Robert Taft was the proto-conservative. The grandson of the President by the same name, he found himself in the mid-1930’s fighting the nascent and deranged excesses of Franklin Roosevelt as the junior senator from Ohio. He was convicted to his core that liberty and freedom would pull America out of whatever economic slump came down the pike. Government wouldn’t rescue the people from the depression; The people would.
He battled against the alphabet-soup agencies that were pouring out of the Roosevelt administration like rain from an eaves-trough: The National Recovery Agency, the National Labor Relations Board, the Tennessee Valley Authority. He rightly saw each as foul and egregious assaults of a metastasized, iron-fisted, central government against the sovereign individual. He knew there would be a price to pay– if not immediately, then generations down the road.
He was an extremely principled, and well-loved, man. He battled all forms of wartime assistance to Great Britain, from direct aid, to Lend-Lease, as grease on a slippery slope that would result in another devastating world war, and millions of dead American boys. But, once America was attacked by the Imperial Japanese, he abandoned all isolationist tendencies, and, along with Arthur H. Vandenberg (another GOP America Firster and born-again internationalist) became a fighting man’s fighting man.
Even once the war was over, Taft still held onto his Small Government-Big Liberty creds by attacking the Nuremberg war-crimes tribunals as “victors justice”, and saw illegitimacy in a conquering nation playing prosecutor, judge and victim all at the same time. Liberty was liberty. Pure, simple.
After a time, Senator Taft was referred to a “Mr. Republican”. So, when he ran for the Republican nomination for president in 1948, naturally, the party handed the prize to… Tom Dewey, governor of New York.
Dewey was the typical east-coast liberal patrician Republican. Even drank his tea with his pinky-finger erect. Yes, he might say, he’s a Republican, but don’t let that scare you. FDR had been a grand man, he won the war, his policies might need a trim here and there, but, on the whole, everthing New Deal was a Good Deal.
Dewey had the good fortune of running against the hapless Harry (“Just Plain S”) Truman, who, by 1948 was about as popular as fish-guts. A stiff breeze would knock the despised Incumbent “out”. And we all know what happened..
When ‘nary a philosophical hairbredth seperated the Democrat they knew from the Republican they didn’t, the people chose the Democrat. Harry Truman gave ’em hell. Tom Dewey gave ’em hair cream.
Senator Taft tried again, nearly had the nomination sewn up in 1952: He simply pointed to the disastrous adventurism and highly inflationary policies of the Truman administration, and said, essentially, “You know, if it had been me in 1948, instead of Dewey, things would be different right about now…”
But, Dwight Eisenhower, the Colin Powell of his day, was hanging around in the wings, trying to decide if he was a Democrat or a Republican. Finally, he decided he was a Republican, the establishment swooned, and Jesus Christ Himself would have had a tough go of it in the election against the Hero of Normandy. Senator Taft missed the nomination by only 80 or so delegates. And the New Deal was cemented and entombed in the national bureaucracy.
It took Ike awhile, but, about a week before the nominating convention in 1960, he declared Richard Nixon “his boy”, and thus, with the mantle of blessing upon him, Nixon made mincemeat of the far-right, whacked-out extremist nut-job Barry Goldwater. And Nixon went on to… lose… to John Kennedy.
Ford over Reagan in 1976… George H.W. Bush over Paul Laxalt, Pete DuPont and Jack Kemp in 1988. And, of course, John McCain over Fred Thompson, et al, in 2008. Solomon’s admonition that there is nothing new under the sun applies especially to Republican candidates, and their nominating process: The more conservative they are, the more likely they are to win a general election; and, the more liberal they are, they more likely America is to be treated to a directionless, rootless, squishy government, regardless of who wins the general election.
Mitch Daniels is probably great for Indiana. Governor Christie is great and exciting… in New Jersey. But, they don’t belong in the White House, and they don’t belong running for it. Anyone that tells the social conservatives to buck up and be quiet, or thinks a ground-zero mosque is a “wedge issue” is out on the limbs of political suicide, with the saw on the wrong side of the branch. Mike Huckabee is an articulate spokesman for… Mike Huckabee. Mitt Romney is a princeling with gooseberry eyes, who wanders around with the 20,000 pound cement sarcogphogus of Romney-care around his neck. We all sense that these men will never be president, and yet we entertain the possibility. Tom Dewey is rapping on the windowpanes.
We need a conservative. A principled, solid, no-nonsense conservative. That leaves Jim DeMint, who manifestly isn’t running, and Bobby Jindahl and Marco Rubio who are four years off. Newt Gingrich would be nice, but he’s sort of turned into a whiz-bang computer halograph of himself. Rudy would be a great AG.
As Robert Taft so eloquently points out: It’s not just about the election: It’s about the government you get when the dust settles. A Tom Dewey wouldn’t have been that much different than a Truman, but he was, during the election, the refined and eloquent New York Truman. The electable Truman. After the election, though, it would hardly have mattered.
So, who does that leave? Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, John Bolton. They all have the built-in bonus of driving the left to foaming distraction, and each has put up with these withering assaults with a Reagan-like smile, and head-shaking confidence that there is no such thing (as Reagan himself once said about the election season) as a bad headline. If they’re talking about you, that means the election is about you, and you drive the wagon.
As conservatives, we need to make clear the sailing ahead for the conservative. Don’t worry about who is “electable”. Tom Dewey was “electable”. Nixon was “electable”. McCain was “electable”. Only they weren’t. And, even if they were, we would’ve gotten a liberal government anyway.
Why work your heart out for that? The famous headline didn’t say “Taft Defeats Truman”.