For years the Republican Party has been a source of frustration for conservatives. Yes, the Republican Party is the vehicle to victory if conservatives want any chance of passing solid legislation, but too often that vehicle has an ejector seat. Only moderates, or RINOs (Republicans In Name Only), are allowed on board.

This week may have been the start of an awakening within the Republican Party leadership. I don’t need to mention the conservative base, because we already know what we believe in. It’s the “leaders” of our party who don’t. However, after stunning gubernatorial wins in New Jersey and Virginia, and the near victory of a long-shot congressional candidate, establishment Republicans can no longer pretend that conservatism doesn’t sell.

For the past decade, conservatives had put their hopes in the Republican Party only to feel betrayed and bewildered. Republicans swept to victory on a conservative message, then governed like big-spending Democrats. Adding a brand new massive entitlement (prescription drug coverage) is not conservative. Passing spending bill after spending bill that blow the budget and are lined with pork is not conservative. Is it any wonder that Americans turned out the Republicans? More Americans consider themselves to be conservative than liberal or moderate, yet Republicans acted as if the key vote was the liberal vote. Pathetic!

Then, we had the events of this week. In dramatic fashion, a message was sent to Barack Obama and his left-wing band of socialists that we aren’t going to take it any more. America was mad at Republicans, but this is crazy. Does Obama really think that we want to turn away from the origins and spirit that made this country great?

A message was also sent to Republican leaders in Washington: the only way to win is to return to conservative roots and run on conservative issues. That’s what happened in New Jersey and Virginia. And let’s look at NY-23. A group of 11 people sitting around a restaurant pick a “friend of a friend” who has no business running as a Republican. She is NOT a Republican. The voters rebelled and a conservative candidate with no experience nearly won. In fact, Doug Hoffman would have won had the small percentage of Scozzafava voters actually voted for him.

As conservatives, we can all see what the election results mean. What we’ve probably all been wondering for the last few days is whether the Republican leadership is seeing the same thing we are. Well, there is hope.

In a web interview with ABC News, Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Michael Steele had a message for wayward Republicans: get back to conservative principles or “we’ll come after you.”

During the interview with ABCNews.com’s Top Line program, Steele said:

‘”Well I’m gonna tell you honestly, that’s where the line gets a little bit tricky. And you saw in the House and in the Senate that there are ramifications, because that goes against a core principle. And trust me, you’re assuming that people want to have bloated debt, government expenditures and growth into their lives — they don’t. That’s a talking point out of the DNC.”‘

‘”You’re gonna find yourself in a very tough hole if you’re arguing for the president’s stimulus plan or Nancy Pelosi’s health plan. There’s no justification for growing the size of government the way this administration and this Congress wants to do it.”‘

In his own blog post following the Tuesday elections, Steele wrote:

‘Because of your efforts, the Republican Party is once again a bottom-up party. The Republican Party has once again found its voice. The great candidates that won last night shared your vision and heard your message. You energized behind these core Republican conservative principles and candidates and rejected the failed Democrat policies.’

‘Because of your efforts, we are now positioned to show new strength as a Party moving forward. Republicans will take that momentum into the 2010 mid-term elections and beyond.’

‘You did not waver in your convictions…and the Republican Party will be guided by and through this voice. I thank you, the grassroots.’

Steele’s warning, although somewhat tepid, is definitely surprising. I heard speeches myself at RNC meetings where they virtually disavowed conservatives, instead saying, “Let’s all just be nice and be moderate.” More of the country is conservative… not moderate or liberal, and yet the Republican leaders want to turn away from conservatism? How stupid!

Steele’s comments also mirror the activities of the conservative Club for Growth. As noted in a report on USA Today, Club for Growth is “airing ads attacking Gov. Charlie Crist , R-Fla., for supporting President Obama’s stimulus package.”

The report also quoted another telling line from Steele’s interview: “I don’t need you to identify as a Republican,” Steele said. “I need you to identify as a conservative. We are the conservative party.”

Wow! Did I just read that correctly? What is going on in Washington?

There is no doubt that conservatives are energized. We have such a golden opportunity given Obama, Pelosi, and Reid’s efforts at taking even more freedom away from the American people and putting more control in government. If Republicans can just get their act together, we could have staggering electoral success in 2010 and 2012.

But we have to learn our lessons. If Americans give Republicans another chance, and we don’t govern as conservatives, I feel it could be the end of the Republican Party. If the Republican Party props up candidates to run as conservatives, then govern as moderates, what difference is there between a Democrat and a Republican?

Conservatives need a place to go, and that place had been the Republican Party. Through Steele’s talk, maybe the establishment is seeing that conservatives are the key to moving forward. If they don’t see the writing on the wall, then conservatives will eventually move forward without the Republican Party. Now is the critical time to mend fences and get back to conservative principles. Now is the time.

‘Bobby Eberle writes for The Loft and GOP USA’

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