Jonah and the Elephant

Jonah Goldberg, in a concise piece, offers his take on the divergence in the GOP ranks:

In one corner, there are a large number of bright, mostly younger, self-styled reformers with a diverse -- and often contradictory -- set of proposals to win back middle-class voters and restore the GOP's status as "the party of ideas" (as the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan put it).

In another corner are self-proclaimed traditional conservatives and Reaganites, led most notably by Rush Limbaugh, who believe that the party desperately needs to get back to the basics: limited government, low taxes and strong defense.

What is fascinating is that both camps seem implicitly to agree that the real challenge lurks in how to account for the Bush years. For the young Turks and their older allies -- my National Review colleagues Ramesh Ponnuru, Yuval Levin and David Frum, the Atlantic's Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, New York Times columnist David Brooks et al -- the problem is that Bush botched the GOP's shot at real reform. For the Limbaugh crowd, the issue seems to be that we've already tried this reform stuff -- from both Bush and McCain -- and look where it's gotten us.

What about those who believe in the same core basics as Limbaugh, but don't believe in his brash style of asserting them?  Or those who support the core, but aren't keen on the social stances that seem to attend most traditional conservative figures - stances that are increasingly untenable or irrelevant to the political middle?  Are they reformers?  They don't really fit with the move-moderate-on-policy stance of the reformers Jonah outlines.

Goldberg makes the astute observation that Bush was anything but conservative - and the resulting confusion between the man, the policies, and the terms in play has tarnished all involved.  Bush, as he puts it, is the elephant in the room:

Neither camp has adequately explained where Bush figures in their vision for the future of the party. Is reform going to be a debugged compassionate conservatism 2.0 or a Reaganesque revival of conservative problem solving? Does back-to-basics mean breaking with the precedents of the last eight years or building on them?

The problem for the traditionalists in the Limbaugh camp is that most of them have continued to support Bush all the way through.  It's going to much more difficult for them to account for Bush in a manner that's acceptable to the political middle in order to advance the party's prospects.