McLean, Virginia — Complaining about how difficult his job is, and asking for the prayers of a group he called "extremely important," Jim Nicholson, chairman of the Republican National Committee, recently fended off verbal attacks by members of the Council for National Policy. The assault took place during a raucous Q & A session following a speech in which Nicholson took credit for virtually every Republican victory since he became RNC head in January 1997. His talk, given at the invitation of CNP executive director Morton Blackwell, also championed the two-party system. This was apparently in response to an earlier speech by Howard Phillips, head of the Conservative Caucus and the United States Taxpayers Party [see sidebar].
Despite beefed-up security measures, a reporter for the Freedom Writer managed to attend the Council for National Policy's closed-door gathering held at the Ritz-Carlton at Tysons Corner, in McClean, Virginia on May 1-2, 1998.
One of Nicholson's verbal assailants, Mike Farris, complained, "There was no response to Gerald Ford when he attacked Tom Bordonaro in California last fall. There was no organized response. You're disloyal to our people [Christian conservatives] when we're the party nominees; you're disloyal to the principles that we believe in as a party. We're told time and again that we can't pass these things because we don't have a conservative majority. When a conservative runs in a primary against a Republican in favor of partial-birth abortion, for example, the party hierarchy comes and rescues that incumbent. They don't rescue our nominees when we're the nominee, yet they rescue the liberals when they are being attacked in a conservative primary." Farris received a standing ovation.
Nicholson responded, "Well Mike, something gives me the impression you have some support in here." Then he inquired, "Is this closed to the press?" After receiving assurance that it was, he continued. "I will tell you that I talked to President Ford on Bordonaro and actually got him to come out and he actually said to me, 'I understand he's a pretty fine young man, and I will support him.' But it was [too] late; we did get a statement from him and made it available to the campaign.
"I don't like that any better than you do. It's one of our challenges. Part of this job is to manage conflicts and dissension."
Nicholson was asked why the Republican Party isn't attacking President Clinton more forcefully. [Every time the word "impeach" was raised during the conference, CNP members applauded.] Nicholson responded, "There are an average of two to three articles a day, and usually always one 'above the fold,' as they say, in the top part of The Washington Post and The New York Times; they're very negative about Clinton. We can't do any better than that, we the party, the party chairmen, especially in those publications."
Another CNP member asked, "From what I understand that happened on the Lambert Resolution at the Republican National Committee meeting, from what I understand there is a significant financial influence in the Republican Party that did not want to see the Republican Party keep its pro-life platform. That's the only explanation that I could personally have for the kind of activity that went on regarding the Lambert Resolution. I'm wondering if you can explain that to us please?"
Nicholson responded, "The question has to do with whether or not the party central, the national party, ought to have a prohibition against giving funds to any candidate for office that would not express themselves against partial-birth abortion. I took a position that the national party should not take such a position, knowing the need to try to keep this coalition together." Nicholson danced around a bit here, then exhorted his listeners to keep the two-party system alive. After more rambling, he described himself as a pro-life committed Catholic.
Someone jumped up a said, "By broadening the potential positions on abortion, you lose the coalition because you lose the people who are here, because they're pro-life." More applause.
Nicholson defended his position, saying, "At least a third, if not more, of the National Committee is pro-choice."
Another CNP member stood. "All Lambert did was to ask you to defund Republicans who favor killing babies during delivery. That's partial-birth abortion. It was a very narrow request for an absolutely outrageous practice. You would have a much stronger party today if you had condemned killing babies during delivery." Wild applause followed.
Nicholson commiserated, "I share the depth of your feeling about this."
Another audience member shouted, "I'm a former Democrat. I came to this party because this party stood for principles. If this is principles, I may as well start a third party, or go back to the Democrats where I know they're messed up." More applause.
A woman stood. "I am no longer registered as a Republican because I cannot belong to a party that will not stand, in principle, against infanticide. It is not a tough issue. If we bring everybody into this party who believes anything, all we've got is nothing." Applause. "I'm not a Republican anymore, and I'm very proud to say it." More applause.
Nicholson sputtered, "I think it's important to maintain the vitality of this party and the two-party system."
The CNP executive committee rescued Nicholson and brought the Q & A session to a close. Nicholson concluded, "I appreciate the chance to be here. You are an extremely important group. Pray for me, thank you."
An emotionally charged Foster Friess, CNP president, took the podium. "I spent dinner with this guy. He's real. He's one of us. He believes what we believe." At this point Friess choked up. After regaining his composure, he said, "You guys really put him on the grill today." Then he indicated he was personally giving $100,000 to the Republican's Team 100 major donor program. [Donors to Team 100 give $175,000 over a four-year period.]
Just six days after the CNP conference, Christian conservatives representing approximately 20 Christian conservative groups met in Washington with GOP Congressmen Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey (CNP member), and Ernest Istook (CNP member) to discuss the conservative Christian agenda. The conservative Christian leaders included CNP members Gary Bauer, James Dobson and Don Hodel.
At last February's CNP meeting in Phoenix, James Dobson, of Focus on the Family, said that if the Republican Party doesn't heed the demands of conservative Christians, he might walk, taking millions with him. That threat, first reported in the Freedom Writer, started a firestorm, and has since escalated, receiving national, mainstream coverage.
There's a crisis in the 55 million member Republican Party. It is doubtful that moderate Republicans will get behind their extremist brethren. Only time will tell whether Dobson, et al, will make good on their promise to bolt the party.