There is no question that Bush was part of the problem for the Republicans this year. Even after two terms for a popular President, there is a fatigue factor that works against his party in retaining the White House and Congress. The problem is multiplied exponentially when the President's popularity rating is in the tank. And why had Bush dropped so much in public esteem? First he lost the party base by letting spending go through the roof. Compassionate Conservatism may have helped Bush politically in the short run, but it was a time bomb waiting to go off in his and our faces. It is now recognized that his handling of Iraq after the invasion was inept, until the Surge. He lost more support by teaming with McCain and the Democrats to force amnesty for illegal aliens down our throat. True, he did try to reform some of the institutions whose collapse triggered the current economic crises, but his teaming with Democrats on the bailout caused further unrest among his former supporters.
This being acknowledged, do I regret my two votes for him for President? No. (I am not going to go into a detailed analysis of what he did right, that is for a post to appear after he leaves office.) In 2000, who was there to vote for? McCain? He would never had beaten Al Gore. Keyes? Oh Please! Yes, many Republicans voted for Bush because he was seen as a "winner." Of course that should not be the sole reason to vote for any candidate. But Bush was the only viable alternative. I need not go into the necessity of voting for Bush over Kerry with my fellow Conservatives.
Now the fact that Bush was the party's only viable candidate in 2000 points out the Conservative Dilemma regarding its rivalry with Liberalism/Socialism.
First, who is it that generally gets elected President? Those whom the public knows little about or those who have been out of the national spotlight for years. FDR was a Governor, not a Washington politician. Eisenhower was not a political figure. JFK was a Senator, yet he was an unknown quantity. Nixon had been out of office for eight years. Carter was totally obscure. Reagan was a former Governor. Clinton was a Governor. Bush II ditto. Obama is certainly the most obscure in his origins of any recent President. Ever since the election of James Polk in 1844, most of those elected President were what we call "Dark Horses." Our greatest President, Lincoln, was one of the most unknown quantities ever to reach the White House.
If we look at the roster of Republican candidates from the 1990's, almost all of them were well known Washington insiders: Dole, Kemp, Quayle, Graham. While we have two potential leaders in state office now, Palin and Jindal, why is there such a dearth of quality Conservative Republican political figures outside of Washington that can rise to national leadership?
The first element of the Conservative Dilemma is that there is a natural antipathy among Conservatives to make government a career. Conservatives distrust government and have no desire to control peoples' lives. They may consider it an honor to represent the people for a while, but they have no desire to make public service a lifetime calling. Liberals, on the other hand have an overwhelming desire to achieve control over every aspect of our private lives and are willing to spend their lives regulating you and me, patiently waiting for the day when we will have finally surrendered all our liberties to the governing class.
The second element is that Liberalism/Socialism lends itself to lofty rhetoric. Political stars are made of those who can roil the passions of the ignorant with high sounding but empty oratory. The promise to take care of everyone from the cradle to the grave is more capable of aligning itself with this oratory than a message of helping ourselves without the assistance of government. While Conservatism has a few giants of political discourse, such as Reagan, it is harder for a Conservative to join great oratory to the Conservative message.
This dilemma is the reason why there are fewer viable national Conservative candidates. This dilemma is the reason why Conservatives are the underdog in the struggle against Liberalism. This dilemma is the reason why Bush was the only viable alternative in 2000. For Conservatives to prevail in the future, they are going to have to develop candidates who are genuine outsiders to the Washington establishment who can articulate true Conservative ideals. True Conservatives, unlike Romney, Huckabee, or Paul. Reagan was elected because some wealthy California businessmen recognized his potential and gave their lives and money to getting him elected. We need the same dedication among monied Conservatives today to elevate viable Conservatives from state politics to national prominence. If this was realized sooner, perhaps Conservatives will have more than one candidate to choose from instead of being stuck with a viable but quasi Conservative.