- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 1, 2004

NEW YORK — It used to be called the party of Ronald Reagan. But when Michael Reagan leads tonight’s Republican National Convention’s tribute to his father, it won’t be in prime time.

Although the memory of the former president is not receding for most members of his party, his principle of limited government that once animated the GOP appears to be fading.

Some Republicans here agree that “there is no conservative party left in Washington,” as Pat Buchanan says in his new book, “Where the Right Went Wrong: How Neoconservatives Subverted the Reagan Revolution and Hijacked the Bush Presidency.”

Looking beyond Nov. 2, Richard Viguerie prophesies “a struggle for the soul of the party like we haven’t seen since 1980.”

“That struggle will start 2005, and it should last for three or four years,” says Mr. Viguerie, a veteran Virginia-based conservative activist who is attending this week’s convention in New York. “Based on history, I would bet on traditional conservatives to win, because we are the ones organized and with a plan, we’ve identified millions of our supporters, and we’re in it for the long haul.”

As Republicans here recall, George W. Bush once frequently cited Mr. Reagan’s maxim that government is the problem, not the solution. But not lately.

Last year, New Hampshire’s Manchester Union Leader reported that Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said in an interview that the days of Reagan Republicanism’s opposition to the expansion of the federal government are over.

Mr. Gillespie later denied he had said any such thing, but the reported remark left some Reagan Republicans wondering whether the cat wasn’t out of the bag.

Even though Mr. Reagan won two landslide elections, his way is the old way, and the age of Mr. Reagan’s commitment to limited government conservatism is over, say some “new way” Republicans such as New York Times columnist David Brooks.

In a cover story for that paper’s Sunday magazine that greeted thousands of Republican delegates assembling here, Mr. Brooks wrote that just as socialism will no longer be the guiding goal for the left, reducing the size of government will no longer be the dominant philosophy for conservatives and the GOP.

Those are fighting words for traditional Republicans and conservatives.

“Over my dead body” was the way Mr. Viguerie responded yesterday to the New York Times arguments of Mr. Brooks, who also endorsed the “new way” idea that America, the last standing superpower, should pursue a benevolent imperialism to make the world better for democracy.

From intraparty divisions over the war in Iraq to the “new way” Republican endorsement of big government, traditionalists are incensed and ready to fight.

“I reject the ‘new way’ Republicans’ argument, both on pre-emptive war and imperialism,” said Paul Erickson, a North Dakota delegate to the convention.

Some take what they say as a philosophically balanced, long view.

“The White House does listen to Brooks’ faction more than any other factions inside the GOP,” said Jay Townsend, a Republican political consultant from New York. “And I would prefer limited government, but Brooks makes some good points, too.”

But many Republican loyalists deny that the party is drifting from its core values. Virginia delegate Morton Blackwell, a former Reagan White House aide who sees many parallels between Mr. Bush and Mr. Reagan, vigorously disputes Mr. Buchanan’s claim that neoconservatives have “hijacked” the GOP.

“I have been to the last 11 national conventions and I see no change in the philosophy of limited government, traditional values and a strong national defense,” Mr. Blackwell said.

Rep. Ed Royce, a conservative California delegate, says Mr. Bush is maintaining the Reagan tradition: “If we look at the Bush administration tax-relief policy, it is a continuation of Reagan’s policy.”

But Mr. Royce is concerned about the un-Reaganesque expansion of government spending in recent years, a concern shared by Mr. Erickson.

“The sad conclusion after a glorious beginning in 1995, when the GOP became majority in Congress, is that it has evolved into as free spending a group as those that they replaced,” Mr. Erickson said.

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