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Bush 04, NYTIMES Article


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Bush, Looking to His Right, Shores Up Support for 2004


ASHINGTON, June 28 — A systematic effort by President Bush to enlist members of his party's conservative wing in the White House, and to champion touchstone conservative issues, has produced a unified base of support for him from this sometimes wayward faction of the Republican Party, conservative leaders say.

Mr. Bush's standing among conservatives going into next year's election appears more than strong enough to withstand the strains that have emerged in recent weeks over some of his policies, including his support for providing prescription drug coverage under Medicare and for expanding the child tax credit.

By any measure, Mr. Bush appears to have built up enough good will with his party's right wing to provide him significant latitude as he seeks to appeal to moderate voters by taking positions that might roil conservatives. Indeed, on one potentially pivotal matter — filling a Supreme Court vacancy, should one occur — conservative leaders say the president enjoys a level of trust that would allow him to nominate a candidate without unambiguously conservative credentials, avoiding an ideological battle that could harm his re-election efforts.

Mr. Bush's position among conservatives stands in marked contrast to the troubled relations his father endured with many of them when he lost his re-election bid in 1992.

Again and again in interviews, leading conservatives drew favorable contrasts with the first President George Bush, who endured a debilitating primary challenge from Patrick J. Buchanan, contributing to his defeat by Bill Clinton.

"It's night and day," said Grover G. Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative group. "Every group that this president has kept faith with, the previous president double-crossed."

David A. Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, said: "In the first Bush administration, the conservatives were asked to be spectators — and it was hoped that they would applaud the action in the field. In this one, they have a president who wants them to be part of the team."

Mr. Bush's effort to tend to the conservative wing of his party has emerged as a crucial part of his early campaign preparations.

The Bush campaign has begun sending a representative to a meeting of conservative leaders that takes place in Washington every Wednesday, joining a delegation of as many as eight administration officials.

Party officials say Mr. Bush's advisers — starting with Karl Rove, his senior political adviser, and Ken Mehlman, his campaign manager — are now in regular contact with about 60 conservative leaders across the nation, discussing issues of concern to the White House and the re-election campaign.

Mr. Bush has named Ralph Reed, who first rose to prominence as executive director the Christian Coalition, as a senior member of his campaign team. Beyond that, Mr. Rove and Mr. Mehlman are viewed by conservatives as advocates for their point of view in the White House.

Asked about efforts to mobilize conservative support, Mr. Mehlman responded: "Ultimately good policy is good politics. This is a president who has strongly pushed numerous policies that appealed to a lot of different groups — including conservatives."

Many conservatives say Mr. Bush's alliance with their wing of the Republican Party is as solid as that enjoyed by Ronald Reagan. Some suggest it is even stronger.

To some extent, several argued, that is a benefit Mr. Bush is enjoying from following Mr. Clinton in the Oval Office.

"I think the strongest motivating factor out there that I see with gun owners and people who believe in the Second Amendment is that they can still taste eight years of Bill Clinton," said Wayne LaPierre, chief executive of the National Rifle Association. "They don't ever want to go back to that."

Mr. Bush's White House has also embraced issues that many conservatives described as crucial to their support, starting with tax cuts (the issue that undid Mr. Bush's father with this group) and abortion, and also including national security and foreign policy.

"Just about every conservative is thrilled with a president who tells the U.N. to take a hike," said Nelson Warfield, a conservative strategist.

Bush, Looking to His Right, Shores Up Support for 2004

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All this has given Mr. Bush some license to stray on other issues, particularly this long before Election Day. He has taken some positions that have stirred concern among his supporters, like his approval of the expansion of Medicare to cover prescription drugs, an increase in farm subsidies and the child tax credit measure.

"His fiscal record is appalling — spending is out of control," said Edward H. Crane, president of the Cato Institute, a libertarian research organization. "The fiscal record of the Bush administration makes Clinton look downright responsible."

