- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES Conservatives are looking to revitalize their movementby trying to heal divisions in their coalition and finding younger leaders as the 2008 elections approach.

“We want to rebuild a conservative movement independent of the Republican Party and of George W. Bush — and to emphasize that it is a third force, not a third party,” said Phyllis Schlafly, 82, founder of the conservative Eagle Forum.

“The Democrats own the liberals, and the Republicans own the conservatives,” said Paul M. Weyrich, 64, president of the Free Congress Foundation and a longtime social conservative leader. He organized a recent “third-force” conservative summit attended by Mrs. Schlafly and about 180 other activists on the right.

“The modern conservative movement has always been a fusion of economic, national defense and religious conservatives who have banded together to fight for common interests,” said David A. Keene, 62, chairman of the American Conservative Union. “But today, the tension among those groups is greater than it has been in the past because of their disappointment with this generation of political leaders who they believe have let them down. We have achieved power but lost our unity in the process.”


Former Reagan White House adviser Gary Bauer, 61, says conservatives must stick together because “those who believe in lower taxes, smaller government, a strong national defense, the sanctity of life and family values are still a governing majority in America.”

Several summit attendees suggested that Mr. Bauer is unduly optimistic. They say the 2006 elections and the competition for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination underscore significant divisions in the conservative movement, which have become especially apparent since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Religious conservatives, fuming at the support of many economic and defense conservatives for former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s presidential candidacy, say his nomination would be a “deal breaker” because of his liberal social views on abortion and other family issues. Some social conservatives say they hope former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee will emerge as the Reaganesque nominee who keeps the coalition together. But contentious disputes over foreign policy and immigration continue to tear at movement unity.

The right is at odds with itself over whether the post-September 11 era requires more government involvement to fight Islamic militancy. Social conservatives like Mr. Weyrich and economic conservatives like Mr. Keene say more government is neither necessary nor appropriate. Some defense conservatives like Frank J. Gaffney Jr., 54, president of the Center for Security Policy, think the “Islamo-fascism” threat requires more government.

The conservative leaders discussed the difficulty of finding a new generation of leaders.

“Younger across-the-board conservatives are harder to find because younger folks often do not like the war in Iraq, but I have no problem in getting social conservatives to work with economic and defense conservatives once they learn the reality of things,” Mr. Weyrich said.

Mr. Keene said the problem in finding young leadership is that “the so-called conservative movement of today consists of many young people attracted to politics by one or another politician but without a lot of thought about the philosophical underpinnings that united previous generations of conservatives.”

Illustrating the growing rift in the movement, far fewer economic conservatives — who are irate over government expansion and federal spending under Republicans — showed up for the summit than religious and social conservatives, who have been meeting in a smaller “executive committee” format since.

Mr. Bush and Republican lawmakers have done well by religious conservatives on partial-birth abortion, stem-cell research and federal judges. But conservatives of all persuasions have been antagonized by Mr. Bush and his Senate allies’ drive to legitimize illegal aliens.

“I fear that if this Bush-Kennedy immigration bill passes in the Senate, the Republicans will be virtually destroyed in the next election,” Mr. Weyrich told The Washington Times.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, 44, who presided over the initial two-day meeting, said, “Immigration is bringing conservative angst with GOP leadership to a boiling point.”

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