The Bushies and the Fraternal Order Republicans

The Bushies and the Fraternal Order Republicans

Jeff Lord Rocks. He really knows how to expose and eviscerate the GOP establishment rinos.
We can never forget that history repeats itself. -Alexis

By Jeff Lord – Via Conservative review-

If Gerald Ford were alive today he would be 101 years old. If Nelson Rockefeller were alive today he would be 106 years old. If Thomas E. Dewey were alive today he would be 112 years old.

And yet…and yet…Establishment Republicans…in this case Bushies with names like Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner – are still stuck in that losing Ford- Rockefeller-Dewey time warp that insists yes…yes…if only Republicans were more liberal they would win more elections. Really! Thus ex-Bush 43 aide Wehner and colleague Henry Olsen at the Ethics and Public Policy Center pen a lengthy Commentary piece article titled If Ronald Reagan Were Alive Today, He Would Be 103 Years Old. Thus ex-Bush 43 speechwriter Gerson picks up on the theme in his column over at The Washington Post, phrasing it this way: “Republicans are stuck in in a Reagan time warp.”

Which is another way of saying that while three of the famous practitioners of what Ronald Reagan used to call the “fraternal order” Republicans are long since gone, the fraternal order police in the Republican Party are still out there. Predictably trying to rein in conservatives. Ronald Reagan is somewhere, amused.

But first, a story. A story that illustrates exactly not only the mindset of fraternal order Republicans, but the vehemence that always lies just underneath the surface of their supposed “moderation.” The story comes to mind as former George H.W. Bush Secretary of State James Baker and his treatment of then-Israeli Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes news. In the context of an Atlantic story revealing an Obama administration official called now-Prime Minister Netanyahu a “chicken s..t”, Baker came forward to lend sort-of-support for Obama by saying he, Baker, had once banned Netanyahu from the State Department. Instantly this drew a story in the Jewish Press that the late New York Mayor Ed Koch had once accused Baker in a New York Daily News column of saying “F..k the Jews.” At the time, Koch’s charge – which he said came from an “impeccable” source – was challenged by President Bush himself, saying that Bush didn’t “accept that Jim would say such a thing”, adding that “I never ever heard such ugliness about Jim Baker.”

Years later in his memoirs, Koch revealed that his “impeccable” source who was present when Baker uttered his words was…then-Bush 41 Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp. (Full disclosure: Kemp was my boss at the time.) In fact? Denial that Baker would ever say such a thing does not comport with a story about Baker and Kemp himself, a story told by Marlin Fitzwater, the press secretary to both presidents Reagan and Bush 41.

Fitzwater recounts the tale in his memoirs Call the Briefing. After noting that Kemp, a decided “Reagan Revolutionary” in the 1980 Reagan versus Bush battle for the GOP presidential nomination, raised hackles with Baker and other Bushies because Kemp “couldn’t resist commenting on economic and foreign policies” that were turf-wise beyond the scope of a Housing Secretary. This was or should have been totally unsurprising. Jack Kemp was the congressional godfather of Reaganomics. He was a staunch anti-Communist and had long made it his business to take on what both he and Reagan saw as “the evil empire” of the Soviet Union. He was also, of course, a former presidential candidate and later vice-presidential nominee, not to mention a longtime congressman. The ebullient ex-quarterback for the Buffalo Bills was not only well-versed on the issues of the day, he was famous for expressing those views.

By 1991, the Soviet Union was close to imploding. Tiny Lithuania, so long under the thumb of Soviet dictatorship, had boldly declared its independence. The Bush administration, reflecting the moderate GOP leanings of both Bush and his old friend Secretary Baker, had – incongruously to the Reaganite Kemp and per Fitzwater’s description – “charted a course more moderate (on foreign policy) than Jack supported.” In sum, Baker wanted to walk the fine line, encouraging Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in his efforts to keep the Soviet Union from flying apart on the premise that civil war and destabilization loomed if this happened. Kemp, who would joke with his staff that he was the only Housing Secretary with his own foreign policy, saw the world as did his friend Ronald Reagan. Kemp believed the United States should recognize Lithuania – post-haste. Kemp shared exactly Reagan’s expressed view that the way to end the Cold War was to end the Soviet Union itself…”we win, they lose” to quote Reagan exactly. Baker, on top of resenting Kemp’s commenting on foreign policy – Baker’s preserve at State – disagreed. As ever, Baker was the cautious moderate Republican. Let’s let Marlin Fitzwater tell the rest of this tale.

