- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2006

Top Republican Party supporters yesterday accused fellow conservatives of “whining” in response to complaints from activists worried that grass-roots Republican voters are disillusioned and will stay home on Nov. 7.

Grover Norquist, a close associate of White House political strategist Karl Rove, dismissed concerns about voter turnout as empty threats.

“There are always in every election cycle self-appointed conservative leaders who announce, ‘You haven’t done enough for me, so my troops are staying home,’ ” Mr. Norquist said.

“The National Rifle Association, Americans for Tax Reform, the [National] Right to Life Committee — the groups that actually put lead on the target and who do stuff all the time, they’re not unhappy,” Mr. Norquist said. “The people who are whining are the guys that don’t have grass roots that they can actually move. So they are frustrated, and they don’t have anything to do other than threaten not to participate.”

Mr. Norquist was not alone in criticizing remarks in yesterday’s edition of The Washington Times by Family Research Council President Tony Perkins and Republican pollsters and consultants, who expressed concern about lack of enthusiasm among conservative voters.

On his top-rated radio talk show, Rush Limbaugh yesterday denounced disillusioned Republican voters as “cut-and-run conservatives” and said those worried about turnout were just trying “to make a name for themselves.”

“I think a lot of people want to matter,” Mr. Limbaugh told his millions of national listeners. “They want to have power. They feel powerless, and if they think they can [mess] it up for somebody else by getting noticed and doing that, then they feel like they’ve got some power, so there could be all kinds of things at play here.”

Conservative leaders told The Times that, while they have heard complaints from voters dismayed by a range of issues from runaway spending to immigration, they have become more concerned since Rep. Mark Foley of Florida resigned in a sex scandal, which they say has discouraged many “values voters” who helped push President Bush to victory in the 2004 election.

But Mr. Limbaugh said those worries were “conventional wisdom” inspired by liberals urging conservatives to “stay home and give the election to the Democrats.”

“Have you noticed the conventional wisdom has spread, and now it’s become commonplace in everybody’s thinking? It is so pervasive a theme: Republicans staying home, conservatives fed up, not going to the polls because of Foley and whatever else.”

The finger-pointing among conservatives is an ill omen, said Republican media consultant Craig Shirley.

“You know things are bad when the members of the leper colony start fighting with each other,” Mr. Shirley said.

Mr. Norquist’s description of “whining” conservative leaders telling their “troops” to stay home on Election Day prompted a puzzled response from Mr. Perkins.

“I’ve not heard anyone say that,” the FRC president said. “He should wait until someone says it to break out the talking points.”

In fact, social-conservative groups are continuing efforts to mobilize voters.

“Stand and be counted,” was the subject line on an e-mail that Concerned Women for America sent yesterday to its supporters.

“Will you vote your values this election, or will you remain silent?” the CWA e-mail said, telling conservatives: “Don’t stay home on Election Day. Forfeiting your right to vote — no matter how disenchanted you are — is no way to protest moral corruption.”

Mr. Perkins said his own group has worked hard to motivate social conservatives, citing last month’s “Value Voters Summit” in Washington and a “Justice Sunday” event last weekend in Boston that was co-sponsored by Colorado-based Focus on the Family and televised via satellite by churches nationwide.

But Merrill Matthews, policy analyst at the Institute for Policy Innovation, a free-market think tank, said Republicans are also worried about complaints from economic conservatives.

“It’s ironic that social conservatives seem to be so upset with the administration,” said Mr. Matthews, noting that the Republican Party’s “libertarian faction is complaining that the president hasn’t focused enough on the bread-and-butter economic issues.”

Those concerns were echoed by David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute and author of a new study on libertarian voters.

“The war looks like a mistake, and Republicans have been spending worse than Democrats,” Mr. Boaz said. “Both libertarians and social conservatives are disgusted with the Cunningham, Abramoff and Foley scandals. They’re thinking that maybe the Republicans have been in power too long and don’t deserve another term.”

Republican campaign pollster Rick Shaftan said Mr. Norquist’s criticisms were misdirected.

“Grover’s answer is to blame conservatives for the GOP’s problems,” Mr. Shaftan said. “This is exactly why people are disillusioned. Those of us not on the [Republican National Committee] payroll do not feel the same obligation to spout the party line.”

Despite such complaints, Mr. Matthews said, the Republican Party’s election turnout machinery may yet save the day on Nov. 7.

“One never wants to underestimate the ability of Karl Rove and his team to turn out the vote,” he said.

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