Thoughts on the Republican candidates...
Like many Republicans longing for a true conservative to enter the GOP race, I pinned my hopes on Fred Thompson back in the summer. Until he declared his candidacy. Then, like many Republicans, I became deeply disappointed.
After my disappointment with Thompson, I gravitated to the governor as the most likely bona fide conservative. After all, the evangelical right is largely made up of three-way conservatives: economic, national security and social/cultural. Here was a Christian conservative with an even more solid position on abortion and gay marriage than Thompson, and who seemed to have everything the senator lacked in the way of experience and personality.
Then a funny thing happened. He started to sound like a Democrat. By now it's no secret that Mike suffers from a serious case of populist/liberal hucksterism. He lost me when he gratuitously attacked Bush from the left, accusing him of having "an arrogant, bunker mentality" on foreign affairs. That was highly irresponsible, and a gift to the Democrats and to our enemies abroad. And, pandering again to the left, he wants to close Guantanamo, which means funneling the terrorists into the court system at home, where Democratic lawyers can rise to their defense.
In another departure from core conservative values, he opposes school choice. All this gives weight to the charges that he furthered liberal policies as governor, including raising taxes, being soft on crime, and supporting state-funded health and education benefits for illegal immigrants. There is no doubt that Huckabee has considerable executive experience, many accomplishments as governor, obvious leadership qualities, is a great communicator and a terrific campaigner, really connects with people and is very likeable. Were he the all-around conservative we all long for, he would rally Republicans, capture the nomination, and win the White House in November. But he himself has led us to believe he's not.
He is now trying to repair his self-inflicted damage in the eyes of conservatives, but we can only remain skeptical.Â Understandably, those who are only economic or national security conservatives are not prone to vote for him. Those of us who are Christian or social conservatives as well - we truly complete conservatives - would only wish he were our man. But we can't engage in wishful thinking. Not after 9/11.
Romney is the full - but recent and shallow - conservative. His government and business experience combine to make him possibly the strongest candidate on economic issues, where he is most credible and displays a modicum of zeal. He champions small government; lower taxes; fiscal responsibility on spending and budget deficits; less regulation and litigation; free-market solutions, and free trade.
On national security, where he lacks credentials and is rather tepid, the most we can say is that he takes acceptable positions. He favors a strong military, supports the war in Iraq and the fight against Islamist terrorism, and so on.
On the social front, he's a recent convert on the right-to-life and gay marriage, and, while he evidences no depth of feeling or conviction on these issues, there is no reason to doubt his sincerity and the charges of flip-flopping are opportunistic. When it comes to character, his faith, marriage, and personal life are compelling proof of his strong family values and integrity. And, as for leadership, his gubernatorial and entrepreneurial records leave no doubt about his abilities in this area.
So, why not Romney? I'm going to gloss over the matter of the proper order and balance of our national security, economic and social concerns, and cut to the bottom line: Electability. Leaving aside Fred Thompson and possibly Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney is arguably the least electable of the leading Republican candidates. Paradoxically, he has many of the qualities that make for an electoral win. He's friendly, an attractive fellow, and definitely looks presidential. He's articulate and a good debater. He runs, and has more than enough money to finance, an excellent campaign.
Having been governor of Massachusetts, it's obvious that he can reach out and win over Independents and Democrats. Being able to appeal to all three of its components, he's best fit to keep together the Reagan coalition and unite the Republican Party. The claim that evangelicals will not support a Mormon is a complete fabrication of the mainstream media, which likes to portray Christians as bigots. So what's the problem?
Well, we do know the answer, don't we? People don't like him. I don't mean that they don't agree with him. They don't like him. There's no other explanation for his having lost Iowa and New Hampshire (where he was next-door governor) after having run an excellent campaign and having spent vastly more time and money in both states than any other candidate.
