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Inside Politics

Republicans go negative -- on one another

Story Highlights

• Presidential candidates taking swings at fellow party members
• Sniping violates cardinal rule of Republican icon Ronald Reagan
• Candidates accuse one another of not being conservative enough
From Bill Schneider
CNN political analyst
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- When it comes to Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment -- "Thou shalt not speak ill of thy fellow Republicans" -- GOP presidential candidates seem to be losing their religion.

Republican candidates have been speaking a lot of ill -- sometimes quite directly.

"Governor [Mitt] Romney, his views ... have been moderate to liberal in [the] North, in the Northeast, and it's all on videotape," former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore said on "The Situation Room" recently. "And now he's trying to shift to be a conservative."

At a Republican dinner in Iowa this month, Gilmore took on his party's front-runners collectively, saying, "Rudy McRomney is not a conservative."

The former Massachusetts governor's response? He said his rivals -- Sen. John McCain and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani -- have changed their minds on issues, too.

And talk about speaking ill of a fellow Republican, President Bush is not off limits:

"We all know the war in Iraq has not gone well," McCain said. "We have made mistakes, and we have paid grievously for them."

Bush is very unpopular. Conservatives want to make the point that it's not because he's a conservative. Instead, they say, it's because his administration has wandered away from conservative principles.

Republicans are supposed to be disciplined and on message. Not this time.

It has been said that when Democrats lose an election, they form a circular firing squad. Last year, Republicans lost. So it's their turn to fire on one another.

Conservatives argue Republicans lost because they veered from their conservative principles on issues like the deficit.

"I think when you listen to the crowds, listen to our presidential candidates, the spending issue is one that was certainly taken to heart by grass-roots Republicans," said the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, Katon Dawson.

The top-tier Republican candidates are all suspect to solid conservatives, who fear they are losing their hard-won influence in the Republican Party.

"[We are] very concerned as to whether or not as a conservative movement we will be, in fact, the driving political force in the '08 election cycle," said another GOP presidential hopeful, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

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