Had they been more honest, they would have acknowledged that they had anointed a minimally qualified man with limited intellectual skills. He had voiced token support for their causes, but his narrow experience and sheltered life had left him unprepared for the intellectual and personal demands of the Presidency.
Unable to marshal facts and persuade a skeptical public on Iraq, immigration or Social Security, he resorted to emotional pleas and empty buzzwords. When his advisors failed him, he had no independent source of knowledge or analytical skills to guide him back on course. Moreover, the prized trait of Bush loyalty quickly lapsed into stubborn cronyism; conservatives, like the rest of the public, reacted in horror as Bush advanced unqualified friends like Harriet Miers and Alberto Gonzales.
This experience might have chastened the conservative establishment, but they—like the Bourbon kings who remembered everything and learned nothing—are on the verge of doing it again.
First, they insist on ideological purity, attempting to define Rudy Giuliani out of the mainstream of the party. Then they goad a smart, reform-minded former governor, Mitt Romney, into becoming a human pretzel, cheering as he contorts to adopt their pet social views while ruining his viability.
Having done this, conservative insiders have flagged down the next undistinguished, albeit appealing, fellow to fit the bill of conservative standard bearer: Fred Thompson. (He communicates! He creates pithy ripostes to Michael Moore! He thinks Iran is a danger!)
Once again, they are enchanted by the banal. They seem unmoved by his lack of accomplishment in any field of endeavor other than acting. The highlights of his Senate record seem to be a single bill to track wasteful spending, an ineptly run investigation on illegal Chinese campaign contributions and stewardship of a McCain-Feingold campaign-finance bill that most of them despise. And so far this year, Mr. Thompson has yet to offer any specific policy proposals.
A track record of determined leadership, intellectual creativity, extemporaneous speaking skills and well-thought-out plans for the future should be minimal qualifications for the Presidency. Should conservatives reflect on the error of their previous choice, they might adopt criteria more meaningful than a willingness to genuflect to ideological convention. If not, the next chosen candidate will be as hapless as the last.