Further Conservative Pull-Back from GOP
A few weeks ago, I wrote
about how Richard Viguerie, a conservative movement and religious right leader, who had led an attempted bolt of the GOP in the 1970s, is publicly calling for conservatives to pull back this year. He and others feel that the GOP under George Bush has betrayed conservative principles on the economy; size of government; taxes, foreign policy, privacy, and that they have failed to deliver on abortion and gay rights -- among many other grievances.
What was then a distant drum beat is coming to a crescendo as the November elections draw ever closer.
Today, The Wall Street Journal has a news story
on the trend. Here are some excerpts:
As the White House and its Republican allies on Capitol Hill work to retain control of Congress in November's elections, a small but vocal band of conservative iconoclasts say they would prefer to see their own party lose.
The array of former members of Congress and officials from Republican administrations dating to the 1970s are using opinion articles, speeches and interviews to make the surprising -- and, to many of their friends and colleagues, near-heretical -- argument that it would be better for the country if their party lost. Some say they plan to vote Democratic for the first time in their lives. The Republican rebels say the modern Republican Party has so abandoned its conservative beliefs that it deserves to be defeated by the Democrats.
"Republicans need a wake-up call," Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman who now hosts an MSNBC talk show, says in an interview. "We ran in 1994 against runaway spending, exploding deficits and corruption. But with Republicans in charge of both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue, what do we have? The same runaway spending, record deficits and culture of corruption."
Meanwhile, Chris Kromm, blogged some, recent news stories and polling data, at Facing South, the blog of the Institute for Southern Studies, and finds that Southern evangelicals who voted for Bush, have a far less favorable view of Bush now than they did then. But...
Rather than running into the arms of Democrats, what the GOP really fears is that dispirited "values voters" will just stay home -- a scary prospect with tight races developing in states like Tennessee and Virginia.
How do conservative leaders hope to move these voters from the pews to the polls? As my colleague R. Neal reported yesterday, the weapon of choice is ballot initiatives against gay marriage -- which now rivals abortion as the calling-card issue for the religious right.
Fortunately for the GOP, battleground states Tennessee and Virginia are among the three Southern states that haven't already decided the gay marriage question (South Carolina is the other). The AP notes that James Dobson of the emerging powerhouse Focus on the Family is especially interested in Tennessee, building up an army of "church and county coordinators."
But the religious right is also being hurt from within. The Christian Coalition continues to crumble, causing conservatives to lose a coordinating force in their election machinery, now being scattered to a host of competing groups.
Recent events have isolated hard-right evangelicals even further.
Last weekend, a widely-touted "Values Voter Summit" hosted by the Family Research Council drew stars of the Republican Party including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to Sen. George Allen (R-VA) and Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AK). Designed to boost spirits and turn around GOP fortunes, the gathering instead descended into controversy when a Bishop Wellington Boone took the stage and announced, "I want the gays mad at me." He succeeded, and made others mad as well when he revealed his strategy to get "the gays" to be more forceful in challenging him:
Back in the days when I was a kid, and we see guys that don't stand strong on principle, we call them "faggots." ... [People] that don't stand up for what's right, we say, "You're sissified out!" "You're a sissy!" That means you don't stand up for principles.
As the conservative leaders who are not rallying around Dobson and the GOP this year made clear, this is a tactical retreat. Conservatives would rather be in opposition, blaming the Democrats for the disasters wrought by the Bush administration and the Republican congress. So if the Democrats take one or both houses of Congress in November, it will be important to keep in mind that the religious right may have receded, but it will certainly return. The conservative movement and the religious right in particular can be very effective in opposition. (Just ask Bill Clinton.) Those "values voters" who are currently feeling disappointed and betrayed by Bush, are still primarily the constituency of the religous right. And nothing has yet appeared in public life to mount much of a challenge to that.