“One day, as luck would have it, Jack was scheduled to accompany the president to a housing speech immediately after a cabinet meeting. The discussion was about Lithuania and Kemp had stated his view that America should recognize the independence of the country and let Gorbachev’s chips fall where they may. After the president adjourned the meeting, a disgusted Secretary Baker followed the president into the Oval Office to complain about Kemp’s comments being contrary to U.S. policy. Secretary Kemp also moved from the Cabinet Room to the Oval, in preparation for an immediate departure on Marine One for the housing speech. When he heard Baker’s comments to the president, he stopped just inside the rear door to the Oval and told Baker he was wrong on Lithuania.”

Baker, averse to a confrontation on this, made for the front door of the Oval. Kemp kept talking. Writes Fitzwater:

“Baker stopped as he held the door wide open, could contain himself no longer, then turned to shout across the Oval Office, ‘F… you, Kemp!” For a second, time stood still. Everyone froze: the president behind his desk, (national security adviser Brent) Scowcroft next to the president, (CIA director Robert) Gates near the windows, and I near the rear door. Then Kemp reacted.”

Kemp “reacted like a quarterback who had just been victimized by unnecessary roughness”, running around the maze of Oval Office furniture that separated him from the now retreating Baker, chasing him down the hallway and “catching him just outside my office door.” The two were nose-to-nose when General Scowcroft intervened to remind Kemp that the president was ready to leave for the housing event.

Now. What does this small if colorful story from the Bush 41 era tell us today about the split between conservatives and moderates in the GOP?

First, of course, it says that Baker was not averse to getting “ugly” with a Cabinet colleague in the Oval Office itself, shouting the f-bomb across the room. It takes no imagination to understand that Kemp, hearing the same epithet attached to Baker’s view of “the Jews” would be both incensed and completely willing to repeat the tale to Mayor Koch.

But beyond that? This incident over whether or not to boldly recognize Lithuania is in itself an exact representation of the difference between conservatives and timid “fraternal order” GOP moderates. A difference that is coming front and center yet again in the wake of last week’s elections.

A case in point is the lengthy Wehner/Olsen Commentary piece and the Gerson column praising it.

Yes. Ronald Reagan would be 103 if he were alive. And moderate GOP icons Ford, Rockefeller and Dewey would be, respectively,101, 106 and 112 years old. So?

So the point of Wehner and Olsen is that “today’s Republicans need to be careful not to be trapped by Reagan….It’s difficult to grow while living in someone’s shadow.”

One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry at such nonsense. There is nothing remotely new here. In the case of Gerson and Wehner, they are the disciples of the Dewey-Rockefeller-Bush-moderate Republicanism of the dime store New Deal that Reagan dismissed tartly as “fraternal order” Republicanism. Reagan himself had a very succinct response to this kind of thinking. To quote him directly:

“We (conservatives) are simply saying, ‘What does our party stand for?’ If the great majority agrees with the (conservative) philosophy, and some say it’s a philosophy they can’t go along with, that’s a decision for every individual to make. A political party is not a fraternal order. A party is something where people are bound together by a shared philosophy.”

Reagan went on to say, (this following the defeat of yet another moderate GOP nominee, President Gerald Ford and reported the New York Times in December of 1976) “that Republicans could be saved from extinction only by acting quickly to assert the party’s ideological identity.” The Times headline was succinct: Reagan Urges His Party to Save Itself By Declaring Its Conservative Beliefs.
Asserting the Republican Party’s identity as the conservative party is exactly what moderate Republicans – from Dewey to Rockefeller to the Bushes have opposed. The Gerson/Wehner/Olsen theory of politics was laid out all the way back in 1950’s Princeton lectures by Dewey himself, a mere two years after his second presidential race in which he campaigned on the very themes championed today by Gerson/Wehner/Olsen.

