They railed against President Bush’s immigration plan, jeered his budget, condemned his domestic surveillance operation, and bemoaned the prolonged U.S. involvement in Iraq.
Such sentiments could probably be heard on any Bay Area street corner, but the past few days they came from a gathering of several thousand conservative Republicans in Washington who voiced alarm that their president had strayed from his conservative moorings.
Faced with threats to the GOP majority and less than 36 months remaining in Bush’s presidency, participants expressed dismay that Republicans had not taken full advantage of their electoral clout, which seemed to offer boundless opportunities when the president was first sworn in.
While Bush has always been more attentive to, and had stronger support among conservatives than his father had, he is under increasing fire for growing the national debt to $8.2 trillion, nearly a 50 percent jump since he became president.
“The American people don’t understand what Republicans stand for anymore,” roared Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., who proudly declared that he had voted against Bush’s prescription drug plan, his Central American trade proposal and his “$100 billion Katrina slush fund.”
“American conservatives have watched dumbfounded as their Congress — their Republican Congress — and the Republican White House engineered the largest expansion of the federal government in modern history,” Tancredo said.
Even Bush’s conduct of the war in Iraq, which helped sustain record high approval ratings during his first term, drew dissent from some participants, who said such deadly and expensive nation- building is the sort of government endeavor that conservatives should shun.
Tancredo was not alone in voicing his displeasure — a sign that Bush may have much more trouble with Republicans in Congress as they move toward the midterm elections.
Bob Barr, a former Republican House member from Georgia, warned fellow conservatives that those who defend the president’s ability to spy on American citizens are “in danger of putting allegiance to party ahead of allegiance to principle.”
The president, Barr warned, has overstepped his bounds and “it should not matter the person, the man, occupying the position of the presidency.”
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies chided Bush’s guest-worker plan for being too accommodating to illegal immigrants, asserting that “the White House has an office that comes up with euphemisms for amnesty.”
Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the conservative Eagle Forum, called Bush’s immigration plan “a bad mistake — and we should tell him that.”
Vice President Dick Cheney received a warm welcome when he pushed the president’s agenda, though the applause was less than overwhelming as he defended the administration’s domestic surveillance program.
Even the man who introduced Cheney, David Keene, president of the American Conservative Union, and the event’s organizer, expressed concern about the administration’s assertion of unrestrained executive power.
“That’s something a conservative president should be reluctant to fall back on,” Keene said in an interview.
A Gallup Poll released Friday showed Bush’s approval rating among Republicans at 81 percent, a sizable figure, but far below the mid-90 percent Bush received from Republicans for most of his presidency.
Facing no future election and having just endured the most difficult year of his presidency, Bush must now confront questions from his own.
“I saw no conservative dissent for this president before 2005,” said Aaron Biterman, project manager for Americans for Limited Government. “2005 was the breakout year.”