Conservative vs. Republican
There is little question that President Bush was a Republican who abandoned many aspects of conservatism (NCLB, Medicare Part D, and worldwide interventions are primary examples). When the standard bearer of the Republican Party is not conservative, it creates a lot of confusion. I also think it gave rise to the radical tea party movement that tried to lurch the Republican Party back toward conservatism in its own way. The end result is a Party that really does not know what to project or what to believe in.
This weekend I was at a dinner party and got into a pretty good political discussion with someone who claims to be conservative, but no longer identified with the Republican Party. This person is well educated and is a fairly rich, high priced consultant working for a major firm in the DC area. I was struck by how defensive he was and how much he wanted to avoid being labeled a Republican. His problem was mostly the anti-science and hyper-Christian conservatism that have hi-jacked the Party, but he also complained about the failure to maintain economic discipline during the Bush years. He clearly disliked the President's policies but seemed exasperated that there was no credible Republican leadership at the federal level.
As we continued our discussion - which was friendly even as we conflicted - he seemed surprised that the federal budget deficit had shrunk under the President. It may very well be the case that the deficit is cut by a half trillion dollars from where it was when the President took office. We shifted to Obamacare and when I asked him what he didn't like, he couldn't really give anything of substance. He then argued that employers should not be required to pay for health care for employees, but argued that individuals should just pay into a federal system (i.e., single-payer) to get health care like they do in Canada and Europe. When I mentioned that this was not a conservative view, we decided to move on to dinner and the conversation just ended.
The two points I will make about this whole conversation is that (1) this individual completely dislikes the Republican Party, and (2) doesn't even know basics about major policy initiatives. This is how many Americans are, which is why you need to have clear, consistent ideas and steady leadership in order to make progress. The Republican Party needs to establish what it wants to do and who will lead them, otherwise they will continue to just twist in the wind.