Lets' face it: Mitt Romney's fatal flaw is that he is unable to connect with people. He is the un-Huckabee. The preacher connects. The CEO doesn't. Romney can win minds, but fails with hearts. He suffers from the same deficit as Hillary: too much the policy wonk, not human enough. Except that Clinton is the typical angry Democrat and angry Democrats connect with her on that level. And rage and hate can fuel her campaign and propel her to victory in November. Romney has none of that, and, contrary to the stereotype, Republicans are not moved by hate.Â
He has compounded his likeability problem by waffling (e.g., on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell") and pandering (e.g., falsely posing as a hunter), so that he appears less than honest, and by being excessively negative in debates and commercials, so that he comes off as being mean-spirited.Â Romney's equivalent of Hillary's tearful moment came in Michigan, were he managed to muster some emotion and even allowed his hair to become a little disheveled. And he won. But it can be argued that his victory was due more to his family connections and to the fact that he was in a state where he could play his strongest card: the economy.
In any case the personality problem remains: If a man can't connect and is not liked, how can he inspire and energize people, and generate enough enthusiasm to mobilize the Republican base and create a grassroots groundswell that will carry Republicans to victory over a highly energized Democratic horde that smells blood and is eager to pounce?
McCain is the quintessentially unreliable conservative. His greatest weaknesses stem from a pronounced liberal streak in his character, the reason why the mainstream media admire him as an "independent" and a "maverick," meaning that he lists in their direction. Thus he made alliances with liberal Democrats to pass the failed McCain-Feingold Act, which restricted free speech. With McCain-Kennedy he tried to give amnesty to illegal aliens - until a grassroots conservative revolt stopped him and, we thought, buried his candidacy.
Unfortunately, he's resurrected. Now he says he's heard the people on immigration. But, can we trust him on this one issue when, evidently, the liberal impulse continues to animate him? He refuses to disavow McCain-Feingold, and remains opposed to the Bush tax cuts. He went through the motions in Michigan, but the truth is that the economy has not been his passion. With his nods to "global warming" and "green technology" we have to wonder how strongly he would fight for free-market solutions to stagnant sectors of the economy and energy independence, for instance.
And how will his penchant for "reaching out across the aisle" to liberal Democrats affect his initiatives on, say, social security or health care? As for social issues, McCain admittedly holds conservative positions and has a strong voting record on abortion, but this is not where his passion lies either, so that he follows rather than lead in this area. In the past he has lashed out at social conservatives, and in particular evangelical Christians.
More than economic or social issues, the senator's strength lies in national security and his commitment to fight the war on terror. He was right on Iraq all along and the surge is to his credit. Still, the liberal temptation shows even here, and it brings us back to the question of character. One gets the sense of a simmering anger about McCain, of a thwarted ego, of a sense of entitlement to the presidency because of his service to the nation and his ordeal as a POW. This sometimes shows through in bouts of arrogance and self-righteousness.
Nowhere is this more evident than on his stand on the interrogation of terrorists. McCain insists that Bush administration policies, particularly waterboarding (which broke Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11) amount to "torture." He takes an uncompromising stand and reacts to any dissent with an air of disdain. In effect, he takes any methods which he might deem "torture" off the table in the interrogation of terrorists.
Now, imagine a situation where there's credible intelligence of an Al-Qaeda plot to detonate a dirty nuclear device in Times Square. Members of cell who may be connected to the plot have been arrested. All standard interrogation techniques have failed to break the terrorists. The White House is phoned asking permission to use waterboarding.Â Question: Would you want the president of the U.S. on the other end of the line to be John McCain?
Of course, our instinct is to dismiss such a doomsday scenario. Well, let's imagine a less dire plot; say a conventional suicide attack in Grand Central. How many lives would it be OK to sacrifice in order to spare a murderous terrorist from what amounts to a seconds-long anxiety attack? (Waterboarding is used on U.S. soldiers for training purposes and it produces no permanent physical or psychological damage.) What other qualms would a president McCain have about dealing with terrorists? What other defensive measures would he take off the table? With regard to Iran's nuclear threat, for example?
