by John F. Di Leo
As a high school senior during the lead-in to the 1980 primaries, I did what I could for “The Early Bird” – Rep. Philip M. Crane. I wore his enormous button everywhere – the Fox Valley Mall and the Woodfield Mall, the movie theater, the pizzeria. I couldn’t do more than that, but I tried. He was the most conservative candidate in the field, a twelve-year congressman, author, and terrific speaker. Despite fine showings in straw polls, his conservative faithful weren’t enough; his campaign was eliminated early on in the primary season. Fortunately, the primaries worked out well for the right that year, and again for President Reagan’s second term in 1984. Something of a rarity.
In 1988, the field was broad and deep. Jim Thompson, George HW Bush, Alexander Haig for the moderates; Pete DuPont, Jack Kemp, Pat Robertson for the conservatives. The right split, the moderates united behind Bush. Bush got the nomination, and of course got his second chance in 1992.
In 1996, there were again plenty of candidates. Conservatives split between Buchanan, Dornan, Forbes, Keyes, Gramm, and others. The moderates began with Lugar, Alexander, and so many others, but coalesced early behind Bob Dole. As conservatives remained split, Dole got the nomination.
Remember 2000? Conservatives split between Forbes, Keyes, Hatch, Bauer… and lots of others who dropped before the primaries began. The moderates first split between McCain and George W Bush, then conservatives turned to Bush to stop McCain, and it was over. Dubya got the nomination and the office in 2000, because both conservatives and moderates alike thought he would be more conservative than the unpredictable McCain. Bush won the nomination.
Which brings us to 2008. Again the right split – between Tom Tancredo, Duncan Hunter, Ron Paul, Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani (right on some things), Mike Huckabee (right on other things), and Mitt Romney (right on most things, that month at least). The moderates united behind John McCain; some foolish campaigning choices handicapped Thompson’s and Giuliani’s efforts, and McCain got the nomination… and the rest is tragedy.
What does all this mean to us today? Why is it that the so-called conservative party has only nominated two conservatives for the White House since the Great Depression? There is a reason…
We won in 1980 because conservatives united behind Ronald Reagan – a two-term former governor of the largest state in the union, incidentally – while the moderates split between many. All these other elections, it has gone the other way – conservatives split between many, while there were few moderates (nothing against moderates, by the way… they’re good people too! Just not conservative enough to preside over a nation that requires as substantial a correction as ours does, that’s all!).
A pattern emerges.
Today, we see a frighteningly similar pattern on the election scene. There is one clear moderate – Jon Huntsman – plus a couple who were thought of as conservative last time but are now generally reclassified into the moderate camp – Huckabee and Romney – though neither admits to the classification.
And we have a surplus of conservatives. Current or former Congressmen Bachmann, Paul, and Gingrich - Governors Pawlenty, Daniels, Palin, and Johnson - Senators Santorum and Thune - even some who’ve never held elective office, like Herman Cain and John Bolton.
Stranger yet, there are conservative activists who insist that this extensive field is not yet broad enough, who shout that non-candidates Congressman Allen West and Senator Marco Rubio, in their first four months of federal office, or Governor Chris Christie, only a year in himself, ought to throw their hats in the ring as well. Not to be outdone, there are also conservatives who support Donald Trump’s outrageous effort to pull a bewigged orange blanket over the eyes of the GOP and convince them that this lifelong liberal is one of them!
Splintered, more splintered than ever. Now, it is true that many tend to drop out before the primaries begin, so it’s reasonable to assume that by the time March arrives, those of us spared the responsibility of residence in the early states will have a narrower field to choose from.
But thus it has always been, and it hasn’t worked out very often, has it? More often than not – much more often – conservative volunteers split their efforts, withholding their support from the most winnable options, so that when the primaries arrive, there’s no frontrunner to unite them.
It’s basic math.
Let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that the Republican primary vote in the early states is about half conservatives, a quarter moderates, and a quarter independents and Democrat crossovers (who have no business participating in a GOP primary, of course, but with the early states being open primary states, they will). Ten great conservative candidates, from Bolton to Santorum, are splitting the fifty percent with anywhere from two to ten percent each. One or two moderates, say, Huntsman and Romney, split the other fifty. Who do you think wins the state, and the accompanying momentum onward into the next state, where the same dynamic exists?
Too late we see how fractions work – five percent per state doesn’t compare to thirty percent per state. And it’s all our own fault, for staying noncommittal for so long. If the right doesn’t unite behind the strongest possible conservative nominee – one who may not excite the whole party, but at least can keep it together and use it as a base upon which to add the independents – then we shall nominate a liberal Republican like Huntsman or worse, and lose in November.
What does it take to win in 2012?
The first thing to remember is that 2012 is not 2008. It’s not an open seat this time; Barack Obama has all the power of incumbency at his fingertips. He’ll have spent four years relentlessly buying the votes of interest group after interest group, solidifying his socialist base and adding to it as much as possible. He’ll also have on his side the massive registration advantage of not having to campaign for a certain unknown percentage of the vote – the fictional voters of the fraud apparatus don’t ever have to be convinced to vote their way.
Second, we should disregard current polling – any poll taken 18 months prior to an election isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. But we can and should pay attention to genuine statistics. Economies as bad as this – high unemployment, high inflation, etc. – bode ill for an incumbent president. It took Jimmy Carter three years to get to the low of his famous Malaise speech; Barack Obama was at that point less than six months into his term!
So this is definitely a defeatable incumbent, but there’s no guarantee. With a huge dependent class, a lack of understanding about political philosophy - thanks to the conscious undermining of our education system - and both ballot fraud and campaign finance criminality as the stock-in-trade of the incumbent party, Barack Obama has huge advantages going in… not to mention the fact that those advantages will be further inflated by the fawning support of most of the mainstream media.
