The Missouri Republican is a likely GOP presidential candidate who was thought to be one of the most conservative members of the Senate, at least until recently.
In a speech Monday to the Detroit Economic Club, Ashcroft was quoting the likes of former N.Y. Gov. Mario Cuomo, a liberal Democrat. Ashcroft has achieved a reputation as a strong foe of abortion, but he didn't quite sound that way in Detroit, even though he never actually mentioned the topic.
""We must embrace the power of faith but we must never confuse politics and piety," Ashcroft said. "For me, may I say that it is against my religion to impose my religion."
The Yale-educated politician also warned against the kind of political damage that hot-button issues can inflict.
"Just like the Democratic party of the 1970s, we are fast approaching a point as a party where the things that are dividing us are defining us. That must end," he said.
These remarks were too much for some conservative stalwarts, including Ashcroft supporter Paul Weyrich, president of the conservative Free Congress Foundation.
"I think it's a recipe for disaster," Weyrich complained. "I told him (Ashcroft) you simply can't afford to have your base in an uproar over speeches you give."
Also unhappy with Ashcroft's remarks was family values icon Gary Bauer, himself a likely GOP presidential candidate. Bauer accused the Missouri senator of "ignoring the craving of Republicans and conservatives for someone who will defend innocent human life and the rule of law."
Ashcroft spokeswoman Juleanna Glover said Ashcroft may have changed his emphasis, but not his principles.
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