Outlook: Has Bush Betrayed His Base?
Monday, May 22, 2006; 2:00 PM
Richard A. Viguerie , author of "Conservatives Betrayed: How Big Government Republicans Hijacked the Conservative Cause" and chairman of a Manassas marketing firm, was online Monday, May 22, at 2 p.m. ET to discuss his Sunday Outlook article on President Bush 's relationship with his base supporters. Viguerie argues that Bush has betrayed conservatives while in office with government-enlarging proposals like No Child Left Behind, the Medicare prescription drug benefit and other moves that strayed from the course many of his supporters had counted on during his campaign for office. The President, Viguerie says, "talked like a conservative to win our votes but never governed like a conservative."
Bush's Base Betrayal , ( Post, May 21, 2006 )
The transcript follows.
Marietta, Ga.: What are you looking for in a 2008 candidate for the GOP nomination?
Richard A. Viguerie: My strong recommendation at this time is that conservatives withhold their support from all of the "wannabees". The number one quality that I'm looking for is someone who will be like Goldwater and Reagan. When Eisenhower was at the peak of his popularity, Goldwater gave a speech in the Senate that said Eisenhower is running a dime-store New Deal. In 1975 and 1976 Reagan was outspokenly critical of Gerry Ford's policies such as the Panama Canal and Detente. Today, I see no Republican leader who will stand up and be critical of President Bush and the Congressional leaders for their Big Government policies.
Houston, Tex.: Richard, what do you think the movement conservatives think of Senator Bill Frist?
Richard A. Viguerie: Senator Frist does not come across as a strong leader nor as someone who feels deeply about conservative issues. Senator Frist certainly does not walk with conservatives. Conservatives should support Presidential candidates who are a product of the conservative movement such as Goldwater and Reagan.
Austin, Tex.: Bush has betrayed everyone...
Richard A. Viguerie: That's not entirely true. Interestingly of almost 200 emails I have received in response to my article in yesterday's Post, over 90%, including Republicans, Democrats, Conservatives and Liberals agreed with the thrust of the article. It is not entirely true that Bush has betrayed everyone, the 1% of his voter support that came from big business corporate America - he's been truthful to them. They have gotten the legislation, the appointments; I can't think of any issue that they have strongly supported where Bush has opposed them.
Fairfax, Va.: I have always voted Republican, including Bush's first term. After president's unnecessary war, I vote no longer Republican. I doubt that the harm that Mr. bush has done to this country and the Republican Party can be repaired for decades.
What will the Republican Party offer the voters in Midterm election?
Richard A. Viguerie: Their primary strategy will probably revolve around scaring the voters as to what will happen if the Democrats get control of Congress. Your comment about the damage not being undone for decades probably underestimates the amount of the damage that Bush and the Republicans have done. It may be that America may never recover from the financial bankruptcy facing us.
Falls Church, Va.: Hi. This is a different sort of question. What ever happened to Charlie Orndorff? We were apartment mates in my last year at U.VA back in 1974. I have heard very little about him since then except that he was working for you, at least at one time. And he was involved with the College Republicans at U.Va. His aunt knew my aunt, but they are both deceased now.
Charlie would be surprised to know that I am CONSERVATIVE now and have even written a paper on the conservative communitarian philosophy behind the Faith-Based Initiative. I was a misguided liberal back at U.Va.! I also recall that Charlie correctly forecast back in the early 70s that Reagan would become President one day.
Thank you for any help you can give me on this matter.
Richard A. Viguerie: Charles has been at the Howard Phillip's Conservative Caucas since your college days and you can reach him at 703-281-6782.
Laurel, Md.: Governor Bush's favorite lines in the 2000 campaign were "I'm a uniter, not a divider" and "I've worked with Democrats and Republicans." Centrist voters have been most disappointed at how far right this administration has been.
Are President Bush's problems political ideology, or simple poor execution of major initiatives?
Richard A. Viguerie: In today's polarized America, it is a disaster for a Republican to try to govern by being a centrist in working with the Democrats. His father tried to do that and lost his Presidency. In January of 1989, in his father's inaugural address, he said his people did not send us here to bicker. Of course that means in order to get along with the Democrats, you must surrender your own agenda. If you consider President Bush as governing from the far right, you are going to be an exceedingly unhappy person when America nominates and elects a President who governs as a conservative.
