Conservatives Cite A Need To Reclaim Roots
GUY RAZ, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.
(Soundbite of cheers and applause)
Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Former governor, Republican, Massachusetts): Hey, the conservative movement is alive and well, let me tell you right here.
RAZ: That's Mitt Romney speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference or CPAC, held this week in Washington, D.C. Right now conservatives are feeling confident in a sense that they're movement is in the ascendency. And we begin the hour with a look at where it is. And in a moment, a conversation about where its headed.
Now, one word that hasnt been thrown around all that much at CPAC is Republican, in part because of an internal party battle quietly underway. Here's how South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint describes it.
Senator JIM DEMINT (Republican, South Carolina): There is still a struggle within the Republican Party about who we are and what we stand for. Its really a fight between those who take their Constitutional oath seriously and those who dont.
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RAZ: Thirty years ago, Ronald Reagan was the clear leader of both conservatives and Republicans, but what about today? Well, we headed over to CPAC to ask the people attending.
Ms. KAREN MARTIN(ph): The Tea Party leaders, the 9/12 leaders, I think those are the leaders right now.
Mr. MORGAN BROWN(ph): I would have to say Glenn Beck.
Mr. SCOTT KENNEDY(ph): I know my support goes behind Ron Paul. But I dont think there's any one person out there right now that I would ever point out and say is the conservative leader.
Ms. TALLY RASIS(ph): I think more of a grassroots (unintelligible) nowadays than a cult following on any one person.
The voices of: Karen Martin, Morgan Brown, Scott Kennedy and Tally Rasis, all participants at CPAC this week.
Erik Erickson is the editor of RedState.com. It's one of the most widely read conservative blogs. And he's attending CPAC this week, and is with me in the studio.
Erik Erickson, youre quoted as saying that there needs to be a purging of the conservative movement. What do you mean by that?
Mr. ERICK ERICKSON (Managing Editor, RedState.com): One of the problems of the conservative movement for the longest time is that conservative became a synonym for Republican, and they're not the same thing.
Mr. ERICKSON: You have a lot of people who call themselves conservatives who are really parts of the Republican establishment and are perfectly happy to engage in the big government conservatism that some have tried to call it. There's no such thing. Getting rid of some of those people or at least causing them to see the error of their ways, I think, is very important.
RAZ: I mean has this conference helped sort any of this out?
Mr. ERICKSON: Yeah. I think so. There's a real embrace of this conference of the Tea Party movement. You are seeing candidates on the floor being warmly received. For example, Mike Lee from Utah, a friend of mine who I am endorsing, who is running against the sitting U.S. Senator Bob Bennett, also a Republican, and the Tea Party activists are rallying to this guy, a lot of the conservatives at CPAC are, because they see this as an opportunity to move that seat in Utah to the right.
RAZ: So it's interesting, is the Tea Party coming closer in line with the Republican Party or is it vice versa?
Mr. ERICKSON: I think the Republican Party is coming closer in line with the Tea Party. They're a lot of Republicans privately you talk to, some of those I talk about needing to be purged from the movement, who are really fearful of the Tea Party movement because they see it now as a cleaning of their own house when they thought it was going to be helping them take on the Democrats.
RAZ: Is there really a sense that America can embrace the ideas that are, you know, floating around the conservative movement right now?
Mr. ERICKSON: Yeah, I think so. You know, also after Barack Obama was elected there was a lot of talk that we have become a center-left nation.
Mr. ERICKSON: I think we're seeing that that's not actually the case particularly on fiscal issues. In general, independents and conservatives are together on being opposed to government spending. The problem the Republicans have is, by and large, they were thrown out of office in 2006 because they had become the party of big spending. Now the public is seeing that the Democrats spend even more, but they're worried that if they give it back to the Republicans, they're going to spend, too, just not at the rapid pace of the Democrats. And there are a lot of people asking: have we really had enough time in the wilderness to learn the lessons?
RAZ: One thing I noticed on your blog recently is that you have banned people from posting anything that calls into question the facts about September 11th. So the so-called 9/11 truthers are not allowed to post on your site. The birthers, the people...
Mr. ERICKSON: Right.
RAZ: ...who say that President Obama was not born in the United States -where's the birth certificate - youre saying you dont want them posting any of that information on your site. But there is some evidence that some of those folks identify with the Tea Party movement. How do you reconcile that?
Mr. ERICKSON: There's a lot of evidence that the Communist Party of the United States identifies with the Democratic Party, but the Democrats dont want those people either. There are...
RAZ: I haven't seen that evidence.
Mr. ERICKSON: Just two weeks ago, the CPUSA released a big statement praising Barack Obama's agenda and, you know, the Democrats dont want those people associated with them. The conservatives dont want birthers associated with them.
RAZ: Obviously, the conservative movement sort of coalesced around Ronald Reagan.
Mr. ERICKSON: Right.
RAZ: And then George W. Bush. Ultimately, for the movement to see its ideas turned into policy there has to be a singular leader. Who could that be in the next race - the next presidential race?
Mr. ERICKSON: You know, I am partial to Mitch Daniels of India who got off to a rough start as governor of Indiana, is hugely popular there, turned around the state, one of the few in the current economic times to be running a good surplus. But I do think that we have to careful not to invest in one person because that person could then upset the apple cart. It is dangerous for either party to invest in and fixate on the individual.
RAZ: That's Erik Erickson. He's the editor of the conservative blog RedState.com.
Thanks for being with us.
Mr. ERICKSON: Thank you.
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