Bush Can Count On the Right

Last week, the Democratic National Committee began distributing several pages of quotes from conservatives critical of President Bush on a variety of fronts and suggesting to the media that the fact that we don’t agree with the man on everything all of the time is evidence of real weakness in his base. Some in the media took the bait, and many of us got calls from reporters wondering if the president can really rely on the strong support he’s going to need from his conservative base to win in November.

Now, the summer silly season is fast approaching, so perhaps one has to cut these folks a little slack, but their reasoning defies logic and represents little more than a hopeful fantasy among those who go to bed at night hoping the conservative Republican coalition will somehow fracture. It isn’t going to happen ??¢â???¬ ¦ at least not this time around.

While the Democrats were circulating their theory, the president himself was addressing the 40th anniversary banquet of the American Conservative Union here in Washington. To say that he was well received by the audience of more than 700 activist conservative leaders would be a gross understatement. Indeed, we welcomed him as one of our own. Those attending agreed, I think, with my observation in introducing him that they, like millions of conservatives around the country, are prepared to do their part to see to it that he is re-elected this fall.

Does this enthusiastic support mean that we agree with his every act as president? Of course not. But he knew when he accepted our invitation and when he took the microphone that he was speaking to friends who believe he’s done a remarkable job given the challenges he’s faced since taking office in January 2001. He knew, too, that we all consider ourselves part of the same team and that he can count on us both to work for his re-election and to prod him to govern as we hope he will.

Frankly, those hoping for a collapse of the president’s base don’t seem to be able to grasp the simple fact that conservatives can differ with their friends on matters of policy but rally behind them if they are doing a good job overall, and are quite capable of recognizing the difference between friends, allies and those, like John Kerry, who oppose everything they want. In fact, it is not all that hard to tell when we are really mad enough at those who need our support to take a walk.

When many of us concluded prior to the 1972 elections that President Nixon had forfeited his claim to conservative support, conservatives ran a protest candidate against him in New Hampshire. When his successor did everything he could to infuriate us, we almost denied him his party’s nomination in 1976. In 1992, conservatives flocked to Pat Buchanan because they were upset and offended by the current president’s father’s abandonment of the promises he’d made during his 1988 campaign.

None of those protests succeeded, but each reflected deep discontent within the GOP base. In none of those cases did it take a Democrat with a divining rod and a bunch of handouts to find out we were upset.

There was no talk of a primary protest against the current president this year for the simple reason that, while we might oppose such things as his Medicare prescription drug program and believe he could do far more to cut government spending, few believe he’s abandoned us or the principles we like to believe we represent. No president is perfect, but most conservatives believe that this is one who deserves another term.

This doesn’t mean that conservatives will agree with everything the president says or does in the future. We’ll agree with him when he’s right, urge him to change course when we believe he’s wrong and work as hard as we have to to make sure he’s there to listen to us for another four years.

Moreover, even those few with lingering doubts about whether he will be able to deliver as much as they’d like in his second term know that Kerry is not the answer to anyone’s prayers. Ideologically, stylistically and in every other way, the Democratic nominee is just the guy to get conservative juices flowing.

So the president’s political coalition is in pretty good shape, and certainly in far better shape than that on which his opponent will have to depend. Ralph Nader, the spoiler out there, is not a conservative but a nutty liberal who thinks the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate should be rejected by Democrats as not liberal enough.

Perhaps someone should be distributing a few pages of what Nader thinks about Kerry.