We all know that Clinton had Bin Laden in the crosshair in Afghanistan and refused to authorize firing because innocent villagers might be killed. And then we had 9/11. Are such choices "taking the moral high ground?" Do such decisions show strength of character? Only in the mind of the liberal, who often is more concerned with the rights of the criminal than with the lives of his victims. Does not McCain's stand on "torture" give us cause to pause and ponder how tough he would actually be on the war against Islamic jihad?Â
Finally, it is said that McCain is the most electable Republican because he appeals to Independents and Democrats. But if he appeals to them, not on the basis of his conservatism, as Ronald Reagan did, but on the basis of his liberalism, which is what he does, McCain's victory would pull the party to the left. And that would mean suicide for Republicans.
George Will is no conservative's favorite conservative, but no conservative can seriously dispute his claim that Rudy Giuliani has the best record of conservative governance in the past 50 years.Â
In a city with a larger population than all but 11 states, a budget larger than all but 5 states, and more employees than any other but the Federal and California governments, Rudy cut more taxes than any mayor in NYC history; reduced unemployment by half and doubled personal income; restored fiscal discipline to a city out of control;Â turned a crime-ridden city into the safest large city in America; dramatically lowered the city's welfare rolls; ended open enrollment at the City University and started school choice and charter school initiatives; reduced abortions and dramatically increased adoptions; and ushered in the economic and cultural renaissance of the city.
This litany of impressive achievements bears repeating for a number of reasons. First, they are conservative achievements. Second, they are not "just" economic, but social conservative achievements. Third, they were won in a very liberal city controlled by a very large Democratic majority. Fourth, they are reliable predictors of future performance on the larger stage of the presidency. And fifth, Huckabee's and Romney's achievements as governors pale by comparison, while neither Thompson nor McCain ever governed anything - so why would we choose them over Rudy when it comes to governing as a conservative president?
Nor can any of the GOP candidates even pretend to have exhibited the kind of leadership that Rudy Giuliani displayed in the aftermath of 9/11. If we can all be grateful that Al Gore was not the president of the U.S. on that fatal day, we can be equally thankful that Rudy's Democratic opponent Ruth Messinger was not the mayor of New York City either. The fact is that through NYC's multiple crises, from social disintegration to economic decline to the catastrophe of the terror attacks, Rudy Giuliani stood out as a courageous conservative leader.
The mayor who expelled Yasser Arafat from Lincoln Center was the same mayor who threw the Saudi prince's $15 million bribe back in his face: no effete diplomatic niceties with Rudy. So why would we choose any of the other candidates to lead us through any crisis or confront any threat, whether an economic recession, a natural disaster, or war? Because he was rightly perceived as a conservative leader and hero, Rudy Giuliani rightfully emerged as America's mayor, and the natural man to become the next president of the U.S. So why would conservative Republicans fail to rally around a clear winner?
Economic conservatives lack credibility when they propose the better candidate is Mitt Romney, whose government experience is running a small state with half the population and half or less of everything else and for half the time that Rudy was mayor - a state which hardly suffered from the kinds of chronic and multiple pathologies and crises that afflicted NYC. Certainly the consistent economic conservative is Rudy, who, unlike Romney, supported the Bush tax cuts from the start, and who is now proposing the largest tax cut in American history.
Rudy is also the strongest advocate of free market solutions, particularly in the area of healthcare. As for McCain, he can't be taken seriously as an economic conservative. He's shown that he can be seduced to lie down with the likes of Kennedy and come up with some big government scheme. He also opposed the Bush tax cuts as being for the "rich," and is the reason why we haven't made any progress towards energy independence, having killed the bill to drill in Anwar to satisfy the "global warming" and "green technology" ideologues.
National security conservatives can only choose McCain over Giuliani at the country's peril. Energy independence is a national security issue as well as an economic one. So are secure borders and tight control over immigration, illegal or otherwise. We can trust McCain on neither. He is now trying to use his military credentials as a fig leaf to hide his passion for amnesty, proclaiming that he will not deport the spouse of a "brave soldier fighting in our armed forces" just because he's an illegal.
