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Another Verse, Just Like the First

Eight years ago, Gary Bauer stood all but alone alongside John McCain in his campaign against then-Governor George W. Bush in the race for the Republican nomination.  While the majority of the Religious Right leaders rallied to Bush, Bauer struck out on his own, hoping to make a political killing with McCain … hopes that were dashed when McCain made his infamous “agents of intolerance” speech, which Bauer was involved in drafting and which he then made the rounds of the political talk shows defending.  

Following McCain’s defeat, Bauer was essentially persona non grata among the Religious Right leadership for years to come, though he eventually managed to work his way back into their good graces and was soon back in the press relishing his role as a Washington insider, rallying the troops, bashing Mike Huckabee, and even playing disinterested observer when it came to the very candidate he had previously endorsed.

That lasted only until Fred Thompson, his preferred candidate, dropped out – and suddenly Bauer finds himself back to where he was eight years ago:  standing virtually alone along-side John McCain:

U.S. Senator John McCain's presidential campaign today announced that prominent pro-life and pro-family advocate Gary Bauer has endorsed John McCain for president.

"John McCain has dedicated his life to defending human rights around the world, including the rights of the unborn," said Mr. Bauer. "I admire his consistent 24-year pro-life record and demonstrated commitment to the values that keep our families and communities strong. John McCain alone has the experience, character and credibility to lead as commander in chief on day one and defeat the transcendent threat of our time -- radical Islamic extremism. I am proud to support John McCain for president."

John McCain thanked Mr. Bauer for his support, stating, "I have long admired Gary's commitment and passion for our shared pro-life and pro-family values. Gary has always been a forceful, unapologetic advocate for the sanctity of life and traditional marriage, judicial restraint and a strong American foreign policy based on our values. I am honored to have Gary Bauer's support, and his advice and counsel will be critical as we continue to bring our Party together for victory in November."

Bauer, for all of his “values” talk, is much more of a political operative than someone like James Dobson.  Back when Dobson and his cohorts were threatening to bolt the Republican Party if Rudy Giuliani were named the nominee, Bauer was calculating the political costs, urging everyone to calm down and consider the implications for the GOP.  And now, just days after Dobson publicly repudiated McCain and cravenly endorsed Huckabee, out bounds Bauer to McCain’s side to vouch for McCain’s right-wing bona fides.  

Considering that the last time Bauer backed McCain, it caused a rift between himself and his professional colleagues on the Right that it took Bauer years to mend, one has to wonder what the ramifications will be this time around – especially since last time around Dobson wasn’t in the midst of a personal crusade to destroy McCain.  

But Bauer deserves credit for consistency, at least.  As he said of the fiasco after his last endorsement of McCain, "I think I made the right decision and if I had to do it over again, I'd do it again.”  And indeed he has … but only after all the other potential Republican candidates dropped out and it appears almost mathematically impossible for McCain to lose the nomination.

'Run, Newt, Run' (?!)

Gingrich in 'Second Life'

How finicky were the activists at the Conservative Political Action Conference? Romney, McCain, and Huckabee each bent over backwards to cater to the far-right sentiments of the audience, but the speaker who got the most “presidential” reception was Newt Gingrich.

 “Hillary and Obama talk about real change—Newt Gingrich delivers real change!” trumpeted David Bossie of Citizens United in introducing this “one-man think tank.” Bossie’s “only regret,” he said, was that Gingrich was not a candidate for president. (Bossie, incidentally, was forced out of his job investigating the Clinton Administration for House Republicans by then-Speaker Gingrich in 1998, but the two have apparently made up, working together on Gingrich’s “Rediscovering God” DVD.)

Rather than take the podium immediately, Gingrich spent about five minutes shaking hands with the cheering audience as bombastic march music blasted in the background. The only thing missing was a balloon drop.

“Run, Newt, run!” someone shouted. “Run for president!” cried another.

No, Newt Gingrich was not jumping in to save these poor right-wing activists from John McCain. (Sorry, Michael Reagan.) In fact, Gingrich said they have an “absolute requirement to support the Republican nominee this fall.” Instead, Gingrich played the role of a medicine-show man—telling the crowd they have a serious condition and he has just the elixir to cure what ails them.

