On October 8, 1961, a group of twenty-two Young Republicans met in a Chicago motel room. They were frustrated with the unwillingness of the eastern Republican establishment to nominate true conservative candidates for president of the United States. It was that meeting of young conservatives which ultimately led to the formation of the Draft Goldwater Committee.
I became a card-carrying member of the Draft Goldwater Committee in the summer of 1963, shortly after being transferred from Wall Street to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Although the committee operated without the senator’s blessing, when it became clear that, like it or not, he was going to be the GOP nominee for president of the United States, he came to relish the idea and to see his race against JFK as the classic confrontation between the liberal and conservative ideologies.
By November 1963 we had sufficient delegate strength across the country to win a first ballot victory for Goldwater at the Republican National Convention in July 1964. What we could not have foreseen was that Lee Harvey Oswald would dramatically interfere with our well-laid plans. When JFK was assassinated in Dallas, we knew that we would lose the 1964 election, and lose it big. It was far too late to redirect all the enthusiasm we’d generated for Goldwater so we worked in the campaign every day, for an entire year, knowing that our efforts were all in vain.
In September 1973, a year after Nixon was elected to a second term, I spent two days at a small gathering of “graying” Young Republicans at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Kansas City. Those attending the meeting were some of the same people who’d organized and led the Draft Goldwater effort ten years earlier. Concerned that the Republican establishment would once again take the party back to the political center and down to defeat, the purpose of the meeting was to decide whether or not we could unite behind a single conservative for the 1976 Republican nomination.
During our weekend in Kansas City we discussed the pros and cons of at least a dozen potential candidates but failed to identify a specific candidate we could all get behind. The only potential 1976 candidate who sent a representative to our meeting was Ronald Reagan, but the consensus of opinion was that he had not developed the core circle of advisors capable of meeting the demands of a national campaign. Nevertheless, Reagan made a run for the 1976 nomination but came up short at the Kansas City convention, losing the nomination to the Republican establishment candidate, incumbent Gerald R. Ford, by just 117 delegate votes, 1187 to 1070.
In the close-fought 1976 General Election campaign against Jimmy Carter, Ford made the inexplicable assertion that “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration.” Compounding his error, he added that he did not “believe that the Poles consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union.” Those blunders, and others, were enough to make Carter president of the United States by an electoral vote of 297 to 240.
Conservatives were furious that establishment Republicans had once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. In December 1976, a month after the General Election, I attended a meeting of movement conservatives at the Drake Hotel in Chicago. The purpose of the meeting was to decide whether the time had come to scuttle the Republican Party… replacing it with a new Conservative Party… or if we should remain in the party and concentrate on nominating a true conservative in 1980. The consensus of opinion was that time was short; we should follow the latter course.
At the 1980 Republican National Convention in Detroit, Republicans nominated Ronald Reagan and conservatives were happy. However, when establishment Republicans created a groundswell of support for the selection of former president Gerald R. Ford as Reagan’s running mate, Reagan was forced to abandon his vice presidential short list of Jack Kemp, Donald Rumsfeld, and William E. Simon and give the number two spot to the establishment candidate, George H.W. Bush.
Reagan’s economic policies… which Bush derided as “voodoo economics”… gave the country a period of economic prosperity that lasted throughout the 1990s, providing Bill Clinton and the Democrats with a stolen bragging point that they continue to use well into the 21st century.
Unfortunately, Bush’s eight years as vice president provided establishment Republicans with the inside track to the 1988 nomination. In 1986-87 I served as deputy campaign manager in Donald Rumsfeld’s presidential exploratory committee, a role that provided me with a ringside seat to the Herculean efforts by conservatives to deny Bush the 1988 nomination. However, Bush used his eight years as vice president to good advantage, stacking the Reagan administration with campaign operatives dedicated to his 1988 candidacy.
That, he did quite well. What he did not do well, as president, was to defend himself. When Democrats tricked him into signing tax increases, pouring salt into the wound by using his broken “read my lips, no new taxes” pledge to defeat him for reelection, he had a perfectly good defense against that charge. But he never once defended himself; he merely turned the other cheek.
