Memo To: Pennsylvanian Republicans
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Tomorrow's GOP Primary
I wasn't planning to take sides in the Republican Senate primary contest in Pennsylvania, with Rep. Pat Toomey challenging the incumbent, Arlen Specter. On Saturday morning, when I arrived at Arnold's convenience store in Dingman's Ferry, Pa., to pick up my NYTimes, an elderly gent was at the entrance handing out stuff for Toomey. I told him I was only a weekend Pennsylvanian and voted in Morris Plains, NJ, but that I did like his candidate. It was when he said "Specter is too liberal" that I found myself disagreeing with him and at the same time realizing I was pulling for Toomey. I simply told the fellow that while my assessment of the two men on the issues left me leaning narrowly toward Specter, I thought Toomey was "a genuine political heater" who had to have the chance of getting to the Senate floor in 2005 and testing himself for higher office. By that I mean the White House. If he wins tomorrow and in November, I'd bet he will be on a national ticket not too long from now. We don't see Toomeys all that often. And Arlen Specter has had a decent run in public office and is still young enough at 74 to live a public life after the Senate, in appointive office. At the moment, he is still favored to win, and if he does I would not be unhappy with his success. From the moment he cast his vote to confirm Clarence Thomas as a Supreme Court Justice, I've had a very warm spot in my heart for the Senator.
If you want to know more about Toomey, here is a New Yorker piece that ran a few weeks back that I gobbled up. Note the author, Philip Gourevich, who clearly has a future in political journalism. He has a good eye and he can write!
FIGHT ON THE RIGHT
By Philip Gourevitch
Pennsylvania’s Republican primary, conservatives test the Party line.
Issue of 2004-04-12
Most days begin for Arlen Specter, the senior senator from Pennsylvania, with a game of squash around dawn, and they taper off in the evening after a couple of Martinis. “Martinis I find to be very relaxing,” Specter told me recently, on an early morning of weak, gray light, with sleet blowing across the parking lot where we stood—in front of a medical office that abutted a mall alongside an interstate on the outskirts of Reading. Specter had just spent an hour urging a group of about a dozen doctors to vote for him in the state’s Republican primary, on April 27th. Now he stood clutching a cell phone in one hand, holding his coat shut with the other, waiting for his Town Car to glide over and take him to a TV studio for an interview with a Christian broadcaster in Lancaster County. “I’ve been drinking Martinis since law school,” he said, in the nasal drawl that serves as a constant, folksy reminder that, although he is a Philadelphia lawyer, he spent his boyhood in Bob Dole’s home town, Russell, Kansas. “Martinis take a lot of the pressure off,” he said. “Y’know, medicinally, there’ve been some recent studies that show they’re good for you.” Specter, who is seventy-four, has been a senator since he was fifty, and he’s in the business of telling people what they’ll be glad to hear. Gin as health food? Why not? The harder sell for him these days is himself.
Specter holds a prized seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and if reelected he is in line to ascend to the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee—the sort of political real estate that should make winning renomination in a primary a cinch. But Pennsylvania’s Republican primary is “closed” (only registered party members can vote), so the contest will be decided by an especially narrow slice of the general electorate: those who care most passionately about core Republican issues. For Specter, that means having to write off as much as a third of the primary vote in advance, on account of his steadfast pro-choice stand on abortion rights. Specter is an old-style centrist, one of the last of an aging and embattled breed of Republican moderates in a party that has moved steadily to the right in recent years. To some Republicans, like Paul Weyrich, a founder of the Heritage Foundation, who is regarded as one of the godfathers of the modern conservative movement, the thought of the Judiciary committee chairmanship going to Specter—a man who helped block Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court—is a horror to be vigorously resisted. (In 1992, after Specter smoothed Clarence Thomas’s path to the Court, Weyrich campaigned for Specter by telling voters, “Arlen Specter is an S.O.B., but he’s our S.O.B.”) So, while the White House and Senate leaders have endorsed Specter, his challenger, a third-term congressman from the Lehigh Valley named Patrick Toomey, comes armed with the blessings and the cash of Republican grassroots activists and heavyweights—including Bork, Weyrich, Edwin Meese, and Steve Forbes—who don’t mind bucking the Bush machine in the hope of hardening the party line.
Pat Toomey is a conservative Republican of rigorous doctrinal purity: anti-abortion, anti-taxes, anti-spending (except for defense); a fiscal hawk, appalled by big deficits, a crusader for school choice, tort reform, Social Security privatization, and a smaller federal government. Before going to Washington, he was an owner of bars and restaurants in Allentown and, before that, an investment banker in New York, Tokyo, and Hong Kong. He is forty-two, a Catholic, the son of working-class Democrats and also a Harvard man, blond, meticulously groomed, with unnervingly white teeth and scrubbed pink skin. He has a tightly wound but forthright manner. “I was always very interested in public policy—a pretty wonkish guy, reading Social Security-reform proposals and things like that in my spare time,” he said when I spent some time campaigning with him in central Pennsylvania. If Toomey has a sense of humor, he is careful not to flaunt it.
Toomey’s voting record in Congress has won him nearly perfect scores on the ideological litmus tests of the American Conservative Union, the National Taxpayers Union, and Citizens Against Government Waste. The latter organization issues an annual “Pig Book,” listing Congress’s profligate pork-barrel spenders, whose sins have multiplied madly in recent years, in large part because President Bush has never used his veto power. Arlen Specter was named “porker of the year” for 2003 in honor of his habit of signing off on appropriations bills packed with seemingly gratuitous, and often comical-sounding, federal handouts.
