Skip to comments.Conservatives roar; Republicans tremble
Posted on 10/22/2009 3:20:36 AM PDT by markomalley
Many top Republicans are growing worried that the partys chances for reversing its electoral routs of 2006 and 2008 are being wounded by the flamboyant rhetoric and angry tone of conservative activists and media personalities, according to interviews with GOP officials and operatives.
Congressional leaders talk in private of being boxed in by commentators such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh figures who are wildly popular with the conservative base but wildly controversial among other parts of the electorate, and who have proven records of making life miserable for senators and House members critical of their views or influence.
Some of the leading 2012 candidates are described by operatives as grappling with the same tension. The challenge is to tap into the richest source of energy in the party the disgust of grass-roots conservative activists with President Barack Obama and their hunger for a full-throated attack on his agenda without coming off to the broader public as cranky and extreme.
Mitt Romney has purposely kept a lower profile and stuck to speeches on specific policy issues, in part to avoid the early trade-off between placating party activists and appearing presidential. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, one of the most active potential opponents for Obama in 2012, said that media portrayals of a narrow-minded party could make it harder to attract the middle-of-the-road voters needed to make the GOP a majority party again.
The commentators are part of the coalition, not the whole coalition, Pawlenty said in a phone interview. The party needs to be about addition, not subtraction but not at the expense of watering down its principles.
We need more voices, said House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia, one of the partys up-and-coming leaders. Our partys challenge has been that we need to be more inclusive we need to attract the middle again. ... When one party controls all the levers of power in Washington, theyre going to try and villainize whoever they can on our side. It gives us an opportunity now to try and harness the energy and point it in a positive direction, so that we can attract the middle of the country to the common-sense conservative views that we have been about as a party.
Political operatives of all stripes like to fancy themselves as coolly controlling practitioners who can shape public images and direct the activities of party regulars from their perches in Washington.
But the reality of the GOP during the Obama presidency is that the partys image and priorities are in many ways being imposed on Washington driven by grass-roots energies that lawmakers and strategists can scarcely control.
At the same time, there are powerful incentives for Washington politicians to play to the crowd and bow to the influence of commentators like Beck, who at the moment is far more famous than any of the GOPs congressional leaders.
When Republicans such as Rep. Phil Gingrey have complained about these figures in public, most have quickly apologized in the face of outraged phone calls and e-mails from conservative activists.
House and Senate Republicans both seized on the issue of federal funding for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now after Obama critic Andrew Breitbart launched the controversy on his site BigGovernment.com with video of two people posing as a pimp and a prostitute in the groups offices.
As vividly illustrated by Rep. Joe Wilson, elected Republicans are seeing the benefits national media attention and fundraising from embracing the trash-talking style of talk show hosts. Wilson went from being a little-known member of the House minority who had repeatedly failed to get on the A-list committees to a cause célèbre for the right wing because he shouted You lie at Obama during a joint session of Congress.
Though he apologized to the president through chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, Wilson moved quickly to exploit his brush with fame, posting Web videos to raise money, appearing on Sean Hannitys show, getting a coveted invite on Fox News Sunday and even being asked to raise money for some of his conservative colleagues. Most rank-and-file Republicans have to spend hours on the phone pleading for money and relish the chance to be taken seriously by a major Sunday show.
But some Republicans worry the party could squander an opportunity to capitalize on voters concerns about Obama and the Democratic Congress because they come off looking shallow, sharply partisan or just plain odd to persuadable voters.
Warning of the influence of the Fox host, who recently accused Obama of racism against whites, George W. Bush White House veteran Peter Wehner wrote last month: Beck seems to be a roiling mix of fear, resentment and anger the antithesis of Ronald Reagan.
Still, these concerns apparently are not powerful enough to prompt most elected Republicans to take public stands against the rhetoric coming from the web of conservative talk show hosts, websites and public activists.
Ed Gillespie, who was counselor to Bush and has started a conservative group called Resurgent Republicans, said his polling shows rising numbers of persuadable voters who are growing disenchanted with the Obama administrations policies but nevertheless remain invested in the president.
Our party has to bring those voters along with a critique of policies, not the kind of harsh rhetoric the left used against former President Bush, Gillespie said.
Without a good slice of the independents, we are doomed, said former House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).
The only Republicans standing up to Beck and other conservative activists right now are familiar iconoclasts like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and New York Times columnist David Brooks both of whom are distrusted by many Republicans for their frequent departures from conservative orthodoxy.
Graham, earlier this month, mocked Becks famous on-air cry and warned that the Fox News talk show host is not aligned with any party as far as I can tell. Hes aligned with cynicism. Not long afterward, he was heckled by conservatives at a political event back home.
Brooks, a Republican who has written both favorably and critically about Obama, amplified Grahams concern with the partys obsequious relationship with Beck and Limbaugh. It is a story of remarkable volume and utter weakness, he wrote. It is a story as old as The Wizard of Oz, of grand illusions and small men behind the curtain.
Allies of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have detailed for POLITICO how the former GOP presidential nominee is dismayed with the direction of the party and put an unusual amount of time and effort into trying to push the party in a more centrist direction.
All three figures are often irritants to establishment Republicans but in this case, many Republicans said privately they were in agreement that they need to move beyond the hard-core right to succeed.
But this critique goes to a major fault line within the party. Many activists believe the party lost because McCain failed to present a clear and genuine ideological contrast and that the party abandoned principles through excessive spending during the Bush years.
The debate means the argument over whether outspoken talk show hosts are reviving a beaten party or trashing its brand is likely to persist through the 2010 midterms and into the 2012 presidential primary.
On the one hand, the GOP seems to be surging a bit as it sharpens its attacks. The party is doing better than it has in recent history when it comes to generic matchups for the 2010 midterms. Beck, other Fox News commentators and Breitbart are clearly landing some punches on Obama.
