08/17/2010 01:32 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Bushs' Swing Represents a Party's Shift

Watching the recent and upcoming GOP primaries -such as John McCain's in Arizona- and as we approach the November midterm elections, it's fascinating to think about the ideological shift in the GOP over the past two generations. McCain ran in 2000 as a relative moderate against more conservative George W. Bush. But now, in 2010, he is running a very conservative campaign to retain his seat. He needs to do so to win.

I find it fascinating to think about how the Republican party has shifted to the right over the past two generations. And it's interesting to look at the example of the family of the man who defeated McCain in 2008, George Bush, and how his family's historical swing mirrors that of the GOP.

The Bush family political history has had amazing timing. Prescott Bush was born in Columbus Ohio, middle America, and headed to New England for business and served as Senator from Connecticut from 1952-1963. Prescott was very moderate on social issues, supporting Planned Parenthood and the United Negro College Fund. He was a Rockefeller Republican in terms of policies.

In the 1960's, the GOP shifted to the right. Goldwater and Reagan argued for a principled shift to the right and Nixon, the last real national GOP moderate, began to court southern whites starting in 1966 through a series of social and economic policies dubbed the "southern strategy." This culminated in Nixon's election to President in 1968. The same year that the southern strategy began, 1966, George H. W. Bush was elected to Congress from Houston, Texas. He was the first GOP congressman from that area in a long while. Bush was born in Massachusetts and raised in Connecticut but moved to Texas to get into the oil business after World War II. His shift mirrored that of the GOP's; a family and party shift from a moderate to conservative.

By the time George W. Bush defeated McCain in 2000, the GOP had become a strongly conservative party. The most recent Bush had grown up in conservative, Republican Texas, a place quite different in tone and social policy at least from his grandfather and different from the Democratically dominated Texas of the past.

The Bush family has had remarkable timing and thus success in politics, and their success mirrors that shift in ideology of the GOP. That shift has just gotten more dramatic nationally over the past decade, leaving once moderate McCain a conservative fighting to prove that he's conservative enough.