I’ve been trying to think about the Bush legacy in this campaign, and will probably try to write something more formal about it after the holidays. At the moment, all I have are some very preliminary thoughts, which I thought I’d try out here.
As I noted below, Mike Huckabee is in some sense closer to Bush than are any of the other Republican aspirants. He’s the "compassionate conservative" in this field, the mantle he inherited when Sam Brownback quit the race (as Andy Busch has observed more than once). For a variety of reasons, this is a difficult role to play successfully. First, many Republicans never really cottoned to compassionate conservatism. It has a whiff of big government heresy about it (though plenty of non-compassionate "conservatives" haven’t objected to big government when the recipients of public largesse have either inhabited corporate suites or lived in their districts). Second, the administrative missteps of the Bush Administration (how’s that for a euphemism?) have weakened the "compassionate conservative" brand: if you’re going to be good, you had better be good (and efficient and effective) at being good, and that (unfortunately) hasn’t been the hallmark of this White House. Someone who wants to pave the road from Hope with good intentions runs the risk of having others assume that those good intentions are a substitute for competence. Huckabee would have to persuade us that he’s the good good government candidate, better at being good than the man he wants to succeed.
Third, there’s the war, which has overshadowed everything else in Bush’s legacy. It’s hard to resemble Bush in other respects and not also suffer from guilt by association about this. Sam Brownback tried to distance himself, not very successfully, from the Bush Administration, and I take it that Huckabee’s efforts aren’t going well either.
Lastly, there’s immigration, where Bush tried to unite the business wing of the GOP with compassionate conservatives. Huckabee certainly used to be pretty much in that camp, but the current politics of the nomination battle (see the poll I noted here) make his old position essentially untenable. However socially conservative Catholics come down on immigration, their evangelical counterparts are likely to insist on border enforcement first. Hence the change of heart that led to Michael Gerson’s criticism.