Itís time to play that favorite game of political
analysts and commentators: already bored with this yearís ongoing presidential
campaign, letís begin to speculate about the 2008 race.
Of particular interest to my readers, no doubt, is the question of who
will replace George W. Bush as the GOP standard-bearer four years hence.
The line-up of speakers at the Republican National
Convention offers us a glimpse at some of the possibilities: Sen. John McCain,
former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, his successor Michael Bloomberg,
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (presently constitutionally ineligible for
the presidency, although the likes of Sen. Orrin Hatch donít seem to mind
changing that) and New York Gov. George Pataki.
Youíll notice that this group isnít especially
conservative. All of them except
for McCain are pro-choice. Although
some of them profess to be opposed to the judicial imposition of same-sex
marriage, none of them back any of the major proposals that might actually do
something about it. Most of them
have mixed records on taxes and the size of government.
They donít even offer anything to those of us who were among the
minority on the right opposed to the Iraq adventure; everyone on this roster
favors a policy of bombing the Middle East into democracy.
If youíre a conservative who is disenchanted with President Bush, you
must glumly conclude that most of his likely successors are even worse.
Conservatives can still hope to campaign for the lonely
limited-government proponent Congressman Ron Paul or his immigration-reform
stalwart colleague Tom Tancredo, but neither of them is likely to run and both
would be rebuffed by the party establishment if they did.
Enthusiasm for Colorado Gov. Bill Owens seems to be on the wane and it is
still too early to tell what Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist would offer the
right if he served in an executive capacity.
Perhaps most disturbing, however, are signs that movement
conservatives are already planning on folding their tents and signing on with
more moderate candidates. Case in
point was a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed
piece by David Frum touting Giuliani for president.
This is the same David Frum who wrote about possible Republican
candidacies by Jack Kemp, Pat Buchanan and Bill Bennett in his book Dead
Right ten years ago and found all of them wanting in their commitment to
Giuliani was a fine mayor who performed admirably in the
aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and was as conservative as someone who could
actually be elected in New York City can reasonably be expected to be.
Iíve long maintained
his career was a good test for when it is prudent to support more liberal
Republicans. But pace Frum, heís not someone who differs with conservatives on just
one issue (abortion) Ė he holds positions noticeably to the left of grassroots
conservatives on issues ranging from gun control to gay marriage to immigration.
And on abortion, Giuliani is to the left of even most
pro-choice moderates. He opposes a
ban on partial-birth abortion and would not compromise even to secure the
Conservative Party ballot line in his abandoned Senate race against Hillary
Clinton. Schwarzenegger, Pataki and
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, for example, favor outlawing partial-birth
abortion despite being mainly pro-choice.
Frum hopes that Giuliani would be able to reach out to
pro-lifers by opposing embryonic stem-cell research and promising to appoint
strict-constructionist judges who would be likely to believe that Roe
v. Wade was wrongly decided. But
even many pro-life politicians shrink from these tasks.
There is nothing in Giulianiís record that makes him likely to embrace
such recommendations. Moreover, as
Frumís National Review colleague Ramesh Ponnuru noted, it isnít clear
that there is a large political constituency for this combination of positions.
Even if Giuliani could square this circle and garner
significant pro-life support, why should conservative journalists cheer for a
candidate from the left wing of the Republican Party? In politics, concessions must be made and ideological purity
must sometimes take a backseat to electability.
But this is primarily a concern for party apparatchiks in the trenches.
Conservative writers and policy wonks are in the business of ideas, not
winning votes. Why should
compromise begin with us?
It has become a ritual for the Beltway right to ignore or
even pull the rug out from under principled conservative alternatives to
establishment Republicans, subordinating first principles and policy objectives
to the GOPís electoral prospects. Beltway
conservatives played a pivotal role in the victory of George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole
and George W. Bush over opponents on their right.
If some of todayís conservative gatekeepers were in
business decades ago, Ronald Reagan may have never been nominated.
Surely, the conservative movement wouldnít have cast its lot with
Robert Taft or Barry Goldwater.
When the postwar conservative movement began its revival in
the 1950s, its leading intellectuals could distinguish the difference between
their identity and the Republican Party. They
might have preferred Dwight Eisenhower to Adlai Stevenson, but they operated
under no illusions that Eisenhower Republicanism was sufficient.
(Though in certain sectors of todayís GOP, Eisenhower Republicanism
would be an improvement!)
In Dead Right, Frum advised his ideological comrades that ďconservative intellectuals should be at work on something a little more ambitious than the Republican Party's next campaign manifesto.Ē Indeed they should be. The next presidential election is likely to be even more difficult for conservatives than this one. Preemptively surrendering on issues that animate the grassroots wonít make it any easier.
expressed do not necessarily reflect those of PoliticalUSA.com.