Here’s a fascinating and revealing anecdote from a soon-to-be-released memoir by former Bush speechwriter Matt Latimer, as reported in a Byron York column today. Latimer had drafted a 2008 speech for Bush to deliver at CPAC and included the obligatory praise for the “conservative movement,” which seemed to confuse Bush:
“What is this movement you keep talking about in the speech?” the president asked Latimer. Latimer explained that he meant the conservative movement — the movement that gave rise to groups like CPAC. Bush seemed perplexed. Latimer elaborated a bit more. Then Bush leaned forward, with a point to make. “Let me tell you something,” the president said. “I whupped Gary Bauer’s ass in 2000. So take out all this movement stuff. There is no movement.”
York is surprised that Bush would conflate the decades-long rise of political conservatism with the Religious Right. But I find it even more significant that Bush would express such contempt for leaders of the conservative religious movement that many of his critics suspected of having such influence in his administration. Gary Bauer, after all, wasn’t exactly the conservative establishment’s draft choice in 2000. He–and, to a lesser extent, John Ashcroft–was instead preferred by religious conservatives who thought electing one of their own was the only way to get a president who would fully support their concerns. A new report out this month shows that top Religious Right figures–including Bauer–were regular visitors in the Bush White House. Whether Bush considered them welcome visitors now seems an open question.