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June 29, 2007

It's no secret that some members of the GOP are distancing themselves from the Bush administration as they get themselves ready for the 2008 election. But, the war in Iraq is not the sole cause for the consternation in the party ranks. There are the very visible rifts — the President's inability to get his immigration priorities passed, high profile defections like that of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the furor over Christian Right leader James Dobson's pronouncement that not-quite-candidate Fred Thompson was not "a committed Christian" and the implication he shouldn't be the party's choice to run.

In 1964 Barry Goldwater took the reigns of the party in his nomination acceptance speech: "Let our Republicanism, so focused and so dedicated, not be made fuzzy and futile by unthinking and stupid labels." But today just what should lie at the heart of the Party's ideology is under debate. Columnist E.J. Dionne is calling it "The GOP's identity crisis." "The great drama in American politics today revolves around the question: What is the Republican Party?"

The bookshelves and press are full of soul searching. The blog at Conservative HQ hosts discussions entitled "Taking the party back" and "Restarting the conservative movement." Then, there's the JOURNAL guest Victor Gold's INVASION OF THE PARTY SNATCHERS: HOW THE HOLY-ROLLERS AND THE NEO-CONS DESTROYED THE GOP and Andrew Sullivan's new book, THE CONSERVATIVE SOUL: HOW WE LOST IT, HOW TO GET IT BACK. Says Sullivan: Today's conservatives support limited government. But they believe the federal government can intervene in a state court's decisions in a single family's struggle over life and death. They believe in restraining government spending. But they have increased such spending by a mind-boggling 33 percent in a mere four years. They believe in self-reliance. But they have just passed the most expensive new entitlement since the heyday of Great Society liberalism..."

But many of these debates aren't new — even when the party was riding high the wishes of small government conservatives jockeyed for pre-eminence with those of social conservatives and fiscal conservatives. In 2004 Bill Moyers talked with a number of GOP members about their views on the future and core ideology of their party. You can watch those interviews online, and explore recent writing by these Republican theorists below.

DAVID KEENE: Chairman of the American Conservative Union

"Most conservatives believe today as they did in the past that the primary reason for their involvement in politics is to make certain that government keeps its hands off them, keeps its hands out of their pockets. The problem that we have is that with the Republican Party in control of the Congress and in the White House, that there's a tendency to do the same thing that the Democrats did when they were in power." -- on NOW WITH BILL MOYERS, 2004
"The fact is that while none of these [candidates] have anything approaching a Reagan-like claim on conservative support, each of them can make a case that might appeal to conservatives in spite of their records on some issues....Conservatives aren't stupid. They know what's going on, and while they may take some satisfaction in seeing these guys trying to learn a new language, they would, I suspect, be more impressed if each of them treated them like thinking adults and said, "Look, I'm not sure I agree with you completely on some of these issues, but I'll work with you and you can trust my word if I commit not to pursue policies you find objectionable." It is, after all, a politician's word, not his rhetoric, on which one must ultimately rely." "The GOP Pander Bears," 2007
GROVER NORQUIST: President of Americans for Tax Reform
"We certainly need to fight against any effort by any corporation or any industry to ask for special deals from the government. And that's why the conservative movement has always been so separate from the business community. I know the left keep thinking they're the same thing. I assure you, the business community is very aware that they're not the same thing." NOW WITH BILL MOYERS, 2004
"You can make the argument that some candidates would be more enthusiastic about going further on the social conservative agenda, and some may well excite the leadership of the social conservative movement, but I donít believe that it moves votes." "Grover Speaks," ROLLING STONE, May 29, 2007
CAL THOMAS: Conservative commentator
"Homosexuality, abortion, divorce, drugs, pornography, the long list of cultural ills that are properly trumpeted as indications of decay by many of my brethren on the right are not the cause of our decadence. They're a reflection of it." NOW WITH BILL MOYERS, 2004
"The flaw in the movement was the perception that the church had become an appendage to the Republican Party and one more special interest group to be pampered. If one examines the results of the Moral Majority's agenda, little was accomplished in the political arena and much was lost in the spiritual realm, as many came to believe that to be a Christian meant you also must be "converted" to the Republican Party and adopt the GOP agenda and its tactics. "The legacy of Jerry Falwell," May 17, 2007
RICHARD A. VIGUERIE: Conservative grassroots activist
"You have to remember there's two different things. There's the Republican Party, and then there's the conservative the time we hadn't nominated anybody for President. We did that with Goldwater in '64. Then we hadn't elected a conservative to office. And we did that in 1980. Now, our next challenge is to nominate, elect and govern as conservatives. And we've not had a President who governed as a conservative." NOW WITH BILL MOYERS, 2004
"With their record over the past few years, the Big Government Republicans in Washington do not merit the support of conservatives. They have busted the federal budget for generations to come with the prescription-drug benefit and the creation and expansion of other programs. They have brought forth a limitless flow of pork for the sole, immoral purpose of holding onto office. They have expanded government regulation into every aspect of our lives and refused to deal seriously with mounting domestic problems such as illegal immigration. They have spent more time seeking the favors of K Street lobbyists than listening to the conservatives who brought them to power." "The Show Must Not Go On," WASHINGTON MONTHLY
References and Reading:
"The GOP's identity crisis"
E.J. Dionne, THE SEATTLE TIMES, June 19, 2007

"Dobson Offers Insight on 2008 Republican Hopefuls"
US NEWS & WORLD REPORT, Dan Gilgoff, March 28, 2007

Tom DeLay on a Newt Gingrich candidacy,

"Crisis of Faith," Andrew Sullivan, THE NEW REPUBLIC, April 25, 2005

Published June 22, 2007

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Deputy Press Secretary to Barry Goldwater during the 1964 campaign, Victor Gold discusses where he believes the Republican Party has gone astray in the last twenty years.
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