This week, Dana Perino’s new book, And The Good News Is… hits bookshelves. The Daily Wire had the opportunity to speak with Perino in advance of the book release about working for George W. Bush, the future of conservatism, and whether Donald Trump can indeed bring Republicans together.
Here was the exchange:
DW: Do you have hope for the future of conservatism?
DP: I believe that no matter what happens in the election that conservative principles survive - because they are impossible to erase. Even if the GOP lost every single election this year, it won't matter. It is not unusual to meet a conservative who used to be a liberal, but it is rare that you meet a conservative who becomes a liberal. The principles are logical, and when applied, the outcomes are more successful than alternatives. Some may think I'm too optimistic, but I believe I'm correct on this one. Just watch.
DW: Do you think that President Bush's compassionate conservatism undermined small-government conservatism in any way?
DP: I don't; however, I understand why the phrase "compassionate conservative" irritated some conservatives. It suggested conservatism on its own isn't compassionate, when that isn't the case at all. Conservatives believe in the power of the individual, in freedom and rule of law - that's the basis of compassion. When I was 23 and a House press secretary, I was dismayed by the GOP House leadership. I was a young conservative woman who would be looked at sideways by other women - they couldn't understand how I could possibly be aligned with "those people." Around then, Gov. George Bush started running for president and he used that phrase, "Compassionate Conservative" and I immediately thought, "Oh that's me!" Because I didn’t feel mean, cheap and rotten as most people on the left thought of Republicans - I thought of myself as loving and kind. Bush solidified my conservative leanings - especially when I saw how he put that idea into practice. Government can cut a check but it can't change a heart, and the Faith-based Initiative sought to take power away from the bureaucrats and into organizations that were doing excellent work on the ground. It is a shame that the Left hated it so much. President Obama depleted the program, so it's back to the old ways with bureaucracy running the show. That's a shame.
DW: Why do you think so many Republicans have turned from the decency of George W. Bush to the indecency of Donald Trump?
DP: In so many ways, 2008 feels like a lifetime ago. So much has happened politically, not to mention technology advancing our news cycles so that if you blink you risk missing a story. President Bush never wanted the spotlight after he left the White House - he moved on to the next chapter of his life, and he did not criticize his successor in any way. I admire that, and I think even Democrats admire that. But then in the last eight years of Obama's aggressive overreach and division, people got angry - and it festered. There was no clear Republican leader after the party lost two presidential elections in a row. And so Donald Trump seized the opportunity - he read the mood of the country, and saw an opening. He's been looking over his shoulder ever since as everyone else tries to catch up.
DW: What do you think was the biggest win of the Bush administration?
DP: The biggest win...I would say putting the country on a war footing to fight the generational war on terror that we face. That meant an overall of our intelligence and military postures and resources to support them. President Bush was determined that whoever took over as president in 2009 that he or she would have whatever tools they needed to keep the country safe - and he did that. He had no higher obligation, and President Obama benefited from those efforts.
DW: What do you think was the biggest mistake of the Bush administration?
DP: Biggest mistake...oh geez, I feel like I could beat myself up for lots of things. Governing is so hard, and communications more important than ever. From a communications perspective, not squashing the "Bush Lied People Died" mantra from the Left was a mistake. At the time it seemed like such a fringe group and it was so preposterous I don't think anyone really thought it would stick. We should have snuffed that out.
DW: What are the biggest mistakes Republicans make in pushing conservatism, and how can they fix it?
DP: A few years ago, my husband got a Harley with a sidecar (so that Jasper, our dog, could ride along). Jasper loves it. He puts on his Doggles and hops in, ready to go. And he's learned to do something - he leans into the curve, just as your driver wants you to do. He trusts the future and goes with it - no resistance. And I've been thinking about what the Republicans are doing right now - of course conservatives are traditionalists, they are cautious, they believe in small government, local control, the power of the individual - and in many ways that can feel like wishing for the 1950s to return. When, in fact, conservatism is the best solution to the upcoming policy debates we are going to face (especially as technology displaces more people from their jobs). I'd recommend the GOP start leaning into the curve - trust the future. Don't look back - embrace the changes that are coming and own them. That would be the way to grow the party and get better governing results.