National Review had been critical of Reagan on various fronts during his presidency, though the relationship between that president and that magazine was unusually close. The Weekly Standard had become sharply critical of Newt Gingrich as speaker even though the magazine was started in the wake of, and under the influence of, the Newt-led Republican victory of 1994. And this impulse toward intra-party criticism was not unique to conservatives. Many liberal commentators found plenty to criticize in the behavior and policies of the Clinton administration after 1993 and of the Obama administration after 2009.

None of which seemed like an especially big deal. At the end of the day, most people joined the side they were on, but that didn’t mean that they relinquished the ability to clearly assess and comment on the shortcomings and mistakes of their side. That was both the intellectual world we lived in, and, for that matter, the political world members of Congress lived in. Sometimes people broke with a president of their own party.

In that world, the Republican party was able to recover after Nixon, or Gingrich, or Bush, because—whatever one thought of particular policies or the new leaders—it had not sold its soul to those individuals.