Let me first preface my remarks by saying that I have not endorsed any candidate for president so please don’t take any of what I say as such.
Over the course of this campaign much mud has been slung within our own party. Now this is not the first time this has happened. Look back 200 years and you’ll see what dirty politics was really about. Back then candidates went as far as literally dueling it out and members of congress would get into bare-knuckle brawls. Still, you have to admit, this election season, in terms of GOP in-party fighting, has been one of the worst in recent memory and this is not good. And it’s not just the everyday supporters that are going at it with name calling and petty accusations. During last week’s GOP debate from the Reagan Library, McCain and Romney displayed inexcusable behavior, arguing for several minutes over whether Romney supports timetables or not. They both behaved like children.
The epithet that has most frequently been thrown around is “he’s not a real conservative.” Sometimes it has even been as drastic as “he’s a liberal”. Having run for office myself and been accused of this I find it especially deplorable. This is not the way to win elections. If you disagree with someone’s point of view, fine. That’s what the primary process is for. But everyone needs to follow Reagan’s 11th commandment and not throw out accusations with little substance or bend the truth and truly misrepresent your opponent’s viewpoints or prior actions. Not only is it in poor form, when our candidate makes it to the general election the Democrats will have that much more ammunition to throw at him. The Clintons have built a legacy on this type of politicking and it’s not something that many people hold them in high regard for.
Now to the point of why claiming that “our” candidate is the “only true conservative in the race” is not only bad politics but in this case a pretty far stretch of the truth, no matter who that candidate might be.
Sure, not one of them is perfect in his ideology, because after all, what is perfect? There are as many opinions of what policy should be as there are people. There’s always going to be something to disagree with. The difference with our political system compared to a parliamentary one is that we make our coalitions before the election. This means that the people who want to actually win elections and not just be third party candidates shouting into the wind need to find the people that they agree with most of the time and count them as friends. As Reagan said, “That person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally; NOT a 20 percent traitor.”
So let’s just look at a few of the candidates’ records under the lens of one definition of conservatism which I think we can all agree on: the traditional three legged stool of social conservatism, the right to life; fiscal conservatism, low taxes, smaller government; and defense policy, “peace through strength.” All of our candidates, save for one, have fine credentials on all of these policies. At the very least they’re way better than Obama or Clinton. Don’t believe me? That’s fine. But would you believe the American Conservative Union? If so then you’ll have to explain to me why Fred Thompson was the great conservative hope for the party and McCain was a big liberal since their lifetime ACU scores are within 5 points of each other. Seriously, has the American Conservative Union lost its credibility or is the dividing line between liberal and conservative set somewhere around 84? Because those are the only two explanations I can think of.
And finally, let’s just take a look at the continued invocation of Reagan’s name during this race. Everyone is set on convincing voters just how much like Reagan they would be, as if Reagan’s conservative credentials were unmatched.
Now as an aside, let me be clear, I love Reagan. If we could bring Reagan back from the dead and stick him back in the Oval Office I’d be the first to cheer him on. But let’s get real folks. Reagan, although one of the greatest presidents we’ve ever had and someone I’d have no problem calling a conservative, had he been in the race today, he would have been skewered by every group from The Club For Growth to the national Right to Life movement and yes, even those whose number one issue is “traditional family values”.
If Reagan were running today these are some things you might be hearing from other candidates and their supporters:
- Reagan is pro gay rights. He vigorously opposed the 1978 Briggs initiative (CA Prop 6), which would have banned homosexuals from teaching in public schools.
- Reagan is pro abortion. Six months into his term as governor he signed the “Therapeutic Abortion Act” leading to a rise in abortions in California from 518 a year to an average of 100,000 during his last two years in office.
- Reagan is pro tax. He raised taxes more than $1 billion during his term as governor.
- Reagan is pro illegal immigration. He signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act while president, which led to a rise in illegal immigration.
- Reagan is a RINO (Republican in Name Only). He didn’t join the Republican Party until 1962, before then being an ardent supporter of FDR and the “New Deal”.
Again, I don’t raise these points about Reagan to sully his good name and memory, simply to point out that you can take nearly anyone and cherry pick from his record to make him look liberal.
So let’s keep our eyes on the prize. Any one of our candidates would be vastly better for the conservative cause than either Obama or Clinton. There’s too much on the line this time around to give it to the other team and let them run the country into the ground. What will Obama or Hillary do with the War on Terror? What will they do with taxes? Who will they appoint to the Supreme Court? Now what will McCain, Romney or Huckabee do? The choice is clear. As conservative activist and founder of the Leadership Institute, Morton Blackwell, is quick to point out, “Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.”