By Bryan Fischer
A year from now, we’ll have a pretty good idea who the GOP nominee for the Oval Office for 2012 will be.
It’s worth taking a moment to scan the current crop of likely candidates and see where things stand as of today. Here’s a quick rundown, predicated on the proposition that the GOP candidate cannot win without the enthusiastic support of increasingly engaged evangelicals and Tea Partyers. As historian David Barton pointed out, 32% of all votes cast in 2010 were cast by evangelicals, who are the heart and soul of the Tea Party movement. This is the highest level of evangelical participation in recent memory.
If the GOP wants to win in 2012, they’d better give these folks a candidate they can believe in. They didn’t in 2008, and we all know how that turned out. John McCain lost by six million votes, and he was so uninspiring to evangelicals that seven million of them voted for his opponent. The math here is not complicated. It can be argued persuasively that evangelicals put Barack Obama in the White House. The conservative cause cannot afford another repeat.
The names most frequently mentioned, and the names that poll the highest at this point, are Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and Mike Huckabee.
Romney will prove unacceptable to genuine social conservatives because of his politics, not his religion. His newfound love affair with the public policy values of the Judeo-Christian tradition has all the marks of a conversion which is based on convenience rather than conviction. Romney knows he cannot win without support from the pro-life, pro-faith, pro-marriage community and so it appears he’s trying to paint himself as a sincere champion for our values. It is unlikely to work.
Mitt single-handedly, by executive fiat, imposed same-sex marriage on Massachusetts in 2004, and toppled the first domino in this disastrous social experiment. True, Massachusetts’ high court ordered the state legislature to legitimize marriages based on deviant* sex, but the assembly never got around to it. It still hasn’t, meaning same-sex marriage is still against the law in Massachusetts. (*Note the dictionary: “deviant: departing from usual or accepted standards, esp. in social or sexual behavior.” The use of the term is not name-calling, it is truth-telling.)
This all turned out to be a minor inconvenience for Gov. Romney, who ordered county clerks to solemnize homosexual marriages - even though they were illegal - or get fired. Romney as a champion of marriage and the family in public policy? Looks like a pretty tough sell from here.
And worse for him, he is the architect of the disastrous RomneyCare, a state-level version of ObamaCare. He’s still defending RomneyCare and its individual mandate, despite the fact that health care is in worse shape in Massachusetts than before he attempted this Obama-style takeover. Health care costs are spiraling upward along with health insurance premiums, wait times are increasing, primary care physicians are fleeing the state in droves, emergency room visits are up (because folks can’t find a primary physician), and state officials are considering even more bone-headed solutions to contain costs. Mitt as the champion of smaller government? Unlikely. Tea Partyers might buy Mitt as a campaigner for someone else, but they won’t buy him as a conservative candidate in his own right.
Sarah Palin is probably unelectable, because of her resignation as governor of Alaska and the savage and contemptible beating she has taken from the out-of-the-mainstream media. She has been successfully demonized by vicious press outlets, who seem determined to obliterate this woman’s electoral viability. And thanks to a gullible population which doesn’t believe anything the media says unless they say it about a conservative, she probably has too steep a hill to climb.
She really had no choice but to resign as Alaska governor. Alaska’s arcane ethics laws require public officials to pay for their legal defense out of their own pockets, even for official actions taken in the course of their duties. One frivolous and baseless lawsuit after another - almost all (19 out of 22) were unceremoniously thrown out - was bleeding the Palin family dry. For her to stay in office would have meant bankrupting her family. Their legal bills were at half a million dollars and climbing when she did the only thing she could to protect her family’s financial viability.
Unfortunately, the “quitter” tag will be hung about her neck by a naive public and a snarling media. It is clear that Ms. Palin represents the single biggest threat to the agenda of secular fundamentalists in American politics, as the wingers on the left have a bared-fangs, growling hatred for her and a determination to destroy her. They wouldn’t be doing that if she weren’t a danger to everything they hold dear. Alas, they have likely been successful enough to make her election a difficult thing.
But she remains enormously popular with the base that must be energized, motivated, and mobilized if a conservative flag-bearer is going to beat either Barack or Hillary in 2012. Sarah energizes the base like no one since Ronald Reagan, and will be indispensable on the campaign trail for the conservative candidate.
Newt’s troubled marital history is going to be his biggest problem. He is a brilliant thinker and strategist, and this seems to be his best role in assisting the conservative cause.
But the minimum social conservatives expect in their standard-bearer is someone who doesn’t just talk the talk when it comes to family values but walks the walk.
Unfortunately, Gingrich is on his third marriage, and left his first two wives while they were battling cancer and MS respectively. By his own admission, he was carrying on an affair with his current wife while leading the impeachment effort against President Clinton for lying about his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky. There likely is simply too much baggage here. If Newt does not run, none of this becomes an issue. The moment he declares, it does become an issue that social conservatives cannot and will not ignore.
To Newt’s credit, he has expressed public remorse for his actions, and has reconnected with God. But what is done cannot be undone, and a man at some point has to run on his record and not just his rhetoric.
But it must be said that Newt remains enormously popular with the base, understands that America needs to recapture its Christian heritage, understands the threat to America posed by Islam, and is a tremendously effective public speaker. Here’s hoping he chooses to continue in the role of thinker and strategist, where his contributions are brilliant and necessary.
Gov. Huckabee is popular with evangelicals and is a genuine man of faith and family. But I don’t see how he runs in 2012. He’s in the middle of building a $3 million dollar beach house in Florida, and he’s going to need a way to pay for it. His gig with Fox News, speaking fees, and book royalties will take care of that quite nicely; giving all that up to run for office won’t.
Huck has other liabilities. Conservatives remain lingeringly suspicious of his stance on taxes, immigration, and cap and trade. In the past, he’s been on the wrong side on each of these issues, and they are of enormous importance to the Tea Party crowd.
His record of clemencies will also prove to be a problem. He granted clemency to a man who had committed a vicious kidnap, rape, and murder (the killer drove over the girl’s body with his car repeatedly to make sure she was dead and then dumped her body in a swamp) and who then, after receiving clemency from the governor, killed four people in Seattle in cold blood. That’s going to be a tough one for the governor to get past.
We can’t blame the governor for the actions of someone else, but the fact remains that four people would be alive today were it not for this clemency, and this will hurt his campaign to become the chief law enforcement officer in the land.
His ability to raise money is also a major question mark. But the governor is enormously likable, and also would make a terrific campaigner on behalf of a conservative standard-bearer.
All this narrows the field considerably, and will lead social conservatives inside and outside the Tea Party to look to candidates who right now are polling on the second tier. But at least one of them won’t be there forever. There is a vacuum at the top, and somebody is going to be drafted to fill it.
In sum, here are the best roles in the 2012 campaign for the current list of top-tier candidates. I do not believe any of them is viable as the presidential candidate - although I can of course be proved wrong - but each can be enormously helpful to the conservative standard-bearer:
Mitt Romney - Campaigner
Sarah Palin - Cheerleader
New Gingrich - Strategist
Mike Huckabee - Chaplain
As candidates, I’m not sure any of them work. But they each have loyal constituencies, and as a team in support of the right man, they will make a dynamite team.
So who is the right man? More to come.
(Unless otherwise noted, the opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Family Association or American Family Radio.)