We must therefore be cautious in our nominee selection, viewing what has worked in the past. Only certain types of candidates ever get elected president, fewer still in the modern era, fewer still with success in defeating incumbent presidents. No congressman has won the White House since Garfield in 1880; no senator has defeated an incumbent president since Harrison in 1888. And outside of universally adored generals like Eisenhower and Grant, no non-politician has ever been elected president.
Most telling is this one: In the past 120 years, incumbent presidents have only been defeated five times, and each time it was by a governor.
Horse racing aficionados and other gamblers will know what this means: while it may be possible for a non-governor to win – anything’s possible, after all – if you really need a win today, you bet on a governor. Betting on any other candidate is hanging your hopes on a very long longshot.
And compounding it by betting on a class of candidate who has never won, such as some businessman who has never held political office at all, would be tantamount to throwing the race.
The Field Today
At this writing, conservative governors Bobby Jindal, Jeb Bush, Rick Perry and Haley Barbour have insisted that they will not consider being candidates. Let’s look at the governors who remain in the race.
Mike Huckabee: A likable and popular preacher, his support of the Fair Tax would be demonized as a massive tax increase on half the country. As untrue as that claim is, it’s almost irrefutable when all you have are 30-second sound bites. No presidential candidate who is known to support the Fair Tax can win in November.
Mitt Romney: While a bit of a flip-flopper, Romney’s business acumen would have made him a winner had he been nominated in 2008, but his time has passed. With Obamacare as the GOP’s strongest single issue, the supporter of Romneycare cannot be the GOP’s nominee. Say what you will about the differences between the programs, the Democrats would turn a Romney nomination into a campaign slogan for their side.
Jon Huntsman: This former Utah governor accepted a job from Barack Obama. On record as a moderate and suspected of being farther left than that, the GOP must not consider the nomination of someone who took a job from Barack Obama. If he were the nominee, we would have to reclassify Dole and McCain as platform conservatives by comparison.
Sarah Palin: As an eloquent and beloved 2008 vice presidential nominee, the lady who would have been the frontrunner felt a need to quit her office as Alaska’s governor in the middle of her first term. While many of her supporters support her choice, and agree that her service since has been good for the movement, she had to know that resigning killed her chances for a 2012 campaign. Unlike a Romney, Daniels, or Reagan, who had done other things of substance in their lives besides the governorship, Sarah Palin’s only worthwhile credential as a presidential candidate was her governorship. Quitting that job simply knocks her out of contention in the eyes of a significant enough segment of the electorate that she simply cannot be considered as the nominee.
Mitch Daniels: A Washington hand with budget expertise and heartland common sense, Daniels is viewed by conservatives and moderates both as one of their own, which usually means that one side or the other is wrong. He did good things in Indiana when other governors weren’t, leaving his state in particularly good condition today, compared with its surrounding neighbors. Unfortunately, however, he has a reputation for ducking tough issues, making him a good choice for reasonably good times, but making him a risky one for times as dire as our own.
Gary Johnson: This two-term New Mexico governor is a challenge for mainstream conservatives. A libertarian Republican, he is considered wrong on abortion and marijuana legalization, but simply fantastic on economics. This man used his veto pen more than all other governors in the country combined. He vetoed Republican bills as well as Democrat bills. He vetoes with pleasure, exactly as the GOP rank and file has dreamed of in a president for decades.
Tim Pawlenty: This two-term governor from Minnesota is a solid conservative across the spectrum. With no scandals in his closet, no huge apostasy in the eyes of conservatives on any major issue (other than his one-time support of cap-and-trade, for which he has thoroughly and convincingly apologized) - to this writer’s knowledge, anyway - Pawlenty is arguably the most solid, logical choice for the job. Equally balanced on all three legs of conservatism’s three-legged stool, he has the potential to build on the base without losing any of the coalition’s existing elements. More conservative than any nominee since Reagan, he will gain the Tea Party movement’s support on the issues without driving independents away with “red meat.”
A Time to Choose
Here are our options; we are at a crossroads. We can wait, put it off, see if others make the decision for us so we don’t have to bear the burden of deciding. We can try to beg non-candidates to enter the race – newbies Rubio and West, Christie and McDonnell – or work hard for people guaranteed to lose before or during the first few primaries. But if we do, we run a risk.
Every day that we spend supporting these other fine no-chance candidates – from Michelle Bachmann to Herman Cain – we are denying our support for whichever of the above candidates might in fact have had a chance. Yes, it always does seem to just “fall in place at the end” for some candidates, but always, it seems, for the more liberal of the field. It never does seem to fall in place for our side… except for 1980, when conservatives united behind a two-term governor named Ronald Reagan.
Speaking for myself, I’ve made the mistake before. I worked for great conservatives whom I should have known had no chance, election after election. I’ve watched the party nominate good people – Bush I, Bush II, Dole and McCain are good people – who nevertheless weren’t the right ones for our party or for our country.
We see the spectre of 1988 before us, rising up again as a warning on the horizon. Pete DuPont, two term governor of Delaware, logical heir to the Reagan presidency, certain victor in November… and the nomination going instead to George HW Bush, keeping the White House in Republican hands for four more years, but accomplishing little else, and squandering the legacy of the Revolution.
Shall we learn the lesson? Given the choices of good conservative governors, electable and proven on the issues, will we concentrate on making the right choice, then making it happen, so that the primary system in 2012 has but to ratify the movement’s choice?
Or will we do what we usually do – divide and be conquered, yet again, letting the most important opportunity in a century to correct the direction of the country slip through our fingers?
Copyright 2011 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Chicago-based international trade compliance trainer, and a former chairman of the Milwaukee County Republican Party.
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