If you want to read some of the best summaries on the current state of conservatism in the United States, you might want to read Mark Thompson's essays (here, here and here) over at Upturned Earth. He makes a good case for how the "sunny" conservatism of Ronald Reagan has given way to a more mean-spirited and dogmatic ideology.
There are many good thoughts, including the missed opportunities of President Bush. Liberals have painted him as a dunce or even evil, but I think that image is to simplistic. While there was a lot that he did do that was just wrong, the word that seems to mark the President to me is tragic. The tragedy is here is that Bush had several chances to help fashion the GOP into a more dynamic party and really make it a majority party. Instead, he ignored those opportunities and throw in a couple of stumbles like Hurricane Katrina, and we have a tragic presidency.
After the narrow and bitter victory that the President won in 2000, I had hoped he would chart a more moderate conservative course, one that would seek to heal the nation after the election and bring the GOP out of the vindictive Gingrich years of the 90s. But, sadly that didn't happen. Then came 9/11 and another chance to bring change. Instead, he followed a hard right course again.
After the 2004 election, he had another chance with his proposals to reform social security and immigration. But by this time, he had angered Democrats who blocked any talk of reform for Social Security, and his slowness in reforming immigration allowed time for conservatives in his own party to block that change.
I think President Bush is smarter than a lot of people give him credit for and I also think that he had it in him to change the tone of the Republican Party. But for some reason, he missed chances to do so, time and time again.
That's a tragedy...for us all.