That was the title of a post Jonah Goldberg put up over at The Corner the other day:
I predict we’re going to hear a growing conversation on the right about whether it’s better for America, conservatism, etc to have a president who feels he has to placate the conservative base versus having a president who claims to be a member of it. President Bush won enormous good faith — no pun intended — from evangelicals and other social conservatives by saying, in effect, “I’m one of you.” A case could be made that some of Bush’s problems stem from the fact that the White House was internally confused about whether conservatives were simply another constituency or if they were more like a loyal army. I don’t think the distinctions are clean and neat, since there isn’t a monolithic conservative base and the Bush White House has been itself divided between Nixonians (i.e. the Poppa Bush crowd) and Reaganites. But I think we’ll see the conversation emerge as candidates like Giuliani and McCain make “transactional” overtures to the conservative base, saying something like “Support me and I’ll support what you care about” rather than “support me because I am one of you.”
National Review had a similar conversation over Richard Nixon. That didn’t turn out great.
There has since been more discussion on this, and it strikes me as an interesting debate. But one aspect of the discussion seems to be missing. It shouldn’t just be about what policies result from a “one who owes us president”–it should also be about what kind of opinion leader the president is.
Let me explain. The argument behind conservative acceptance of a President McCain or Giuliani would be that the right judicial appointments would be made, access to abortion would not be expanded (or would maybe even be constricted), taxes would be cut, whatever. But this misses a key part of the equation. The job of a great president is not just to enact the right policies–it is to move public opinion. Perhaps we have forgotten this because President Bush isn’t doing it too much these days, but it’s still important. After all, conservatism certainly doesn’t thrive solely on the enactment of the correct policies. It requires–especially in a divided nation like ours–converts. And a president who gets conservative support should be in the business of making those converts. When he enacts conservative policies, he needs to make the case for them–articulately, repeatedly, and very publicly.
WIthout that type of leadership, how are we ever going to get beyond 52 percent of the vote for a conservative presidential candidate? How are we ever going to regain a congressional majority that isn’t bonkers? (If you dispute my terminology, see the current debates over Iraq in the Senate and a gigantic plane for the Speaker of the House.)
I’ll speak for myself. I don’t just want a president who will put his John Hancock on the right bills. I want one who will barnstorm the country for what we all believe in here.
Ronald Reagan did that, because he was a true believer.
Will Senator McCain or Mayor Giuliani do that? Not on any issue other than the war.
And that–you knew it would come to this–is one of the many reasons why Governor Romney is a highly preferable candidate. He not only believes what conservatives (fiscal and social) do, but he’s articulate enough to make the case.
So put me down for “one of us”–Mitt Romney.
CHARLES adds: This just in from reader David:
You have hit on exactly why Mitt is good at what he does–he truly believes in it. For instance, when he says he has had a change of heart, he isn’t just saying that to win votes. His mind and heart really have been changed. The great thing is, when people meet him, they can feel what a genuine article he really is. As you and your friends have stated in many ways on EFM, being genuine and having real substance is truly rare for a politician.
I believe that’s because Mitt does not see himself as a politician–he sees himself as a servant of the people of the nation.
As always, thank you for your excellent site. I hope that when Mitt becomes President, you’ll still keep it going!
Well, if that happens, we’ll still be evangelicals, and we’ll still be for him…so we’ll see!