Over the last two weeks or so, conservatives have offered some unusual endorsements early in the race. Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani despite his pro-choice personal views, which came as a shock to Robertson’s Religious Right followers. National Right to Life endorsed Fred Thompson shortly after he rejected their project of a constitutional amendment against abortion on federalist grounds. Yesterday, David Keene of the American Conservative Union endorsed Mitt Romney despite his deep reservations expressed in February over convenient conversions. (Keene will join me on Monday’s Heading Right Radio show to talk more about this; he gave a good argument last night on the Hugh Hewitt show.)
Most of these endorsements come with explanations about electability and priorities for the war. I have argued that those arguments apply more towards explaining support in the general election. Rush Limbaugh picks up this same thought and presses it forward:
It was fascinating to me, as I said, to watch this because it hit me upside the head — even though, as I say, I instinctively knew this — that all of the top-tier candidates, because of these questions… See, there’s always a silver lining in everything. There’s always an upside. Some of you might not think of this as an upside or a silver lining, but the genuine moderate as opposed to conservative aspects of three of the top-tier, four of the top-tier candidates were on full-fledged display last night. There was one candidate who did not display any moderateness or liberalism or have any of his past forays into those areas displayed, and that candidate was Fred Thompson. Now, this is not an endorsement. You know, I don’t endorse during primaries. I just point out: These are things I noticed, and I’ve told you during the course of this one campaign year that one of the things that’s bothering me, is I’m a Reagan conservative, and I believe in conservatism. It’s in my soul and it’s in my heart, and I know it is the best way for us to manage our affairs to ensure the most prosperity for the most, to continue our freedom, to protect our country.
Conservatism sees people and sees potential. Liberalism looks at people and sees victims. Liberalism looks at people and sees incompetence, and, “We gotta help ’em out and keep ’em forever dependent so we’ll always have power.” Conservatives don’t want to use the government to empower themselves. They want to get government out of the way to empower other people. So, to me it matters, and we have a campaign now where most of the candidates are not genuine conservatives. They may be saying they are, but in their past they have done some things that are not conservative in any way, shape, manner, or form — and I think a lot of those things are being overlooked even by friends of mine in the conservative media because the obsession is Hillary. “Well, we gotta have somebody who can beat Hillary, and we can’t have the perfect candidate,” and so we gotta make the choice here based on who’s best equipped to win and beat Hillary. I understand that, and whoever the nominee is, I’m going to support them. So don’t misunderstand here. But I don’t like seeing “conservatism” being watered down as the way it’s defined. I don’t want people who are not conservative being said to be representatives of the “new conservatism.” There is no “new” conservatism. There is conservatism, and you either are or you aren’t.
I like almost all of the Republican candidates, for different reasons. My conservatism is of the Goldwater mold, the “leave us alone” faction, as Grover Norquist describes it. Some of these candidates have more of that, and some have less. Thompson, in my mind, has more of it, and a much stronger defense of federalist principles than most.
However, electability does factor into the decision-making process. So far, Fred has not changed, but expectations did. He has performed in the campaign much like he did in the precampaign, which is to say deliberately, thoughtfully, and philosophically. Unfortunately for those impatient for him to join the campaign, he did not assume a personality for the sake of a presidential run. Thompson gives us the authentic Thompson, for better or worse, and the question is whether one can run a philosopher’s campaign and hope to beat candidates running in beauty-contest mode. John McCain, by the way, has a similar problem.
Like Rush, I could support almost anyone who appeared on the stage in Florida on Wednesday. I don’t feel comfortable endorsing a specific candidate at this point because I don’t see a complete match for my policy goals in any one of them. I can wait until the primary to decide — and some of the conservative activists who endorse against their interests may have been better advised to do the same.