Mugged by reality

As chairman of the American Conservative Union, I signed, and signed off on, ACU’s fundraising materials. During my tenure as chairman I found myself forced to rewrite every letter drafted by our outside public relations consultants. The ACU, and conservatives generally, had long been focused on a few things—keeping taxes low, keeping regulation in bounds, adequately funding national defense, and, more generally (this was how conservatism was defined in political terms), prudence and skepticism in the face of proposals for sweeping overhauls.

However, what I found in the fundraising letters I was being sent to sign were harangues centered on social issues. Waging the culture war was a more effective way of raising money. I edited those parts out but failed to see, as I do now, that these rants were early signs that the ideals of conservatism were being abandoned by those who claimed to be its greatest champions. But I couldn’t see that at the time; I simply deleted the social/cultural warfare lines, rewrote each piece in more traditional conservative terms, and moved on. These fights began to creep into Congress as well, the usual partisan squabbles over tax policy, defense spending, foreign policy, assistance programs, and budget levels joined by bitter and continuous partisan fights over social issues: abortion, gay rights, women’s empowerment, etc.

After five years as ACU’s, and CPAC’s, chairman, I resigned. I resigned as ACU’s chairman, I resigned as a board member, and I resigned as a member. As the push for this new brand of conservatism—a populist and retrograde pseudo-conservatism—grew stronger, I wanted no part of it. But it still had not transformed the Republican Party, or even conservatism generally, into the ugly and malignant force it has become.