Mike Needham

In the next few weeks, the Republican presidential field will continue to take shape with Gov. Mitch Daniels and Gov. Haley Barbour expected to announce whether they will compete. There’s a lot of talk around the country – especially among conservatives – about who will be the savior of the Republican Party as the presidential candidate in 2012. All of that talk is premature.

It’s premature based on three premises. First, presidential primaries are, overwhelmingly, about scoring political points rather than confronting difficult challenges. Second, across the nation and in Washington, DC, conservatives are in big ways challenging the establishment and attempting to confront difficult challenges. Finally, conservatives will win the 2012 election only by proving they are trying to tackle our nation’s problems, not by clever political tricks.

So, my fellow conservatives, let’s hold off on getting spun up over the presidential primary and focus on Washington and in the states where the real challenges are.

Think back to four years ago when the last presidential primary was raging. Sure there were some moments where important philosophical differences were brought forth. You immediately think of Fred Thompson’s very clear explanation of why Gov. Mike Huckabee is not a part of the traditional Reagan coalition of conservatives:

“This is a battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party and its future. On the one hand, you have a Reagan Revolution; you have the Reagan coalition of limited government and strong national security. On the other hand, you have the direction that Gov. Huckabee would take us in… He believes we have an arrogant foreign policy in the tradition of blame America first… He has the endorsement of the National Education Association. And the NEA said it was because of his opposition to vouchers. He said he would sign a bill that banned smoking nationwide – so much for federalism, so much for state’s rights, so much for individual rights. That’s not the model of the Reagan coalition. That’s the model of the Democratic Party.”

Other than those few moments, however, there was a lot of, frankly, nonsense. There was the snowman asking presidential candidates what they will do about “the single most important issue to the snowmen of this country” – global warming. Hillary Clinton ran around the state of Pennsylvania drinking shots and beer at bars. It was not a process that rose to the level of the challenges facing our nation.

Now look at the battles for America’s future being waged today around the nation. In Washington, conservatives have unified around Paul Ryan’s serious and bold budget which preserves America’s entitlement programs for future generations. On the other hand, liberals continue to keep their head in the sand dishonestly claiming we can save our country by increasing taxes on a few Americans.

In the states, Scott Walker and many other governors have taken on the unsustainable collective bargaining power of labor unions, which are bankrupting our states. While collective bargaining may make sense in some situations in the private sector – neither employees, management nor investors have an incentive to give away the store in compensation and benefits – it makes no sense in the public sector. In the public sector, there are only two participants at the bargaining table – politicians and union bosses – and politicians agree to withhold dues from union members’ wages and send those dues to union headquarters which then sends a major chunk back to the same politicians as campaign contributions.

In South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley is fighting to streamline state government and avoiding borrowing more federal dollars. In New Jersey, Chris Christie has been fighting since he came into office to control his state’s budget. All across the states, conservative governors are taking on the status quo, trying to save their states for future generations.

What message is more likely to resonate with voters in 2012 in terms of delivering another mandate to save our nation similar to the one delivered in 2010? Republicans fighting with each other in debates with snowmen? Or conservatives fighting the establishment and the left to start making the difficult decisions which Americans overwhelming know need to be made to move away from the tipping point and ensure America remains the most prosperous nation on earth?

So let’s take our time on the presidential candidates. There are a lot of good ones out there and there are even more questions that need to be answered. The presidential primary should be a dignified conversation about the challenges we face. In the meantime, let’s keep our focus on the big battles which are going on in Washington and the states. If we do, somebody will emerge to carry the conservative torch into the White House and ensure conservatives win the battles that, today, we cannot win with roadblocks in the Senate and White House.


Mike Needham

Mike Needham is the Chief Executive Officer of Heritage Action for America, a grassroots advocacy organization dedicated to advancing legislation that promotes freedom, opportunity and prosperity for all Americans.