Stephen Moore, president of the Club for Growth, a conservative group, said Mr. Bush had been "one of the biggest-spending presidents we've had in 20 years." But, he added, "he has cut taxes, so politically that has protected him."

"A month ago, he passed this huge tax cut that I think is terrific — I mean, I'm thrilled by that — and now this month he's passing this preposterous prescription drug benefit, and I'm furious at him," Mr. Moore said. "But I can't get too angry with him because he passed this tax cut. That's the way this administration works."

Some conservatives said the real test of their relationship with Mr. Bush would come if there was a vacancy on the Supreme Court and Mr. Bush chose a candidate whose ideological credentials might be in doubt, like Alberto R. Gonzales, the White House counsel.

Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council, said, "There are two issues that are nonnegotiable for the base: the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage."

Mr. Connor praised Mr. Bush's record on abortion in particular, but said: "Everything he has done to date on the issue will pale in significance compared to the consequential nature of the Supreme Court nomination. If the president appoints another nominee like David Souter, all of that will be naught."

But other opponents of abortion said they had confidence in any judicial appointment Mr. Bush might make. "The president has made great selections on the Circuit Court, and I trust his judgment on the Supreme Court," said Roberta Combs, president of the Christian Coalition.

Anti-abortion groups say they are already moving to make sure rank-and-file abortion opponents turn out solidly for Mr. Bush next year.

"What you'll probably see is pro-lifers trying to make sure that their fellow citizens, family friends, realize how bad at this point all of the Democratic president candidates are — they all support abortion on demand, with no limits," said Carol Tobias, the political director of National Right to Life.

In 1994, when conservatives led by Newt Gingrich took control of the House, there was concern that their time in power would be limited. Today, many conservatives say, American public opinion is shifting their way, so there is no reason to be impatient — or to pressure Mr. Bush into doing things before the election that might hurt him next year.

"The Republicans are looking at decades of dominance in the House and the Senate, and having the presidency with some regularity," Mr. Norquist said. "So if this year the tax cut isn't the one we wanted — no biggie. There's a sense that we can afford to wait."

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"His fiscal record is appalling — spending is out of control," said Edward H. Crane, president of the Cato Institute, a libertarian research organization. "The fiscal record of the Bush administration makes Clinton look downright responsible."

Sigh, it is so true. :doh:

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Bush senior is often criticized for his 'read my lips... no new taxes pledge' which he had to reverse. but the fact that he did was very courageous IMO. he put the nation first. admitting you were wrong in his position must have been tough. i made fun of him at the time, but in retrospect he did a very difficult thing.

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Guest SkinsHokie Fan

This compassionate conservativism is the problem. In the core of being a conservative is being not very nice. It is teaching people to take care of themselves and become self reliant, not reliant on the government.

I am hoping in term 2 we will see a major cut in spending. However some people in congress are still on the spending binge of the late 1990s and GW Bush has not done enough to stop it.

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Bush Senior wasn't courageous, he was stupid. He went against his campaign pledge - a pledge he made despite not believing in it philosophically because he was trying to win an election - on the advice of his budget advisor. A great leader says to Congress, "I've drawn my line in the sand on taxes, so cut your spending." Bush was a Nixon Republican - liberal on spending, and hawkish on national security and military issues.

The relative ease with which he broke the single most prominant campaign promise he made only 1-2 years earlier doesn't speak well of him.

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The short answer is "yes." Bush wasn't a conservative in the philosophical sense. He was certainly an accomplished man in the foreign policy and national security arena, but in that sense he was simply a leading bureaucrat if you will. I can't recall a single thought from him that amounted to an intelligent political philosophy. What did the man stand for?

And that was the problem with the taxes. The one clear message he sent during the campaign - "Read my lips, no new taxes!" - was what he sold out on that compromise. It was amazingly stupid, but in no way inconsistent with the man.

His son is more conservative and has more of a recognizeable political philosophy, agree with it or not. That, plus the moral conviction to stick with it makes it far easier to back him, even if I believe (and I do) that Bush Senior is actually more intelligent.

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