It's Bush’s Party and Bob Smith Cries Foul

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You knew it wouldn’t be long before the George W. Bush juggernaut started forcing fellow Republicans out of the 2000 race. But out of the party? Yes, it's happened. New Hampshire senator Bob Smith, the GOP presidential hopeful with the far-right positions and the 1 percent support, is quitting the Republicans for, well, anyone who’ll have him. Just as long as they’re really, really conservative. "I came to the Republican party on principle, and I'm leaving on principle," Smith proclaimed Monday. By principle, of course, he means unwavering support for gun rights and prayer in school, and unwavering opposition to abortion — principles he feels that Republicans have sold down the river for an electable scourge named George.

"Smith is absolutely right," says TIME congressional correspondent John Dickerson. "The party establishment has found its candidate, the guy they think can win, and they’d prefer that the issues social conservatives like Smith champion would just go away." The Republicans have been worrying about their right flank since Reagan invited ultra-conservatives into the tent, and running hard to the center since Bob Dole fell flat in 1996. Impeachment, as America shrugged all the way on its descent into Bill Bennett’s cultural hell, may have sealed the deal. Pragmatic governors and tax-cut hawks are the party stars, and social conservatives are simply not welcome on the national stage. Among the spurned, there has been plenty of disappointed talk, but only someone as crotchety as Smith has the chutzpah to leave the GOP tent for the lean-tos of a Reform party or Taxpayer’s party. "This is quixotic," says Dickerson. "As much courage as Smith has for bolting — and as much press as he'll get for it — he’ll be a whisper from here on out." And if Bush wins, the same could go for the ideologues Smith left behind.