It is like history began in 2004 in Matt Lewis’s analysis of the Jeb v. George situation.
I see Matt’s article being passed around by people stroking their beards over it, nodding knowingly, but I think it fundamentally misses something that throws the whole out of whack, while parts of it taken alone hold up.
There were numerous and sustained conversations in the late nineties among conservatives that the party was rushing to nominate the wrong Bush. Go back prior to 2000 and through Jeb Bush’s term as Governor of Florida and there were repeated conversations on television, talk radio, Yahoo internet groups of Republican activists (before the Google group and listserve), conservative usenet groups (another part of the internet) and they all echoed the same — Jeb was more conservative than George.
In fact, in the 1994 Lawton Childs race, a lot of conservatives came out hard for Jeb and backed him in ways they did not back George W. Bush. Had Jeb Bush won that year, he would more likely than not have been President in 2000, and not his brother. He was the Bush conservatives gravitated to.
Conservatives really liked Jeb more than George W. But they settled for George W. Bush because Jeb, by 2000, was only completing his first year in office. George W. Bush was considered the conservative in the field in 2000 compared to McCain. In fact, Bush went to great lengths to shut down the field, which by the time the primaries arrived consisted only of him, McCain, Alan Keyes, Gary Bauer, Steve Forbes, and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT).
Keyes, Bauer, Forbes, and Hatch had constituencies, but were not viewed as major candidates. The latter three were all out by February 10th of 2000, and Keyes hung on till July because he’s Alan Keyes and that is what Alan Keyes does. McCain ended his run in March of 2000.
The real race was between McCain and Bush. Bush was the more conservative candidate of the two.
Frankly and honestly, what so many of the analyses miss that is deeply relevant to the current frictions and factions is that because George W. Bush did not have a successor run in his stead, conservatives never had the cathartic moment of embracing his legacy in a primary, rejecting it, or adjusting it.
Instead, they had to go refight 2000 all over and lost to McCain. Conservatism shifted more rapidly and reshaped more dramatically as a movement as a result. Conservatives who rallied to Romney saw him become the mushy middle nominee of 2012 only to lose the general.
Jeb Bush has a high bar with the base, not just because of his positions on common core, immigration, and statements on taxes, etc. but because he’d become the closest proxy to serve as a referendum on his brother’s legacy. And conservatives had already started to reject No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, immigration reform, the GM bailout, TARP, etc. before George W. Bush ever left office. Conservatism, as a movement, had already begun the process of no longer just serving as a proxy for the Republican President — a shift that began on October 3, 2005 and continues to this day.