As we end 2011 and enter the 2012 primary season, the open GOP field has become a bitter battleground in the much sought-after Republican presidential nomination, obviously between the candidates and their supporters, but with excessive acrimony among many in the Republican punditry. The concern for a truly principled candidate to fill the position of chief executive weighs heavily on the minds of conservatives. As such, I continue to reflect on a recent American Spectator piece by Jeffrey Lord that lays out the case for a conservative.
Focusing first on the National Review’s unfortunate divergence from Buckley’s publication towards an establishment slant, Lord uses their current affinity for Romney over the more conservative-equipped candidacies of Gengrich, Santorum, Bachmann or Perry to make the broader case:
Buckley never picked Rockefeller or Scranton over Goldwater, and he chose his great conservative friend Reagan over the GOP Establishment favorite George H.W. Bush and the Establishment rest in 1980. Buckley was first, last, and always making the case for conservatism.
If, as Newt Gingrich once said years ago, then-GOP Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bob Dole was nothing more than "the tax collector for the welfare state," Mitt Romney proposes to be the manager of the welfare state. NR clearly concurs in this concept, effectively abandoning the Reagan Revolution in which Buckley played such a significant role. There is, after all, not much distance between the reality of the Republican Establishment instincts playing the role of the tax collector for the welfare state and the idea of being the manager of the same.
Lord moves on to ponder, “As one by one the modern conservative greats -- the Buckleys, Goldwaters, Rushers, Reagans, Kemps and so on – go to their well-deserved rewards, what happens to the movement they built or energized and now have left behind?”
The answer, it would seem, is to rely on the old adage of Edmund Burke that what we are all about is a pact between the dead, the living, and the unborn. Which in terms of conservatives on the eve of the 2012 election means we should perhaps be viewing what's going on at National Review and in the campaign itself as the latest turn of the conservative page.
And since this forward movement has necessarily been somewhat querulous from the get-go, there's nothing to fear in realizing that the intellectual ferment passed through the generations from Burke to Buckley is what is really going on here.
So from this outpost at The American Spectator as 2012 looms and the arguments begin to fly, it would seem that in light of the NR assault on Newt Gingrich and the making of the case for Mitt Romney, it would be appropriate to make a different case altogether. A case many conservatives dead, living and unborn, to use Burke's formulation, would welcome.
That would be: The Case for a Conservative President.
Lord begins by first assessing the Establishment-style mocking and lampooning that such outfits as a Buckley-less National Review partake of, along with the inevitable results of what we know of the faux Republican do-nothing, edge-treaders experienced throughout the first decade of our new century.
Only in the world of the GOP Establishment -- producer of losing candidacies from Dewey to Dole to McCain -- is the timid Romney's flip-flopping seen as saleable. But saleable for what? Winning? Then what? Does anyone seriously doubt the entire object of the Establishment's warm glow for Romney is just so one of their own can manage America? Effectively wasting a presidency to leave the country as it was found? Dragging the country along in a seriously depleted condition caused by an endless static statism? Not changing anything, just tinkering around the edges? This is at bottom what Bush 41 meant when he scorned Gingrich as a "bomb thrower." It should be noted that in violating conservative principles on taxes, after saying read my lips, it was Bush 41 -- yes, a genuine hero and good man -- who nonetheless got clobbered by Bill Clinton. Romney's self-identification with the Bush-Ford wing of the GOP is exactly what is giving him problems.
To tie in the "world of Paulism", Lord says that’s it’s no wonder that this particular problem of Romney’s electrifies the "nutty half-left, sometimes right" libertarian-esque supporters, but asks similar questions of conservatives concerning that faction as well:
Does the conservative movement really want to have as its most prominent public face someone whose idea of national security is to blame America first while defending the likes of the Wikileaker Bradley Manning? Really? Unfortunately the more the Establishment succeeds the more it feeds this worldview Michele Bachmann correctly calls "bizarre" and that Rick Santorum never, ever fails to attack head on.
Lord briefly mentions the “wonderful conservative credentials of both Bachmann and Santorum,” but cuts to the chase and informs readers that very fortunately, someone of great aptitude and merit has already made perhaps the most compelling case for a conservative president. Here’s a hint: he was a president himself, but made the case five years prior to his own election. You’ll undoubtedly know these words:
Our people look for a cause to believe in. Is it a third party we need, or is it a new and revitalized second party, raising a banner of no pale pastels, but bold colors which make it unmistakably clear where we stand on all of the issues troubling the people?
Let us show that we stand for fiscal integrity and sound money and above all for an end to deficit spending, with ultimate retirement of the national debt.
Let us also include a permanent limit on the percentage of the people's earnings government can take without their consent.
Let our banner proclaim a genuine tax reform that will begin by simplifying the income tax so that workers can compute their obligation without having to employ legal help.
