The conservative candidacy never came to be
By Alisa Craddock
Last year, when all of the GOP hopefuls were still in the race, I remember reading a Christian Newswire story about evangelicals pining because there wasn't a strong Christian conservative candidate in the race. I remember thinking to myself, "Duh…what about Sam Brownback? He has an ACU rating of 95 (higher than true blue conservative Fred Thompson) and he's a faithful Catholic (that's a Christian for those of you who may have heard rumors to the contrary). The operative word here is Catholic, and the underlying bigotry against the "Roman Church" and the Papacy, and all of the mythology surrounding the Church's traditions and manner of worship was enough to ensure a Christian snub of Sen. Brownback by the evangelical voters. Too bad. He's an honorable man, upright and just, and faithful to our conservative principles, if a little unexciting.
In the last few days I have heard several people, (including Dick Morris) talking about McCain's ascendency being the result of the Republican Party's gradual shift to the left. I'm not sure how accurate that is. The overwhelming opposition to the "amnesty" deal, and the equally vehement opposition to the nomination of Harriet Miers as Supreme Court Justice shows that grassroots conservatism is alive and exuberant in American. No, I think there is another explanation. You see, the same problem evangelicals and fundamentalists have with Sen. Brownback they have with Gov. Romney—his religion, which some among them refer to as a Satanic cult. It is not unlike the objection they have to Catholic candidates. Their response has been to put their backing behind one of their own—Gov. Huckabee, who is not particularly conservative, but who they deem to be more trustworthy by virtue of his credentials as a Baptist minister, in addition to his experience as governor. And, indeed, Gov. Huckabee has an easygoing manner that comes across as genuine and sincere, and I don't believe it is phony.
Governor Huckabee is pulling a lot of votes. Not as much as Romney or McCain, who are deemed to be in a very close match, but enough to turn the tide of this race by taking votes from the more conservative Romney, which may result in McCain being our party's nominee, not because he's more popular, or because people want a more liberal president, but because a substantial number of people don't want a president who is not a reliable social conservative. Now it could be that should Huckabee drop out, McCain, may still acquire enough evangelical votes, combined with moderate Republican and independent votes, to cinch the nomination, but the bottom line is, it's the evangelicals who are determining the apparent leftward shift of the party, not because they are left leaning, but because they are determined to have a Christian president in their own image come hell or high water. As James Dobson, head of "Focus on the Family", a powerful Christian-based, pro-family grassroots organization, said in an interview last year, "Values Voters are not going to carry the water for the Republican Party if it ignores their deeply held convictions and beliefs." With McCain's less than stellar record on pro-life and pro-family issues, and the continuing accusations against Romney on the same issues, (and those issues also dogged the candidacy of Fred Thompson), who else can they turn to confidently to support their pro-life/pro-family agenda?
Fred Thompson was my choice for president, and I am a rabid social conservative. But I found his pro-life position contradictory, and even I wavered for a while. He affirmed during his speech in my town that our rights come from God. Certainly the right to life is the most fundamental of God-given rights, without which the others are moot. How, then, could he suggest abortion should be a state's rights issue? If life is a human right, then it cannot be a state's rights issue. But I ultimately determined that, despite this position, his history was solidly pro-life, and his candidacy promised the best hope of overturning Roe v. Wade which he did, nevertheless, believe was "bad science and bad law." He promised the realistic goal of a Supreme Court that would interpret the Constitution, rather than making social policy that's contrary to the traditions of this country and imposing it on us. I was satisfied with that. That's a conservative political position. I was also impressed with the number of endorsements he received from pro-life organizations who looked more deeply at Thompson's record and decided he was the most promising candidate.
Also, unpopularly, Thompson took the position that gay marriage, though he personally opposed it, was an issue that should be voted on at the state level. His refusal to endorse a Marriage Amendment also hurt him. This position in no way diminishes his very commendable conservative record in Congress on pro-family issues. He did vote for the DOM (Defense of Marriage) Act, he voted against expanding hate crimes laws to include sexual orientation, and he voted against a federal bill that would have prevented employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Nevertheless, his refusal to say he would support the Marriage Amendment (and his law firm's pro-abortion lobbying) cost him with evangelical leaders, especially when James Dobson rejected Thompson. But what people forget is, we're not electing a Pope or a Pastor, we are electing a president, a man who will uphold the Constitution of the United States. Fred Thompson would have done that to the best of his ability, and better, I think, than any other candidate in the field. His statesmanlike positions regarding Federal interference in what he saw as state level issues was a position he would not compromise—and he was honest enough not to pretend otherwise. With the earlier departure of Sam Brownback from the field, there are no authentic conservatives in the bunch who are both politically and socially conservative. That is our great loss, but Thompson just took too long to find his voice and solidify his message, (or the people took too long to "get it") and the media seemed to delight in showing up the less stellar moments from his speeches.
