T Nation

Conservatives and Republicans


Interesting article in today's NYT op-ed section by Ramesh Ponnuru of the National Review about why conservatives have been less than pleased with many actions by the Republican leadership, including the President, lately:


Why Conservatives Are Divided

Published: October 17, 2005


CONSERVATIVES are conducting a bitter debate about President Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. Some see a divide between populists and elitists: they say that the conservative masses are gung-ho for the nomination, which is opposed only by Beltway insiders.

The truth is that the debate, like most political debates, is largely among elites. Ms. Miers's strongest supporters are in the White House elite, and they argue that conservatives should trust her because she is also part of that elite.

Her strongest opponents are in the network of legal conservatives who have sought to move the courts back toward what they regard as the original understanding of the Constitution. (These legal conservatives are not always vocal in public about Ms. Miers, but they are behind the opposition of other conservatives.) Polls show that rank-and-file conservative voters are split.

Nor is religion the dividing line: there are evangelicals on both sides. If Mr. Bush had nominated an evangelical like Michael McConnell, almost all conservatives would have strongly supported his decision. Supporters would not, however, have had to make his religion one of his central selling points, since he is also an appeals-court judge and legal scholar widely respected by liberals and conservatives alike.

To see where the fault lines really lie, it helps to review the history of conservatives' relationship with President Bush.

Conservatives entered the presidential race of 2000 holding a weak hand. The failure of the "Republican revolution" under Newt Gingrich had demonstrated that there was no sizable constituency for shutting down federal programs and departments. Republicans had previously succeeded in running against big government because it was associated, in the public mind, with a cultural liberalism weakened by its perceived excesses on issues of race and crime, sex and family, religion and patriotism, and welfare and work. President Bill Clinton had systematically detached big government from those liabilities, most significantly by signing welfare reform.

Mr. Clinton's political success got the Republicans to stop crusading against big government. While running for president, George W. Bush pointedly denounced the idea that "if government would only get out of our way, all our problems would be solved." The Gingrich Republicans had tried to abolish the Department of Education. Mr. Bush said he would give it new responsibilities.

Conservatives who were paying attention in 2000 knew that Mr. Bush would not be a budget-cutter. They knew, as well, that he did not share their opposition to race-conscious affirmative action, or the desire that many of them had for immigration restrictions. They calculated, however, that he would be good on their highest-priority issues - and that given difficult political circumstances, they had to give ground on their lower-priority issues. Mr. Bush could be counted on, conservatives thought, to make the nation more secure, to appoint "strict constructionist" judges in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, to cut taxes and to reform entitlements.

Moreover, Mr. Bush's reliability on those issues would mitigate the impact of his deviations. Conservative justices would set limits on racial preferences even if the president did not. Tax cuts would restrain federal spending, and Social Security reform based on private investment would make voters less dependent on government and thus, over time, more tolerant of budget cuts. So conservatives placed their bets on Mr. Bush.

But five years into Mr. Bush's presidency, conservatives have cause to re-evaluate their compromises. While most conservatives supported the invasion of Iraq, many have grave doubts about the conduct of the war. Medicare has been expanded more than it has been reformed. Social Security reform appears to be dead for now. Tax cuts may have inhibited spending - perhaps Medicare would have been expanded even more without them - but they have hardly imposed anything that could fairly be called "restraint."

The president appears not just to oppose immigration restrictions, but to be committed to liberalization. Hurricane Katrina shook conservatives, too. They rightly rejected overheated criticisms of Mr. Bush, especially those that portrayed him as indifferent to the suffering of blacks. But they want the federal government to perform its core functions competently.

It was against this backdrop that Mr. Bush nominated Ms. Miers. Counting on Mr. Bush to appoint conservative judges had always been risky. Even if he picked a conservative nominee, that nominee would have to be confirmed and then stay conservative on the bench. Conservatives are well aware that of the five justices who voted, in effect, to extend constitutional protection to partial-birth abortion, three were appointed by Republican presidents committed to "strict constructionism." That record of mixed results, combined with the increased prominence of the courts in American life, raised the stakes when Justice Sandra Day O'Connor retired.

In the past, conservatives had overlooked disappointments and disagreements for the sake of getting solid appointments to the Supreme Court. The president's judicial appointments will be among his most lasting legacies. But then Mr. Bush nominated Ms. Miers. Conservatives are not sure she's a legal conservative at all, and they are still less sure that she will be a forceful advocate for originalism. Not even her strongest defenders outside the administration say she would have been their top choice.

Those defenders say that we should nevertheless trust Mr. Bush's judgment. At the very moment that conservatives have begun to conclude that their bets on Mr. Bush are no longer paying off, Mr. Bush has asked them to double down. That request has even pro-Miers conservatives feeling disillusioned, and other conservatives feeling betrayed. That's what's dividing conservatives - and it's why they're thinking more and more about life after President Bush.

Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor at National Review, is writing a book about the sanctity of life and American politics.


Don't any of the commenters who constantly berate conservatives as being blind Bush-cheerleaders want to chime in? This article reiterates many of the complaints that conservatives on this board have voiced regarding the President.

Don't forget that there are two standards of judgment in politics. There's the absolute standard, and in this case a lot of conservatives aren't happy with the administration and the leadership of the Republican party.

Then there's the comparative standard -- and that, my friends, is why so many people stick with Bush and the Republicans even though they have low approval ratings: They don't see the Democrats as being any better (and in most cases they seem them as being worse).

For all the trumpeting about Bush's relatively low approval ratings, no one that I saw showed anything that demonstrated a rise in the number of people who would vote for Democrats, given the option today. If you look at those opinion polls, you'll note that the demographic that was expressing more discontent with Bush than previously was the base -- he wasn't losing the center, and he never had the left.

At any rate, I guess this goes more to the discussion of how the Dems are doing a bad job providing an alternative, but the dissatisfaction with Bush expressed around here and in this article won't translate into more Dem votes because the Dems aren't providing what those people consider better alternatives -- the most a dyed-in-the-wool Dem could hope for from these let-downs for conservatives is that more of them stay home next election cycle.

Which, actually, would be pretty devastating... So the Republican party shouldn't think that they're pie-in-the-sky right now -- there are some serious issues to address with the base.


The republicans are always bickering amongst one another. I can't remember a single election cycle in which one faction wasn't sniping at another. Maybe 1994. But even then, it was a bunch of challengers that banded together to campaign on the Contract With America platform.

Funny thing though - which is repeating what you just opined - it seems that regardless what the rift is, come the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November Republicans stick together.

I just wished they knew how to lead. First Lott, now Frist. We need a pit bull, not a damn cocker spaniel.


Rain ,I guess the flock follows no matter what p.o.s. is their leader!


No - it just means that we know what it takes to win. Something the left has forgotten how to do.


I think the current insult they are using is "rightwingnut". Cheerleader was last week.

It's a good article and I think fairly representative of the party and direction it is taking.

We need a front runner too take the lead soon.


Yes those wimpie Dems. dropped the issue to fast, in the last election the counting was all screwed up in my state and they dropped the issue almost as if the whole deal was a big scharade.


Don't you live in Utah? If so, I could see why they dropped any counting w/r/t the presidential race -- Utah was one of the reddest red states, and there would have had to have been an almost inconceivable rate of error (or fraud) to affect the outcome. If you're referencing another race or aren't from Utah then my apologies.

At any rate, the problem the Dems face isn't that the GOP voters will march behind any leader, no matter how inept -- the problem they face is that they can't seem to put up a candidate that, in comparison with the GOP candidate, doesn't seem even more inept or more likely to enact bad policies.

In politics, it's the comparative standard that matters.


This is only a reiteration of what many of the academics on this site have been saying from the beginning: Mr. Bush is very ineffective and will ultimately prove to be an utterly insignificant leader. Everything he touches falls apart and this will no doubt be shown in the history books that the 'righties' love to quote.


What does that have to do with this thread? Bush is not the Party. Bush can't run again.

I'll agree that Bush is no Ronald Reagan, but his legacy will stand much taller and brighter than either Clinton's or Carter's.

But once again - that is not even part of the original discussion.


This whole article is about how Bush is a bad leader and how he's ripping his party apart. He had the radical right bible thumpers in his back pocket now he's alienating them with his nominations...you tell me this has nothing to with bush as a leader? I think maybe they are just losing their trust of him because of all the shenanigans he's stirred up in the last five years. Maybe it's not blatantly calling him a bad leader but that is how I interpret it. I think the intelligent people on the right are finally getting the picture.


I have been refering to this the entire time I have been posting in this area.

Uncle Ronnie's 11th Commandment has held the GOP togther (to their detriment) until now but the wheels have fallen off the cart.

It is disappointing it took this long.

FYI - Republicans have not bickered liked this in at least 10 years. It has been a very long time coming.


You couldn't be more wrong. Republicans bicker all the damn time. In fact it was only in 1994 that there wasn't been a bunch of infighting.

The wheels are not anywhere near falling off - that is just wishful thinking on the part of the ABB crowd.

But you guys just keep wishing and clicking your heels together. God knows it'll take more than the platform the loser left has to beat the Republicans.


I think you need a lesson in reading comprehension.

Most of the leftists think Bush is to the right of Ghengis Khan, but he could be a liberal Democrat in his immigration policy, Medicare policy etc.


That "policy" would seem to fall right in line with the apparent disconcern with the middle class or anyone not running a fortune 500 company, huh?