Their efforts helped stoke turnout at the August town halls, forced the mainstream media and Obama himself to reckon with a scandal at ACORN and incendiary comments and led to the resignation of green jobs czar Van Jones.
On the other hand, the partys image more broadly remains in the dumps. An ABC News/Washington Post poll this week found that only 20 percent of those surveyed consider themselves Republicans. A larger study by the Pew Research Center this spring captured a similar trend: The share of independents in the electorate is the highest in 70 years (36 percent), while the share of voters who call themselves Republicans is the lowest in 30 years (23 percent, compared with 35 percent for Democrats).
Republicans in Congress are even more unpopular than the very unpopular Democrats who are running the House and the Senate. This suggests something has to change for a true GOP resurgence to take place.
Karl Rove, the chief political strategist for Bush, said impressions of the Republican Party as a captive of a fringe reflect a cynical and dismissive and small-minded view of who the American voter is.
The question will be whether the Republican candidates next year can talk about a lot of kitchen-table issues and the deficit and spending, Rove said. Rush Limbaugh wont be on the ballot.
This big tension is playing out in a smaller way in the special election in upstate New York. Congressional leaders are backing moderate Dede Scozzafava, despite her liberal views on abortion and other issues, because they think she has the best chance of winning this swing district. Conservatives, including many who participated in the much-publicized tea party protests, are convinced she is insufficiently Republican, so they are throwing their support and money to third-party candidate Doug Hoffman.
The result: Polls show the Republican vote could be so split that a lackluster Democratic candidate could pull off a win. If Republicans blow this race, it will leave the GOP holding only two of New Yorks 29 House seats. A decade ago, it had 14, most of which were occupied by Northeast moderates who no longer feel welcome in the party and were voted in by independents who remain very skeptical of the partys policy solutions.
But with the Scozzafava endorsement, one has to ask if they will even take a stand for NE RINOism...
He is from VA. From what I read, McDonnel doesn't turn left; yet, he might win the race next month. Meanwhile, the model for 'moderate', McCain, failed miserably last year, and Crist, another model for 'moderate', might lose the primary next year. The latest polls show that both Rubio and Crist do well in the general. So, why do we need to turn left?
“Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh figures who are wildly popular with the conservative base but wildly controversial among other parts of the electorate”
...telling the truth has now become “wildly controversial”.
R I N O
Has anyone ever seen an article written about the radical left and it’s death grip on the democrat party?
Didn’t think so.
“McDonnel doesn’t turn left; yet, he might win the race next month”
...McDonnell is now 14 points ahead of Comrade Deeds(D). Worried about the impending last minute “macaca” moment the libs WILL find and present 5 days before election. On the other hand, Deeds is very unpopular with blacks and a recent poll found that there’s a percentage of BO voters disenchanted with the “one” and will stay home! (I work for McDonnell) Fairfax County (Northern Va lib hang out) endorsed McDonnell!! So did lib Hampton Roads!!
The GOP has taken a side-step to the left. We Conservatives firmly stood our ground, where we will remain. That’s why they call us “Conservatives”. We’re stubborn as hell.
But I noticed this morning that Politico failed to even mention Cheney’s commentary about this politicizing of the war in Afghanistan.
Politico chooses their articles carefully, very carefully.
Graham, Brooks, Snowe and those of the same ilk are the reason the republicans got their socks beat off in the last two elections. For CRYING OUT LOUD (I'M YELLING NOW!), IF I WANTED A !@#$%^&*()p_+_)(*&^%$#$%^&*( LIBERAL I'D VOTE FOR A RAT. THESE RINOS ARE JUST DEMOCRAT LITE.
I wish they'd just cross the dang aisle and STAY THERE.
Mr. McCain's attitude toward the conservative was ‘just what
are you going to do about it’... well, now the answer has
come for Mr. McCain and the RNC.
So what the GOP needs is more Ken Mehlmans, Denny Hasterts, Mark Foleys, and John McCains.
exposing the truth! ......
as it had to be dug up, researched, connected the dots, followed the trails, ............
These people have no clue.
Politico just told the GOP to make the conservatives shut up and go away.
If the GOP doesn’t want our votes and money and volunteers let them say so. Just come right out and say it. We can completely take over the Libertarian Party within months.
"Once nominally in power, the Republicans spent & taxed & regulated like a bunch of Democrats- is it any wonder that the voters decided to elect The Real Thing?"
We aren't going to compete with the Evil Party by being ( "We can get you the goodies at a cheaper price" ) Democrat Lite.
That's my 2 cents, anyway...
“We need more voices...”
Someone isn’t paying attention. Politico is asking you GOP leaders to make your base SHUT UP and GO AWAY. Those private citizens out there are making it hard for the leftists and RINO’s to get things done.
Give John McCain's Senate seat to Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Throw McCain out and install a real law-enforcer.
Yeah, I’m not surprised if they will release something that potentially damaging McDonnell’s chance. However, hopefully the fact that he is familiar with the Northern Va will cut Deeds’ lead there.
“The GOP has taken a side-step to the left. We Conservatives firmly stood our ground, where we will remain. Thats why they call us ‘Conservatives’. Were stubborn as hell.”
Yeah! We will NOT compromose our principles.
“If the GOP doesnt want our votes and money and volunteers let them say so. Just come right out and say it. We can completely take over the Libertarian Party within months.”
That’s true. We may want to consider doing just that, as well.
Exactly. Politico.com is just such a box of tools .... on Election Night 2008, a guy from Politico commenting on network news used all his oxygen to slag on Sarah Palin. It was so vile .... these guys are a stone waste of human, just like all the rest of the 'Rats and RiNO's.