Theocrats Frustrated Over Slow Pace of Republicans in Establishing a Theocracy
From the NY Times
May 15, 2006
Conservative Christians Warn Republicans Against Inaction
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
WASHINGTON, May 13 — Some of President Bush's most influential conservative Christian allies are becoming openly critical of the White House and Republicans in Congress, warning that they will withhold their support in the midterm elections unless Congress does more to oppose same-sex marriage, obscenity and abortion.
"There is a growing feeling among conservatives that the only way to cure the problem is for Republicans to lose the Congressional elections this fall," said Richard Viguerie, a conservative direct-mail pioneer.
Mr. Viguerie also cited dissatisfaction with government spending, the war in Iraq and the immigration-policy debate, which Mr. Bush is scheduled to address in a televised speech on Monday night.
"I can't tell you how much anger there is at the Republican leadership," Mr. Viguerie said. "I have never seen anything like it."
In the last several weeks, Dr. James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family and one of the most influential Christian conservatives, has publicly accused Republican leaders of betraying the social conservatives who helped elect them in 2004. He has also warned in private meetings with about a dozen of the top Republicans in Washington that he may turn critic this fall unless the party delivers on conservative goals.
And at a meeting in Northern Virginia this weekend of the Council for National Policy, an alliance of the most prominent Christian conservatives, several participants said sentiment toward the White House and Republicans in Congress had deteriorated sharply since the 2004 elections.
When the group met in the summer of 2004, it resembled a pep rally for Mr. Bush and his allies on Capitol Hill, and one session focused on how to use state initiatives seeking to ban same-sex marriage to help turn out the vote. This year, some participants are complaining that as soon as Mr. Bush was re-elected he stopped expressing his support for a constitutional amendment banning such unions.
Christian conservative leaders have often threatened in the months before an election to withhold their support for Republicans in an effort to press for their legislative goals. In the 1990's, Dr. Dobson in particular became known for his jeremiads against the Republican party, most notably in the months before the 1998 midterm elections.
But the complaints this year are especially significant because they underscore how the broad decline in public approval for Mr. Bush and Congressional Republicans is beginning to cut into their core supporters. The threatened defections come just two years after many Christian conservatives — most notably Dr. Dobson — abandoned much of their previous reservations and poured energy into electing Republicans in 2004.
Dr. Dobson gave his first presidential endorsement to Mr. Bush and held get-out-the-vote rallies that attracted thousands of admirers in states with pivotal Senate races while Focus on the Family and many of its allies helped register voters in conservative churches.
Republican officials, who were granted anonymity to speak publicly because of the sensitivity of the situation, acknowledged the difficult political climate but said they planned to rally conservatives by underscoring the contrast with Democrats and emphasizing the recent confirmations of two conservatives to the Supreme Court.
Midterm Congressional elections tend to be won by whichever side can motivate more true believers to vote. Dr. Dobson and other conservatives are renewing their complaints about the Republicans at a time when several recent polls have shown sharp declines in approval among Republicans and conservatives. And compared with other constituencies, evangelical Protestants have historically been suspicious of the worldly business of politics and thus more prone to stay home unless they feel clear moral issues are at stake.
"When a president is in a reasonably strong position, these kind of leaders don't have a lot of leverage," said Charlie Cook, a nonpartisan political analyst. "But when the president is weak, they tend to have a lot of leverage."
Dr. Dobson, whose daily radio broadcast has millions of listeners, has already signaled his willingness to criticize Republican leaders. In a recent interview with Fox News on the eve of a visit to the White House, he accused Republicans of "just ignoring those that put them in office."
Dr. Dobson cited the House's actions on two measures that passed over the objections of social conservatives: a hate-crime bill that extended protections to gay people, and increased support for embryonic stem cell research.
"There's just very, very little to show for what has happened," Dr. Dobson said, "and I think there's going to be some trouble down the road if they don't get on the ball."
According to people who were at the meetings or were briefed on them, Dr. Dobson has made the same point more politely in a series of private conversations over the last two weeks in meetings with several top Republicans, including Karl Rove, the president's top political adviser; Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican leader; Representative J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, the House speaker; and Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the majority leader.
"People are getting concerned that they have not seen some of these issues move forward that were central to the 2004 election," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, who attended the meetings.
Richard D. Land, a top official of the Southern Baptist Convention who has been one of Mr. Bush's most loyal allies, said in an interview last week that many conservatives were upset that Mr. Bush had not talked more about a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
"A lot of people are disappointed that he hasn't put as much effort into the marriage amendment as he did for the prescription drug benefit or Social Security reform," Dr. Land said.
Republicans say they are taking steps to revive their support among Christian conservatives. On Thursday night, Mr. Rove made the case for the party at a private meeting of the Council for National Policy, participants said.
In addition to reminding conservatives of the confirmations of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court, party strategists say the White House and Senate Republicans are escalating their fights against the Democrats over conservative nominees to lower federal courts, and the Senate is set to revive the same-sex marriage debate next month with a vote on the proposed amendment.
But it is unclear how much Congressional Republicans will be able to do for social conservatives before the next election.
No one expects the same-sex marriage amendment to pass this year. Republican leaders have not scheduled votes on a measure to outlaw transporting minors across state lines for abortions, and the proposal faces long odds in the Senate. A measure to increase obscenity fines for broadcasters is opposed by media industry trade groups, pitting Christian conservatives against the business wing of the party, and Congressional leaders have not committed to bring it to a vote.
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and another frequent participant in the Council for National Policy, argued that Christian conservatives were hurting their own cause.
"If the Republicans do poorly in 2006," Mr. Norquist said, "the establishment will explain that it was because Bush was too conservative, specifically on social and cultural issues."
Dr. Dobson declined to comment. His spokesman, Paul Hetrick, said that Dr. Dobson was "on a fact-finding trip to see where Republicans are regarding the issues that concern values voters most, especially the Marriage Protection Act," and that it was too soon to tell the results.