Anaheim, Cal.– “Thank God for House Republicans!” is what one of them, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R.-Minn.), told me Saturday amid reports out of Capitol Hill that the angry GOP conservatives in the House had thwarted the initial $700 billion financial bailout package backed by the Administration.
As lawmakers and U.S. Treasury Department officials burned the midnight oil over the weekend, grass-roots Republican activists at the California GOP State Convention seconded Bachmann’s statement vigorously and almost unanimously. In talking to delegates who packed the state party conclave at the Anaheim Marriott this weekend, I got a strong impression that had the original bailout pushed by Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson that exclusively used tax dollars, there would have been major objections to it. Something like the dismay among the GOP’s conservative base in 1998 when House Republicans acquiesced to President Clinton’s budget and disappointed conservative voters stayed home in enough numbers that the GOP suffered a net loss of House seats in the mid-term elections.
“This was a sad capstone to President Bush’s big government Republican presidency,” Assemblyman Chuck DeVore (R.-Orange County.) said of the Paulson bailout. As to the party’s conservative base being opposed to the proposal, DeVore — who helped lead the fight against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed state sales tax increase — exclaimed: “You bet it was! I had one e-mail — that’s right, just one — favoring it and everyone else opposed. If financial firms do poorly, our people were saying, then they should fail.”
Jon Fleischman, state GOP vice chairman for the South and editor of the influential “Flash Report” on-line newsletter, strongly seconded DeVore’s assessment. As he put it, “There was very little sympathy among grass-roots Republicans here for a bailout of Wall Street and people I talked to thought there was no worse a spokesman for it than Paulson. I mean, what kind of a message do you send when you have a former chairman of Goldman-Sachs with a net worth of half-a-billion asking taxpayers to give a handout to his supper club companions?”
Fleischman went on to praise the Republican House Members who made distaste with the taxpayer bailout known to their leaders and the Administration and singled out his state’s GOP Reps. Darrell Issa and George Radanovich for “noble efforts. The grass roots will remember this.”
“Very upset” was how former State GOP Chairman Mike Schroeder described the party activists he talked to regarding the bailout. “They would ask over and over again, ‘why should we be asked to bailout these guys?”
In the end, they didn’t — or at least, they won’t be asked to do it exclusively with tax dollars. At this point, the final chapter has yet to be written in this ongoing story of financial failure, government intervention, and congressional anger.
“Getting something done and getting it right are two different things,” noted Orange County political consultant Brandon Powers, “But for now, the base is happy that congressional Republicans stopped the tax-funded bailout. After so many years of our men and women in Congress not stopping a single spending package and surrendering the less-spending issue, we’re just starting to get our groove back.”
VERDICT IN ANAHEIM: McCAIN BY A WHISKER
The morning after the first Presidential debate, the verdict among Republican conventioneers I spoke to was about the same as it was among pundits and debate-watchers nationwide: McCain came out on top — barely, but significantly, given the expectations placed on the more eloquent Obama.
As Melanie Morgan, veteran San Francisco radio talk show host and longtime conservative organizer, told me over lunch at the Anaheim Marriott: “I gave McCain a slight edge because he beat the expectation game.”
The largely conservative conclave of California GOPers here was clearly upbeat on the morning after the debate that included a Republican nominee that many of them had not been enthusiastic about until he tapped Sarah Palin as his running mate. In speaking to them, the convention delegates frequently mentioned the times that McCain sounded like “one of us.”
“I loved it when he talked about the spending freeze,” said GOP National Committeeman Shawn Steel, a conservative grass-roots activists since he was a Teen Age Republican for Barry Goldwater in 1964. “In terms of style, McCain had shorter, punchier answers. And he made no great gaffes.”
State Party Secretary Steve Baric agreed, telling me “I liked the way he was beating the drum on spending.”
But there are also “second opinions” and they can be critical. As Jon Fleischman, state vice chairman for the South and editor of the “Flash Report,” put it: “He did OK but I get a little jittery when I hear John McCain use the term ‘bipartisanship’ repeatedly — especially when, as has been the case lately, bipartisanship means sitting down with Chris Dodd and Barney Frank.”
CAL ROMNEY CHAIRMAN MAY NOT SUPPORT McCAIN
A well-known fixture in California Republican Party circles who was also Mitt Romney’s campaign chairman in the Golden State revealed to me today that he may not support or even vote for Republican nominee John McCain.
“I haven’t said anything about supporting McCain after he wrapped up the nomination because I’m not sure of it,” attorney Mike Schroeder, a former state party chairman and onetime head of the conservative California Republican Assembly volunteer group, told me on Saturday.
Schroeder, who was attending the state party convention in Anaheim, explained that “McCain wants amnesty for illegal immigrants, always says that a tax increase has to be on the table, and was wrong on judges when he was part of the ‘Gang of Fourteen’ in the Senate.” When I mentioned that many conservatives I interviewed during the national party convention in St. Paul (Minn.) had said “all is forgiven” with McCain after he named Sarah Palin as a running mate, Schroeder made it clear that this was not the case with him.
“When you look at his overall record and all the things he has done that aren’t conservative,” he said, “you then want me to forgive him because of this one move he’s made — picking a vice president?”
A staunch conservative who backed Texas Sen. Phil Gramm for President in 1996 and was an early backer of George W. Bush in 2000, Schroeder said he has not discussed his present view on the race with his candidate Romney, who will address the convention banquet this evening.
As for the argument that a “President Obama” with a Democratic Congress could do some terrible things as far as conservatives were concerned, Schroder was unimpressed. In his view, “That might also do what it did for Republicans when Bill Clinton was President for the first two years and Democrats controlled Congress. It got our Members in Congress acting like conservatives again.”
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