“There is something big happening in this country,” said Gingrich ominously. “We don’t understand it. We’re not responding to it. And we’re currently not competitive.”

I want to suggest to you—and I’ve spent a lot of time since 1999 thinking about this, and it’s part of why I wrote the book “Real Change” and tried to lay out, at American Solutions, a fundamentally different approach to how we thinking about solving our problems—I think there are two great lessons for the conservative movement since 1980. The first, which we still haven’t come to grips with, is that governing is much harder than campaigning. Our consultants may be terrific at winning one election. They don’t know anything about governing. And unfortunately most of our candidates listen to our consultants. And so you end up with people who don’t understand briefing people who don’t know so that together they have no clue.

Gingrich is hardly the first to suggest that anti-government politicians might not be the best at running a government. Still, it’s a little counterintuitive to hear Gingrich railing against “consultants”—after all, he has spent the last year on the periphery of the presidential race, pushing the kind of futuristic hokum that would make any consultant envious.

Under the mind-bending motto “Real change requires real change,” Gingrich has promised dispirited Republicans access to “the world that works”—something like Fedex, but with more 3-D animation. And as he did at the Values Voter Summit, Gingrich passed out copies of his inane polling data (e.g., a majority of respondents said yes when asked whether “we must defeat America’s enemies”)—which he now calls “The Platform of the American People.” Throw in a flashy web site and I’d say he’s in business.

In the end, though, Gingrich’s “real change” was just more red meat for the Right. His first example of “real change” was for Republicans in Congress to razz the Democrats by holding a symbolic vote on English-only every week during the presidential race. Following this path, said Gingrich, “we will win one of the most cataclysmic elections in history” in November. Now, the Right has found anti-immigrant sentiment to be a powerful bludgeon in recent years, but it’s hardly been an electoral winner. Is this really the “world that works,” or one of Gingrich’s “alternate histories”?

CPAC in Pictures

Perhaps nothing sums up the current state of the conservative movement like seeing a Hummer back into a limousine in the parking lot outside the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and seeing Mitt Romney beat John McCain in the CPAC straw poll on the question of “If the election were held today to decide the Republican Nominee for President in 2008, for whom would you vote?” despite having appeared at the conference only to drop out of the race. And while attendees were asked not to boo McCain, it didn’t stop them from doing so when he spoke … or whenever his name was mentioned by any of the other speakers.

Aside from the weirdness of Mike Huckabee basing his entire on speech on Phyllis Schlafly’s "A Choice, Not an Echo" despite the fact that Schlafly hates him and the sense of overwhelming despair at the possibility of a McCain nomination, the rest of CPAC consisted of typical right-wing fare, such as Joseph Farah of WorldNetDaily delineating the dangers of the Fairness Doctrine, warning that if Democrats take control of the White House and Congress, “there will be no stopping these people” who operate with a “neo-fascist mentality,” only to be followed by David Horowitz who ranted about “fair-minded” conservatives being oppressed by liberals who want to “exterminate us.”  Or, as he put it, when liberals control the universities, they merely send conservatives to sensitivity training, but when “they control they state, they shoot you.”   

But it wasn’t all fear-mongering.  There was some good news too, such as the announcement by the National Black Republican Association that they were slowly becoming a force to be reckoned with, because last year their website received over one thousand visitors.  Of course, the NBRA might be even more of a force within the GOP if their panels weren’t relegated to a tiny room at the back of the convention

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Though the event appeared to be less-well attended than in previous years, there was no shortage of red meat for those in attendance, as demonstrated by the hundreds of convention-goers who lined up hours in advance to get in to hear Ann Coulter

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But despite the seeming disarray of the right-wing movement at the present, there still appears to be at least one thing that can unify them in this country: hatred of Hillary Clinton

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To see more photos from CPAC, check out our Flickr page.

CDC Still Won't Let Go

The Christian Defense Coalition continues to target ESPN, now voicing concerns over a video that shows "anchor Chris Berman using the term 'Jesus' and 'Goddamn' in the workplace."

