There Are Republicans, and Then There Are “Republicans”

Here’s another entry in the “promising more than you can deliver” file.

Covering the fallout from Ron Reagan’s decision to speak at next week’s Democratic convention in favor of stem cell research, the Los Angeles Times sets readers up for some juicy, intra-party strife with the headline, “To GOP, He’s Dishonoring His Father.” The story itself, by Faye Fiore, starts out by whetting the palate further, announcing that, “[a]ffronted Republicans moved to discredit the famously renegade son …”

But which members of the GOP are attempting to “discredit” Reagan? A prominent senator, perhaps? An obscure member of congress? An anonymous White House official? A Republican National Committee operative?

None of the above. Instead, Fiore gives us Gary Bauer, who tells her: “Ron Jr. has either allowed himself to be used or he’s knowingly partaking in something whose purpose is to damage the party his father spent all of his adult political life in,” and further “I think his speech is a cute little story for convention coverage, but I don’t think it’s the sort of thing that will influence any voters.”

Fiore identifies Bauer as “a conservative activist and domestic policy adviser to President Reagan.” But Bauer is also a pillar of the religious right: He’s the former president of the Family Research Council, and now heads a group called American Values. Stem cell research is a major concern for Bauer and his constituency, so it’s hardly surprising that he’d attempt to undercut the impact of Reagan’s planned speech.

Next, we get Wendy Wright, of Concerned Women for America (CWA), who calls Reagan’s appearance “sad.” CWA is another member in good standing of the religious wing of conservatism — the group has worked closely with Bauer, and its opposition to stem cell research is equally well-known. (Fiore also gives us an unnamed “conservative leader,” who she kindly allows to bad-mouth Reagan anonymously: “He is seen as someone who didn’t hesitate to embarrass his family”.)

Criticism from Bauer and Wright on this issue can’t be treated simply as criticism from “Republicans,” since it’s an area in which their segment of the party has a particular interest. It’s noticeable that the president, the Bush-Cheney campaign, and the RNC have all declined to publicly attack Ron Reagan — calculating, no doubt, that there’s more to lose than gain by openly sparring with the son of a revered former president.

To be sure, President Bush (and, it appears, much of the Republican party) lines up alongside Bauer and Wright in differing with Reagan on stem-cell research. But there’s a difference between disagreeing with someone on an issue, and publicly attacking them on it.

Fiore’s story is about attacks on Reagan by religious conservatives — two of them, anyway — and that’s how it should have been characterized in the headline and the opening paragraphs. But that would have been “dog bites man” — making Fiore’s story less intriguing, we’ll wager, to both her editors and her readers.

Zachary Roth

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Zachary Roth is a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly. He also has written for The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, and Talking Points Memo, among other outlets.