What will the candidates do in Tuesday night’s debate that can help us select one from the ten? There’s got to be a better way to select the Republican nominee from among this brummagem bunch. The MSNBC “debate” was like a NASCAR race produced by opera singers. Chris Matthews called for emotion, not answers. The best a candidate could hope for is to finish without crashing. Tomorrow night’s, which will differ at least in being produced and moderated by adults, probably won’t be much better. There are just too many guys on stage, and two of the best — likely second-wave candidates Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrich — won’t even be there.
We can’t use the “Survivor” method to winnow their numbers before the primaries. There’s no way we could trust these guys to vote off the least conservative among them. We can’t use “American Idol” method either. It’d be a televised beauty contest, rife with fraudulent votes. We know what would have worked.
If somehow the William F. Buckley, Jr. of the 1970s could be returned to us, each of the candidates — individually — could be subjected to the intellectual paring knife on his Firing Line television show. When the series of weekly episodes were over there would be no doubt which of the candidates were worthy of our allegiance in 2008. But the WFB of old isn’t on the air, and none of us is going to be slouching in his chair. So what’s left?
Only to offer some helpful advice to the candidates that most of their consultants won’t give them for fear of offending the Washington Post, Republican “moderates” or anyone else who is dedicated to preventing a conservative from winning the nomination next year.
To all of the candidates, take another look at former Senator Fred Thompson’s Lincoln Club speech. Understand this: it not only wasn’t bad — as some including our revered pal, Prince of Darkness Novak — have written. It was terrific, especially the off-the-cuff stuff. Thompson said that the reason we haven’t been attacked since 9-11 is that we’ve taken the offense. He said, over and over again, that regardless of what happens in Iraq, the best defense against terrorism is to stay on offense. None of you has even demonstrated that you understand the war isn’t over once we pull out of Iraq (regardless of whether it’s in 2009 or 2929). He said we have to close our borders before we can talk about anything else on illegal immigration. And he said those things, and more, in a folksy, unconventional way that people like.
What to watch for: How are any of them going to show that he’s better than the guy who isn’t in the race yet?
To Mayor Giuliani, stop being a lawyer. Your explanation of your pro-choice view on abortion is something we’d get from Bill or Hillary. You may be right if this were only an academic exercise in constitutional federalism, but it still doesn’t change the fact that you’re pro-choice. As mayor, you joined in a lawsuit to make gun manufacturers liable for criminal use of their products, supported the assault weapons ban and generally didn’t do anything to indicate respect for the Second Amendment. So why should conservatives want you as their nominee?
What to watch for: How will Giuliani rebut the abortion barbs his adversaries will throw?
To Sen. McCain, in the first debate, you seemed over-prepared, uncomfortably waiting to score rehearsed soundbites. You’ll never be as folksy as Fred Thompson, but you need to avoid becoming the Republican Al Gore. To your credit you’ve made fealty to the president’s Iraq policy a centerpiece of your campaign. On the other hand, you were one of the first to call for former Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld’s removal. Isn’t that inconsistent? You’ve supported a Bushian approach to illegal immigration, which is unacceptable to conservatives. Illegal immigration is the number one issue for conservatives this year. You need to describe your position on this issue in the clearest terms.
What to watch for: Will McCain try to be folksy like Fred Thompson or repeat his stand-like-a-sycamore Gore performance?
To Gov. Romney, you need to change your basic approach. You, more than Giuliani or McCain, are vulnerable to Fred Thompson’s entry into the race. Conservatives are not buying your newly-pronounced conservative principles. And you hurt yourself by attacking the president’s war strategy. To remedy that, you need to take the lead on conservative issues that others aren’t addressing. For example, Americans are more distrustful of the liberal media than ever before. If you take on the political activism masquerading as news in the New York Times, the Washington Post, ABC, NBC and CBS you will be able to connect with conservatives in a way that you haven’t yet.
What to watch for: Will Romney stand by his attacks on the Iraq war or get trapped into the Harry Reid, Loser position?
To Governor Huckabee, you (and many of the others) are falling into the Washington Wisdom game, which is always a loser for Republicans. In the last debate you said that President Bush should have required Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to resign much earlier. Get your researchers to look at the numbers. In the weeks leading up to the 2006 election, about 49% of all Americans polled said Rumsfeld should stay which was (if memory serves) about seven points higher than the president polled then. If the president had ditched Rumsfeld before the election, the Dems would have won even bigger than they did. So, governor, what are you going to do to distance yourself from Washington Wisdom?
What to watch for: Will Huckabee fall into the trap that Romney has set for himself?
To former Govs. Gilmore and Thompson, Sen. Brownback, Congressmen Hunter, Tancredo, and Paul, as unlikely as it is that any of you will get the nomination, stranger things have happened. You can do two things to gain ground toward it. First, you can push the others rightward on key issues such as Mr. Tancredo’s opposition to illegal immigration. Second, you can take the attack to the Democrats. Who among the ten has the best chance to beat Hillary or Obama, and why? Each of you can go after big issues the other four aren’t, just as Romney needs to. Take a look at the Human Events readers’ poll on the hottest conservative issues. Take a stand: make a difference. And do it with panache: the media will have to pay attention.
What to watch for: Will any of these six say something that the media will have to pay attention to that doesn’t attack the other four?
Good luck, gents. And may the best conservative win.