The Conservatism Gap

Paul wrote last night about the “stature gap” that Republican Presidential candidates enjoy over their Democratic counterparts. This morning, the Washington Times, reporting on a reunion of Reagan administration alumni, describes a different sort of gap between the three front-runners and the party’s conservative base:

Many conservatives say they pick “none of the above” when faced with a choice of Arizona Sen. John McCain, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani as the 2008 Republican presidential nominee.
“When I look at these top three guys, I think of Shania Twain singing ‘That don’t impress me much,’ ” said former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, referring to the popular country singer.
Such dissatisfaction with the leading Republican presidential candidates is widespread among the party’s conservative stalwarts, including many of the 150 alumni of the Reagan administration who attended an annual reunion at the Heritage Foundation on Tuesday night.

It is true, as I’ve written before, that one oddity of this year’s race is that none of the three front-runners lines up squarely with the core of the party. Each is, in one way or another, a bit off-center. Nevertheless, I find the kind of talk described by the Times grating.
For one thing, while there has always been a streak of isolationism on the right (as on the left), the international retreatism that the Times attributes to Armey and others in the group does not represent the mainstream of today’s conservative movement. And the article’s implication that there is some sort of conservative groundswell for Chuck Hagel, on isolationist grounds, is ridiculous: every conservative I know would rather tar and feather Hagel than nominate him.
Beyond that, when, exactly, has this country ever elected the sort of pure conservative that this group, as depicted by the Times, yearns for? These Reagan alumni have perhaps forgotten how disappointed conservatives were through most of Reagan’s administration. (Remember “Let Reagan be Reagan”?) And who, if we put Reagan to one side, is the conservative paragon that the current candidates don’t live up to? William McKinley, maybe? I can’t think of anyone else in the last century.
The current crop of candidates is not perfect; what crop ever was? But they are strong leaders of extraordinary ability. And Giuliani, McCain and Romney are united on the key issue of our time, victory in the war against Islamic extremism. If a purer conservative wants to get into the race, fine, and I might well back him. (And, no, I’m not talking about Mike Huckabee or Sam Brownback.) But conservatives need to get over any fantasies they may harbor about the Gingrich administration that never will be and the Reagan administration that never was, and get on with the business of electing the best possible–and I do mean “possible”–candidate in 2008.
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