Craig Shirley

In his now infamous “Malaise” speech in 1979, Jimmy Carter demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of his country and his countrymen. It was the tipping point for his presidency.

Last week, President Bush had his own malaise moment when he attacked a large segment of the American people and insinuated they were ignorant about the immigration bill he has fashioned with Ted Kennedy.

The American people don’t like to be criticized by their presidents, especially when they are at 28 percent approval, either then or now. This clash is a “Panama Canal moment” for the GOP.

The bar fight over the newest immigration “compromise” bill is the Gotterdammerung for the party and the conservative movement. The outcome will determine what direction the GOP will take and whether it will once again be consigned to minority status for a generation.

It is not the first time there has been a trial separation and eventually a divorce between conservatism and Republicanism. In 1971, conservatives gathered at Bill Buckley’s home in New York. The meeting was called because Richard Nixon had supported his aide, Pat Moynihan’s proposal for a federally-mandated guaranteed household income. That tore it for conservatives.

Nixon had already instituted wage and price controls, appointed liberals to his Administration, was cozying up to the Soviets and was about to betray America’s longtime ally, Taiwan, to recognize instead Red China. “Tricky Dick” tricked conservatives into supporting him in 1968 and then immediately set about to break every promise he’d ever made to the Right.

The group called themselves the “Manhattan Twelve” and signed a manifesto announcing their “Declaration of Independence” from Nixon and his Republican Party. They hence decided to forget about the losers that made up what was left of the GOP and focused instead on building a political movement. At this, they were very successful and were guided only by their principles.

The conservative movement all through the late 1970’s led the GOP around by the nose, on the Panama Canal treaties, on SALT II, on ERA, on tax cuts, on opposition to Jimmy Carter and support for Ronald Reagan. The GOP of the 1970’s was clueless, just as their fancy counterparts are of the current Republican Party.

True conservatives are now faced with this choice once again. In order to save their ideology, should the conservative movement declare it’s independence from the Bush Administration and the GOP? The arguments for doing so are compelling.

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.