WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Since 1964, the Republican Party has been conservative. Since 1968, it has won political campaigns, most notably at the presidential level, as the conservative party. Since 1980, it has demonstrated that its conservative policies are winning policies. Since 1992, Democrats have shown their admiration for those conservative policies by filching them. The policy kleptomaniac was Bill Clinton.
Now George W. Bush is showing, once again, that conservative policies make for successful government. Note the success he has had with lowering taxes, projecting a strong and innovative foreign policy (consider his missile defense stance), and his sudden rapprochement with Moscow.
Given all the essential conservatism of the Republican Party and all the success it has had being conservative, how do we explain the party elite's hankering for so-called moderate candidates? In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan gave the Republican leadership the game plan for winning elections and doing what is best for the country. Yet time and again since then, the Republican elites have leaned in favor of party moderates and against candidates who are soundly Reaganite. Nonetheless, the conservative outsiders are doing quite well, becoming the party's standard-bearer despite the elite's timidity.
That is what happened in the recent New Jersey Republican gubernatorial primary, and it is what is apt to happen next spring in the California gubernatorial primary. A state organization turns its back on its conservative grassroots and is soundly defeated by a conservative outsider in touch with the grassroots. In New Jersey, Bret Schundler, mayor of Jersey City, came from behind to beat the Republican organization's choice, "moderate" former congressman Bob Franks. In California, the Republican organization is lining up behind "moderate" former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan, but an outsider is working the grass-roots where he finds his conservative policies are welcomed.
Schundler was behind the organization candidate for months, but won handily and is preparing a formidable campaign against a veteran liberal Democrat. In California, Riordan has the smart money, the party pros and the apparent backing of the White House. Yet looming out there on the hustings is a distinguished conservative candidate with impeccable conservative credentials, William E. Simon Jr., son of former Secretary of the Treasury William E. Simon Sr., one of the founding fathers of the conservative movement that has given intellectual heft to the modern Republican Party since its revival.
Bill Simon Jr. is challenging Riordan and doing so with the support of conservative think tanks and the California grass-roots. As every Reaganite knows, the California Republican Party is solidly conservative. Riordan ignores the conservatives by being in the hip pocket of the utility regulators, the gun-control lobby and the pro-abortionists. On all these issue, Simon is with the Republican grass-roots. He is also on the cutting edge of innovative conservative public policies that have been developed at the conservative think tanks, many that his father helped nurture.
Addressing the creaking infrastructure in the state, Simon has set up study groups to develop privatization and public-private partnerships to bring down costs, and replace aging dams and bridges. He would enter into public-private relationships to build new highways. He favors off-stream storage centers to store rainwater for the parched state's periods of drought. Favoring mandatory school accountability, he brings a mix of vouchers and other educational competition to chronically failing schools.
The state's failed policy of regulating and stymieing energy production has put it in a dreadful condition. Simon would expedite the building of power plants and the introduction of high tech both to produce and to conserve energy.
Gov. Gray Davis and former mayor Riordan actually have much in common. Both favor state solutions over private solutions to problems the state has already mismanaged. There is a whiff of yesteryear exuding from both men. Simon is as dynamic as his father, as intellectually alive and as solidly conservative. There is one other quality that he has. He has presence -- the presence of an amiable man who would very much like to be governor of California. The last political neophyte whom I knew with this quality was Ronald Reagan.