- French soldier stabbed while on patrol near Paris
- REPEAT-Will immigration reform get killed in Republican-led U.S. House?
- Planetary alignment peaks with celestial show this weekend
- Rockets hit south Beirut after Hezbollah vows Syria victory
- Two believed dead as heavy rains flood San Antonio streets |
U.S. conservatives riled up but where do they go?
DALLAS (Reuters) - The Texas governor ponders secession from the United States, anti-tax "tea parties" are held and some states snub federal economic "stimulus" funds.
The U.S. Republican Party's conservative base is fired up and taking aim at the old target of "big government" as its opposition hardens to the agenda of President Barack Obama and a U.S. Congress controlled by his fellow Democrats.
But some analysts say the Republicans, after setbacks in the 2006 congressional elections and the 2008 presidential election, risk turning off more voters than they attract if they embrace the kind of populism on display lately.
The Republican Party and the conservative movement are at a crossroads as they search for a winning formula after George W. Bush left office in January as a deeply unpopular president.
"Republicans need to figure out what it means to be a Republican and a conservative in a post-Bush era," said Dennis Goldford, a political scientist at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.
And the political base -- largely white, male, Southern, evangelical Christian and rural -- appears to be shrinking.
Analysts also say the Republican Party has no heavyweight stars in Congress at the moment, and both the party and the conservative movement lack a unifying leader.
Those in the spotlight -- Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, the party's 2008 vice presidential candidate; Texas Governor Rick Perry, who spoke of secession; and radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh -- appear unlikely to be able to broaden the Republican base.
"It is the most polarizing figures who are getting the media play right now," said Michael Lindsay, a political sociologist at Rice University in Houston.
But conservative activists say are heartened by the level of enthusiasm at the grass-roots level. The conservative movement has owed a lot of its past success, for example, to its ability to tap political passions at the grass-roots level in venues like fast-growing evangelical churches.
"Our mailing list has exploded. ... We are also in the process of adding staff and hiring," said Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United For Life, a conservative organization that opposes abortion rights.
'VISCERAL AND VOCAL'
The most vocal Republicans at the moment are aiming to tap into resentment over massive federal spending under the economic stimulus package that Obama signed in February as well as the president's $3.6 trillion 2010 budget plan.
"Nationally Obama has about 60 to 62 percent support for his job approval rating and about 56 to 58 percent for his economic policy, but there is about 30 percent who oppose both. ... And about half that number is fairly visceral and vocal about it," said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
It was such a crowd that Perry appealed to last week when the Texas governor told a "tea party" protest held on the federal tax deadline day that Washington had departed from America's founding ideal of limited government.
The tea party idea was intended to echo the 1773 Boston Tea Party when American patriots hurled imported tea into the sea to protest British "taxation without representation."
Perry was quoted by local media afterward as saying: "We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people ... who knows what might come out of that."
Few took Perry's comments about Texas secession seriously but they created a political stir and highlighted the conservative backlash to Obama's policies. Perry also has rejected about $550 million in potential funds for his state from the federal stimulus package for jobless claims.
But in a sign that this is out of step with the broader public mood, the Republican-controlled Texas legislature is moving toward changing the state's unemployment benefits rules so the funds can be accepted.
"Being against big government is a rallying cry for the conservative faithful but it is not resonating with the wider American public. ... It doesn't take into account the sort of economic woes that Americans are feeling," Lindsay said.
Still, opposition to "big government" may unite Republicans, and some conservatives say this message may prove to be a better strategic focus than on divisive social issues such as abortion and gay marriage.
"The social issues should never be the leading issues. The party should stick to the economy, fiscal restraint, national security and energy independence," said Herman Cain, a black conservative talk show host based in Atlanta.
(Additional reporting by Matthew Bigg in Atlanta)
(Editing by Will Dunham)
- Tweet this
- Share this
- Digg this