Darlington, S.C.: Great article. I had already, in writing, notified my Senators and the GOP that I would be staying home in November this year. I also said that when the Republicans stop assigning people to leadership and spokesman posts (Ex. Frist, McCain, Graham)that don't even seem to be able to spell leader then I would again contribute and participate. I'm fed up with the whole lot of them, they have no backbone and all they do is talk. They could have solved the immigration, Iraq, Iran, gas price problems long ago if the had conviction, backbone and were patriots instead of being political hacks.
Richard A. Viguerie: Darlington, S.C., you are exactly right. Of all of the problems that conservatives have is that we lack leaders. Conservatives have a majority of the voters with us on most issues. We have the organizations, the publications, financial resources but we lack leaders. For whatever reason, the liberals seem to have been blessed with many more effective leaders than conservatives have been.
Bethesda, Md.: As a Liberal Democrat, I am shocked to discover that I agree with you in a back-handed way. Our country would be better off with an honest choice between a true liberal and a true conservative. I would like to have a choice between spending like a drunken sailor or not, nation-building or not, social welfare programs or not. I think that conservatives and liberals alike have good reason to be upset at this point with both of their parties, but the idea of Italian-style multi-party elections is unappetizing. What's the solution?
Richard A. Viguerie: Bethesda, MD - Your comment is very perceptive and right on target. I heard from a nationally known Democrat who is a personal friend whose comment was similar to yours. I do disagree with you in comparing Washington politicians to a drunken sailor. Because drunken sailors spend their own money. I have heard a number of national political figures on the left and right say that we may soon see the rise of an effective 3rd party on the right and left.
Arlington, Va.: What more can you tell us about "the third force"? If it's not a third party, then what is it?
Richard A. Viguerie: My recommendation is that conservatives think and act as a 3rd force is not new on the political scene. For years the liberals have very effectively used a 3rd force political strategy. The unions, civil rights organizations, feminists, homosexuals, environmentalists, etc. have had their own separate agendas with their own separate memberships and finances and have operated independent of the Democratic party. Most of the time the Democrats have adopted the agenda of these 3rd force groups. But when they don't, the 3rd force groups are quick to politically challenge the Democrats. For the most part the conservative, for as long as I can remember, have thought of themselves as an adjunct of the Republican party. Several times in the last few decades, conservatives stood independent of the Republican party and forced the Republican party to come their way. Two examples are Phylis Schafly's Stop the ERA and the NRA's protection of the second amendment. Conservatives have been so successful on those two issues by going a 3rd force route that no nationally ambitious Republican or Democrat will take a different position.
West Pittston, Pa.: Spending is out of control, the deficit is spiraling upward and the welfare state is bigger than ever. On fiscal matters, Clinton was certainly more conservative than Bush. Do you agree?
Richard A. Viguerie: I don't agree that Clinton in his heart was more fiscally conservative than Bush. They are both big government and big spenders. The reason Clinton comes across more fiscally responsible is because for six of his eight years as President had a Republican congress. During the 1960's, 70's, 80's and 90's when the Republicans told us they wanted a balanced budget and smaller government they were obviously lying. The truth is that they just didn't want the Democrats to do the spending. They wanted to do it themselves.
Fairfax Station, Va.: Mr. Viguerie,
Thank you for articulating what legions of frustrated conservatives have quietly felt in recent years. Frankly, it's pathetic that the GOP continues to hammer out a "stay the course" message when even the most ardent GOP loyalists have to privately admit that their tired refrain has long lost it's luster!
Your perspective on conservatives needing to eradicate this problem at the voting booth is probably the only way the majority party will really get the message that they have completely mishandled the nation's interest by focusing only on self-interest. I take no joy in admitting that everything you wrote is spot-on accurate.
If we are going to see any change, you're right...the GOP needs to be accountable for the path they took. I suspect many GOP operatives will have ample time on their hands come November to reflect on what they have done (or not done) to put out country into the fragile position it is in today.
Impressed by Ronald Reagan's "the government that governs best governs less" mantra, I joined the Republican tent in 1980. Sadly, our current "borrow and spend" GOP bears no resemblance to the party I embraced with my first vote 26 years ago. By your article, I guess I should take some solace in knowing that I'm not alone in my frustration of today's GOP!
Richard A. Viguerie: Fairfax Station, VA - I assure you and I are not the only one's who share these concerns. The vast majority of Bush's voters in 2004 share our disappointment, frustration and even anger at Bush's actions and Republican leaders. 89% of people who voted for Bush, in a recent online poll I conducted, are so angry with Bush they would consider voting for a 3rd party candidate.
