Searching for the great right hope
By Michael M. Bates
Conservatives, long the backbone of the Republican Party, are dissatisfied. For many, the current crop of GOP presidential candidates is about as exciting as a Barry Manilow concert.
Leading the pack in the polls is former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Admirers view him as the gutsy guy who straightened his city out first and then held it together after the 9/11 attacks. Not everyone sees it that way, naturally, but much of his popularity is premised on the belief he's a strong leader.
Mr. Giuliani's biggest disadvantage is that he doesn't subscribe to several basic Republican principles. At least in the past, he's been pro abortion, pro gun control, pro gay rights and pro amnesty for illegal aliens. Then there's his thorny personal life. Add to all that those pictures of him prancing in a pink dress, a blonde wig and high heels that will haunt him and I don't how he can win the party's nomination.
Running behind Rudy is Senator John McCain. The senator is an authentic American hero; for almost six years he was a prisoner of war. In his 20 years in the Senate, Mr. McCain has sided with conservatives more often than not, but he's been drifting leftward.
A recent McClatchy Washington Bureau story looked at the National Journal's scorecard for lawmakers. It noted that McCain "grew increasingly less conservative in recent years. He started with annual conservative scores consistently in the 80s when he first went to the Senate in 1987, dipped into the 60s in the late 1990s and into the 50s starting in 2004."
What Senator McCain's best known for legislatively is his version of campaign finance reform, which many on the right think limits free speech and protects incumbents.
He's also got an illegal immigrant problem, having introduced legislation that was co-sponsored by none other than Teddy Kennedy. The senator's temper has been described by The Arizona Republic as "volcanic" and it's said he holds grudges forever. Not that this conservative has a problem with that.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has tried to position himself as the genuine conservative in the race. An obstacle he'll need to surmount is his previous support for abortion.
Another matter of significance will be his attempt to run to the left of Teddy Kennedy when Romney ran against him for the Senate. In a 1994 letter to the Log Cabin Club, Romney stressed his support for gay rights: "If we are to achieve the goals we share, we must make equality for gays and lesbians a mainstream concern. My opponent cannot do this. I can and will."
Kansa Senator Sam Brownback isn't well known, but conservatives could find much to like about him. Here's a guy who wouldn't sign the 1994 Republican Contract With America, not because it was too sweeping, but because he thought part of it was too liberal. It's been reported that Mr. Brownback seeks to pattern his Senate record after that of the great Jesse Helms.
Yet even Sam has an Achilles' heel. In his case it's that old bugaboo of illegal immigration. The organization Americans for Better Immigration awards him a D, the same grade assigned Mrs. Clinton and Barack Obama.
Congressmen Tom Tancredo of Colorado and California's Duncan Hunter are two solid conservatives hindered thus far by a lack of name recognition and a commensurate difficulty in garnering campaign contributions.
The lack of a credible conservative candidate has the Republican rank and file looking elsewhere. That accounts for the mounting interest in former senator and current actor Fred Thomson. Last month, he said that he was considering running. "It's not really a reflection on the current field at all," he claimed.
Well of course it is. A new Zogby America Poll shows Thompson, a man who hasn't declared his candidacy or even formed one of those "exploratory" committees, already tied for third place with Mitt Romney. Moreover, a New York Times/CBS News poll found that almost six in ten Republicans still want more choices than offered by the declared contenders.
A week can be a lifetime in politics. In the last election cycle, a mere month before the Iowa caucuses Democratic voters preferred Howard Dean, Wesley Clark, Joe Lieberman, Richard Gephardt and Al Sharpton over their party's ultimate nominee, John Kerry.
Conservatives aren't going to find another Ronald Reagan, but they do hope to find someone they can enthusiastically support. And Newt is still to be heard from.
This Mike Bates column appeared in the March 29, 2007 Reporter Newspapers.