In the summer of 1999, George W. Bush chose the first major policy speech of his presidential campaign to pick a fight with Grover Norquist. Bush flatly rejected the “destructive” view “that if government would only get out of our way, all our problems would be solved” — a vision the Texas governor dismissed as having “no higher goal, no nobler purpose, than leave us alone.”
Norquist had proposed to define conservatism as the “leave us alone” coalition — a movement united by a desire to get government off our backs. Bush countered that “the American government is not the enemy of the American people.”
Ed Crane, then the president of the libertarian Cato Institute, said the speech sounded as if it had been written by someone “moonlighting for Hillary Rodham Clinton.” I can formally deny that charge. But the Bush campaign was purposely attempting to alter the image of the Republican Party. And the party — rendered more open to change by eight years in the presidential wilderness — gave Bush the leeway to make necessary ideological adjustments.
It is the nature of resilient institutions to take stock of new realities and adjust accordingly. In a new cover essay for Commentary magazine, Peter Wehner and I detail the examples of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. Clinton broke a long Democratic presidential losing streak by emphasizing middle-class values, advocating the end of “welfare as we know it” and standing up to extreme elements within his…