The Establishment Threat

The Johnny-come-lately media conservative commentators (Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, etc.), as well as those of the has-been professional Republican class (Karl Rove, Ed Rollins, etc.) appear fearful that Republicans will ruin all chances of defeating Barack Obama in 2012 by nominating a true conservative.

For example, Hannity and O’reilly have suggested that “establishment” Republicans are so fearful of a repeat of 1964… when Barry Goldwater suffered a defeat of landslide proportions at the hands of Lyndon Johnson… that they are willing to join liberals and Democrats in destroying any conservative who might achieve frontrunner status in the 2012 primaries.  As evidence, they cite the relentless attacks on Newt Gingrich… from the left and from Republican moderates… since his rise to the top of the opinion polls.

They are either too young to remember political history, or they tend to remember political history… conveniently.

The Draft Goldwater Committee was organized in the early 60s by a group of dedicated Young Republicans who understood that, in order to nominate a true conservative to run against John F. Kennedy, it would be necessary to seize control of the Republican Party from the Rockefeller wing of the party… the “eastern liberal establishment.”  As a card-carrying member of the Draft Goldwater Committee, I traveled across the Midwest with other Young Republicans, helping to build support for Goldwater and recruiting convention delegates.

We sold the Goldwater-Kennedy contest as the classic confrontation between liberalism and conservatism.  And although Goldwater did not actively seek the nomination, when it became evident that, like it or not, we were going to nominate him, he finally relented.  Our efforts were so successful that, by November 22, 1963, the day that JFK was assassinated, we had sufficient support nationwide to guarantee a first-ballot victory at the 1964 convention in San Francisco.

What many of today’s pundits fail to understand is that those of us who planned and executed the Goldwater candidacy never once considered the possibility that we would be facing Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1964 General Election.  They fail to appreciate what we knew by day’s end on November 22, 1963, which is that we would have to work on Goldwater’s behalf for an entire year, seven days a week, knowing that we were going to suffer a massive defeat in November 1964.  With Johnson and the Democrats benefitting from an unassailable sympathy factor, our defeat in November 1964 was preordained.  This is a bit of history that many fail to understand.

Until the very last minute at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, “establishment” Republicans did everything in their power to sidetrack the Goldwater nomination, even going so far as to arrange an eleventh-hour nomination of liberal Pennsylvania Governor William F. Scranton.

As predicted, Goldwater lost in a landslide to Lyndon Johnson, but it wasn’t because of his conservative ideology; it was because the American people simply were not up to dismissing a president who had been in office for less than a year.  Their innate fairness dictated that they at least give Johnson a chance to see what he could do.

Establishment Republicans had everything their way during the following three presidential campaigns, nominating Richard Nixon in 1968 and 1972, and Gerald R. Ford in 1976.  After Ford lost to Jimmy Carter in 1976, conservatives again became concerned about the ability of establishment Republicans to advance the conservative cause.  A meeting of movement conservatives was convened in Chicago in December 1976 for the purpose of deciding whether to scuttle the Republican Party and form a Conservative Party, or to allow the party to live on, working within the party structure to nominate a true conservative in 1980.  The consensus of opinion was that conservatives follow the latter course.

When Ronald Reagan won the Republican nomination at the Detroit convention in 1980, his short list for vice president contained three names: former HUD Secretary Jack Kemp, former Treasury Secretary William E. Simon, and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

I was in Detroit as a member of a small staff of Simon aides, attempting to win the vice presidential nomination for the former Treasury Secretary.  No one knows which of the three on Reagan’s short list was his personal favorite because, once again, establishment Republicans intervened to control the selection process.

On the third day of the convention, after Reagan had won the presidential nomination and delegates were awaiting his choice of running mate, establishment Republicans attempted yet another end run.  Believing that Reagan would be incapable of governing without a great deal of help, establishment Republicans launched a rumor suggesting that former president Gerald Ford would be selected as Reagan’s running mate.

Unless the rumor was quickly squelched, it threatened a major split in the party.  Reagan’s hand was forced.  Watching the convention from his suite at the Renaissance Plaza Hotel, Reagan made a quick decision.  In the interest of party unity he selected his principal primary opponent, the darling of the Rockefeller wing of the party, George H.W. Bush, as his running mate.

As I was arriving at the Joe Louis Arena that evening, Ronald Reagan was just stepping from his limo, a determined look on his face.  I walked through the entrance to the arena that evening shoulder-to-shoulder with Reagan as he went to the floor of the convention to announce his selection of George Bush as his running mate.  I have often thought of how history might have been changed if only I had stuck out my foot and put “the Gipper” flat on his face.

Bush served eight years as vice president, during which time he stacked every conceivable government agency with loyalists, campaign aides who merely fed at the federal trough until Reagan had completed two terms in office.

Beginning in 1986, conservatives mounted several campaigns, all attempting to prevent Bush from winning the 1988 nomination.  The opposing candidates were former Secretary of State Alexander Haig, former HUD Secretary Jack Kemp, former Delaware Governor Pete duPont, former Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole, and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld… any one of whom would have been far superior to Bush.

As deputy campaign manager in the Rumsfeld’s exploratory committee, I was amazed to see the extent to which conservatives went to deny Bush the 1988 nomination.  Unfortunately, Bush was able to parlay his years of service to Ronald Reagan into a path to the 1988 nomination.

Unfortunately, Bush was not up to the task of dealing with congressional Democrats and they used his “read my lips; no new taxes” pledge as a weapon against him.  The antipathy toward Bush among conservatives was palpable.  When Bush and Quayle ran for reelection in 1992, former U.N. Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick was asked whether or not she was disappointed with Bush’s performance in his first term.  Kirkpatrick replied, “Of course not.  In order for one to be disappointed, one must have had some expectation of him in the first place.”  Touche!

Bush’s performance as president ultimately gave us Bill Clinton and Al Gore for eight years, and eight years later establishment Republicans gave us George W. Bush.  We all know how that worked out.  The failures of Bush (43) and his principal brain trust, Karl Rove, were such that few Republicans are now able to defend their own party from Democrat attacks.

Now, as the field of Republicans is narrowed to four and former Speaker Newt Gingrich has won the all-important South Carolina primary, the talking heads of the networks and cable TV news are in a state of total bewilderment, not understanding why their moderate hero, Mitt Romney, cannot seem to break above 30% in the polls.  Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly quiz Karl Rove on almost a daily basis, asking, “Why is it that Romney can’t seem to go any higher in the polls?

As a dedicated member of the Republican establishment, Rove is not about to explain to conservative newcomers Hannity and O’Reilly that the Republican Party is roughly 80 percent conservative and only 20 percent moderate and that, as such, conservatives preach to 80 percent of the choir while Romney has an audience of no more than 20 percent.  Nor do they understand the current mood of conservatives.  They fail to understand that, after Bush (41), Bush (43), and McCain, conservatives are in no mood to settle for a candidate without a solid conservative core, or a candidate without the intestinal fortitude to take on Obama and the Democrats.

After suffering through three establishment candidates… the two Bushes and John McCain… nice guys no longer need apply.  It’s as simple as that.  Conservatives don’t just want to see Obama defeated, they want to see him embarrassed.   Of the current crop of candidates, Newt Gingrich is the only one with the toughness to absorb the attacks that are sure to come and still win the presidency.  The nation cannot afford another Republican moderate.  If Floridians allow Mitt Romney to come out on top in their January 31 primary, the outcome of the 2012 General Election will be in serious jeopardy.

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