The Credible Conservative

Following the primary election held in Louisiana on Saturday one thing is abundantly clear; the race for the Republican Party presidential nomination is a two-man race. Though Rick Santorum was the big winner in Louisiana, Romney played well in Peoria on Tuesday with his equally impressive victory in Illinois. Neither candidate gained a majority of votes cast in either contest, but their wins were decisive. The other presidential candidates on the ballots were walloped.

Ron Paul, the libertarian member of Congress from Texas, campaigned lightly in both states, spending more time in California. His apparent ‘caucus strategy’ has not worked as well for him as Barack Obama’s did for the then-Illinois senator four years ago.

To date, Dr. Paul has not won a primary 0r caucus, although he made impressive showings in Maine and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and landed a solid third-place finish in New Hampshire back in January. Moving forward, he may be gambling on a high delegate tally in California to retain any relevance at all.

The real loser in the primaries on Tuesday and Saturday this past week was former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Though he campaigned in both states, he lost badly in both.

While Gingrich put a greater emphasis on doing well in Louisiana, he would have done better to skip the Land of Lincoln entirely to focus more on his less-than-stellar Southern Strategy instead. Nonetheless, the prospects for Gingrich in Louisiana were not very good anyway, given the high vote percentage threshold that state put on awarding any of the delegates at stake.

Gingrich, like Paul, may be looking to the second Louisiana contest, its caucuses, where the remainder of its delegates will be determined ahead of a state party convention. Despite the dynamics at work in the Republican Party presidential nomination contest this year, only one candidate has any chance at all of defeating President Obama in November. Of the two, that candidate is the core conservative, whose career and public life exude an essence not always apparent in the policy proposals put forward by said candidate.

Republicans have a real choice this year, one which could have consequences for the direction of their party now and into the future. In many ways, the Republican presidential contenders are really quite similar. This is the first year in recent memory when neither serious contender has any sort of military service record. Though both Santorum and Romney have graduate degrees in law and business, the two candidates have led very different public and professional lives. Similarly, both candidates have changed their positions on significant political issues. While Santorum supporters contend that Romney is anathema to them due to his past support of abortion rights, they either forget or do not know that Santorum’s position has changed as well. Both of these candidates have policy records that are in some ways unflattering to modern conservatives.

Romney has been criticized for the health reform bill he signed into law in Massachusetts. In key respects, it shares real similarities with the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that marked its second anniversary Friday. But, any conservative who has read the constitution knows that the tenth amendment to that great charter of this republic states that all powers not granted to the federal government belong to the states, and to the people in that order. Thus, while Romney’s record as governor may be too statist for some tastes and less than ideal, his governorship reflects the sense of separation of powers that, arguably, Rick Santorum ignored his whole career as a legislator. Separation of powers doctrine in the United States, rightly understood, is not merely how powers are allocated between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government, but between federal and state governments as well.

In his defense, Santorum has said that he repudiates some of his former votes, but this has curiously not inhibited him from attacking Romney for his changes of position. Since the rise of the Tea Party movement, conservatives have emphasized the importance of principle over party. But to hold such a view should be to disqualify Santorum from consideration, who, in his own words, has defended his record by saying that he was a ‘team player’ while a member of the United States Senate. If, however, the incumbent has demonstrated anything, it is that the modern presidency requires leadership out in front, and not someone more concerned about playing nice with fellow partisans.

Rick Santorum says he is a conservative. Mitt Romney has lived his life as one. For Republicans, the choice of nominee should be rather obvious. Republicans need a nominee who understands that, as President Coolidge once put it, the chief business of the American people is business. Republicans need not a candidate who has suggested that libertarians have no place in that party, a party whose very foundation was on the principle of expanding individual liberty and facilitating greater commerce among the states. When all of the facts are considered, there is only one credible conservative seeking the Republican nomination, and he happens to be the most electable because of it. Hopefully the party of Lincoln, Coolidge, and Reagan today will be the party of Romney as well.