"In the early 1990s, they talked about a culture of
corruption by the Democrats and how they were abusing their power. Lo and
behold, that seems to be what the Republicans have engaged in. It's very, very
hard to tell conservatives that there really is a significant difference on
most issues between this crowd and the Democrats." -- Richard Viguerie, San
Francisco Chronicle, October 8, 2006
With the Republican Party in disarray and control of the U.S. Congress
at stake in the upcoming November elections, a host of top-shelf conservative
Christian leaders are still sticking with the GOP despite the Foley Scandal and
the quagmire in Iraq. However, Richard Viguerie, widely recognized as one of
the founding fathers of the modern conservative movement, has a different
message for conservatives.
While he isn't advocating a Republican defeat in November, in
interviews, in a new book and in an essay in a liberal monthly publication,
Viguerie has been making the argument that defeat could be better for the
conservative movement in the long term. He recently told progressive radio talk
show host Laura Flanders that he has "lived long enough" so that he "no
longer fear[s] defeat." In fact, Viguerie added, "Many times, if not
most of the times, our best success has come after defeat."
Although Viguerie's stance isn't new, it is receiving a lot more media
attention these days.
Two years ago, less than a week before the presidential election,
Viguerie told Bill Moyers, then the co-host of PBS's "Now," that
after George W. Bush won the election, "somewhere around . . . the morning
after the election . . . the war starts for the heart and soul" of the
"It's gonna be a war," Viguerie predicted. A war "between
the traditional conservatives, those who identify with Ronald Reagan, people
like myself. And, the big government Republicans. And then also maybe the
Viguerie pointed out that the defeat of Republican Senator Barry
Goldwater in 1964, the resignation, in light of the Watergate scandal, of
President Richard Nixon in 1974, and the defeat of President Gerald Ford in
1976 "swept away most of the older Republican leaders."
Those defeats "allowed younger [leaders] like [former Speaker of
the House] Newt Gingrich and Ed Feulner [the head of the Heritage Foundation]
and other young conservatives to rise up to positions of leadership that
normally would have taken another 20 years to happen."
Nearly two years later, in the October issue of The Washington Monthly,
Viguerie and six other "prominent conservatives" contributed essays
posted under the title, "Time For
Us To Go: Conservatives on why the GOP should lose in 2006."
Contributors included Christopher Buckley, "Let's quit while we're
behind"; Bruce Bartlett, "Bring on Pelosi"; Joe Scarborough,
"And we thought Clinton had no self-control"; William A. Niskanen,
"Give divided government a chance"; Bruce Fein, "Restrain this
White House"; Jeffrey Hart, "Ideology has taken over"; and
Viguerie -- "The show must not go on."
"Of course, all of them [the writers] wish for the long-term health
of conservatism, and most are loyal to the GOP. What they also believe,
however, is that even if a Speaker Pelosi looms in the wings, sometimes the
best remedy for a party gone astray is to give it a session in the time-out
chair," the introduction to the forum maintains.
While all of these men have strong conservative credentials, none of
them represent conservative evangelical Christians, who remain adamant about
sticking with the president. One of the essayists who over the years
successfully has bridged the gap between social and economic conservatives is
In his essay, Viguerie maintained that: "The Big Government
Republicans in Washington do not merit the support of conservatives. They have
busted the federal budget for generations to come with the prescription-drug
benefit and the creation and expansion of other programs. They have brought
forth a limitless flow of pork for the sole, immoral purpose of holding onto
"They have expanded government regulation into every aspect of our
lives and refused to deal seriously with mounting domestic problems such as
illegal immigration. They have spent more time seeking the favors of K Street
lobbyists than listening to the conservatives who brought them to power,"
he argued. "And they have sunk us into the very sort of nation-building
war that candidate George W. Bush promised to avoid, while ignoring rising
threats such as communist China and the oil-rich 'new Castro,' Hugo
Viguerie argued that over the past 40-plus years, when conservative
candidates were soundly defeated it has invariably led to the building of the
The resounding defeat suffered by Goldwater at the hands of President
Lyndon Johnson in 1964 "cleared a lot of dead wood out of the Republican
Party . . . [which] made it easier for us to increase our influence on the GOP,
utilizing new technology, more effective techniques, and fresh ideas."
Likewise, "the Watergate scandal in 1974
eliminated more of the Republican officeholders who had stood in the way of
creating a more broad-based party, . . . dramatically weaken[ing] the party
establishment, [without which] Ronald Reagan would never have been able to
mount a nearly-successful challenge, two years later, to an incumbent president
of his own party [sic]."
The defeat of Jimmy Carter showed the country that conservatives -- led
by Reagan -- could win national elections, and win them big.
And, the 1992 election of Bill Clinton "led directly to the
Republican takeover [of Congress] two years later."
In addition to his magazine piece, Viguerie, the chairman of American
Target Advertising, Inc., and the president of ConservativeHQ.com: The
Conservative Headquarters, has written a book, titled "Conservatives
Betrayed: How George W. Bush and Other Big Government Republicans Hijacked the
Conservative Cause" (Bonus Books, 2006), which further explains his thesis
that the conservative movement can sometimes end up in a better position after
losing an election than it does by winning.
Not everyone, however, agrees with Viguerie's analysis.
"Conservative Christians are somewhat disenchanted with Republicans,"
Kenyn Cureton, vice president for convention relations with the executive
committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant
denomination, recently told the Associated Press, but there is no indication
that he is advocating conservatives sit out the election.
While expressing his frustration at the Republican Party during the
Stand for the Family rally at the Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in
late-September, Dr. James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, told the
estimated 3,000 people in attendance that despite his misgivings, they should
stick with the Republicans.
"I have flat-out been ticked at Republicans for the past two
years," he said. But, "this country is at a crisis point. Whether or
not the Republicans deserve the power they were given, the alternatives are
In 2001, when Karl Rove and Bush "came to town . . . they seemed to
adopt a one-word strategy for government and that one-word strategy is
bribery," Viguerie told Laura Flanders. "The legal theft that the
Republicans have engaged [in] is immoral."
"Forty to fifty percent of the conservative leaders that I talk to
at the national and state level either want the Republican to lose in November,
or are ambivalent about it."
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the
conservative movement. His
WorkingForChange column Conservative Watch documents the strategies,
players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.