And let it provide indexing -- adjusting the brackets to the cost of living -- so that an increase in salary merely to keep pace with inflation does not move the taxpayer into a surtax bracket. Failure to provide this means an increase in government's share and would make the worker worse off than he was before he got the raise.
Let our banner proclaim our belief in a free market as the greatest provider for the people.
Let us also call for an end to the nit-picking, the harassment and over-regulation of business and industry which restricts expansion and our ability to compete in world markets.
Let us explore ways to ward off socialism, not by increasing government's coercive power, but by increasing participation by the people in the ownership of our industrial machine.
Our banner must recognize the responsibility of government to protect the law-abiding, holding those who commit misdeeds personally accountable.
And we must make it plain to international adventurers that our love of peace stops short of "peace at any price."
We will maintain whatever level of strength is necessary to preserve our free way of life.
A political party cannot be all things to all people. It must represent certain fundamental beliefs which must not be compromised to political expediency, or simply to swell its numbers.
I do not believe I have proposed anything that is contrary to what has been considered Republican principle. It is at the same time the very basis of conservatism. It is time to reassert that principle and raise it to full view. And if there are those who cannot subscribe to these principles, then let them go their way.
Yes, Ronald Reagan, great friend and ally of National Review founder William F. Buckley, the gold standard for a conservative president, and I’d add ‘unarguably the greatest president in my lifetime’, profoundly extolled “the very basis of conservatism,” back in that famous 1975 CPAC speech. Lord says this is “the crystal clear definition of what a conservative president should be,” and furthermore points to the fact that the Establishment’s choice just can’t live up to it.
The mixed message Romney displays -- the "it's all in the data " approach of a Jimmy Carter or Herbert Hoover, the trouble with the "vision thing" (as Bush 41 called the same problem) are all on display…It is precisely the approach beloved of the GOP Establishment -- the dividing line between Reagan and Gerald Ford or both Bushes.
Deviating from the American Spectator piece for a moment, I’d add a few more inquiries into Romney’s record. First, from former California state assemblyman and current executive director of the Council for National Policy, Steve Baldwin (not to be confused with ‘Stephen’):
The reality is that Romney’s record may go down in history as one of the most liberal gubernatorial records compiled by any Governor of either party in modern history. Indeed, the evidence is strong that Romney can be said to be the father of gay marriage, of Cap and Trade, and of government-controlled health care. How can one have played such a key role in the promotion of three of the left’s most important issues and yet become the GOP frontrunner? That’s the million-dollar question we all should be asking ourselves.
And tell me you haven’t thought about this one, which would only add insult to injury after considering this year’s dreadful performance by Speaker Boehner and Senate Minority Leader McConnell, both of whom conservatives would NOT have preferred to represent them in the capacity of GOP congressional leadership (and yet again, we weren’t listened to):
As long as the conservatives are split between 3-4 GOP candidates, Romney will remain the front-runner. The only hope is that at least two or three conservative candidates drop out of the race before the January primaries and unite behind one conservative, or else train-wreck Romney will be the GOP nominee.
Secondly, Thomas Sowell, who’s endorsed Newt Gengrich, has a few worthwhile questions of his own for voters:
Romney is a smooth talker, but what did he actually accomplish as governor of Massachusetts, compared with what Gingrich accomplished as speaker of the House? When you don’t accomplish much, you don’t ruffle many feathers. But is that what we want? Can you name one important positive thing that Romney accomplished as governor of Massachusetts? Can anyone? Does a candidate who represents the bland leading the bland increase the chances of victory in November 2012? A lot of candidates like that have lost, from Thomas E. Dewey to John McCain.
And the same contrasts could be drawn between Romney and Santorum/Bachmann/Perry…but then in some ways we circle right back around to Baldwin’s ‘conservative split’ theory, and quite honestly, that’s a catch-22 we don’t need! Perhaps it’s time for some resounding endorsements from the major conservative voices, the Rushes, Levins and Palins that we’ve anxiously awaited (the latter of the two have given support to the surging Santorum, but no ‘official’ endorsements as of yet)?
Returning to Lord’s piece, on the other hand, Reagan’s call for conservatism to return to a "new and revitalized second party", Lord accurately proclaims, “sends shivers up Republican Establishment backbones. It is a call that Ron Paul specifically rejected when he resigned from the GOP in 1988 and ran as the Libertarian -- not conservative -- candidate for president.”
All in all, there’s a lot of substance to take in from the American Spectator piece, which is probably why I’ve been thinking about it for the past few days! However, it’s very worthwhile and I’d say necessary thinking that conservatives must consider in the very near days to come. And Jeffrey Lord’s conclusion speaks to our final thoughts of 2011:
As conservatives come to grips with their own changing of the guard, at National Review, in the next Republican White House and for that matter at every conservative institution worthy of the name, it is perhaps worthwhile in that eternal ongoing Burkean dialogue between the living, the dead, and the unborn that someone somewhere always make the Case for a Conservative President.
Once upon a time Ronald Reagan did it.
And did it well.
Happy New Year.