Yesterday, Texas’s solidly conservative Governor Rick Perry endorsed Rudy Giuliani for president. Meanwhile, several prominent conservative leaders like James Dobson have spoken out against Mr. Giuliani and other leading Republican candidates.
Liberals are delighted. The New York Times even gave Mr. Dobson space in which he opined about the possibility of a third party candidate if Mr. Giuliani wins the Republican nomination.
They shouldn’t uncork the champagne just yet.
The fact that conservatives are going in different directions right now gives rise to three questions they need to ask themselves. This week’s Family Research Council Values Voter Summit in Washington D.C. – where all the major GOP candidates will speak - presents the perfect forum.
The first question is whether they can vote for a candidate with whom they have disagreed on one or more key issues. If they can’t, then they can’t vote for any of the top-tier GOP candidates. Messrs. Giuliani, Mitt Romney, John McCain and Fred Thompson have all had stances on key issues with which social conservatives have disagreed.
If they can vote for someone with whom they have disagreed, the second question they need to ask is: Do they vote for the candidate who personally shares their views on marriage, abortion and Second Amendment rights, or do they vote for the candidate who will best advance conservative beliefs on those issues?
Ronald Reagan is not running this year. Then again, even before he was president, Reagan did not live up to the standard of President Reagan.
Mr. Reagan was a former Democrat who was divorced and who supported President Roosevelt’s expansion of the federal government. He enacted tax increases and expanded abortion rights when he was governor of California. Yet conservatives now rightfully recognize him as one of the greatest presidents in our country’s history.
As president, he gave us tax cuts, a stronger military, respect for religious expression, pro-life policies, a major pro-Second Amendment law, and a more conservative Supreme Court. He delivered, and America is better off for it.
The reality is this: The Republican nominee will be someone with whom conservatives have differed on one or more key issues. Some of these candidates have recently reversed their long-held public positions without much explanation, while others hold to their core positions but openly offer to find common ground with movement conservatives.
Any one of these Republican candidates would provide us with public policy advances akin to those President Reagan gave us.
So the third question social conservatives need to ask themselves is: What do I need to hear from a candidate for them to earn my support in both the primary and general elections? Understanding that the candidate who matches up best with their personal views in the primary might not be the nominee they wind up with in the fall of 2008, but for now, it is imperative conservatives ask hard questions. And the more concerns there are in a candidate’s background, the tougher those questions should be.
Such questions should not cause harm. For example, no candidate should give the names of the first two people they would nominate to the Supreme Court, because it would likely be the kiss of death to those nominations, and we would lose out on what would otherwise be top justices. Instead, the candidates should say who on the Court would be their models, and why.
I hear social conservatives say that they’ve said for years that they would never vote for someone who is pro-choice. However, they never imagined that a pro-choice president could give them a pro-life Supreme Court that would overturn Roe v. Wade.
I hear some say they cannot support a president who does not support a federal marriage amendment. They may forget all the other ways that marriage can be protected, and that since the president does not sign a constitutional amendment, the top question is whether such an amendment can get the votes in Congress and the states.
I hear some say they could never trust someone who supported the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. They forget that they’ve been pleased overall by the president who signed that law. President Bush could have vetoed it, but he didn’t.
Conservatives who have worked to end abortion and have Roe v. Wade overruled cannot lose sight of what is at stake in this election. The winner will shape the Supreme Court with the appointment of at least two justices. Conservatives should have no doubt that Hillary Clinton will appoint Roe v. Wade friendly justices who will keep abortion legal for at least the next generation.
Everyone should back whatever candidate best suits them in the primary. At the end of the primary season, it will be one Republican who will take on Mrs. Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee.
So let’s ask tough questions. And then let’s secure important promises from the eventual nominee — Romney, Thompson, McCain or Giuliani. Social conservatives can’t protect the unborn, traditional marriage and the Second Amendment if they shut themselves out of the debate.