I cannot help the feeling that this entire election is being adroitly engineered by the media and certain elements within the party. In an earlier column of mine (my first, in fact), I spoke of the desire on the part of some in the party to distance the party from Christian conservatives, whom former Sen. John Danforth claimed had taken over the party, and in a later column, showed the leftward trend that that effort seemed to be taking us, as all of the political figures who were being talked about as potential presidential candidates for the GOP were socially liberal or moderate. That didn't come from the people. It is not the people who have shifted to the left, it's the party. The television and print news media have also had a big hand in minimizing the candidacies of some of the more conservative candidates. If there is a shift to the left, I would venture to say that most people over 60 or so get their news from television and newspapers, rather than the web or talk radio, so most have been spoon fed (whether they know it or not) a diet of the more liberal candidates that are the preference of the power elite and the media over the more conservative ones, because those are the ones the media is focusing on in the most favorable light.
College students are a coveted target as well, and right-leaning college students are being indoctrinated regularly to a new idea of conservatism that somehow doesn't embrace Christian moral values, and ultimately doesn't look a whole lot different socially from the values on the Left. This is accomplished through "tolerance" policies that equate private behavior with culture and identity, which they are all expected to "respect" and "celebrate". If there is a shift to the left, it has been engineered, but I think if you factor in Huckabee and his social conservative following, the only conclusion you can come to is that these issues are so vitally a part of the heartland of America that by trying to distance the party from them, the party will inevitably split, so that the nominee who emerges will actually not have enough support to legitimize his candidacy and unite the party. I think the party is banking on the fact that, rather than let a Clinton or Obama in the White House, conservative voters will take what we can get. That kind of thinking could cost the GOP the election, as it did in 2006, if these Christian Conservatives decide to run a third party candidate or sit this one out. (Arguably, people who believe that when tribulations come they will be "raptured" out have little reason to worry about "immanentizing the eschaton".)
Sen. Danforth may be right about Christian conservatives taking over the party, but they are true patriots, the most selfless of voters. The solution, rather than disfranchising them, is not to distance themselves from Christian Conservative values, but to re-label them. God-given rights are natural rights, and they are American rights, guaranteed in our Constitution, and deserve pride of place in a platform that stands for freedom. Without natural rights, and laws that preserve them, there is no freedom. Christian conservatives recognize that. Why doesn't the Republican Party? The party needs to have the humility to acknowledge it, too, and stop subtly demonizing the messenger. If the Republican Party no longer stands for natural rights, it no longer stands for freedom.
Governor Huckabee may yet pull off the nomination, but if he doesn't, evangelical Christians need to get over this childish insistence on an evangelical President. We need a president who will preserve, protect, and defend our Constitution. We need a statesman, not a pastor. Whatever else one may think about Mormonism, it is undeniably family-oriented. I believe Gov. Romney will honor his commitment to pro-family and pro-life values if elected. He has picked up some impressive endorsements of his own, including Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), who has argued and won several key pro-life cases before the Supreme Court. Of course, I don't rule out the possibility that Gov. Huckabee's stock could improve on Super Tuesday when the heartland states get into the act.
But McCain seems to be the choice of the Principalities and Powers that seem to have seized control of the party. It's the Giants vs. the Patriots, folks. The Patriots are favored to win.
So, given my despair at the loss of my hero, my Great Right Hope, how would I react to a John McCain nomination? I don't know yet. But a lot of it depends on whether he chooses Fred Thompson to be his running mate. It could make all the difference.
Alisa Craddock is a columnist and activist in the culture war, a convert to Catholicism, and describes herself as a Christian Libertarian. She may be contacted at alisa.craddock at hushmail.com.