On Monday, four candidates stood before a sedated audience in the Florida GOP Debate, each man competing for the soul of the Republican Party. With few exceptions, the tactic of most modern GOP nominees has been to move to the left during the general election season to win the support of moderates and independents. However, the candidate must first secure his own party’s nomination by moving to the right and marketing himself as a “conservative”.
On the far left of the stage was former Pennsylvania senator, Rick Santorum. Naturally, Santorum calls himself a true conservative. But is Rick Santorum a conservative?
While serving in the US Senate, Santorum voted in favor of appropriations bills to spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on AIDS research in Africa, to provide education to children in third world countries, to finance the government of Sudan, and to increase domestic welfare spending on food stamp programs. He voted five times to raise the debt ceiling, rather than to fight to balance the federal budget. He voted to double the size of the Department of Education by strongly supporting No Child Left Behind legislation and, worse, was a vocal proponent of Medicaid Part D – one of the biggest hikes in entitlement spending in US history. “Conservative” is hardly the word that describes Rick Santorum.
On stage, next to Santorum, stood former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney. Clearly, Romney is the Republican establishment’s choice for 2012. Like his RINO predecessors (McCain, Bush, Dole, Bush Sr.), Romney’s struggle has been to convince the party base that, if entrusted with the nomination, he will not spring back to the far left. So far, it has been no easy task.
John McCain called himself a “maverick” for constantly bucking his own party and siding with the Democrats. G.W. Bush was so incapable of identifying himself as a traditional conservative that he had to redefine himself as a “compassionate conservative” – which was nothing more than code for “conservative-who-spends-your-money-on-big-government-programs”. Dole was a lackluster moderate who led one of the most uninspiring campaigns in history. G.H.W. Bush was the liberal Republican who promised “Read My Lips – No New Taxes!” only to sign new taxes into law shortly after taking office.
These left-leaning Republicans were anything but traditional conservatives, yet they each won the GOP nomination by convincing the party otherwise. Such is the goal of Mitt Romney.
Romney takes credit for being the architect of the dubious Massachusetts mandated health care system which served as a model for Obamacare. He was pro-choice, though he claims to now be pro-life. In fact, one of Romney’s most defining traits has been his frequent flip-flopping on issues. He changes his position to suit his audience. When campaigning in front of liberals, he is a liberal. When campaigning in front of conservatives, he does his best to appear conservative. With good reason, Romney’s biggest problem in gaining traction is that the Republican base doesn’t trust him. They fear that Romney will cast off the title of “conservative” the minute he secures the party nomination, following in the footsteps of other faux-conservatives like John McCain.
On stage next to Mitt Romney stood former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich. Like Santorum, Gingrich has a credibility problem for having reaped massive financial rewards after leaving office to work with lobbying groups. And like Romney, Gingrich has a record of supporting big-government program initiatives like the individual health care mandate. Newt also has been on the wrong side of issues like global warming, the housing crisis, immigration policy, etc. Gingrich champions himself as an “ideas man” – meaning that he comes up with all kinds of new ways that the government can spend your money for you. And with his long history of marital infidelity, Gingrich struggles to convince the party that he is truly a social conservative. Santorum was correct in pointing out during the Florida debate that Gingrich has no more credibility as a “conservative” than does Romney.
Each of these three candidates have used a preponderance of their time in the last two debates to hammer away at each other’s claim to be the true conservative choice in the 2012 election. But on Monday night, something strange and wonderful happened. In a rare exception to the mainstream media’s blackout rule against Ron Paul, the Texas congressman was invited to answer a question about which candidate was truly conservative. And this is what he said:
“I think the problem is the way we are defining what conservative means. Conservative means we have smaller government and more liberty. And yet, if you ask what have we [the Republican Party] done, I think we’ve lost our way completely. Our rhetoric is still pretty good, but when we get in charge we expand the government… So if it means limited government, you have to ask the basic question: ‘What should the role of government be?’ “
“The Founders asked that question, had a revolution and wrote a constitution. And they said the role of government ought to be to protect liberty. It’s not to be a welfare state and it’s not to be the policemen of the world. How can you be ‘conservative’ and cut food stamps, but you won’t cut spending overseas? There’s not a nickel or a penny that anybody will cut on the ‘conservative’ side on overseas spending. We don’t have the money – and they are willing to start world wars.”
“So I say that if you’re conservative you want small government across the board – especially in personal liberty. What’s wrong with having the government out of our personal lives? We have to decide what ‘conservative’ means, what ‘limited government’ means – and I have a simple suggestion. We have a pretty good guide. And if we follow the Constitution, government would be very small and we’d all be devoted conservatives.”
As Dr. Paul lectured the big-government candidates on what a conservative truly is, Santorum, Romney and Gingrich could only stand in silence. What remains to be seen is whether or not the Republican Party actually still possesses a true conservative base – or if the base has actually shifted far to the left while preferring to wear the conservative label.
It was the perfect way for Paul to end a long day of fighting against the rapidly expanding encroachments of an out-of-control federal government. Earlier in the day, Congressman Paul issued a stern rebuke against the TSA for its unlawful detainment of his own son, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. When one looks beyond the flowery rhetoric of the candidates and pays close attention to the consistent actions of each man, one thing becomes clear.
There is only one true conservative fighting for freedom and liberty in this race. And his name in Ron Paul.
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Jake Morphonios has worked as a political consultant and campaign strategist for over two decades and is the author of “Organizing a Grassroots Political Machine”, used in the Steve Forbes 2000 Presidential campaign.
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