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The GOP Needs a Survival Instinct

The likely rout of the GOP in next year’s elections proceeds apace. Last week, the Republicans, improbably taking their lead from President Bush, put down their marker against health care for America’s kids. Don’t get me wrong; I completely agree with the GOP policy. The SCHIP bill is a cynical effort to expand an unnecessary entitlement for middle-income and even upper-middle-income (more than $80,000 annual income) kids and young adults, funded by a tax on primarily blue-collar Americans (cigarettes).

But politics is a cruel business, and about 75 percent of the public, according to the most recent Washington Post poll, opposes the GOP position. Even allowing for possibly sneaky phrasing of the question, common sense tells one that the GOP will be badly on the losing side of the PR fight about kids’ health care. And health care, remember, is the most important domestic issue to the public. When a party such as the GOP has lost about 10 percent to 15 percent market share in the past two years (from national affiliation rates in the upper-40 percents to the mid-30 percents), it’s no time to stand on a principle the party cannot even persuasively explain to a majority of its own remaining party regulars.

Meanwhile, the GOP currently is trying halfheartedly to explain (correctly) how free markets will provide the best care for Americans. But the Democrats — who can read a poll, if not their conscience — are offering “free” health care to anyone stupid enough to believe such a thing is free. That number is now in the high-40 percents of an ever more dumbed-down public. Meanwhile, Hillary is offering to bribe the public to the tune of $5,000 per kid, using the tax dollars of working Americans to effectuate the bribe.

While I admire the GOP’s adherence to principle, I also admire a political party with a healthy instinct for survival. The congressional GOP has got it all backward: The time to be principled is when you are governing (as they failed to do for about eight years before they lost power). When in minority opposition, a party must think about winning — not whining about unpopular principles. It should campaign on principles it believes in, but it should not pick its least popular principles to highlight.

The GOP is now less trusted than the Democrats on every issue except terrorism — and even on that issue, they are a point or two down. But on that most vital issue of supreme national interest, the GOP has the good fortune to be not only instinctively in the right, but to have the one presidential candidate in either party who genuinely is seen as the nation’s leader on the issue. That would be Rudy Giuliani. He is the one candidate who the Democratic operatives privately fear. Moreover, as a social liberal, he would be competitive in such usually reliable Democratic states as New York, New Jersey, California, Oregon, Washington, Pennsylvania and others.

So in this season of slow-motion GOP suicide, it is only logical that earlier this week, leaders of the party’s social-conservative wing declared him not only unacceptable, but so unacceptable that they may run a third-party candidate if he gains the nomination. By doing so, they would assure the election of Hillary, who, notwithstanding anything she might say to get elected, surely will set in motion policies that will kill more unborn humans and advance more biblically prohibited policies than Rudy ever would. Moreover, she would appoint the most liberal judges she can find. Rudy would nominate the most conservative ones. I fail to see the moral high ground to which these divines claim to be climbing.

They also would be walking away from a coalition that, since 1981 (and particularly since 2001), has delivered a higher percentage of their agenda than it has to any other part of the conservative coalition. Fiscal conservatives received tax cuts but not spending cuts. Hawk conservatives received assertive foreign policy but bad management of it and a dangerous running down of the Army.  But social conservatives received first-rate Supreme Court justices, a real effort at faith-based initiatives, constant rhetorical support for biblical values, and in fact, they have been denied nothing of consequence that brought them into politics. It would be an act of historic ingratitude to sabotage the GOP candidate at this point. It also would be a short path to undermining everything they have gained in national politics in the past quarter century.

Every faction within the GOP coalition should agree immediately to make no further demands of their party. Just as the liberals did in 1991 and 1992, the conservatives of 2007 and 2008 simply should let their strongest candidate campaign in a way most likely to gain victory. Every conservative principle thereby would be safer than if heavy demands yield a Hillary presidency. Given the grotesque irresponsibility of the national Democrats, keeping them out of the White House should be the first calling of every patriotic conservative.

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Mr. Blankley is executive vice president of Edelman public relations in Washington

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