George W. Bush’s bid for the presidency signals the death knell of the modern conservative movement. The GOP faithful are embracing the Texas governor as the true heir to the mantle of Ronald Reagan, believing that Bush will lead the Republicans out of the political wilderness and back into power. They maintain that Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” is the price the right must pay for a Republican administration that will sweep away the moral degeneracy of the Clinton years and implement tax cuts, Social Security reform, and a national missile defense. Rather than signifying an affirmation of Reaganism, however. Bush’s campaign is a repudiation of the core principles conservatives have championed for the past 50 years.

On the most important issue for those on the right—repealing the Leviathan state and scaling back government spending—Bush is a typical GOP pragmatist. During his tenure as governor of Texas, the public sector expanded relentlessly; since 1995, the budget ballooned by nearly 40 percent to $100 billion. Last year alone. Bush endorsed $2.1 billion in new spending on education—a record in the state of Texas. During his presidential campaign, he has abandoned the longstanding demand of conservatives to abolish the federal Department of Education. He is calling for national testing, a strong federal role in education policy, and massive increases in government expenditures to reinvigorate “local, community- based” schools.

Bush is a big-government Republican on other issues as well. He has not singled out one government program in the bloated $1.8 trillion federal budget that he would eliminate. On defense spending, he promises more public money to restore the “morale and readiness” of our Armed Forces. Even Bush’s much vaunted plan to begin privatizing Social Security is nothing more than a timid attempt to nibble around the edges of an entitlement program that, as Robert Taft predicted 60 years ago, is destined to be financially bankrupt unless genuine and sweeping reform is enacted. The Texas governor is attempting to transform the GOP into an “inclusionary” party that caters to Hispanics, blacks, women, and homosexuals. His campaign rhetoric is full of meaningless platitudes about celebrating the country’s “diversity” and leaving “no child behind.” During the Republican Convention, Colin Powell—slated for a position on the Bush defense team —even delivered a speech blasting the GOP for its failure to support affirmative action and to confront “racism.”

Bush is not a grand political visionary but an establishment Republican whose concept of governing in the national interest extends only to supporting the multinational business class he represents. He is a staunch supporter of global free trade and unlimited immigration, showing no concern for the plight of displaced blue-collar workers. More importantly, his “compassionate conservatism” neglects to address the cultural issues—such as family breakdown, crime, racial quotas, and the erosion of national identity—that attracted the Reagan Democrats to the GOP and which are essential to forging a Republican majority coalition.

Yet the Busbies believe they arc taking a page out of Clinton’s playbook by stealing key issues such as education and Social Security. They hope that this will resonate with the electorate, especially with key voting blocks such as suburban soccer moms and senior citizens. The Republicans’ strategy is to capture the political center and blur the policy differences between their candidate and Al Gore, hoping that Bush’s charisma and folksy campaign style will be enough to lead them to victory. In short, principles are being abandoned in favor of expediency.

The fundamental problem Bush feces is that opinion polls consistently show that over 70 percent of American voters believe that the “economy is in good shape” and the “country is on the right track.” More importantly, the public credits the Clinton-Gore administration for the “booming economy.” Bush’s advisors mistakenly assume that the nation’s disgust with Clinton’s sordid sexual behavior and the need to “restore moral integrity” to the White House is enough to convince voters to opt for change. Yet everyone knows that, for all of his flaws, Gore will not be having sex in the Oval Office: Tipper would not stand for it. Hence, Gore offers the electorate the formula it craves: the continuation of Clinton’s policies minus the “bimbo eruptions.” No wonder the Bush campaign is floundering.

Which makes the decision by conservatives to support Bush particularly perverse. They are deliberately ignoring his red toryism, his lack of intellectual substance, and his cocaine-snorting and womanizing past. By jumping on Bush’s bandwagon with both feet, Beltway conservatives have revealed their real commitments—careerism and opportunism. Is this all that is left of the party of Taft, Goldwater, and Reagan?