New Let’s Honor, Not Stretch, the Buckley Rule

January 30, 2012

In the intense heat of the present, it is easy to forget even the relatively recent past, but it seems to me that this GOP primary season is more acrimonious than the past few, probably because the stakes are so high.

When I’ve noted that this is the most important presidential election of our lifetimes, a few excitability-resistant conservative friends have said, “They have been saying that about every election for more than a generation.” My response to that is:

“Yes, and it’s probably been true every time. As we march inexorably toward socialism by incremental steps, the need to elect political leaders to take steps to reverse it increases on a linear plane. But with President Obama, we’re advancing not by incremental steps, but by giant leaps, hurtling toward statism with alarming alacrity. Every day that passes before we implement entitlement reform, for example, the geometric accumulation of vested benefits makes reform more imperative — and more difficult. So yes, every national election of the past generation or so has probably been more important than the immediately preceding one, but 2012 is dramatically more urgent. Based on the cavalier manner with which Obama is lawlessly thwarting the Constitution and the people’s will, it is hard to imagine what kind of tyrannical executive power grabs he’d try (and accomplish) if re-elected, even with an opposing Congress. We are already on autopilot to national bankruptcy, and if we don’t

ram it into reverse soon, America as we have known it could be gone, at least for many years.”

Conservatives are fighting among themselves about not just who the best candidate would be but also who is most electable. Sure, electability has always been an issue, but now some are saying that to support someone, it’s essential not only that we show he is electable but also that he is the most electable. This amounts to replacing the “Buckley rule” — that “we should support the most conservative candidate who is electable” — with “we should support the most electable candidate, provided he is at least marginally conservative.”

We saw a similar political calculus at work during the debt ceiling negotiations. Some argued that we couldn’t buck Obama on his specious smoke-and-mirrors cuts, because to draw a line in the sand, even though correct in principle, could have been interpreted by the electorate as uncompromising and enhanced Obama’s re-election efforts. Everything had to be focused on 2012.

Now many of the same people are telling us that we have to compromise on 2012, as well, that we can’t support a candidate who is more conservative, even during the primary, because it would reduce our chances of defeating Obama.

I appreciate the concern, but the logical extension of this kind of thinking is that we all have to become mini political operatives, always engaging first in strategic political calculations and never voting our hearts. Such is the formula for sacrificing one’s dreams and aspirations; such is the avenue toward fatalistic resignation, compromise and settling for less without even trying to push for your real goals; such is the formula for guaranteeing that we never elect another Ronald Reagan conservative.

I am the first to say that once the GOP nominee is chosen, we must unite around the candidate to defeat Barack Obama. Until then, I refuse to surrender to pressure to abandon my passion for true, reliable conservatism, especially from those whose idea of electability is highly debatable and from others whose assessment is hopelessly skewed by their own preferences.

In this volatile season, dark horses have skyrocketed to lead the field, and some might have remained there but for alleged scandals or other factors. I don’t believe that the science of electability is as certain as those promoting it would have us believe. We can’t even agree on whether the key is wooing the center or igniting the base. It is complex and fluid and largely unknowable. Even current polls hypothetically matching Obama against different candidates tell us very little, because the Democratic attack machine has yet to unleash its $1 billion assault on, say, Mitt Romney.

I reject the conventional wisdom that Rick Santorum could not win the general election, because I believe he represents the best contrast to Obama and is the least vulnerable to attack, among other reasons. I have varying concerns about the other candidates, but I respect their respective supporters and realize that some of them even believe their candidate is the most conservative of the group, though I disagree. I will support whoever emerges as the Republican nominee, but I do not apologize for supporting Rick Santorum.