The Conservative Crackup | Kucinich’s Seat in Trouble | Bush’s Doublespeak on Earmarks

Big Tent, Big Fight—Conservatives are struggling to come to terms with a presidential candidate who doesn’t share the nativism of Tom Tancredo, voted against tax cuts, sponsored campaign-finance reform law, and once demonstrated an indifference to abortion and an animus to the leaders of the Christian right.

The attacks on John McCain began before he won the Florida primary. Former House majority leader Tom DeLay said McCain “has done more to hurt the Republican Party than any elected official I know of”— and he will not vote for McCain even if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee.

DeLay is indicted in Texas, working to remain relevant, and hardly a threat to McCain. Rush Limbaugh, however, talks to the largest radio audience in the nation. Electing McCain is “going to destroy the Republican Party,” Limbaugh said on the air. “It’s going to change it forever, be the end of it.”

Limbaugh isn’t alone. In one week, right-wing talk show host and author Hugh Hewitt attacked McCain on the radio, in his column, and in a CNN interview. Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, whose TV, radio and book combine is focused on the reproductive rights of women and the civil rights of gays, is sitting out the election because McCain doesn’t “respect traditional marriage.”

Establishment and neocon Republicans are trying to get everyone back in harness. In the Weekly Standard, Stephen Hayes reminds voters that McCain earned an 82.3 voting score with the American Conservative Union. Fred Barnes urges conservatives to “grow up” and fall in behind McCain. The Cato Institute blog describes McCain as a true fiscal conservative. And former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan says McCain won’t destroy the party. “George W. Bush destroyed the Republican Party,” she wrote in the Wall Street Journal.”

Trouble at Home—Just as the presidential contest was going into overdrive, candidate Dennis Kucinich realized that he’d have to bow out and return to Ohio, where his House seat was being targeted. On February 19 Kucinich will debate the four Democrats who have filed for the seat he has held since 1997. One of his opponents, Cleveland City Council member Joe Cimperman, has more than name recognition in the district; he raised $225,000 in the closing two weeks of December while Kucinich was still focused on his own presidential primary race. Kucinich has also drawn a Republican opponent, former state legislator Jim Trakas, whose campaign remains largely invisible at the moment but who stands to attract right-wing money because of Kucinich’s attempt to impeach Vice President Dick Cheney.

Gimme a Break—“If you send me an appropriations bill that does not cut the number and cost of earmarks in half, I’ll send it back to you with my veto,” President Bush said in his final State of the Union address. To which House Appropriations chair Dave Obey (D-WI) said: “Give me a break.” Scott Lilly of the Center for American Progress, who spent years on the Appropriations staff, agrees. He is directing journalists to a report the Congressional Research Service released two days before Bush’s address. It’s called “Earmarks in Appropriations Acts: FY 1994 . . . FY 2005”, and it documents Bush’s indifference to the earmarked items tacked onto bills by individual legislators.

• The VA, HUD, and other agencies’ appropriations bills included 469 individual earmarks in 2000. The number had gone up to 2,080 by 2005.

• Defense Department earmarks increased from 997 in 2000 to 2,506 in 2005.

• Labor, Health and Human Services and Education earmarks soared from 491 in 2000 to 3,014 in 2005.

• At Commerce, Justice, State, and the Judiciary, earmarks went from 361 in 2000 to 1,722 in 2005.

Lilly has been working this vein for a while, and his crunched numbers are included in Norman Ornstein and Tom Mann’s excellent book The Broken Branch. “The 1998 [Highway] bill,” they write, “contained 1,850 earmarks, at a total cost of $9.5 billion. The 2005 bill contained a jaw-dropping 6,371 earmarks, worth $23 billion.” Ornstein and Mann wrote The Broken Branch during the time that the Republicans controlled Congress. They seem almost nostalgic for “Labor/HHS bill[s], which, under Obey, had no earmarks to speak of before 1995.” The 2005 Labor bill, the scholars report, had $1 billion in earmarks. “Among the most avid proponents and users of these earmarks,” they write, was former House majority leader Tom DeLay.