Rudy McRomney a Real Conservative?

George Will argues that conservatives who say that none of the major candidates for the 2008 Republican nomination are sufficiently conservative are forgetting the axiom “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

Such conservatives should conduct a thought experiment.

Suppose someone seeking the presidential nomination had, as a governor, signed the largest tax increase in his state’s history and the nation’s most permissive abortion law. And by signing a law institutionalizing no-fault divorce, he had unwittingly but substantially advanced an idea central to the campaign for same-sex marriages — the minimalist understanding of marriage as merely a contract between consenting adults to be entered into or dissolved as it suits their happiness.

Question: Is it not likely that such a presidential aspirant would be derided by some of today’s fastidious conservatives? A sobering thought, that, because the attributes just described were those of Ronald Reagan.

His closing is right, too: “Conservatism comes in many flavors. None seems perfect for every conservative’s palate; most should be satisfactory to most conservatives.”

The problem, though, is that Reagan was being compared to Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and Richard Nixon whereas Giuliani, McCain and Romney are being compared to Ronald Reagan. More to the point, they’re being compared to Ronald Reagan the orator rather than Ronald Reagan the politician, who was a whole lot less conservative than the former.

Ultimately, conservatives will vote for any of these men if the alternative is Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. That doesn’t mean they can’t pine for the perfect candidate almost two years in advance of having to make that choice.

FILED UNDER: General, , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. the pursuit of perfection is bound to fail. Hence the axiom: “The perfect is the enemy of the good,” approvingly quoted by Will (and seconded by Andrew Sullivan, who longs for American conservatism to return to a more Burkean identity, as well as by James Joyner, who nonetheless argues that such pragmatism “doesn’t mean [conservatives] can’t pine for the perfect candidate…”). I would turn this around on those of us on the other side. There is no perfection to be found in Obama, Clinton, Edwards,

  2. “The perfect is the enemy of the good,” approvingly quoted by Will (and seconded by Andrew Sullivan, who’s desperate for American conservatism to return to a more Burkean identity, as well as by James Joyner, who nonetheless argues that such pragmatism “doesn’t mean [conservatives] can’t pine for the perfect candidate”). I would turn this around on those of us on the other side. There is no perfection to be found in Obama, Clinton, Edwards,

  3. February 2006 [IMG Outside The Beltway | OTB] The Revolution is Us Videos Dowd and Coulter Sarah Silverman Show Pushes the Envelope Obama Pays 19-Year-Old Parking Tickets NBC and CBS Fire News Producers Rudy McRomney a Real Conservative? Look Through Your March 2003 Archives Game Faux Populism McCain Playing Catch-Up As Support Ebbs More on the Former Iranian Defense Minister (Updated) [IMG OTB Sports] Steve Moore, 3 Years Later Tom Brady, Shawn Kemp of the NFL

  4. ken says:

    James,

    Basically your point is that republican voters put party interests over the interests of the country. I think you are exactly right with most them.

    But I think a significant number of thoughtful Republicans will be more than happy to cast a ballot for Senators Obama or Clinton, if the alternative is one stooges currently in the lead for the nomination on the other side.

  5. Rodney Dill says:

    The point is they (the Republicans) will vote for what’s best for the country between the two viable candidates that are really all that is produced in a two party system.

  6. Tlaloc says:

    More to the point, they’re being compared to Ronald Reagan the orator rather than Ronald Reagan the politician, who was a whole lot less conservative than the former.

    Which gets back to my question, “Why is Reagan the patron saint of the right?” It makes no sense, unless the right values style over substance. I will freely admit the guy was charismatic and said conservative things. but his actions were so far removed from his words that I’m amazed he isn’t considered an apostate like George H.W. Bush.

  7. James Joyner says:

    Which gets back to my question, “Why is Reagan the patron saint of the right?” It makes no sense, unless the right values style over substance.

    I explain that in the previous sentence: “Reagan was being compared to Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and Richard Nixon.”

    Reagan came in after a long period of movement to the left from the courts, Congress, and the White House. He helped halt that trend and reversed it in many ways, actually changing the nature of the debate.

  8. […] He’s right. All three candidates should be acceptable to conservatives. That doesn’t however, as James Joyner points out, “mean they can’t pine for the perfect candidate almost two years” before the general elections. In doing so they should remember though that there are no real bad choices for them. There are only reasonably good and better choices. […]

  9. Triumph says:

    George Will argues that conservatives who say that none of the major candidates for the 2008 Republican nomination are sufficiently conservative are forgetting the axiom “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

    I think that the concern amongst conservatives is perfectly understandable and it goes beyond the Reagan comparisons.

    Contemporary conservatives’ anxiety is the result of the fact that Geo. W. Bush has been probably the most activist, pro-big government, Wilsonian president of the post-WWII era.

    Unlike JFK or LBJ, Bush has expanded government while rhetorically claiming that he is some sort of conservative. After 8 years of Bush’s pseudo-conservatism, these folks reasonably want the “real thing.”

  10. Caliban Darklock says:

    I’m going to put this very simply.

    I will never, ever, ever vote for Hillary Clinton. But as things stand today, I would vote for Barack Obama. Lacking Obama, I’ll vote Lieberman; lacking Lieberman, I’ll vote Giuliani; lacking Giuliani, I’ll vote Republican whomever that may be.

    I think this sentiment is shared by enough people to make a Clinton candidacy into a really stupid political move.

  11. carpeicthus says:

    Agreed, Caliban. Even I was looking for any excuse to vote for Rick Lazio — but he happened to run the worst campaign in modern memory.

  12. Tano says:

    Ronald Reagan’s great political legacy was to make tax deferral to future generations acceptable, in fact preferable, to a political party that had, up till then, been based on a personal, and generational ethic of paying ones own way.

  13. ken says:

    If her opponent is any of the three stooges leading the Republican pack right now Senator Hillary Clinton will easily win. So would Senator Obama.

    Unless the Democratic nominee does something really stupid, or unless the Republicans find a decent candidate to run this election is over right now.

    Besides getting all the Democratic voters, and pretty much all of the independent voters Clinton would surely win a lot of smart Republican votes as well. She has already proven she can pull in Republicans when the issue is competence. Obama hasn’t the same record but his personal charisma will make it easy for registered Republicans to vote for him as well.

  14. JohnG says:

    At first I wondered why anyone would believe that people who thought that the Republican big three are too liberal (but still relatively conservative) would then go and vote for actual liberals. But then I noticed that the people saying it are themselves liberals.

    Look, we know that liberals are going to vote for the Democrats. But there’s no reason to believe that conservatives are going to vote for Democrats because as much out of step as Rudy, Romney or McCain are on some issues, Hillary and Obama are much farther away and on more issues.

  15. floyd says:

    “”Ultimately, conservatives will vote for any of these men if the alternative is Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.””
    ”””””””””””””””””””””””””
    And so once again the democrats will choose a republican president for the american people!

  16. Tlaloc says:

    I explain that in the previous sentence: “Reagan was being compared to Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and Richard Nixon.”

    But that doesn’t explain why he is *still* seen that way, unless you want to say that an opinion once formed is irrevocable.