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The Reemerging Republican Majority

Will Bush's popularity transform his party?

Feb 11, 2002, Vol. 7, No. 21 • By DAVID BROOKS
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There's a reason the former McCainiacs were exhilarated by the State of the Union address--especially the foreign policy part--whereas some other conservatives, such as the globally cautious Robert Novak, appeared less so. Politically the possibility is this: If you take the traditional Bush Red America base, and you take the regions where McCain did best, in the suburbs of the coasts and of the upper Midwest, then meld those two voting blocs into a single coalition, Bingo! You've got your governing majority.

Now, if this strategy is going to succeed, the Bush strategists must first convince themselves that this is not what they are doing. A couple of members of the administration would rather lose the next election than admit that they are borrowing themes from the Arizona showboat. Nonetheless, the events of September 11 have shaken the political landscape and so made it possible for the Bushian lion to lie down with the McCainiac lamb (or vice versa)--at least on a policy level, if not on a personal level.

President Bush has broken the libertarian grip on the GOP. (Not only did he call for a grand foreign policy mission, he called for expanding Head Start and liberalizing welfare benefits for immigrants.) But there is still some way to go if he is to win over the independent voters from Purple America (the ones who are halfway between Red and Blue). The final McCainiac initiatives that Bush has not yet co-opted have to do with reform.

Bush has already indicated he will sign the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill if it should come to his desk. But an idea that would have a much more positive effect on the country is capital market reform. Enron has the Bush administration acting defensively, but it could spur a great conservative reform agenda that draws on both McCainiac and Bushian impulses. This would involve pushing through accounting and financial disclosure regulations that would make it possible for small stockholders and entrepreneurs to have faith that they can compete fairly in the financial markets. Such reforms, starting with the ones Arthur Levitt has proposed, would give the markets the credibility that is a prerequisite if Social Security privatization is ever to see the light of day.

If the Bush administration ever wends its way to a reform agenda, if it champions a national service initiative that has both military and faith-based components, if, most important, it prosecutes the war against the axis of evil, then President Bush and his aides will not only have done great things for America, they will have laid the groundwork for a governing Republican majority. And George Bush will have established himself, with FDR and Reagan, as one of the great transformational presidents of the age.

David Brooks is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.