As we come down to the final days before the voting begins in the 2012 Republican Presidential Primary, I’ve heard many in conservative/Republican circles gripe that their vote in 2012 will be for “the most conservative candidate” available. I’ve also heard the majority of these same people yearn for a “leader”. In many ways those two statements are mutually exclusive.
Let’s take some examples from the current crop of candidates. Gov. Mitt Romney, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Gov. Rick Perry all have had leadership positions as Governors of states and Speaker of the House. They’ve had to wrangle varying opinions and policy views to get things done, because getting things done is the job of a leader. Romney for example had a legislature that was 80% Democrat. Imagine if President Obama tried to pass Obamacare with 80 Republican Senators that could override his veto. Healthcare reform would look a lot less liberal then. The same is true to a lesser extent with Perry, because he had a completely GOP controlled state legislature. Gingrich had to contend with a Democrat President to get welfare reform and balanced budgets passed. He couldn’t punt or simply not compromise in the slightest.
Rep. Michele Bachmann and Rep. Ron Paul are honorable people and dutiful conservatives. However they are not leaders. Bachmann meets many conservative’s test for conservative purity because she’s held fast against the liberal legislation flowing from the current Democrat President. Paul’s stands for individual liberty are admirable and I find no fault with them. The issue comes when these people run for a purely leadership oriented position in President of the United States. They’ve never had to go in a room in which they have numerous hardened people with very divergent views that must produce a result. They have the luxury of sitting back and holding firm to a 100% or nothing agenda because they don’t have to lead. They also have the luxury to carp at leaders for swallowing a pseudo liberal item as a part of a larger positive legislative package. They weren’t in the room, they didn’t have to bring those people together.
They are activists while Governors tend to be people that lead and form consensus. They can’t live in a 100/0 world. They have to get what they can get for their side. Consequently, America has elected these types of people President over people that don’t have a lot of leadership experience.
President Obama is a perfect example of an activist with zero leadership experience being placed in that setting. He has no idea how to form consensus with people that disagree because throughout his legislative career he was on the far edges of liberal thought and rarely worked across the isle in any real area. John McCain was the opposite. He held strong to very few things and seemed open to compromising at a whim. There is a fine line between leaders and pushovers, and McCain looked very much like a pushover, and that’s why he wasn’t popular to the conservative base.
President Reagan was a leader as Governor of California. He had to deal with a Democratic state legislature and accomplish things. But that will inevitably put some blots on your record and Reagan was no exception. He signed an abortion law that resulted in a greater number of abortions in California during his tenure. Now did that disqualify him from being a worthy candidate in 1976 or 1980? No. People accepted his change of position and the fact that he had to deal with the hand he was dealt. If the conservative’s conservative wasn’t perfect, how can we expect the 2012 field of candidates to be?
I am not by any means denigrating activists. They play an important role as the drivers of change and I myself have performed in that role throughout my short time following politics. However, when you enter the halls of power and then lead in the halls of power, you have to graduate from the pseudo hypothetical activist world into the world with real people attempting to garner real results with real consequences if you fail. It’s much more difficult and requires a much more mature person to handle the responsibility. So when we conservatives look for candidates to lead our nation in a conservative direction, let us look for conservative leadership, not only conservative purity.