Conservatism needs an heir and champion. In 1976, while Ronald Reagan narrowly lost the Republican nomination to President Gerald Ford, his almost-successful campaign propelled him to “candidate-in-waiting” for the 1980 election. In the interim, conservative Reagan assumed the mantle of Republican leader, and essentially served as the American equivalent of a parliamentary shadow government.
While the 2008 election is barely a week past, neither conservatives nor Republicans have a candidate-in-waiting for 2012. John McCain certainly won’t run again, and anyone closely affiliated with the unpopular Bush Administration will not garner serious consideration. Conservatism is in need of a movement conservative to take the mantle, effectively deliver the conservative message, and lead the party into the 2012 election.
Fortunately, we have a deep bench. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and a whole host of solidly conservative members of Congress are possibilities (intriguingly, columnist Robert Novak floated a familiar name recently: Newt Gingrich). The best choice: South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, the newly minted leader of the Republican Governor’s Association.
Sanford, with an MBA from UVA's Darden School of Business, earned his economic bonafides working on Wall Street in the 1980s before returning to South Carolina to earn his wealth as a private real estate developer. Rising from complete obscurity to win a Congressional seat in 1994, he later defied the party establishment to win the 2002 Republican gubernatorial primary, and handily defeated the incumbent Democrat governor. In 2006, a terrible year for national Republicans, he won reelection by a comfortable margin.
In Congress, Sanford received high marks for his efforts to create economic opportunity and look out for the taxpayer. For his efforts to lower taxes and limit government, Citizens Against Government Waste ranked him as the #1 taxpayer protector in Congress. He received similar well-deserved praise from other taxpayer groups.
Governor Sanford is a reformer — and an innovator. His Executive Budget, which lays out his philosophical beliefs and legislative agenda for the coming year, is a “what’s what” of thoughtful and innovative policy considerations. The budget begins with zero-based budgeting, which is a process in which every government program is scrutinized, and only those worthwhile are “purchased” for the coming fiscal year. After limiting government spending growth to population growth plus inflation growth, all excess programs not high enough on the priority list are eliminated.