GOP blame game be­gins; con­ser­va­tives say party aban­doned prin­ci­ples

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Ralph Z. Hallow

Re­crim­i­na­tions flew from ev­ery which­waya­gain­stRepub­li­can­lead­ers as vot­ers turned out on Nov. 7 for the cul­mi­na­tion of an elec­tion cam­paign that had Pres­i­dent Bush’s party on the de­fen­sive.

With the party fight­ing to avert a midterm melt­down, con­ser­va­tives were­crit­icalofRepub­li­can­son­both ide­o­log­i­cal and tac­ti­cal grounds.

“This elec­tion is not a de­feat for con­ser­va­tives­but­forRepub­li­cans— they thought they could desert core con­ser­va­tiveprin­ci­ples,be­comethe party of big gov­ern­ment and get away­withit,”saidRepub­li­can­media con­sul­tant Craig Shirley.

TheRev.Richard­Land,pres­i­dent oftheSouth­ernBap­tistCon­ven­tion’s Ethic­sandReli­giousLib­er­tiesCom­mis­sion, said, “Repub­li­cans would have been bet­ter off with Mr. Bush head­ing­th­et­icket,asi­fitwereapres­i­den­tia­lyear,be­causeSouth­ernBap­tists and evan­gel­i­cals don’t feel the same­frus­tra­tionto­wardMr.Bushas theyfeel­to­wardRepub­li­cansinCongress. They have much more af­fec­tion for him than for Repub­li­cans in the House and the Se­nate.”

Repub­li­cans­failed­to­keeptheDe- mocrats from “na­tion­al­iz­ing” the elec­tion, as exit polls in­di­cated that vot­ers con­sid­ered the Iraq war their top pri­or­ity. Yet Mr. Land said con­ser­va­tive vot­ers moved to­ward the Repub­li­cans as a re­sult of that “na­tion­al­iz­ing” trend. “Ev­ery­where I’ve trav­eled, I’ve heard evan­gel­i­cals say, ‘TheRepub­li­cans­don’tde­serve­tobe re-elected, but we don’t de­serve to have Nancy Pelosi as speaker or Har­ryRei­dasSe­natemajor­ityleader ei­ther,’ ” the Bap­tist spokesman said, re­fer­ring­tothe­cur­rent­con­gres­sional Demo­cratic lead­ers.

For many, the elec­tion was what Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee Chair­man Ken Mehlman said he didn’t want it to be — a ref­er­en­dum on Mr. Bush and the Iraq war. Mr. Mehlman had stressed a Repub­li­can strat­egy of em­pha­siz­ing lo­cal can­di­dates and lo­cal is­sues.

“There was gen­eral re­vul­sion in the­coun­try,par­tic­u­larlya­mongDemocrats and in­de­pen­dents, against the con­duct of the war in Iraq,” said poll­ster John Zogby. “This was, at the grass roots, a ref­er­en­dum against the war and the pres­i­dent. For Repub­li­cans, there was sig­nif­i­cant dis­ap­point­ment about op­por­tu­ni­ties­lost­throughenor­mous­bud­get deficits, threats to civil lib­er­ties, a failed so­cial agenda, and the war.”

Even con­ser­va­tives with close ties to the White House were crit­i­cal of the Repub­li­can Party’s re­cent per­for­mance.

“What went wrong for Repub­li­cans? Ev­ery­thing,” said Amer­i­can Con­ser­va­tiveUnionPres­i­den­tDavid A. Keene. “Repub­li­cans will blame ev­ery­one but them­selves, but this will have been a ref­er­en­dum not on thei­deast­hat­brought­them­topower, bu­ton­the­sor­ry­way­in­whichthey’ve gone about ei­ther ig­nor­ing or im­ple­ment­ing those ideas as well as on their com­pe­tence, in­tegrity and morals.”

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