GOP frets it's too surly with the fringe on top
Amid a rebirth of conservative activism that could help Republicans make significant gains in Congress next year, some party insiders now...
Los Angeles Times
Amid a rebirth of conservative activism that could help Republicans make significant gains in Congress next year, some party insiders now fear that angry rhetoric and conspiracy theories coming from extremists are undermining the GOP.
"Like all conservatives, I am concerned about this administration's accumulation of economic power," said David Frum, a conservative author and speechwriter for former President George W. Bush. "Still, you have to be aware that there's a line where legitimate concerns begin to collapse into paranoid fantasy."
Frum and other establishment Republicans have begun to speak out in recent days against the influence of those spreading theories on the Internet, such as the idea that President Obama is ineligible to be president, or that he is a Communist, or that his allies want to set up Nazi-like detention camps for political opponents.
Some are pressuring mainstream GOP organizations, such as the Republican National Committee (RNC), to cut ties with a Web site, WorldNetDaily.com, that reports on some of the allegations and whose articles sometimes are cited by Web sites and pundits on the right. More than any other group, critics say WorldNetDaily has come to set the conservative fringe agenda.
Critics charge that the RNC has paid WorldNetDaily for access to its mailing list, estimated to number in the hundreds of thousands, and so is subsidizing the Web site's anti-Obama writings. Committee spokeswoman Gail Gitcho did not respond to questions.
The site was started in the 1990s by longtime conservative journalist Joseph Farah, who founded the Western Journalism Center, which helped spread conspiracy rumors about the suicide of President Clinton's White House counsel, Vincent Foster.
Other conservative outlets that have grown in prominence and have carried pieces on the Obama eligibility issue are Newsmax.com and the online magazine Human Events.
Some conservative leaders argue that the party will have no hope of regaining power unless the base, no matter how extreme, remains energized.
Some analysts believe the GOP could pick up as many as 30 House seats next year, partly the result of a summer revolt by conservatives against Obama's health-care agenda that has eroded public approval of Democratic leadership.
'A war going on'
Leaders in both camps believe the tension could define the upcoming battle over who will be the 2012 presidential nominee.
"There's a war going on, a pretty big one," said Dan Riehl, a Virginia activist whose blog, riehlworldview.com, has criticized those challenging the base. "Many of us distrust the elite Republican establishment."
Michael Goldfarb, a former spokesman for 2008 presidential candidate John McCain, likened the impact of the conservative fringe to that of liberal activists during the Bush years. The anti-war group Code Pink drew headlines, for example, when a protester with fake blood on her hands accosted then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — but Democrats still won elections later.
"Do we look crackpot? Yes," Goldfarb said. "But that's how the left looked to me in 2004, and in 2006 they took back Congress. Then they started marginalizing the lunatics."
One symbolic development came last week when organizers of next year's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the country's biggest annual meeting of activists on the right, said they had rejected a request to include a panel on whether Obama was a native-born U.S. citizen and therefore eligible to be president.
"It would fill a room," said event director Lisa De Pasquale. "But so would a two-headed monkey. There really are so many more important issues, and it's only a three-day conference."
The CPAC decision came after Washington GOP strategist Jon Henke began waging the campaign against WorldNetDaily.
CPAC officials said WorldNetDaily's Farah asked the group to hold the panel. The Web site is currently soliciting signatures and e-mail addresses for a petition calling on "controlling legal authorities in this matter" to examine Obama's birth certificate.
Nazi camps, death panels
One article, which Henke called "hideously embarrassing" to conservatives, stated that a Democratic proposal to create civilian emergency centers at military installations "appears designed to create the type of detention center that those concerned about use of the military in domestic affairs fear could be used as concentration camps for political dissidents, such as occurred in Nazi Germany."
"There is a substantial discomfort among the people who want to make intellectual arguments and want to have a substantive role in the debate," said Henke, who likens the conspiracy theorists to those who accused Obama of wanting to create "death panels" in his health-care overhaul.
Farah denounced the effort to attack WorldNetDaily, mocking Henke and other critics in a column as doing liberals' bidding.
Republican critics of the fringe point with concern to a largely party-line vote in which many GOP senators opposed Obama regulatory nominee Cass Sunstein — even though Sunstein's views on regulatory issues are considered favorable to industry.
In recent weeks, commentators have portrayed Sunstein, a Harvard University law professor, as a radical, citing, for example, his past speeches and articles advocating animal rights as evidence that he opposed gun rights. More mainstream groups such as the National Rifle Association and the American Conservative Union joined in.
Citing the base's demand for ideological purity, Frum said: "I believe Republican senators cast votes [on Sunstein] that they really didn't want to cast."
One leading conservative Republican senator, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, said in an interview over the weekend that he opposed Sunstein after his office was deluged with hundreds of calls from constituents demanding a "no" vote due to Sunstein's "extreme views."
But asked to cite which of Sunstein's views he considered extreme, DeMint could not answer.
A DeMint spokesman later said his boss objected to Sunstein once calling for a ban on hunting and to his past statements in court on the rights of animals.
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