Neither critics nor supporters of compassionate conservatism could come to a consensus over the question of whether it was a mushy-gushy marketing slogan (a Republican version of Bill Clinton’s feel-your-pain liberalism) or a serious philosophical argument for a kind of Tory altruism, albeit with an evangelical idiom and a Texan accent.
Some sophisticated analysts, such as my National Review colleague Ramesh Ponnuru, always acknowledged the philosophical shortcomings and inconsistencies of compassionate conservatism, but they argued that something like it was necessary nonetheless. The evolving demographics of the country, combined with the profound changes to both the culture and the economy, demanded that the GOP change both its sales pitch and its governing philosophy.
Compassionate conservatism increasingly faded from view after 9/11. Bush ran as a war president first and a compassionate conservative second (at best) in 2004. Still, it’s worth remembering that Bush won a staggering (for a Republican) 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. Romney got 27 percent.
Moreover, according to exit polls, Romney decisively beat Obama on the questions of leadership, values, and economic expertise, but he was crushed by more than 60 points on the question of which candidate “cares about people like me.”