Jerry Falwell Honored By VA Legislature

As his son Jonathan explained: "I was privileged on Thursday to deliver the opening prayer at the Virginia House of Delegates meeting in Richmond, on a day in which the House and Senate passed a resolution honoring my father for his service to our state and to the worldwide Christian community. The Virginia legislators, noting that Dad was 'one of America’s most influential leaders' and 'a man of remarkable faith,' passed a resolution honoring him for his efforts in founding and leading Thomas Road Baptist Church (TRBC), Liberty University and many affiliate ministries. It was certainly humbling to stand in the majestic chamber in Richmond as we listened to Dad’s life being described with great reverence."

Miracle Mike

The pundits, said Mike Huckabee, "say the math doesn't work out. Folks, I didn't major in math, I majored in miracles-and I still believe in those." Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference just two days after Mitt Romney dropped out of the presidential race, and after a host of right-wing activists urged the grassroots to fall in line with John McCain, Huckabee didn't exactly strike a confident pose. But for the candidate who made his personal faith the center of his presidential bid, and who relied on church-based organizing to keep him limping along where broad-based support failed, the call for a "miracle" is simply the latest prong of his faith-based campaign. Huckabee said he was inspired to take up the conservative cause as a young man by reading Phyllis Schlafly's pamphlet, "A Choice, Not an Echo"--an indictment of Republicans who were tempted to compromise and a manifesto in favor of Barry Goldwater, whose quixotic campaign in 1964 birthed the modern right wing. And he made the title of the book the theme of his speech: primary voters, he said, "deserve more than a coronation" of John McCain. That was the "choice" part, at least, and he reeled off his right-wing positions on the war (pro), taxes (against), abortion (bad), "sovereignty" (hours before Schlafly herself was scheduled to be warning of a "North American Union" plot), and judges. Huckabee proposed that judges who "invoke some international law" should be "summarily impeached." He didn't explain what the "echo" part was, but that was clear enough: Although Huckabee had long been seen as carrying water for McCain during the acrimonious Republican race, here he was accusing the presumptive nominee of "echoing" the left--of being Nelson Rockefeller to his Goldwater. "This race is not to the swift or the strong, but to those who endure to the end," said Star Parker in introducing Huckabee. Indeed, in the end Goldwater won the nomination, and while he lost the general election in a landslide, he left a movement in his wake. It's possible that Huckabee really believes he can pull together some kind of "miracle" out of bitter-enders like Parker and now James Dobson. But it's more likely that these activists are concerned less with winning than about maintaining the place of power the far right holds in the Republican Party.

The Pandering Must Go On!

As he was listing off his right-wing promises to the audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference, John McCain said he would continue to “seek the counsel of my fellow conservatives.” For Human Events editor Jed Babbin, that isn’t enough: “This is vintage McCain. He promises to hear, not to listen. He promises to seek counsel, but not to respect it. … That is less than we require of our leaders. We require them to adhere to our basic principles, and that those principles be the basis for their decisions.”

Take heart, Mr. Babbin: McCain has all but secured the Republican nomination, and yet he is still reaching out to the fringe:

The Brody File has been talking to some influential social conservative leaders around the country and they tell me that they've been talking to John McCain for months. As a matter of fact, one leader told me John McCain called him after Super Tuesday this week. While details of the phone call remain secret, I can tell you that McCain was reaching out to this particular leader and emphasizing the common ground he has with social conservatives on the life issue, judges and defeating Islamic fascists.

Another social conservative leader told me McCain called him to discuss specifics on social conservative causes. I'm told McCain wanted to be more up to speed on the issues that are important to social conservatives. This leader told me that McCain hasn't been focused on their issues before so he's trying to become more aware of all the details.

Still, we can expect right-wing leaders to keep leveling demands at their presumptive candidate, following the principle that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. McCain needs them, they say: "He cannot rely on some Democrats and a lot of independents to become president of the United States," Tom DeLay said. "He's got to have a base, and hopefully he will understand that."