Who is the consistent conservative? Those who would diminish Rudy's credentials can resort to nothing more than the scurrilous soundbite that he "ran a sanctuary city." But illegal immigration is also a law and order issue, and being soft on crime is the last charge that can be leveled against the mayor of NYC. There is nothing soft about the man who prosecuted the Mafia and threw them out of the Fulton Fish Market, even when they had put a contract out on him. And just as he took on the Mob, he'll take on the terrorists. He's not going to go wobbly because of some liberal attempt to make him look bad or to tar our military or intelligence with charges of "torture."
Giuliani is going to do what he needs to do to defend America. Can we have the same degree of certainty about McCain, who thinks his military credentials justify his holier-than-thou-posture on waterboarding? And what about McCain's reputation for being a "maverick" and a "Lone Ranger" and easily flying off the handle? What about his condescending dismissal of Bush's efforts in Iraq, and his relentless tug of war with the Defense Department? What about his arrogant claim that the Surge was his idea?
His record, stand on the issues, and leadership style all argue for Rudy Giuliani as the steadier hand, the Commander-in-Chief under whom America would be most secure.
All considered, I submit that Rudy, not Romney, is overall the stronger economic conservative, and that Rudy, not McCain, is the stronger national security conservative. Rudy is the most consistent conservative, the most reliable, and the most trustworthy.
But what is the social conservative to do - the complete conservative who is also an economic and a national security conservative? Well, if we accept the characterization of Rudy as a social liberal who is for abortion and gay marriage, we cannot possibly support him.
But, is he? A look at his record and positions would show that the truth is a little more complicated than that. Depending on what you consider social issues, Rudy can be said to be conservative on most, though to varying degrees, and might be reasonably called "moderate" on some, but liberal on none. Here's how Rudy stacks up on key issues:
1.Â Abortion - Committed to increase adoptions and decrease abortions; backs partial-birth abortion ban; supports parental notification and other "reasonable" restrictions on abortion; opposes federal funding; and, will appoint strict constructionist justices.
2. Gay "marriage" - Supports marriage between one man and one woman; supports federal marriage amendment if more states follow Massachusetts and pass laws legalizing gay "marriage."
3. School choice - Committed to school choice and as mayor did more than any of the other candidates on this.
4. Pornography - Cleaned up Times Square, making its revival possible.
5. Anti-Christian bias - As mayor, almost single-handedly fought the Brooklyn Museum of Art over its anti-Christian "art" exhibits.
6. Crime - If this is not a social issue, what is? We know what he did, as prosecutor and as mayor. Nobody even comes close to him on this issue.
7. Welfare reform - A social issue in many ways, he achieved dramatic results.
8. Family - Most of the above are family issues as well. To reduce family issues to his failed marriages is egregious and self-serving. How many of us can cast the first stone?
9. Gun control - Supports 2nd Amendment rights, and not because he's a hunter.
10. Immigration - In various ways a social as well as an economic and homeland security issue. Committed to end illegal immigration and secure our borders.
Rudy is unquestionably the strongest conservative on some of the above issues, and admittedly not the strongest on others. But, he's acceptable on those where he's weakest, primarily abortion.
We are used to equating being pro-choice with being for abortion, but as the above shows, that doesn't work with Rudy. It is disingenuous to say he's "pro-choice like Hillary." To be pro-life means not only to adhere to certain beliefs, but to desire certain outcomes. Rudy, not being a principled pro-lifer, may not subscribe to our beliefs, but he's committed to most of the same outcomes. He will not use the bully pulpit as Bush has, but neither will Romney, or for that matter even McCain.
We pro-lifers have to consider how we order and balance our three concerns as complete conservatives. We can only do so on the basis of the real world, and the reality is that based on his authority and powers, the president's ability to execute policy follows a definite order: first national security, second the economy, and third social issues, where his main strength lies in his ability to sign legislation and particularly to appoint judges. It is therefore rational that in choosing a presidential candidate, we follow the same order.
We can argue about who is the best candidate on national security and the economy, but what we cannot do is dismiss Giuliani as not being acceptable to social conservatives. He is. And I argue that he beats the other candidates on the other two issues, broadly considered. Again, on balance, Rudy is the strongest conservative, preferable to Romney and McCain, and the best man to lead our country.