One of the secrets of conservative America is how often it has welcomed Republican defeats.
In 1976, many conservatives saw the trouncing of the moderate Gerald Ford as a way of clearing the path for the ideologically pure Ronald Reagan in 1980. George H.W. Bush's 1992 defeat provoked celebration not just in Clintonite Little Rock but also in some corners of conservative America. "Oh,yeah, man, it was fabulous," recalled Tom DeLay, the hard-line Texas congressman, who'd feared another "four years of misery" fighting the urge to cross his party's too-liberal leader. At the Heritage Foundation, a group of right-wingers called the Third Generation conducted a bizarre rite involving a plastic head of the deposed Bush on a platter.
There is no chance that Republicans would welcome the son's defeat in the same way they rejoiced at the father's. George W. is much more conservative than George H.W., and he has gone out of his way to throw red meat to each faction of the right: tax cuts for the antigovernment conservatives, opposition to gay marriage and general abortion rights for the social conservatives, and the invasion of Iraq for the neoconservatives. Still, there are good reasons that, in a few years, some on the right might look on a John Kerry victory as a blessing in disguise.
First, President Bush hasn't been as conservative as some would like. Small-government types fume that he has increased discretionary government spending faster than Bill Clinton. Buchananite paleoconservatives, libertarians, and Nelson Rockefeller-style internationalists are all furious - for very different reasons - about Bush's "war of choice" in Iraq. Even some neocons are irritated by his conduct of that war - particularly his failure to supply enough troops to make the enterprise work.
A second reason conservatives might cheer a Bush defeat is to achieve a foreign-policy victory. The Bush foreign-policy team hardly lacks experience, but its reputation has been tainted - by infighting, bungling in Iraq, and the rows with Europe. For better or worse, many conservatives may conclude that Senator Kerry, who has accepted most of the tenets of Bush's policy of preemption, stands a better chance than Bush of increasing international involvement in Iraq, winning support for Washington's general war on terror, and even forcing UN reform. After all, could Jacques, Gerhard, and the rest of those wimpy Continentals say no to a man who speaks fluent French and German and has just rid the world of the Toxic Texan?