ThinkProgress filed this report from The Awakening 2011 conference in Lynchburg, VA.
As the Tea Party continues to its quest to pull the Republican Party further and further to the right, fault lines are beginning to open up among conservatives, particularly regarding the future of minority voters and the GOP.
This battle between the conservative pragmatists and hardliners was on full display Saturday as anti-Sharia activist Frank Gaffney and anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist hurled charges against one another at a conservative conference in Lynchburg, Virginia.
ThinkProgress spoke with Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, following his panel discussion on conservative economics. Norquist accused anti-mosque activists like Gaffney of waging “a direct attack on religious liberty.” When I asked if Gaffney was playing a constructive role, Norquist’s distaste for him was so intense that he would not even speak his name, saying instead that “The other guy has his own agenda which is not useful”:
KEYES: There’s a real movement spearheaded by Frank Gaffney to raise concern about Sharia law and a lot of movement in these states. Do you think that’s going to play a constructive role for the GOP or do you think that’s turning off a lot of voters?
NORQUIST: I don’t know that it’s having much impact one way or another. The challenge there is a religious liberty issue. When you say, we’re going to start telling people you can’t build a church, a synagogue, or a mosque somewhere, that’s a direct attack on religious liberty. [...]
KEYES: So you think voices like [Herman] Cain and like Gaffney are probably not playing a constructive role?
NORQUIST: I hope that Cain’s retraction was sufficient and total. The other guy has his own agenda which is not useful.
However, Norquist’s comments paled in comparison to the volley Gaffney unleashed during his panel. In the midst of discussing how the Muslim Brotherhood had infiltrated the conservative movement in the United States, Gaffney put a picture of Norquist up on the PowerPoint presentation, telling the crowd “this is how that has happened.” Gaffney went on to note that it had been his “personal burden for the past 12 years” to expose Norquist, telling the cheering crowd that Norquist has been “actively involved both enabling and empowering Muslim Brotherhood influence operations against our movement and our country”:
GAFFNEY: One might ask, “how did an organization like this with Brotherhood ties and personnel and funding, get into the conservative circles?” I can tell you more about how deeply that’s happened if you like. But this is how that has happened. [Puts Grover Norquist's picture up on the PowerPoint.] I don’t know how many of you were in the room when he addressed this very meeting earlier today. But I have had it as my personal burden for the past 12 years to have been trying to warn conservatives that one of their own has been actively involved both enabling and empowering Muslim Brotherhood influence operations against our movement and our country. And I must tell you, I think this is time to bring it to a stop. I want you to be awakened to that problem.
Though this weekend was the most public airing of grievances between the two men, it is hardly their first. Gaffney has long made a name for himself with fabulous claims like the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated not just the federal government, but the conservative movement as well.
These repeated falsehoods led Norquist to speak out against Gaffney, calling on the GOP to “marginalize” Islamophobia within the Party. The feud boiled over earlier this year when Gaffney was banned from speaking at the major conservative conference CPAC. Gaffney claimed to be “boycotting” the conference instead, saying it had been infiltrated by Muslim extremists. In the end, Gaffney bravely showed up in order to warn conference-goers about Grover Norquist.
In a moment of candor toward the end of his speech this past weekend, Gaffney called the idea of a “big-tent party” an “influence operation of the worst sort.” Indeed, if voices like his continue to receive a platform in the GOP, Gaffney’s desire to see Republicans avoid becoming a big-tent party may just become reality.