Arlington, Va.: Have you seen a split in the "conservative" base in terms of income and status? I wonder if President Bush was really ever a conservative, but actually an elitist. Does he seem much different than the Rockefeller crowd you described? Is there really any compassion in President Bush?
Richard A. Viguerie: I don't see a split from the conservative base in terms of income and status. But there is clearly a split in those who vote Republican in the big business wing of the party and grassroots conservatives. It is probably fair to say Bush was never a conservative, but like his father he masked his true beliefs knowing that he could never be elected President if he had run as a big government, nation-building candidate and ignore social issues.
Columbia, Md.: In your column in the Sunday outlook, you mention that the "base" also feels betrayed on the issues of abortion and gay marriage. Aren't you referring to a different "base" here? I would think that conservatives primarily concerned with the "big government" issue would take issue with the government legislating "morality."
Richard A. Viguerie: Those Americans concerned with the war that's been declared on people with traditional values are very much a key element of the Republican party's status for the last twenty years. In a country of almost 300 million people, you cannot put together a majority of 51% with just people who agree with you or me. It's important to build a coalition. Those Americans who feel traditional values are important to our country's future probably make up a majority of Americans and certainly make up a large majority of Bush's voters.
San Francisco, Calif.: So you've finally admitted that the Bushes aren't conservative. I realized that back in 1992 - that's why I voted for Perot and Buchanan. Everything Perot warned about has come true - the disappearance of industries, the invasion by aliens, a huge deficit, and war overseas. Aren't you a little late to the party?
Richard A. Viguerie: I was never under any illusion that Bush was a conservative. I just took him at his word and felt that he would govern from a right-of-center perspective. I was one, if not the the first, to seriously encourage Pat Buchanan to run on a 3rd party ticket in 1975. If the Republicans and Democrats don't get their act together soon we may really see a 3rd party movement sooner rather than later.
Bowie, Md.: Do you think the most nationally-electable presidential candidate would be one who stands very strongly on social issues like abortion or gay rights, or more of libertarian conservative who emphasizes property and economic rights?
Richard A. Viguerie: I think the most electable Presidential candidate will be someone who runs on a platform comparable to the one that Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush ran on. A conservative fiscal policy, strong national defense, no nation-building and support for traditional moral values. This is a approach that elected five of the last seven Presidents. Unfortunately, far too many times the campaign rhetoric was completely forgotten once they moved into the White House.
Washington, D.C.: The approval rating for President Bush is currently consistently falling. What are his strategies to pull American voters back in for midterm congressional elections?
Richard A. Viguerie: My advice to the President regarding the upcoming elections is almost certain not to be taken but I appreciate your questions and here is what I recommend to the President: First, make major changes in your staff/cabinet. Personnel is policy. You cannot have conservative policies without conservative personnel. Secondly, pick ideological battles with the liberals. Veto big spending, big government legislation. Push for your judges. Push for more tax cuts. Abolish ineffective programs. (I'm sorry if some think that's redundant). Change your emphasis on illegal immigration. First, accept what American wants which is to secure the borders. After Americans see you have secured our borders, they will be in a better mood to hear what you have to say about a guest worker programs. lastly, nationalize the elections. Republicans don't always win when election are nationalized but never do when they're not. Such as in 1980, 1984, 1988, 1994, 2000, 2002, 2004.
Athens, Ga.: Barry Goldwater was the 1964 GOP candidate for president and the author of "The Conscience of a Conservative." Though Ronald Reagan backed his campaign in '64, Goldwater was later shunned as a Republican elder statesman. Toward the end of his life, the conservative Goldwater backed gays in the military, reforming America's marijuana laws and keeping abortion legal. He stood against the MX missile that Reagan backed. Goldwater also said in an interview with Larry King that today's "neoconservatives" viewed him as "some kind of socialist." My question: How would Barry Goldwater, the GOP's original champion of conservatism, view the policies of the Bush administration?
Richard A. Viguerie: Barry Goldwater was our political father of the conservative movement and our intellectual father and he certainly paved the way for Reagan, who he never strongly supported. If you read "Conscience of a Conservative", you will see there is a strong moral basis and tone to the book. Only in Goldwater's later years as the conservative movement went far beyond him, did he take a more libertarian position.
Richard A. Viguerie: I guess our time is up now. I really appreciate everyone who sent in a question. I wish I could have answered more, but perhaps I'll have an opportunity to do it again soon.
Thank you very much!
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