Gilmore takes helm of Free Congress

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY RALPH Z. HALLOW

For­mer Vir­ginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, widely re­garded as a tra­di­tional con­ser­va­tive, is tak­ing over the reins of the Free Congress Foun­da­tion — a ma­jor out­side in­flu­ence on Repub­li­can Party pol­icy and es­pe­cially in mov­ing the party to a new em­pha­sis on tra­di­tional so­cial and re­li­gious val­ues.

The foun­da­tion’s board elected Mr. Gilmore ear­lier this month to fill the roles of pres­i­dent and chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer once held by Paul M. Weyrich, who founded the group and made it the epi­cen­ter of the Amer­i­can con­ser­va­tive move­ment for many years.

The se­lec­tion of Mr. Gilmore, a for­mer chair­man of the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, has the po­ten­tial to af­fect the po­lit­i­cal/ide­o­log­i­cal land­scape of a Repub­li­can Party and con­ser­va­tive wing dom­i­nated by ad­vo­cates of an ex­pan­sive and ex­pen­sive U.S. mil­i­tary en­gage­ment abroad — for what crit­ics and some ad­vo­cates call “na­tion-build­ing” — who sup­port a war on “Is­lam­o­fas­cism.”

“Gilmore is a small-gov­ern­ment man with a healthy re­spect for in­di­vid­ual rights and the con­cept of lim­ited gov­ern­ment — and a tough-minded re­al­ist rather than an iso­la­tion­ist or a neo­con­ser­va­tive on for­eign pol­icy,” said David A. Keene, chair­man of the Amer­i­can Con­ser­va­tive Union.

Weyrich, who died in 2008, gen­er­ally fa­vored re­straint in U.S. mil­i­tar y in­ter ven­tion abroad.

“Gilmore, like Weyrich, is a Rea­gan Repub­li­can who stands for lim­ited gov­ern­ment and prefers a repub­lic to an em­pire,” said Grover Norquist, pres­i­dent of Amer­i­cans for Tax Re­form.

Pre­cisely what role the foun­da­tion will play and how it will dif­fer from other con­ser­va­tive ac­tivist groups and think tanks such as the Amer­i­can Con­ser­va­tive Union, the Her­itage Foun­da­tion, the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute, the Hoover In­sti­tu­tion, Newt Gin­grich’s Amer­i­can So­lu­tions and the lib­er­tar­ian Cato In­sti­tute is un­clear.

“We have to ad­dress four fun­da­men­tal is­sues fac­ing Amer­ica,” said Mr. Gilmore, who high­lighted fis­cal pol­icy, which he said has a “di­rect bear­ing on peo­ple’s lib­erty”; en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy, which un­der Pres­i­dent Obama’s di­rec­tion “threat­ens to take over the U.S. econ­omy”; tra­di­tional so­cial val­ues; and for­eign pol­icy.

Al­though he was a for­mer Vir­ginia at­tor­ney gen­eral and once the head of a fed­eral anti-ter­ror­ism task force, Mr. Gilmore said he will not prac­tice law but in­stead will be the full-time, paid pres­i­dent of Free Congress.

Of­ten show­ing an in­de­pen­dent streak, Mr. Gilmore, whom Mr. Bush chose to head the RNC in 2001, came to blows with Mr. Bush’s chief po­lit­i­cal guru, Karl Rove, and was eased out as na­tional chair­man.

Free Congress set it­self apart from the other ma­jor con­ser­va­tive or­ga­ni­za­tions in that it was less en­thu­si­as­tic about a global war on ter­ror­ism and about fight­ing on for­eign soil to cre­ate gov­ern­ments abroad in Amer­ica’s im­age.

But David Horowitz, a for­mer lib­eral who founded the Cen­ter for the Study of Pop­u­lar Cul­ture, sees in Mr. Gilmore no threat to neo­con­ser­vatism or any other “ism” on the right.

“I’m a free-mar­ke­teer, and I like it when there are peo­ple fight­ing each other on the right — as long as they don’t fight too much,” Mr. Horowitz told The Times.

The nine-mem­ber Free Congress board elected Mr. Gilmore with a man­date to carry on the work that Weyrich had been do­ing since co-found­ing, in the early 1970s, the Her­itage Foun­da­tion with Ed­win J. Feul­ner Jr. He left Her­itage to es­tab­lish Free Congress and em­u­late the Demo­cratic Party’s la­bor and lib­eral-left or­ga­ni­za­tions that co­or­di­nated ac­tions and poli­cies for elected Democrats at the con­gres­sional level and be­low.

“Free Congress has al­ways played a ma­jor role in the move­ment,” Mr. Keene said. “Jim Gilmore has a solid record as gov­er­nor, as the head of the anti-ter­ror­ism com­mis­sion, and so he gives Free Congress the chance to con­tinue its in­flu­ence as a tra­di­tional con­ser­va­tive or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

Since Weyrich’s death on Dec. 18, 2008, the town­houses that Free Congress oc­cu­pied on Capi­tol Hill have been sold and new head­quar­ters have been es­tab­lished across the river in Alexan­dria, Va., but Mr. Gilmore hopes to raise money to move the foun­da­tion back to the District of Columbia.

While some on the Free Congress board wanted to dis­solve the or­ga­ni­za­tion, Mr. Gilmore and other board mem­bers — in­clud­ing the board chair­man, Rep. Ralph M. Hall, Texas Repub­li­can, and Lead­er­ship In­sti­tute Pres­i­dent Mor­ton Black­well — pre­vailed in want­ing to con­tinue it un­der Mr. Gilmore’s lead­er­ship.

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