All this is really saying is that the Republican party has been taken over by extremists that have forgotten what the party is all about. Just like the Democrats have been taken over by extremists as well. Both parties are so far to the ends of left and right that those of us in the middle get the shaft. Both parties are more concerned about protecting their own interests instead of the interests of the people that put them in office.

I say we just clear out all the branches (Executive, Legislative and Judicial) and start over with the real Americans of this country! Americans that had to hold a 9-5 job! Americans that had to pay for their own healthcare! Americans that understand that government is to serve the people, NOT the people are here to serve the government! Get rid of these career politicians and silver spoon trust-fund babies that have turned our country into crap!


Perhaps the Republicans -- in Congress at least -- are beginning to listen to the conservative grumbling:

Wall Street Journal Editorial

The Sequester Solution
October 20, 2005

It's only taken a decade or so, but suddenly there's momentum in Congress for spending restraint. We'll be watching the fine print, but you can tell Republicans are worried about complaints from conservative voters because for a change they're trying to act, well, like Republicans.

In a first good sign, House leaders are rewriting their Fiscal 2006 budget resolution to increase the amount of "savings" to as much as $50 billion over five years. This is far from onerous, but it is better than the $35 billion Congress passed the first time around.

In another miracle, they are also moving to "deauthorize" 98 federal programs that long ago outlived their usefulness. These include such pork-barrel classics as the Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship Program. A deauthorization doesn't cut any spending, but it does reduce the likelihood that money will be spent on these fiscal dodos in the future. Political symbolism has its uses.

By far the most promising idea is for a spending cut of as much as 3% on every discretionary federal agency, program and department. The case for across-the-board cuts is especially persuasive given the boom times that federal agencies have enjoyed in recent years. As the nearby chart shows, spending for federal education programs is up 99% since 2001; international affairs and foreign aid is up 94%; community development 71%; housing programs 86%, and so on. The inflation rate over the same period was 12.5%.

This "cut," by the way, would only reduce spending from the "baseline" that already includes annual increases for inflation for 2006. A 3% sequester, as it's known in Beltway lingo, would save $36 billion in 2006. And because baseline spending levels would be reduced going ahead, the savings would magnify over time -- to as much as $500 billion over 10 years. This is without even touching the $1.4 trillion to be spent on Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlements. (The programs that would be cut are those that Congress agrees to fund every year; entitlements go up automatically unless Congress rewrites the law.)

Democrats are deploring an across-the-board cut as a "mindless buzz saw" that fails to set priorities and hurts the poor. And it would be nice if Congress actually debated priorities. But since the late 1990s, spending has gone up on nearly everything every year. Given Hurricane Katrina and the war on terror, an across-the-board cut is a blunt political instrument whose time has returned.

As for the poor, income security programs have expanded by $59.3 billion in four years, an increase of 39%. The General Accountability Office has also found that the rate of fraud in programs like Medicaid and food stamps is in the billions of dollars. One in 10 food stamps is "improperly issued or illegally trafficked," says the GAO.

Government is fully capable of rooting out waste if it is forced to. In 1987, when the Gramm Rudman deficit-reduction law was enforced, President Reagan ordered a 4.3% sequester of all domestic and defense spending. A funny thing happened: Agencies found ways to save money. Social Security checks got sent out; the air traffic control system still operated; and the Washington Monument wasn't closed down.

Some conservatives want to exempt homeland security and Pentagon spending from the budget scalpel. That's a bad idea. The defense budget is up 64% in four years, or to about 4% of GDP after it had fallen to 3% from 5% during the Clinton era. (A dirty little secret of the 1990s is that nearly all of the reduction in federal spending came from defense.)

If more spending is needed for Iraq or Afghanistan, the White House can ask for it. But Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has identified billions of dollars of low-priority spending that could be excised. A scathing 2003 report by federal auditors concluded that financial problems at the Pentagon are "pervasive, complex, longstanding, and deeply rooted in virtually all its business operations."

Ditto for homeland security. Veronique De Rugy of the American Enterprise Institute has identified $2.6 billion of "homeland security" funds on questionable grants to states and localities, including $500,000 for the steamship authority to transport people to the upscale island of Martha's Vineyard, and $50 million for a national exercise program.

There was a time, in 1995 and 1996, when the freshly minted Republican majority really did try to restrain spending and kill unnecessary programs. But over the years, the GOP has lost its way, albeit with the help of a White House willing to let the Members run wild. If they want to regain their fiscal conservative credentials, they'll sign up for the 3% across-the-board sequester.


Then again, I won't think they're serious unless the Coburn Amendment passes in the Senate -- from my understanding, it would essentially put an end to specific pork from the Senate, which means it probably won't pass.

Read up on it here:






Hip, hip, hooray! At least somebody gets the picture