John McCain was an authentic war hero, whose heroism was refined in the torture chambers of the Hanoi Hilton. Independents like him, but he enrages "pure" conservatives for his compromises on campaign finance reform and immigration. "Straight talk" is never "pure." Mitt Romney sounds good on the social issues, but his views arrived a little too late to be fully trusted. His attempts at humor sound forced against the spontaneous wit of the Gipper. Rudy Giuliani's tough stance on the Islamist terror threat reassures conservatives, but three wives (and the manner of his second divorce), and his views on social issues make him difficult for many conservatives to take. Mike Huckabee is steadfast on most social issues, but can't decide whether he wants to be the national leader or the national pastor; he didn't earn many converts with his pitch from the pulpit to amend the Constitution to make it more "godly." The leading Republican candidates offer big talk on fiscal conservatism, but their records are mixed.
Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal says the Republican Party is searching for its soul, but no savior has emerged. That's probably a good thing. Secular saviors are never credible. A conservative is someone who looks at the world as it is, not as he wishes it to be. What's important is to look for the best person to deliver what's best for the nation with toughness, leadership, smarts and experience, who's grounded in conservative values and determined to keep the nation safe and the economy strong. A tall order, but the Republican who shows such mettle could restore the Reagan coalition of conservatives, independents and "Reagan Democrats."
It's ironic that the conventional wisdom -- the conventional wisdom is not always wrong -- finds the likeliest figure to restore the conservative coalition is not a Republican conservative, but Hillary Clinton. Like the prospect of hanging, in Dr. Johnson's famous formulation, Hillary concentrates the conservative mind.
To be continued.