Paul  Weyrich

This is the first time in many years that neither party has a presumed nominee, although with the Democrats Hillary is well ahead at the moment. Think about it. Ronald W. Reagan became the presumed nominee after his close but failed attempt in 1976. So Reagan won in 1980 and again in 1984. Then Reagan's hand-picked Vice President, George Herbert Walker Bush, won a convincing victory in 1988. He sought reelection in 1992 and went down miserably. Senator Robert J. Dole was the 1996 nominee because it was "his turn," not because anyone thought he could win. Meanwhile George W. Bush had been elected and re-elected as Governor of Texas, and he ran for President in 2000 and won one of the closest contests in our history. He ran for re-election in 2004 and polled more votes by far than any Presidential candidate yet his victory was one of the narrowest in history as well, although he won by an outright majority. Now comes 2008. There is no presumed nominee. Had Florida's retiring Governor Jeb Bush agreed to run he would likely start out as the favorite. But Governor Bush has said no, no way. That is where McCain and Rudy step in. There are Republican voters for whom defeating Hillary is their only motivation. So which of these two popular candidates to choose? Would it be McCain? No Senator has won the Presidency since JFK in 1960.

Moreover, long-time Senators have cast hundreds of votes, any of which can be used in an attack ad. On the other hand Rudy, married three times but raised as a Catholic, favors abortion rights, special rights for homosexuals, gun control and more. Yes, he was an effective Mayor. But has a mayor ever tried to become President? Has any succeeded? If both of these potential candidates were on the primary ballots in most states the pragmatic voters, those driven solely by Hillary fear, would cancel out each other.

That would be helpful to the principled voters who want to elect someone who believes in their issues. A number of potential candidates will be running on a conservative, pro-life, pro-family platform. While pragmatists were splitting their vote conservatives would have the opportunity to do the same thing.

That is, unless conservatives and pro-family people unite behind a single candidate. That candidate needs to take the conservative positions on taxes, guns, life and marriage and should oppose neo-Wilsonianism in foreign policy.

If conservatives do as they did in 1988 the more liberal candidate would win. That candidate happened to be Bush '41, who was viewed by non-activist voters as being a third Reagan term. Bush was not really a liberal but he was not a conservative either. That is why he lost. The one thing voters knew about him was "read my lips. No new taxes." Then when he sought the largest tax increase in American history voters felt betrayed. If conservatives had had a single candidate in 1988 Bush could have taken second place in the Republican primaries. It wasn't until late in the game that Bush had a majority in primaries. He had pluralities, yes, but no outright majority until South Dakota.

Conservatives who are convinced that Republicans will be soundly defeated in House and Senate races this fall are nevertheless still focused on these mid-term elections. Once we are past those elections in November, suddenly conservatives will have to confront 2008. One thing is for certain. There is no Ronald Reagan who will be in that contest. No one remotely resembles him. So conservatives will be faced with either splitting up into every camp, or getting together and shining the spotlight on the candidate who most resembles what they are seeking. Senator George Allen is a possibility. The Virginia Republican is in a tough re-election of his own. There is an outside chance he would be one of those Senators defeated. Senator Sam Brownback looks attractive but is little known outside of Kansas. Senator Rick Santorum has been trailing Democrat Bob Casey, Jr. for months in the Pennsylvania polls. Should he come back and win it would be almost an upset. Others Senators, such as Charles Hagel (R-NE), also would like to run, although his views are identical on many issues to those of McCain.

Many Governors are looking at the race. Governors have been elected far more often than have Senators in recent times. Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts is touring the country, seeking support. Others Governors also are said to be interested. One that I find interesting is Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas. He is a former Baptist minister, who certainly still knows how to preach. I have heard him give spellbinding speeches to political groups. Certainly the religious right would like him, he is their kind of guy. His record on taxes is not good. But it seems he now has seen the light on that issue. If we are not to make the perfect the enemy of the good then Huckabee looks attractive. He is sound on most issues. He is likeable, like Reagan. He comes from Hope, Arkansas, from whence Clinton comes. No one was more outspoken against Clinton despite Clinton's continued popularity in Arkansas than was Huckabee.

The problem is Huckabee very well may not run. If he did, he would start from far behind. On the other hand, if he had a whole movement behind him he might be able to catch up quickly. Conservatives either can elect a winner in 2008 or be driven to the margins should McCain or Rudy get elected. It is our choice. The question is, will we make it?


Paul Weyrich

Paul M. Weyrich is the late Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Research and Education Foundation.
 
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