- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Conservative lawmakers and activists disappointed with President Bush's first 18 months in office are calling into question his tactics and strategy in advancing the conservative agenda.
"The president for the most part has been our guy," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican and a prominent conservative on Capitol Hill. "A few times we disagree."
Those disagreements are not on issues such as education, energy and the president's faith-based initiative, where conservatives say Mr. Bush started out strong.
"But something happened later," said Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican. "We ran into a legislative storm. When everything cleared, we looked around and most of the cargo had been jettisoned, and we were left with a small part of what we started with."
Eager to set a bipartisan tone in Congress and avoid legislative gridlock, Mr. Bush signed an education bill that was stripped of many of its conservative reforms, such as private-school vouchers. He has also signed other pieces of legislation criticized by conservatives, such as campaign-finance reform, massive federal farm subsidies and higher tariffs on steel.
The president also has supported other issues opposed by many conservatives, such as the federalization of airport security, proposed amnesty for illegal immigrants from Mexico and a boost in funding for the Clinton-era AmeriCorps program.
"I wouldn't say that's all Bush's fault, but something more needs to be done to make sure we don't lose the conservative base," Mr. Barr said.
"When he came to New Hampshire with Ted Kennedy and stood here talking about expanding the federal role in education, he didn't exactly give me a warm and fuzzy feeling," said New Hampshire Republican state Rep. Fran Wendelboe. "Actually, it made me feel a little queasy."
Mr. Armey said Mr. Bush was "wrong" to support AmeriCorps. Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, has called AmeriCorps "one of the biggest boondoggles ever," adding that he was "terribly disappointed" to see Mr. Bush supporting a federal program that pays people to volunteer.
Besides his support for programs created during the Clinton administration, conservative lawmakers have criticized Mr. Bush for not standing up to Democrats and liberal Republicans in Congress on issues such as campaign-finance reform. Mr. Barr, who insisted that "the Bush agenda is basically good," nonetheless said the president's failure even to threaten to veto campaign-finance regulation "was probably the greatest disappointment of the last year and a half."
On some issues, however, several conservatives in Congress have said they were more disappointed with themselves than with the president.
"Signing the farm bill was a big disappointment, but it got through both houses," Mr. Armey noted. "So we can't sit here and be disappointed with what we let get passed on to him."
"It would have been courageous of Bush to save Republicans from campaign-finance [reform], but I don't feel disappointed in him for that," said Rep. John Shadegg, Arizona Republican. "It was expecting too much of him. He didn't create the mess. We [in Congress] did."
So far, the dissatisfaction by many conservative lawmakers and activists with the administration's record during the past 18 months has not hurt Mr. Bush's popularity. The president's approval numbers continue to remain high in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
But lawmakers and activists say they fear that Mr. Bush's tendency to compromise on key issues such as education, farm subsidies and campaign finance will alienate rank-and-file conservative activists who are pivotal to the president's re-election effort in 2004.
Iowa state Sen. Jeff Angelo, a conservative Republican, said there "seems to be some forgiveness on these issues among conservatives because of how proud they are of his reactions to September 11."
"But to shore his conservative base, he will have to draw the line on domestic conservative issues and stand up for principle, even if he gets roughed up by liberals and the media," he said.
"The White House strategy toward conservatives is to treat us as a special-interest group, like blacks, Latinos and women," said Stephen Moore, president of the Club for Growth. "That's a problem, because we're not just another interest group but the very base of the Republican Party."
In particular, many conservatives are blaming Mr. Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, for the administration's decision to distance itself from its conservative base on many issues.
Mr. Tancredo said it was Mr. Rove who persuaded Mr. Bush to emulate President Clinton's strategy of stealing ideas from the other party.
"If you keep emulating Clinton, eventually you become Clinton," Mr. Tancredo said. Several other Republican lawmakers who declined to be named expressed that same concern.
White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card says Mr. Rove is too conservative an influence.
Mr. Tancredo says he wishes that were true but sees Mr. Rove as a pragmatist.
"I'm hoping Andy Card is setting the stage for us to say goodbye to Mr. Rove," said Mr. Tancredo, who wants Mr. Rove out "not just because he calls me nasty names and tells me never to darken the door of the White House, but because he is the guy that all administrations, I suppose, have to have but I wish they didn't.
"He's the guy who says, 'My job is to get this guy re-elected, and I am going to do it any way I can.'"
He would like to see Mr. Rove "use his many talents to enforce and drive a conservative agenda."
"We will re-elect Bush on that basis," he said.
Most conservatives don't want to see Mr. Rove leave the administration.
They say they value his role as re-election strategist even as they question parts of his strategy.
Even Mr. Tancredo acknowledges that the strategy of pragmatic compromise will "win Bush a bigger share of the vote in 2004."
"But he can win and still push the conservative agenda. We don't have to win at any price. We can win at a smaller price."

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