Can This Marriage Be Saved?

A U.S. Capitol police officer changes the lock, Oct. 3, 2006, on one of the doors of the 16th Congressional District House office, the former office of Mark Foley, R-Fla., who resigned from the House in the midst of scandal over alleged inappropriate e-mail communication with teenage males who worked as Congressional pages. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke) AP

Dotty Lynch is CBSNews.com's Political Points columnist. E-mail your questions and comments to Political Points.

"When conservatives are unhappy, bad things happen to the Republican Party." So sayeth conservative direct mail guru Richard Viguerie, in his book, "Conservatives Betrayed: How George Bush and Other Big Government Republicans Hijacked the Conservative Cause."

Viguerie's book, published this summer, deals mainly with conservatives' anger over the fiscal policies of George W. Bush and the Republican Congress, big discretionary spending, the prescription drug bill, the expansion of the federal government, and the No Child Left Behind act, which gives the federal government more power over local schools.

He points to other years, like 1992, when conservatives were furious at George Herbert Walker Bush for raising taxes and 1998, when he says the GOP congress failed to put forward a conservative issues agenda.

So Viguerie and a number of conservative activists were primed to blast the GOP leadership for their handling of the Mark Foley-congressional page scandal.

Social conservatives like Focus on the Family's Dr. James Dobson have admitted disappointment with the GOP for not delivering on the anti-abortion, anti-same sex marriage agenda they had worked toward and Republicans have been concerned that their base who delivered for them in 2002 and 2004 would not turn out in 2006.

Many resorted to looking at the alternatives (read: Democrats) for inspiration. "Whether Republicans deserve the power they were given, the alternatives are downright frightening," Dobson told a 'Stand for the Family' rally in September.

But, suddenly, the Republican leadership was in the crosshairs of a real, not hypothetical, frightening issue: brushing off, or covering up, the alleged exploitation of underage males by a Republican Congressman.

The conservative Washington Times gave the political world a jolt on Tuesday morning by calling for the resignation of Speaker Hastert. Viguerie (who does, after all, have a book to sell) became the man of the hour on cable TV, accusing Republican House leaders of losing their moral rudder.

"This isn't an isolated situation," said Viguerie, in a press release. "It is only the most recent example of Republican House leaders doing whatever it takes to hold onto power. If it means spending billions of taxpayers' dollars on questionable projects, they'll do it. If it means covering up the most despicable actions of a colleague, they'll do it."

David Bossie and Michael Reagan of Citizens United attacked Hastert's judgment and character and Family Research Council's Tony Perkins blamed "pro-homosexual political correctness "of both parties for the slow response of the Republican leaders.

The Ace of Base, as White House advisor Karl Rove was tagged recently, cannot be having a good week.

Rove has been overseeing a base strategy to rev up the troops on terrorism, taxes cuts and social issues that seemed to be working. There are amendments against same sex marriage on the ballot in eight states - including Tennessee and Arizona, where there are very tight Senate races - and last week it looked like the Republican base was doing what it usually does: "coming home."

After a weekend of fingerpointing, the Republican leadership began to get its act together on Tuesday and Rush Limbaugh gave Coach Hastert a platform to vent over how it was the media which didn't act more quickly on Foley, and on how the election is really all about the good economy.

Conservative blogs started to warn readers to cool it on targeting Hastert. "Ignore the Fools and the Foes," warned the Directors of the blog RedState.org. "Now is not the time for a leadership contest. Anyone who suggests otherwise is a fool or a foe."

That's not to suggest that Hastert is unbruised in this analysis from the right side of the aisle.

"There are many people dissatisfied with Speaker Hastert's handling of matters in the House of Representatives in the past year," says RedState.org. "From the William Jefferson investigation to the Mark Foley investigation, Speaker Hastert has sometimes seemed to have a tin ear. We have, on occasion, shared in these frustrations but this is not the time for a leadership fight."

Republican members of Congress who are in tight campaigns - from liberal Rep. Chris Shays in Connecticut to conservative Rep. Chris Chocola in Indiana - are nonetheless being forced to talk about Mark Foley and Dennis Hastert, rather than issues that had started to work for them, and they are not happy campers.

The Ace of Base better have a few more cards up his sleeve if he is to repeat his 2002 and 2004 successes this time around and motivate the Republican base. Will one of them be to support the chorus of conservatives calling on Hastert to quit?
  • Joel Roberts

Comments