By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
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By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
Staring at these sorts of numbers, Toomey mused, this fall’s elections might end up for Republicans more like 1974 — the post-Watergate Democratic sweep — than like the legendary 1994 vote. “The war in Iraq is the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” Toomey said to a grim-faced and silent audience. “A major downturn there could drown anything we do.”
“We have to acknowledge we have a president who is not popular,” Toomey added. And this was said a few days before the new CBS poll placed Bush’s popularity at an all-time low of 34 percent. “We also have a war that is not popular, and there is also that whiff of corruption.”
Toomey’s stark assessment was seconded and amplified by a number of other conservative politicians. John Andrews, former Colorado state senator and a firebrand conservative, told his stone-faced audience: “I feel the Republican Party in my state and nationally is a party that has lost its way. Colorado is purple and in danger of turning blue,” he said. “It could be the harbinger for a very stormy 2006.” And unless the party starts offering up a reason to vote Republican this fall, “It’s going to be a very grim year for us.”
Missouri’s Lieutenant Governor Pete Kinder, a close associate of Ashcroft, had his own negative assessment of matters. Like some of the other analysts, he was mostly worried about a low Republican turnout this fall — something that pollsters call the “intensity gap.” Democrats may now be more motivated to vote than Republicans. Citing a growing concern over spending, special-interest earmarks on legislation, and the Abramoff-like corruption scandals, Kinder said, “The demoralization of the party is real. I hear it everywhere.”
Kinder also broke the so-called Republican 11th Amendment and publicly flayed one of the other, earlier invited Republican speakers — Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo. Until recently a little-known backbencher, Tancredo had ridden to national prominence by leading an 80-member House immigration caucus that has become a veritable barricade against reform and liberalization. Tancredo, who was one of the few elected officials to stand with the Minutemen, has repeatedly attacked Bush for proposing a guest-worker program and has opened up a visible rift inside the GOP. During his weekend panel appearance, Tancredo said he was proud that The Wall Street Journal had dubbed his proposed border wall as the Tancredo Wall. “That’s got a nice ring to it,” he told the wildly clapping crowd.
But Kinder scoffed at Tancredo as someone “who will take us back to minority status by replicating nationally what happened in California,” referring to Pete Wilson’s ill-fated support for Proposition 187. “I’m warning you,” Kinder told the crowd, continuing his thrashing of Tancredo. “His tone is going to turn a lot of people off.” Noticing that I had been taking notes during his talk, Kinder came up to me afterward. “I want to make sure you get it right on Tancredo,” he told me. “So write this down as a direct quote from me: ‘Reaganism was sunny, optimistic, confident and forward-looking. Tancredo is angry and defensive. The difference couldn’t be clearer. If we go down that latter path, we lose.’?”
The most sobering message of the weekend, however, came in its closing hours, when Arizona Congressman John Shadegg spoke directly to the polka-dotted elephant that had been sitting, heretofore unaddressed and ignored, in the meeting rooms for the previous three days: Jack Abramoff. As the weekend unfolded, I had been wondering if anyone was going to actually mention the unmentionable. Shadegg did much more. “We’re literally whistling by the graveyard, facing the stiffest of headwinds,” Shadegg said, referring to the Abramoff scandal.
Shadegg, you will remember, was the unsuccessful “reform” candidate, earlier this year, in the running to replace scandal-plagued Tom DeLay as House majority leader. It isn’t that Shadegg is some sort of liberal. On the contrary, he’s a McClintock sort of conservative, born literally into the austere traditions of Barry Goldwater (his father managed two of Goldwater’s campaigns). Shadegg has established a rep as a leading advocate for reduced spending, tax relief and states’ rights. He has called Michael Moore the “Antichrist,” and said that people who supported John Kerry for president “have mental-health problems.” So you might say the guy has real Republican street cred.
“I believe these scandals are probably the end of the 1994 revolution,” he warned in what turned out to be a scathing soliloquy over the ethical collapse of his own party. “Back then, we said we were going to change the way Congress does business — no more closed midnight meetings and so on. But we have many, many more closed meetings and rules than the Democrats ever had. We have fallen embarrassingly, shockingly short. Look, guys, it’s not that hard to be honest. But look at Cunningham and Abramoff. We have failed. And it’s not just some bad apples. It’s the scandal that keeps on giving. Congress does two things well: overreacting and doing nothing. In terms of Cunningham and Abramoff, we’re doing both. Congress has not passed a law taking away pensions from convicted members. Our own leadership has blocked this!