Conservatives Must Support John Sununu

To understand why Republican activists sometimes grow furious at the establishment of their own party, consider that establishment’s disparate treatment of Sen. John Warner of Virginia and Sen. Bob Smith of New Hampshire.

Warner has frequently betrayed the party and its most cherished principles.

In 1987, he voted against Reagan Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, a man of unimpeachable integrity. On the Senate floor he said of Bork that the "record is incomplete as to the character of this man."

In 1994, when the Virginia GOP nominated Oliver North for Senate, Warner promoted a third-party campaign by "moderate" Marshall Coleman. He aimed to defeat North, and did. Democrat Chuck Robb won six years to advance Bill Clinton’s agenda.

When Clinton was impeached, Warner voted under oath that the Perjurer in Chief was "not guilty" of lying under oath. The same "conscience" that barred North from the Senate would not eject Clinton from the White House.

What price has Warner paid for his sins? In 1996, former Reagan OMB Director Jim Miller ran an activist-backed primary campaign against him. But the incumbent retained the nomination and his lifetime membership in the Republican establishment. This year he ran unopposed.

Now, look at Smith.

Smith earned a shrine in the conservative hall of fame when he joined Jesse Helms and Don Nickles in 1993 as one of only three senators to vote against confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsburg. Ginsburg was a radical and had a record to prove it. She served on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union when it opposed any legal restrictions on pornography and prostitution, and had called for an end to public support for the Girl Scouts until they took boys as members. She told the Senate Judiciary Committee the Supreme Court could act as an "interim legislature."

Smith’s anomalous courage in opposing Ginsburg was underscored by Warner’s obsequiousness. The man who had gone to the Senate floor to attack Bork’s "character," casually encountered Ginsburg in a Senate hallway and said, "I wish you luck. You’ve got my vote."

Smith often received a 100% vote rating from the American Conservative Union. In 1998, the Almanac of American Politics said, "Smith has had an almost perfectly conservative voting record in the Senate."

But in 1999 he made a mistake. He left the Republican Party for three months, briefly joining the Constitution Party to seek its presidential nomination.

While some of Smith’s conservative friends saw this as a tactical blunder for which the senator had repented, Republican establishmentarians saw it as a strategic opportunity they should not let pass. They pushed Republican Rep. John Sununu to challenge Smith in this year’s primary. Sununu did, and won.

Fatuous criticisms were leveled at Smith in the campaign. His conservative credentials were challenged because he opposed drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. Sununu, who had a good conservative voting record in the House, committed a heresy of his own. He supported Most Favored Nation status for Communist China.

When Sununu won, Smith did the gracious and statesmanlike thing. He endorsed-instantly. "Sen. Smith on primary night complimented and supported John Sununu as the nominee and said that our most important goal now is to support the President’s agenda, and the only way to do that is to regain Republican control of the Senate and the only way to do that is to keep this New Hampshire Senate seat Republican," said Smith spokeswoman Lisa Harrison.

But some Smith supporters did not take his advice. They launched a write-in campaign that could sink Sununu in a tight race against the Democratic candidate, liberal incumbent Gov. Jeanne Shaheen.

A pro-write-in group called Christian Freedom Defense sent a letter to 1,800 churches, saying, "If this action causes this Senate seat to become one that is held by Jeanne Shaheen, then so be it."

Barbara Hagan, a longtime Smith supporter, who in three decades in the leadership of New Hampshire Right to Life has earned the reputation as one of the nation’s most effective grassroots activists, sees the moral stakes more clearly.

Hagan does not believe Smith supporters "owe anything" to the Republican establishment that took their man down. "But I will vote for John Sununu," she said, "because there is a difference between John Sununu and Jeanne Shaheen that is going to make a huge difference in the United States Senate.

"I urge my fellow pro-lifers in New Hampshire to vote for Sununu because Shaheen has already made the commitment in her television ads and campaign speeches that abortion is going to be a major cause for her," said Hagan. "If we can elect a candidate who voted pro-life in the House, who will support pro-life judges, and who will vote for a ban on human cloning, then we have an opportunity to make some gains that we have been unable to make in 30 years in this battle."

Hagan is right. This is not about salving emotions. It is about saving lives.

Smith has kept his peace since election night, allowing some to interpret his silence as tacit support for the write-in campaign. For the sake of his own great legacy, and the legacy of a cause greater than himself, he must clear up this mistaken impression by actively joining Sununu in the campaign to defeat Shaheen.