- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2001

If George W. Bush's conservative base needed assurance he is not going to stray from the fundamental conservative principles he ran on, it got it from Karl Rove, his chief political adviser.
No one knows better than Mr. Bush that retaining the support of one's political base, through goods times and bad, is a pivotal prerequisite to a successful presidency. He saw his father lose that support in 1992, and with it the presidency, when he abandoned his "no new taxes" pledge. So one of the first political groups that Mr. Rove quietly met with here last week was the weekly, closed-door luncheon gathering of top conservative political leaders hosted by Paul Weyrich, the social conservative leader who heads the Free Congress Foundation.
Mr. Weyrich has often found himself at odds with Republican Party leaders including Mr. Bush's father who strayed too far from core conservative positions. But when Mr. Rove finished answering a wide range of questions at the standing-room-only Capitol Hill meeting last Wednesday, Mr. Weyrich could not have been more pleased with what he heard.
"Sometimes we are going to disagree, but it's quite evident from what you've said here today that we are going to agree 80 percent of the time," Mr. Weyrich told Mr. Rove at the end of his presentation. Few, if any, of those who attended could have come away with a different view.
While Mr. Weyrich's weekly strategy luncheons are off the record, he gave me exclusive permission to write about what was covered at the meeting without quoting Mr. Rove directly, except in a few instances in which he was restating what he has said publicly before.
The most important message Mr. Rove came to deliver was that Mr. Bush needs the full and faithful support of his conservative soulmates if he is to enact his conservative agenda: cutting income-tax rates, reforming the Social Security system, lifting educational standards, and helping poor- and low-income people through faith-based institutions and programs.
Yes, there will be times when they and the new president will not agree on certain things, he told them. But Mr. Rove promised Mr. Bush would govern as "a philosophically driven president who is a conservative," as someone who believes he won because of the conservative issues and positions he espoused in his campaign.
Mr. Rove said Mr. Bush is under no illusions about the political obstacles he faces in getting his programs through a deeply divided Congress. But he noted the president-elect has already talked with the Democrats who are going to be among his allies in the legislative battles to come.
Who, for instance? Well, Democrats like Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, who told Mr. Bush at a recent meeting with legislators on education issues that while he hates the school-voucher idea, he fully supports Mr. Bush's education proposals: to begin testing more, to put more accountability into our school system, to raise expectations, and to give states more freedom to innovate with federal funding.
One of the most welcome promises Mr. Rove gave the conservative gathering was that Mr. Bush intends to review all of President Clinton's hasty, legacy-building, end-of-term executive orders and rulemaking actions. He said that the Bush administration is working with the Heritage Foundation, which has been cataloging and studying the rules and orders from sweeping wilderness land acquisitions to labor rulemaking to see which ones can and should be overturned.
Herb Berkowitz, Heritage's chief spokesman, told me that "a majority of our findings has already been turned over" to Bush advisers. A number of Mr. Clinton's executive orders may be repealed by new presidential orders, and other Bush advisers tell me Mr. Bush will "move very rapidly" on this soon after he takes office.
Mr. Rove also cautioned conservatives not to expect too much, too soon from the new administration. He said they must give Mr. Bush time to get his people and policies in place. He urged patience as the Bush administration sets about to overturn eight years of Democratic policy and personnel.
Notably, there was not a single complaint throughout the meeting about the forced withdrawal of Linda Chavez, who had been named as labor secretary, or the way Mr. Bush's people handled it. "That's water over the dam," former Reagan White House adviser and conservative leader Morton Blackwell told him.
As for the narrowness of presidential election, Mr. Rove notes that "Bush got 11.3 million more votes than the Republican ticket got four years ago."
The challenge now is to hold on to these voters and to build upon their support. That means bringing the high-tech, New Economy workers the fastest-growing part of the American electorate into the Republican coalition. It also means "being on the side of those who are struggling to climb into the middle class," he said.
That signals Mr. Bush's intention to aggressively use the political powers of his presidency for party-building, something presidents rarely do anymore.
But if Mr. Rove proved anything when he met with these conservatives last week, it was that he and Mr. Bush fully understand the first rule of American politics: Never forget your political base.


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