 “To get the enthusiastic support of conservatives – support he must have, to win – Senator McCain must make his case with deeds, not just words," said Richard Viguerie. Ralph Reed, no friend of McCain’s, put it this way:

"This is fired-up Democratic Party, and it is not enough to simply define the differences between the parties," said Reed, who advised McCain to "choose a running mate with street cred on the right" and devote his nominating convention and fall campaign to "striking conservative themes."

What kind of “conservative themes”? How about judges: While McCain has already bent over backwards to the Right on Supreme Court nominations, with a cooing letter to the Federalist Society this week and his promise at CPAC to appoint judges like Roberts and Alito—Quin Hillyer of Confirm Them wants even more:

McCain pledged to appoint judges like Roberts and Alito. Great. I am a fan of both. But I am even more of a fan of Scalia, and even more than that a fan of Clarence Thomas. I would have been happier if McCain, speaking to this conservative audience, had forthrightly said he would appoint judges like Clarence Thomas.

Of course, McCain voted in favor of confirming Thomas. (He wasn’t in the Senate yet for Scalia’s confirmation. However, he was among a minority of senators to vote for Robert Bork the following year.) But, as he will find out, the Right’s appetite for pandering can be bottomless.

No 'Straight Talk' from McCain on Judges

When John McCain appeared before the Conservative Political Action Conference yesterday in an effort to patch up his rocky relations with the GOP's right flank, he knew the right button to push -- judicial nominations:
"I intend to nominate judges who have proven themselves worthy of our trust that they take as their sole responsibility the enforcement of laws made by the people's elected representatives, judges of the character and quality of Justices Roberts and Alito, judges who can be relied upon to respect the values of the people whose rights, laws and property they are sworn to defend."
But the track record of Roberts and Alito puts the lie to McCain’s pronouncement. Look no further than the Ledbetter decision, where they rejected longstanding precedent to make it easier for companies to get away with pay discrimination – leaving thousands of workers who illegally receive lower pay with no legal recourse. How does that respect the rights of the American people? If McCain was actually a “straight talker,” he would have told the CPAC crowd that he supports right-wing judges who routinely side with government and big business over the rights of individual Americans every single time. But McCain’s no maverick, and he’s using the same code words and mantras as Bush – “strict constructionist” and “legislate from the bench” – to signal his fealty to the far right on one of their signature issues. For real straight talk on the Bush-McCain agenda for the Supreme Court, ask someone who has firsthand experience with the right's assault on individual rights, like Lilly Ledbetter:

Dobson’s Craven Calculation

There was an article in Time last week wondering if James Dobson’s political clout was fading.  Citing shrinking contributions, revenue, distribution, and audiences, the article suggested that Dobson was reluctant to “back a candidate so early in the game [because] backing a losing horse could devalue the worth of any future Dobson anointment.

Judging by his latest round of news-making, one has to wonder if Dobson has intentionally set out to make himself the object of ridicule and irrelevance.  A few weeks ago, it was noted that Focus on the Family Action’s post-South Carolina primary political analysis was conspicuously flattering toward Mitt Romney, and while all involved denied that it could be construed as an endorsement, it was pretty obvious that Romney was their candidate of choice.

Then Dobson suddenly emerged from his headquarters in Colorado Springs after Super Tuesday to tell the world that his conscience would not allow him to support John McCain and that he was seeking a million voters to pledge to do the same, seemingly with the aim of mobilizing support behind Romney.

But Dobson’s efforts came too late, and Romney dropped out, leaving only McCain and Mike Huckabee.  And so Dobson, being ever-bold and principled, has decided to endorse the only remaining candidate he hasn’t publicly repudiated:

I am endorsing Gov. Mike Huckabee for President of the United States today. My decision comes in the wake of my statement on Super Tuesday that I could not vote for Sen. John McCain, even if he goes on to win the Republican nomination.  His record on the institution of the family and other conservative issues makes his candidacy a matter of conscience and concern for me.