In the 1992 reelection campaign, the Bush-Quayle campaign took the low road, leaving the high road to the likes of Bill Clinton and Al Gore. The Democrats won the White House in 1992 and held it until 2001, riding the wave of economic prosperity that was the direct result of Ronald Reagan’s economic policies.
In 2000, establishment Republicans nominated George W. Bush, the governor of Texas. Bush had the misfortune of being in office when two very significant events took place: the September 11, 2001attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by radical Islamists, and the economic collapse brought on by the bursting of the real estate bubble.
Bush handled the response to the Islamic attack quite well, sending troops into Afghanistan and defeating the Taliban, but in preventing a complete economic meltdown on Wall Street he fell far short. Taking pride in being able to “reach across the aisle,” he failed to explain to the American people that it was Democrats who were responsible for extending home mortgages to buyers with no down payment and no ability to repay the loans, and then having the taxpayers pick up the tab for those bad loans. Instead, he allowed himself to be attacked unmercifully for running up the national debt when, in fact, it was the Democrats’ misuse of the Community Reinvestment Act that caused the federal government to have to bail out some of the largest banks and brokerage houses on Wall Street. He allowed himself to be painted as the second coming of Herbert Hoover and, like his father before him, he totally failed to defend himself. He merely turned the other cheek.
In 2008, the Republican establishment was at it again, handing the nomination to Senator John McCain, one of the least charismatic candidates of all time, and a man of “flexible” conservative values. He lost in a landslide to a charismatic young black man who was not only ineligible, but the most incompetent, the most corrupt, and the least experienced man ever to seek the presidency.
Finally, in 2012, the eastern Republican establishment had their way once again, insisting on the nomination of yet another moderate, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Romney was only slightly more capable as a candidate than John McCain, attempting to win the White House on a campaign of being a really nice guy with an impressive business resume. He seemed not to understand that he was up against a ruthless Democratic thug, a product of the notorious Chicago political machine who would say and do anything to win reelection.
When Romney had numerous opportunities to land knockout punches on his opponent he simply smiled his characteristic little half-smile and looked the other way. For example, in the closing days of the campaign Romney was presented with the opportunity to pin a scandal on Obama that would have made the Watergate scandal pale by comparison. He had the opportunity to directly challenge Obama on his handling of the attack on our Benghazi consulate in which the U.S. Ambassador and three other Americans were killed, but he failed to even raise the issue.
Now, one of the most frequently mentioned names for the 2016 Republican nomination is that of former Florida governor, Jeb Bush, a man of less than daunting courage. During his two terms as governor, Bush had every opportunity to educate Floridians on the relative safety of offshore oil and gas production, but he failed to do so. Instead, he joined radical environmentalists in opposing offshore drilling. He knew that 59.1% of petroleum-related ocean pollution, some 363,000,000 gallons per year, comes from discarded engine oil; routine maintenance on ocean-going vessels accounts for some 137,000,000 gallons per year (22.3%); natural seeps from fissures in the ocean floor contribute some 62,000,000 gallons per year (10.1%); major oil-handling mishaps account for approximately 37,000,000 gallons per year (6.0%); and spills related to offshore production account for some 15,000,000 gallons per year, or just slightly more than 2.4% of the total.
If Jeb Bush didn’t have the courage to educate the people of Florida on that critical issue as governor, how would he ever find the courage to deal with it as president? Members of the Bush family have had more than their share of opportunities to put Republican ideals to work in the White House, but they’ve failed at every opportunity. All they’ve done is absorb abuse and turn the other cheek. We don’t need another “nice guy” in the White House, we need a fighter.
So if establishment Republicans are intent upon putting yet another Bush in the White House, my advice is: forget about it. They’ll have to do it without my blessing. I’m not willing to gamble the future of my country on nothing more than a frivolous extension of the Bush dynasty.