The media are obsessed with the horse race that has broken out among Democratic presidential hopefuls. That’s typical for the media in any presidential election season. Meanwhile, they are ignoring signs that conservatives are growing increasingly restive with President Bush and the Republican leadership in Congress. Even threats by some conservatives to withhold their support from the President have gone unnoticed in most of the nation’s media.
The Washington Times, however, recently reported on a news briefing given by six prominent conservative organizations that aired such concerns. The Times’ Ralph Hallow quoted long-time conservative leader Paul Weyrich warning that grass-roots activists might not campaign this year for the President and “may well not even vote.” Press coverage of the event has been sparse. The Associated Press ran a wire story containing just one quote from Weyrich, and the Kansas City Star mentioned the briefing. Weyrich’s media director said that ABC and CBS had camera crews at the event, but have yet to run stories. Fox News seems to have ignored it altogether.
For Weyrich and the other conservative leaders, their support is wavering because of two issues. First, they point to the dramatic increase in non-discretionary federal spending during the Bush years. Republican majorities in both the House and Senate are spending taxpayer dollars “like drunken sailors,” they charged. “Drunken GOP Sailors” was also the title of a recent Wall Street Journal editorial. The Journal charged that passage of the Omnibus Spending Bill by Congress will “cap the first-term of the most profligate administration since the 1960s.”
A Republican National Committee spokesperson countered that President Bush proposed increases of just six percent in his first budget, then five percent in his second, and his current budget envisions just a two percent increase. But a study by the Heritage Foundation showed that Congress actually increased spending by 13% and then 12%. This year’s budget would go up by nine percent. Weyrich and others criticize the President for not curbing this growth by use of his veto power. Weyrich and others urge President Bush to cast his first veto to “vote this turkey down and start over.”
The other hot button issue is the administration’s proposed immigration reforms. The same day Hallow’s article appeared, the Times also ran one by Bill Sammon headlined “Bush’s immigration plan hurts re-election war chest.” Sammon found several regular donors withholding checks from a presidential fund-raiser in Atlanta after the immigration plan was announced. A Bush campaign official dismissed the story saying “its not that big a deal.”
But Weyrich and others think that the immigration initiative could be the last straw for conservatives. In a press release, he warned that the President was “making the oldest mistake in politics. He is abandoning his base.” Immigration policy, he thinks, “is not like other issues.” The conservative weekly, Human Events, also reported that “conservatives generally reacted with dismay” to the new administration initiatives.