The Foley scandal appears to be opening a deep split in the Republican base. Bush so far defends Hastert, and is trying to tie the Democrats to the scandal. But the leaders of the New Right coalition which more than any other group is responsible for the right wing Republican victories over the last quarter century, are flat out demanding Hastert quit as Speaker.
Two of the original New Right leaders, have come down hard against Hastert. Richard A. Viguerie, the direct mail whiz who built up the conservative juggernaut, told the Los Angeles Times Hastert and the leadership were not aggressive enough in getting to the bottom of the emails when they first heard about them last year. Just warning Foley wasn't good enough and was "only the most recent example of Republican House leaders doing whatever it takes to hold onto power."
Paul M. Weyrich, another founder of the New Right, the man who began the Heritage Foundation and was co-founder of the Moral Majority, said he too couldn't understand why the leadership hadn't got to the bottom of the mess when they learned of the first emails."That's the real question, and that's what has the movement people very angry," he told the Times. Weyerich tries to get the Arlington Group, made up of conservative groups holding differing views, to demand the resignation of Hastert and Majority Leader Boehner and anyone else involved in handling the Foley situation. But the executive committee backed away from this stiff version, and the final document did not directluy criticize House leaders or call for anyone to quit.
All in all, Republican House members are bitterly angry at their leadership. Bob Novak writes today, ``The virtually sure loss of one Florida seat following the scandal surrounding Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) and the possibility of a devastating ripple effect pointed to dysfunctional House leadership where the principals do not effectively communicate with each other. The anger by rank-and-file Republican House members over the incompetence of their leaders is palpable.''
But the Christian Right, another leg of the Bush base, is weirdly silent. James Dobson, perhaps the most important figure on the religious right and an ardent supporter of the President, issued a mild statement:
Focus on the Family Action weighed in on the controversy surrounding former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, who was forced to resign last week after sexually explicit e-mails between him and a congressional page were made public.
The ensuing scandal has led to calls for the resignation of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, on the insinuation that he didn't address Foley's behavior quickly or proactively enough.
Tom Minnery, Focus Action's senior vice president of government and public policy, said Foley "should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law" if he is guilty of preying on boys.
But he added the preoccupation with the political aspects of the incident were unfortunate.
"The lives of real families have been devastated by the conduct Mr. Foley stands accused of so it's sad that so much of the dialogue today is so political in nature," Minnery said. "Those truly interested in protecting children from online predators should spend less time calling for Speaker Hastert to step down, and more time demanding that the Justice Department enforce existing laws that would limit the proliferation of the kind of filth that leads grown men to think it's perfectly OK to send lurid e-mails to 16-year-old boys."
Minnery added that the public's outraged reaction to the incident "indicates that as a society we do understand there are limits to 'tolerance' of our culture's anything-goes view of sexuality."
"If any lasting cultural good could come out of this awful incident," he added, "it would be Americans discarding the politically correct notion fed to us by those on the left that obscenity is just another form of free speech."