I take from Mark Steyn and Jonah Goldberg’s comments that conservatives have been tolerant of President Bush for a long time, given his embrace of big-government from the start. And they have. But I don’t think the issue is that conservatives are generally surprised that the president is a big-government Republican. I just think they’ve had enough of it. In return for their support, the GOP no longer controls Congress and is adrift.
I think conservatives have gone a long way with the president. They rallied to him especially after 9/11, especially at a time of war, and especially given that the anti-war movement (led by the Democratic party) is so extreme and dangerous. Most conservatives have defended vigorously the president’s intelligence and law-enforcement efforts, from GITMO to NSA intercepts. But I don’t believe the president would have received the kind of support he has received from the conservative base, for as long as he has received it, had we not been attacked. But there is a breaking point. And for some, that point has been reached. J-Pod wrote a column last week arguing that if the war had been going better, conservatives would be more tolerant. He might be right.
However, many conservatives believe an intervention is necessary now or in 2008 the Democrats may well retain Congress and pick up the presidency. President Bush is the leader of the party, in charge of the RNC, and for the most part sets the national agenda. And apart from the war (although there’s a growing voice of dissent in that regard) much of the national agenda is seen as misplaced (amnesty) and reactive (global warming).
As for immigration in particular, part of what has changed is that the House Republicans are no longer in a position to check the Senate and president. So, some of the most extreme elements of the Kennedy-McCain bill, which had been removed last year, are back. Moreover, President Bush signed a bill last year to secure over 800 miles of the southern border with fences and other barriers, which he has not done. Instead, he supports a bill that reduces the barriers by more than half. For this reason, and others, many don’t trust him to secure the border. That’s different from 2000.
In 2000, candidate George Bush opposed McCain-Feingold. It was a key point of distinction. He signed the bill two years later. And I think most of us were stunned by the Harriet Miers nomination. There have been a few significant surprises.