Alexander's Column

For a real victory in '08, nominate a real conservative

Mark Alexander · Mar. 9, 2007

While the presidential election of ‘08 is still 20 months out, the contest to determine which candidates will win their party nominations will be over in 11 months. That’s because 19 states representing more than half the nation’s population are taking steps to hold their presidential primaries on 5 February 2008.

The last time both major political parties had open contests for their presidential nominations, without an incumbent president or vice president in the running, was 1928. This will be an interesting primary season and a critical one for the Republican Party, in no small measure because Republicans must also defend 21 Senate seats in next year’s general election, while Democrats are defending only 12.

The political rout last fall was the direct result of the failure of President George W. Bush and his Republican congressional majorities to protect the fundamental tenets of the Republican platform – such as promoting individual liberty, holding constitutional limits on government and the judiciary and promoting free enterprise and limited taxation without reservation.

One thing is clear: If Republicans don’t choose a nominee who can reunite and refocus the GOP on its principles, they’ll be in for another thrashing at the polls.

This year’s 2007 Conservative Political Action Conference posted record-breaking attendance, which is to say that conservative grassroots activists and organizations, those motivated by the spirit of [Ronald Reagan |http://Reagan2020.US/], are alive and well.

Unfortunately, the rancor over an admittedly callous remark from my colleague Ann Coulter stole a fair amount of CPAC thunder from outstanding panel discussions and thoughtful presentations by the Republican presidential candidates – sans one.

Over the din, you probably heard that presidential wannabe John McCain snubbed CPAC. The most telling snub this year, however, involved Mel Martinez, chairman of the Republican National Committee. Senator Martinez didn’t speak at CPAC, either – not because he didn’t want to, but because he wasn’t invited.

From this exclusion, one may conclude that the Republican Party will have to earn the good will of grassroots conservatives, because when the RNC was put to Reagan’s “trust but verify” test, it failed.

So, at first pass, here, in order of preference based strictly on their conservative voting records and credentials (for those who have them), are the contenders for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. Please note that this list is NOT based on their ability to raise money and make media buys – which, unfortunately, is the primary determinant of who captures the gold ring.

The first group of contenders are current of former members of Congress: Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, the aforementioned Sen. McCain and, potentially, former Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia. (Of course, here in Tennessee, we are still holding out for Fred Thompson’s entry.)

Three of these candidates have the experience and ability to rally conservatives across the nation: Brownback, Hunter, Gingrich and certainly, Thompson. These three candidates have lifetime voting records that are 90-percent favorable by one good measure – that of the American Conservative Union. They are all constitutional advocates and fiscal and social conservatives – with the understanding that no political record of any significant tenure can be spotless.

The second group of contenders hails from the states and includes four former executives: Gov. Jim Gilmore of Virginia, Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, Gov. Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin and Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. They are joined by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Of these, the early favorites, based on little more than name recognition, are Giuliani and Romney – neither of whom has sufficient records to motivate the national conservative base, and both of whom have been wrong on various political and social issues important to conservatives. While Giuliani currently leads in name recognition, Republican insiders favor Romney.

Governors Gilmore, Huckabee and Thompson have the potential to rally grassroots conservatives – but short of the emergence of another state executive, we give higher marks to Brownback, Hunter and Gingrich.

The candidate field has not narrowed yet, but it will in a few short months. The RNC should take note – CPAC attendees who cast ballots in the straw poll (80 percent of whom were between the ages of 18 and 40) were asked this question: “All things being equal, would you be MOST likely to support a Republican candidate for President who called himself a "Ronald Reagan Republican” or a George W. Bush Republican"? Reagan won with 97 percent.

Will the Beltway establishment listen to its base – its national foundation and the best hope for the liberty of our posterity? Probably not. Should the Republican Party’s establishment continue to forsake its platform mandate and fail to demand true conservative credentials of its next standard-bearer, we can expect a repeat of the 2006 midterm carnage in '08 – or worse.

However, for those of us out here in the trenches, take refuge in these words from President George Washington: “We should never despair, our situation before has been unpromising and has changed for the better, so I trust, it will again. If new difficulties arise, we must only put forth new exertions and proportion our efforts to the exigency of the times.”

On that note, we will continue to fight the good fight, not for partisanship, but in support of our Constitution and the legacy of our national heritage.