it as a close substitute, and therefore a competitor.

  • Graychin

    Will makes less sense with every column. I have no idea why anyone pays attention to him anymore. I have no idea why his editors stubbornly refuse to fact-check his misstatements of fact – especially about climate change.

    But you guys really shouldn’t panic over the assertion that “conservatism” will be lost. As long as there are liberals, there will be conservatives. It’s a yin/yang thing.

    But don’t miss the point that the Bush II Administration pretty much did mark the end of David Frum Republicanism. Your party invited in all the religious nutjobs and libertarian absolutists, and sold its soul to Grover Norquist. And what did you get in exchange? Your current presidential field and Leaders Boehner and McConnell. And President Obama.

    That’s what.

    • jakester

      He always seem to work the phrase “baby boomer narcissism” into his column. I think that is a macro on his word processor.

  • jdd_stl1

    I was curious to look at the “Heritage report from 2001″ cited in this piece as amusing.
    I couldn’t get past the first sentence of the Introduction:


    President George W. Bush and Congress are currently engaged in a major debate on the issues of reducing the record-high tax burden and addressing a number of problems in the tax code. ”

    What “record-high tax burden” would that have been in 2001? Very amusing.
    Great clown-car reading.

  • icarusr

    “I think this formulation is a little glib.”

    A better critique of the entire Will oeuvre I have not seen.

  • LFC

    I lost all respect for George Will when his desire for global warming to be false created a haze so thick in front of his own eyes that he though this graph represented falling temperatures since 1998. Anybody who can’ t grasp the basics of a trend line needs to simply bow out of an argument they aren’t intellectually prepared for. Instead he doubled down on stupid when real scientists called him on it.

  • jakester

    Will is smarter and has more integrity than the average Conservative talking fathead these days, but that is such a low bar that it is almost meaningless.

  • jdd_stl1

    Can you imagine George Will interviewing Newt Gingrich?
    They would each spend the whole time trying to demonstrate
    how they were each smarter than the other.

  • smajor

    “A housing bubble (which the administration’s policies encouraged).”


    The thing that I hope that happens to the Republican party is that it starts basing its positions on actual evidence.

    • valkayec

      GW Bush’s Admin. did promote homeownership…and bragged about it.

      • smajor

        Yep, he did. And the evidence strongly suggests that people who bought homes to live in them- those who benefited from these policies, had little to do with the crisis. If we look at actual evidence, like this report:

        then it becomes clear that speculative investment (people buying 3,4,5 houses to then flip them) fueled by low interest, low down payment lending supplied by banks (not the government) caused the pricing bubble.

  • valkayec

    I read the Will article over the weekend. I was curious why he disliked both candidates. However, since Obama became president, I’ve stopped listening to anything Will says as he’s lost all reasoning powers to his hatred/dislike/antipathy (whatever it is) towards the President. His opinion pieces have become rants and screeds. It’s also worth noting that he said and wrote little criticizing Bush during Bush’s 2 terms. It’s hard to take Will seriously anymore.

  • nhthinker

    Romney has not changed since 2006: but some pundits opinions of him have:
    Here’s a favorite from Eric Erickson:
    “Giluiani had leadership. Romney had conservatism. Make no mistake about that.

    The people who want a conservative have found their man, it seems. Mitt Romney was pitch perfect and willing to talk social issues — something totally missing from Giuliani’s speech. And people noticed.

    I have to say that it was a tremendous speech. I actually could not listen to all of Rudy’s, but Mitt’s was great.

    He poked fun at John McCain subtly. He spoke negatively about McCain-Feingold and McCain-Kennedy. He pulled at the heart strings of social conservatives, something Giuliani did not even attempt.

    Giuliani was introduced by George Will, who made the point that Rudy made New York governable and Rudy is a Thatcher conservative.

    Mitt was followed by Ann Coulter who put the red meat conservative seal of approval on him. It was an excellent speech that should resolve all fears conservatives have about Romney.

    The race is on — it’s now between Rudy and Mitt. McCain is a non-starter.”

    Here is a favorite from George Will:
    “Wednesday, November 1, 2006

    Even before the votes are counted, over the Republican Party a “thick darkness broodeth” — words from a Victorian hymn, for a party with a Victorian tendency. But one Republican, who is not running for anything this year, will emerge from this bruising season with enlarged prospects. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s hopes for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination have been enhanced by Virginia Sen. George Allen’s difficulties.

    Romney’s most formidable rival for the Republican nomination is John McCain, who needs a crowded field of Republican aspirants to prevent the conservative majority of the party’s nominating electorate from quickly coalescing around a single candidate. Allen once seemed likely to compete with Romney for conservatives’ support. ”

    Erickson and Will viewed Romney as a conservative in 2006- one that likely would win. Now they claim Romney is not a conservative based on not a single change in position since 2006. Both Erickson and Will ended up with different horses to bet on in 2008 and NEVER mentioned flip-flopping until this election cycle.

  • Candy83

    Months ago, George Will said that being the candidate who will be sworn in for the next four years [on Jan. 20, 2013] will be “one of three people”: [Indiana Gov.] Mitch Daniels, [ex-Minnesota Gov.] Tim Pawlenty, or President Barack Obama. Not long thereafter he dismissed [former Speaker of the House] Newt Gingrich as “not a serious candidate.”

    Well there will, Mr. Will, be a 2012 Republican nominee for president of the United States. And, of course, Mr. Will knows this, and he dreads what is obvious: ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. And it doesn’t please him that Newt hasn’t been neutered after all.

    I think the Washington Post columnist dreads it. It’s not what George Will has said on ABC’s This Week; it’s the unspoken, which has become obvious. I think he senses a GOP lost at sea and a landslide re-election for President Obama.

    Oh, and speaking of not serious, neither is this field of GOP reality-competition candidates.

    Perhaps after Donald Trump, the RNC can get as the next moderator another reality-competition host: Survivor‘s Jeff Probst.