In his lectures Dewey launched against the conservatives of his day as the “vociferous few” who were “impractical theorists” who would drive moderate Republicans into the arms of Democrats. “The results would be neatly arranged…The Republicans would lose every election and the Democrats would win.”

This, as Reagan personally demonstrated, was flatly wrong. Exactly backwards. Both Bush presidencies demonstrated the flaws of this obsession with moderate Republicanism. Both wonderfully decent men, their respective tenures showcasing moderate Republicanism in the White House twice left the GOP in shambles. Opening the door to the presidencies of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Yet over there at Commentary there are Wehner and Olsen trying to re-make Reagan into something he was not. Sure he hired James Baker as his chief of staff and made him Secretary of the Treasury. But the ultimate Reaganite in the Reagan White House was – Ronald Reagan himself. As his longtime friend and my former colleague Lyn Nofziger noted long ago, Ronald Reagan:

“…didn’t hire out to…the people of America to be the government’s personnel manager or to oversee its assembly lines. He hired out to advance a philosophy of government, to set policy, and to try and implement both. He hired out to make the tough decisions that affect the people, the nation, and the world. He hired out to fight for the things in which he believed and against those things he opposed. He never worried about personnel problems that did not affect what he saw as his role.”

And so he didn’t. The idea of the Reagan presidency, domestic-policy-wise, was to begin to actually make the conservative – make that Republican – belief in “limited government” a reality. Among other things in their article, Wehner and Olsen are given to citing the memoirs of Reagan’s Budget Director, David Stockman. Stockman, for those who came in late, lost his courage in the battle and was seen by Reaganites – and yes even Jim Baker – of betraying the president and the cause of limited government. He departed unhappily and wrote his book, its full title not mentioned by Wehner and Olsen. The title was indeed, as they cite: The Triumph of Politics. The subtitle was seen then not to mention now, as utterly laughable. The subtitle was Why the Reagan Revolution Failed. Kemp tartly observed of the Stockman book: “I don’t read fiction.” Ouch.

Over at Western Journalism longtime Reaganite Donald Devine, appointed by Reagan as Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, accuses Wehner and Olsen of “cooking the books” in their zeal to “co-opt” Reagan and re-make him as a Republican moderate. From Social Security to tax cuts to cuts in discretionary spending, Devine sets the record straight. He notes correctly that Reagan decreased spending in absolute terms by 9.6%, the only president in modern times to do so. And – note well – both the moderate Republican Bushes not only failed to decrease spending in Reaganesque fashion, both Bushes posted spending increases “higher than Carter or Clinton.”

Which brings us back to all this business of Republicans being trapped in a Reagan “time warp” (Gerson) or the need for Republicans “to locate themselves firmly in the here and now” (Wehner/Olsen).

The hard fact of the matter is that what these Bushies and think tankers are advocating is nothing more and nothing else than the same old moderate bromides of Gerald Ford, Nelson Rockefeller and Thomas E. Dewey. Indeed, Ford himself made a point of saying Reagan was too “extreme” to ever be elected president.

All of which Reagan disdained as “fraternal order” Republicanism. Speaking of the moderate addiction to aping liberalism, he once told the Los Angeles County Republicans that “we will have no more of those candidates who are pledged to the same goals of our opposition and seek our support. Turning the party over to the moderates wouldn’t make any sense at all.”

And so it wouldn’t.


Conservative Review



  1. […] Ronald Reagan were alive today he would be 103 years old” which was brilliantly answered by Jeffrey Lord stating “If Gerald Ford were alive today he would be 101 years old. If Nelson Roc… Yes, the struggle for the heart of the Republican Party is alive and well. It is an old fight […]

  2. […] Ronald Reagan were alive today he would be 103 years old” which was brilliantly answered by Jeffrey Lord stating “If Gerald Ford were alive today he would be 101 years old. If Nelson Roc… Yes, the struggle for the heart of the Republican Party is alive and well. It is an old fight which […]

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