Craig Shirley

Conservatives gathering this weekend in Washington at a summit sponsored by National Review magazine will be pondering their movement's future, inside the GOP, separate from the party or even if it has a future.

This will also be true for the Republican lawmakers who are huddling at their annual retreat this weekend. Conservatives will be asking similar questions when they meet in Washington at the annual CPAC meeting in March and on bobbing cruise liners in the Pacific, courtesy of the Weekly Standard. In between excessive eating and drinking, they will all be asking themselves, "Where do we go from here?"

These meetings are no less critical for the movement than the Council of Trent was for the Catholic Church but conservatives are wondering if it will take 35 years to right themselves; that is how long the bishops and priests took to debate after Martin Luther's broadside before they could move forward. Across the United States, in bars and restaurants, in churches and over the dinner table, people who revere Ronald Reagan not just as a nice fellow, but as someone who articulated their philosophy of less government and more freedom are wondering how their ideology went off the tracks so badly.

The Republican Party is in as critical shape as it was in 1974. It is so hopelessly confused, it stands for precious little that Americans find attractive. This is in part due to the war in Iraq, but not entirely. After the November elections, a CNN poll astonishingly found that more than 60 percent of Americans now believe the GOP to be the party of "big government." After McCain-Feingold, prescription drug benefits, No Child Left Behind, the Patriot Act, lobbying scandals, bloated energy, farm, and transportation bills and unrestricted growth of government along with invasion of personal privacy, who can blame them?

Just this past weekend, locally elected Republican officials in the Northwest and Maine proposed banning cigarette smoking in cars with children under 18 years of age and mandatory drug testing for all elected officials. Ignorance aside, stooging for cheap media aside, these ideological illiterates who proposed this nonsense are more dangerous to the GOP than Hillary Clinton ever hoped to be. By suggesting these clear violations of parental rights and the cherished right of privacy, they, incrementally, help redefine the GOP to the American people as "Police State Republicans." Will parents have to carry papers proving their children’s age? Will elected officials have to get a note from their doctor demonstrating they are “drug free?” Bit by bit, the lust for power is destroying the Republicans from within.

Craig Shirley

Craig Shirley is a Reagan biographer, a presidential historian and Chairman of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs. His firm is assisting Scott Walker’s presidential campaign.