The Corner

Believing What We Believe

This morning, the American Enterprise Institute sponsored a forum with President Bush. Rather than deliver prepared remarks, Bush answered a set of questions posed by AEI’s Chris DeMuth — the result was something much more interesting than any speech would have been. The full transcript is here. I liked this part of the Q&A, a little tonic for depressed conservatives:

MR. DeMUTH: I have another advice-like question. Political conservatives believe that they’re in for a period in the wilderness. (Laughter.) What advice do you have for political conservatives in the years ahead?

THE PRESIDENT: Look at history. I think you’re old enough to remember 1964. 1964 was a wipeout for conservatives and Republicans. In my state of Texas, the legislature was 149 Democrats and one Republican. (Laughter.) And there were no Republicans in the state senate. I think there was one elected congressman — Bruce Alger out of Dallas — and John Tower wasn’t up for election. I don’t know if there were any elected Republicans at the courthouse. And yet in 1966, Republicans and conservatives rebounded, one of whom got elected that year — it was George H.W. Bush, by the way, out of Houston.

And my point is, is that things go in cycles in politics. Now, in order to win, it’s important to recruit good candidates who stand on principle. Most Americans believe what we believe — that government ought to be limited and wise, that taxes ought to be low, that we ought to encourage entrepreneurship and small businesses, and that we ought to have a strong national defense.

He said more, especially about the importance of Hispanic voters. But I like this central point: “most Americans believe what we believe.” Ramesh has made this case persuasively, with survey data. The quality of candidates will matter and cycles will intervene, but conservatism hasn’t lost its ability to connect with voters.

John J. Miller is the national correspondent for National Review and the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. His new book is Reading Around: Journalism on Authors, Artists, and Ideas.

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