Conservatives jumping ship

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 4, 2009; 9:57 AM

The raging debate over who should lead the Republican Party isn't the only passionate argument on the right.

While partisans argue about the relative virtues of Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, columnists, writers and bloggers have been slugging it out about the future of conservatism.

Such exchanges aren't unusual when one side's party is out of power, especially given the degree to which the GOP controls none of the levers of power these days except ye olde filibuster threat. Lefties argued over the future of liberalism for what seemed like a zillion years while the Democrats wandered in the wilderness, and afterward as well.

The split on the right first became apparent during the Bush years, especially in the second term, when some of those devoted to limited government were appalled by the burgeoning spending and some who had backed the Iraq invasion were disgusted by its bungling.

The divide deepened during last year's campaign when some of the right's most prominent writers and talkers revolted over John McCain's choice of Palin. A few intellectuals such as Christopher Buckley even announced they were voting for Barack Obama.

The dawn of the Obama era might have erased some of these fissures, but the arguments, at least in some quarters, seem to be getting louder. What might seem like a writerly squabble is, to some, a battle for the soul of a movement.

Andrew Sullivan, former New Republic editor, former Time and Washington Post columnist, now with the Atlantic, came to prominence a decade ago as one of the earliest conservative bloggers. But by 2008 he was an unabashed supporter of Obama. He addresses his evolution, and that of the GOP:

"There has to come a point at which a movement or party so abandons core principles or degenerates into such a rhetorical septic system that you have to take a stand. It seems to me that now is a critical time for more people whose principles lie broadly on the center-right to do so -- against the conservative degeneracy in front of us. Those who have taken such a stand -- to one degree or other -- demand respect. And this blog, while maintaining its resistance to cliquishness, has been glad to link to writers as varied as Bruce Bartlett or David Frum or David Brooks or Steve Chapman or Kathleen Parker or Conor Friedersdorf or Jim Manzi or Jeffrey Hart or Daniel Larison who have broken ranks in some way or other.

"I can't claim the same courage as these folks because I've always been fickle in partisan terms. To have supported Reagan and Bush and Clinton and Dole and Bush and Kerry and Obama suggests I never had a party to quit. I think that may be because I wasn't born here. I have no deep loyalty to either American party in my bones or family or background, and admire presidents from both parties. My partisanship remains solely British -- I'm a loyal Tory. . . .

"For these reasons, I found it intolerable after 2003 to support the movement that goes by the name 'conservative' in America. I still do, even though I am much more of a limited government type than almost any Democrat and cannot bring myself to call myself a liberal (because I'm not). . .

"I cannot support a movement that so abandoned government's minimal and vital role to police markets and address natural disasters that it gave us Katrina and the financial meltdown of 2008.

"I cannot support a movement that holds torture as a core value.

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