- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 17, 2005

Karl Rove yesterday reminded a standing-room-only audience of conservative activists of what their movement has accomplished over the years.

“Wandering in the wilderness 40 years ago, today Republicans and conservatives control the White House, the Senate, the House, the majority of governorships and more state legislatures than we’ve had in the last 80 years,” President Bush’s chief political strategist told the 32nd annual Conservative Political Action Conference.

Calling it “an honor to be at the oldest and largest annual gathering of conservatives in America,” Mr. Rove said: “You provide a lot of the energy and activism that have brought us to the moment when conservatism is the dominant political creed in America.”

Mr. Rove’s message appeared to resonate with most of the audience, filled with many young faces.

“I like what he said about the conservative movement and its impact on the Republican Party,” said Ashley Morrow, a Harvard University graduate student who attended the event at the Ronald Reagan Building.

Conservatism is making gains even in the Ivy League. When she first came to Harvard, Miss Morrow said, it was “hard to find anyone who would admit to being conservative or even a Republican.” This year, at least 10 Harvard undergraduate and graduate students came to CPAC, she said, and the Harvard Republican Club doubled its membership ” to 360 students.

Random interviews among CPAC attendees indicated strong support for what Mr. Rove said was the administration’s commitment “to bring democracy to the Middle East” and for the president’s drive to let income earners put some of their Social Security payroll deductions into personal investment accounts.

But some conservatives voiced alarm that Mr. Bush appeared to leave an opening for Congress to increase payroll deductions to pay for Social Security reforms.

Rep. Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, warned that such a move would be seen as a tax increase and, therefore, a departure from the principle of low taxes embraced by Mr. Bush and his party. It could cost Republicans control of the House next year, he said.

Some of the activists yesterday grumbled that several egregious departures from conservatism were missing from the picture Mr. Rove painted of the Republican Party’s dominance of Congress and of the Bush presidency.

They cited Mr. Bush’s guest-worker proposal, which they see as an amnesty for illegal immigrants. Others were critical of the administration’s aggressive foreign policy.

“This so-called “nation building’ by Bush will tear apart the Republican Party before long,” said a senior policy analyst, who asked not to be named.

The central theme of the conference ” reflected in speeches by Republican Sens. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and John Cornyn of Texas, and others ” was that the Republicans, having clearly established themselves as the majority, should use their power or risk losing it.

Mr. Ryan had set the stage in a speech that opened the conference. “What’s the purpose of being in the majority if we don’t do anything with it?” he said.

New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, widely viewed as the most likely Democratic presidential candidate in 2008, was the target of mocking remarks from several CPAC speakers.

“Hillary Clinton has discovered religion,” said National Rifle Association President Kayne Robinson.

“She has become pro-life, she is becoming pro-military and she will be for a balanced budget,” he said to laughter from the audience. “If necessary, she will be against gay “marriage’ and may join the American Conservative Union.”

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