That left two pro-family candidates whom I could support, but I was reluctant to choose between them. However, the decision by Gov. Mitt Romney to put his campaign "on hold" changes the political landscape.  The remaining candidate for whom I could vote is Gov. Huckabee.  His unwavering positions on the social issues, notably the institution of marriage, the importance of faith and the sanctity of human life, resonate deeply with me and with many others. That is why I will support Gov. Huckabee through the remaining primaries, and will vote for him in the general election if he should get the nomination. Obviously, the governor faces an uphill struggle, given the delegates already committed to Sen. McCain.  Nevertheless, I believe he is our best remaining choice for President of the United States.

Nothing reeks of desperation more than announcing a halfhearted endorsement in the middle of the night when it is obvious that you are only supporting the candidate because you hate his opponent.

Dobson’s primary purpose in deciding to throw in with Huckabee only after the cause was lost is presumably to give himself cover for not voting for McCain in the general election.  After all, if the one GOP candidate who truly holds “unwavering positions” on the importance of faith, marriage, and the sanctity of human life can’t win the Republican nomination, then what choice does Dobson have but to stand by his principles and refuse to support the party’s candidate?

Of course, considering that Huckabee’s “unwavering positions on the social issues” on which Dobson has built his entire career have been the centerpiece of his campaign, you’d think he would have endorsed him months ago … which is exactly what Huckabee has been saying all along. Had he done so, perhaps Huckabee wouldn’t be facing the kind of “uphill struggle” he faces now which makes it increasingly unlikely that he’ll actually be the nominee.

But doing that would have required taking a stand on principle when it actually mattered and supporting the one candidate who epitomizes the values Dobson claims to represent instead of hedging his bets and trying to shape the race through subtle signals, un-endorsements, and craven, late-night political calculations.

The Earmarks Candidate

In his last State of the Union speech, when President Bush promised to make his top budget priority the trimming of earmarked special projects, it may have seemed like a gimmick; after all, there was no veto threat when his own party had control of Congress and special projects ballooned. But at CPAC this afternoon, the earmarks obsession took center stage, and provided an aimless crowd of activists with a clear path to the only candidate they seem to have left. It began with Rep. Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the right-wing Republican Study Committee in the House, and continued through a panel on the GOP being “lost”: Rep. Jeff Flake, Rep. Thad McCotter, Sen. Tom Coburn, and Sen. Jim DeMint all endeavored to explain that, although earmarks only make up about one percent of the budget, they are a threat “even greater” than that of terrorism, in the words of Coburn. And so they launched, parallel with the war on terror, a “war on pork—the gateway drug,” Coburn said, “to the spending addiction” that in turn will be “bankrupting” the country. The battle against earmarks, as former House Speaker Dick Armey put it, is a method of “leading the Republican Party back to its way.” But in the short term, it was method of leading the CPAC crowd to the GOP candidate. DeMint, as he lectured on earmarks, complained that Republican voters “missed an opportunity of a lifetime” by not rallying around Romney, but he looked through his “tears [!] and disappointment” to a need to oppose Democrats in the general election. Armey groused about McCain’s one-time position on high-end tax cuts, but complimented him on the issue of earmarks, urging activists to “shape” their inevitable nominee—to extract promises. Surprise speaker George Allen—two years ago, speaking as CPAC’s hope for 2008—lauded McCain’s “character” and promised leadership in the war, in appointing judges, and in vetoing earmarks. And Coburn offered his grudging support, saying McCain would have the “courage” to face down Congress (except on immigration, he added quickly). McCain, he said, would appoint “strict constructionist judges” like Bork, Roberts, Alito, and Janice Rogers Brown, and yes, would take on those earmarks. After all that, it was an anticlimax to hear McCain pledge that he “will not sign a bill with any earmarks in it.” But the rest of the candidate’s speech consisted of his effort to make clear to the assembled activists that he himself would emerge from CPAC larded with right-wing policy earmarks. Of course there was his about-face on comprehensive immigration reform and his revelation that he now supports making the “Bush tax cuts” permanent. But more broadly, he promised to fight for “our principles”: from protecting the “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” of “the unborn” to appointing judges like Roberts and Alito. Ignoring Laura Igraham’s dig earlier in the afternoon, McCain told CPAC he had “come to public office as a foot soldier” in their movement, and assured them he remains one today.