Politics & Policy

Conservatives vs. the GOP

Republicans in Congress are warned that they will lose their base if they vote for tax hikes.

Conservative groups are sending written warnings to both congressional Republicans and the Republican National Committee. If Republicans sign on to a deal that raises taxes, they risk an open break with large portions of their base. “This is a time of testing for you,” more than 70 conservative leaders write in an open letter sent Friday morning to every GOP member of Congress. They warn that if a budget deal that raises taxes is passed with GOP fingerprints on it, conservatives will “see that the current leadership is not an acceptable alternative to the left. Conservatives would then likely repeat what they did in the 1970s, when they systematically and successfully undertook a multi-year effort to replace Republican congressional leadership.”

The letter goes on to warn that there are two ways President Obama and liberal Democrats could turn their economic agenda into law. First, just enough Republicans could vote with the Democrats to provide a narrow majority for tax hikes. Or the Republican leadership in both houses could negotiate a “deal” and pressure Republican congressmen and senators to approve it. “Either of these two courses would be a disaster for conservative principles because they would result in permanent advances for the ‘fundamental changes’ the left wants to impose on our country,” the conservative leaders warn.

Among the leading conservatives who signed the letter are Morton Blackwell, a prominent member of the RNC from Virginia; Colin Hanna, head of Let Freedom Ring; and Tony Perkins, a well-known pro-family leader. Their tough message was amplified and sharpened in a separate letter to Reince Priebus, the RNC’s chair, written this week by Brent Bozell, the chairman of ForAmerica and a noted fundraiser for conservative groups combating media bias and liberal legislation. Bozell noted that he has spent over 30 years raising hundreds of millions of dollars for “an alphabet soup of conservative causes,” including the Media Research Center, which he founded. But his involvement with the Republican party would end with a budget deal that raised taxes.

“Reince, it pains me to say this, but if the Republican Party breaks its word to the American people and goes along with President Obama with tax increases, it will have betrayed conservatives for the final time,” he wrote. “I will make it my mission to ensure that every conservative donor to the Republican Party that I have worked with for the last three decades—and there are many and they have given tens of millions to Republican causes—gives not one penny more to the Republican Party or any member of Congress that votes for tax increases.”

Both letters were prompted by a small group of Republicans in Congress—Senators Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Bob Corker of Tennessee, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina—who took to TV news shows to declare they no longer felt bound by the pledge they took not to vote for any net increase in taxes. “Republicans should put revenue on the table,” Graham told CBS News. “We don’t generate enough revenue. Capping deductions will help generate revenue.”

But many of Graham’s fellow Republicans respond that becoming what Newt Gingrich once called “tax collectors for the welfare state” was both bad policy and bad politics. Senator Jim DeMint, Graham’s South Carolina colleague, warns that “if there is a bad deal, I just think you’re going to see conservatives around the country coalesce around better candidates, better-trained candidates, and to recognize the Republican party needs to reflect more conservative principles.” He told The Hill that he knows a lot of conservative donors who have already stopped giving to official Republican groups and are instead sending money to the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, or DeMint’s own Senate Conservatives Fund.

It’s unclear just how much attention the letters sent to GOP leaders will get in the rush to avoid the fiscal cliff. But Republicans ignore the message at their peril. The last election showed that many GOP donors are now comfortable with contributing to non-party groups. Tea-party activists are often proud to highlight their independence from the official GOP structures of authority. And Republicans always risk losing voters to upstarts from the Libertarian and Constitution parties. This month’s elections saw the GOP lose several close races probably because of third-party inroads into its base. Most notable was the Montana race, where Dan Cox of the Libertarian party won 7 percent of the vote after GOP Senate nominee Representative Denny Rehberg voted twice against Paul Ryan’s budget in the House because of its budget restraint on entitlements.

But Republicans are feeling enormous pressure to go along with President Obama, the elite media, and much of big business and to approve a budget deal that raises taxes. Republican leaders in Congress should realize, however, the degree to which they risk a civil war over the issue if they break their anti-tax pledge in exchange for another flawed and probably unenforceable budget deal.

— John Fund is national-affairs columnist for NRO.


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