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Inside Politics

Where the right went wrong

By Jeff Greenfield
CNN Senior Analyst
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Fifty years ago, when a 29-year-old Yale graduate named William F. Buckley Jr. funded National Review magazine, conservatism was a small insurgency, fighting the dominant tide of liberalism that had governed the United States for a quarter century.

Today, the right is politically dominant. The president is an avowed conservative; so are the vast majority of Republicans who control the Congress. The courts have moved to the right; conservative voices are prominent in the media; and three Americans call themselves conservative for every two who say they are liberal.

Yet now, at what should be the floodtide of conservative power, many on the right are expressing open, even passionate disagreement with what has been done in their name. (Watch what's angered the right -- 1:34 Video)

"I believe that as a movement we have veered off course into the dangerous and uncharted waters of big government Republicanism," said Mike Pence, a three-term representative from Indiana.

Pence is one of a number of conservatives who finds himself dismayed by much of what has happened under Republican rule.

And others, like Buckley, are concerned by what is in the future. He foresees a repudiation of what has been done in the name of the right.

"At the Republican convention in '08 there will be a lot of rhetoric, which will deplore what has been done in the name of conservatism and Republicanism. And I think it will bring the house down," Buckley told me for our "Broken Government: Right Gone Wrong."

"Because I think there's always a queasy feeling when you violate your own canons."

The discontent includes the sharp growth in government spending -- including the kind of domestic spending conservatives have long deplored -- to the growth of "pork-barrel" projects once seen as an emblem of how big government politicians hold power.

"They have increased the amount of government spending by a degree that no Democrat would ever dream of getting away with," said columnist Andrew Sullivan.

Many of the sharpest attacks on the mix of lobbyists and politicians that have sent prominent public figures to prison come from these voices on the right.

There are social conservatives who say the Republicans have taken them for granted -- and libertarians like Dick Armey and Sullivan, who say government has no more business in the bedroom than the boardroom. In "Right Gone Wrong," you'll see the sharp split over Bush's foreign policy, especially his sweeping goal of promoting democracy around the world. ("Loony," William Buckley calls it).

While conservatives overwhelmingly support Bush on his tax cuts and judicial appointments -- and while many, if not most, back his claim of broad executive authority to wage the war on terror, the discontent on the right has grown so intense that a number of well-known conservatives have openly argued that the Republicans should lose their hold on Congress this year, either to punish conservatives for abandoning the cause, or because divided government actually produces better policy results.

And beyond the November elections, the conservative movement finds itself in a debate that will shape the future of this movement: "How do we mesh power and principle?"

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Rep. Mike Pence says the right has 'veered off course.'

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