With victory in the November elections now in jeopardy, the Republican establishment has finally noticed the party's significant weakness at its base -- especially within the small-government or Reagan wing -- and launched a counterattack.
The frustration of conservatives, who constitute the Republican Party's core, with many actions of George W. Bush and the Republican Congress is hardly news. I quote dozens of prominent conservative commentators complaining about Bush's policies and proposals dating all the way back to the 2000 election in my book "Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy."
Since I finished writing the book last year, many more leading conservatives have joined the chorus. Last November, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey complained that "President Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress are presiding over the largest expansion of government since LBJ's Great Society."
In April, a Wall Street Journal editorial observed that "a sense of entitlement" had set in among many congressional Republicans "who forgot why they were elected and began to believe that power was its own reward."
In July, columnist Robert Novak reported: "The hostility toward the Republican Party by the conservative base remains as intense as we have ever seen. ... There is continuing debate among the previously faithful party activists over whether it might not be a good idea for the GOP to lose one or both houses of Congress."
In the last few weeks, an impressive number of leading conservatives have said publicly that Republicans in Congress have so badly betrayed their principles that Democratic control wouldn't be such a bad idea. These include Jeffrey Hart, Jonah Goldberg and Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review magazine, direct-mail king Richard Viguerie, former Republican Rep. Joe Scarborough and several others.
For a long time, the Republican establishment and its mouthpieces have ignored this insurgency within the party. My publisher was told that the slavishly pro-Bush New York Post and Weekly Standard magazine made a deliberate decision not to review my book, which was reviewed in every other major media outlet. Apparently, they decided that if they were to attack me it would create a controversy that would give publicity to my argument.
It is my experience that when defenders of a position refuse to even respond to legitimate critics it is because they know their position is intellectually untenable. But as Republican leaders in the House of Representatives have recently discovered with the Mark Foley incident, ignoring a problem doesn't make it go away. It just festers and becomes worse when it inevitably becomes too big to ignore.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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