GOP blame game begins; conservatives say party abandoned principles
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.”