“The ridiculousness of these projects!” Toomey exclaimed, at a press conference at the state capitol, in Harrisburg. “Fifty million dollars that we’re spending to build an indoor tropical rain forest in Iowa. Four million dollars we’re spending to study fruit flies in France. Two million dollars we’re spending to teach kids to play golf in Florida. All programs that Arlen Specter has voted for and all absolutely unjustifiable.” Snarlin’ Arlen, as he is known, on account of his hard demeanor, makes no apologies. “It’s not extra money. It’s making sure that Pennsylvania gets a fair share,” he said. “It’s totally justifiable, but people don’t understand it. It’s not an add-on. And I didn’t vote for that tsetse fly. Ahhhh—ridiculous!”
At each campaign stop, Specter touts his seniority and his perch on the Appropriations Committee as he enumerates the grants and set-asides he has earmarked for local projects—a road repaired, a hospital research program endowed, an industrial-waste site redeveloped. “My opponent calls it pork,” he says. “I call it bringing home the bacon.” Specter dismisses Toomey as “not far right—far out,” and, he told me, “I’m a better Republican than he is. Who more accurately expresses the view of the Republican party? President Bush, who endorsed me? Vice-President Cheney, who came in and campaigned for me? Senator Rick Santorum, our own Pennsylvania conservative, who’s behind me?” Toomey counters with the observation that the White House always endorses incumbents from the president’s party. “So he’s saying that Santorum’s a hypocrite, that Bush is a hypocrite?” Specter snapped. “Listen, the guy will say anything.”
Pat Toomey’s energies in Congress have been devoted almost entirely to trying to impose fiscal discipline on the federal budget. Last November, he was prominent among several dozen conservative Republican congressmen who opposed Bush’s huge Medicare-reform-and-prescription-drug bill. The four-hundred-billion-dollar price tag struck Toomey as too high, besides which he didn’t trust the figures. He was proved to be prescient when the White House was accused of suppressing the real estimate, which was well over five hundred billion dollars. “We Republicans deserve plenty of blame for the level of government spending, which I think is excessive, and the five-hundred-billion-dollar deficit I think is extremely excessive,” Toomey said, adding, “Am I issuing a challenge to Republicans? Yeah. I’ve been doing that since I got to Congress.”
“The White House is concerned,” Weyrich told me. “They think that if Toomey wins he can’t be elected in the general election. I don’t agree with that.” Weyrich is confident that if Toomey beats Specter “he’ll be larger than life,” and in great shape to fend off the Democratic candidate, Joseph Hoeffel, a congressman from Philadelphia who is also a comparative unknown. That opinion is shared and frequently amplified in the conservative press, particularly in William Buckley’s National Review, which last year labelled Arlen Specter “the worst Republican senator,” citing his pro-choice politics, his rejection of Bork, his refusal to vote to impeach President Clinton, and his resistance to several nominees for federal judgeships.
In the absence of a Republican Presidential primary contest, the Toomey-Specter race, by exposing rifts in the Republican ranks, has, for better or for worse, taken on national dimensions as a struggle to define the party’s brand of conservatism. Last month, National Review ran a photograph of Toomey on its cover, declaring him “the right choice” in “a battle for the GOP’s future.” Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor at the magazine, wrote that the Toomey-Specter primary was arguably “the second most important election” of 2004, and an opportunity for “conservatives who generally support President Bush but are concerned about the Republican party’s drift under his stewardship” to send the White House a message. “Criticism of Bush is often deserved, and often useful,” Ponnuru said, adding, “If you are a conservative upset about the Republican establishment’s big spending and accommodationism—especially if you’re upset enough to be thinking about boycotting Bush’s re-election—there is no excuse not to be supporting Toomey.”
Pennsylvania will be a key state in the general election in November. Bush lost Pennsylvania to Gore by 4.2 per cent in 2000, even though the state’s two senators were Republican—as was the governor at the time, Tom Ridge (now the Secretary for Homeland Security), who has since been replaced by a Democrat, Ed Rendell. Bush has visited the state twenty-four times since his inauguration, an average of once every seven weeks. Specter likes to ride along on Air Force One and in the Presidential limo, and when he’s on the stump he tells stories that begin, “Y’know, I was with the President the other day, and . . .” The same week last year that Toomey announced his candidacy, the White House sent Bush’s chief of staff, Andrew Card, into Toomey’s home district to hold a fund-raiser for Specter. In Pittsburgh, Bush made a point of saying that he looked forward to having Specter as Judiciary Committee chairman. Still, polls show that as Toomey has become better known he has steadily trimmed the incumbent’s lead, and Specter aides now describe the campaign as “tight.”
“Republican audiences are not happy that the Administration thought they could—at least on spending—play Democrat-lite,” Steve Forbes, the publisher and former Presidential candidate, said. He mentioned Toomey’s resistance to the Medicare bill, a “no” vote that has taken on folkloric dimensions among conservatives. On the night of the vote, as the House Republican leadership begged—and, in at least one case, now under investigation, allegedly attempted to bribe—dissenting or undecided members for support, Toomey led a band of about twenty opponents of the bill out to the Hunan Dynasty restaurant on Capitol Hill. “I knew I wasn’t going to bend,” he told me, “and I was confident of most everybody else.” Still, Toomey thought it best for the group to stick together, and he kept them discussing cost containment and means testing and other measures of fiscal responsibility until the vote was finally called, around three in the morning. On the first tally, the “no” ballots prevailed, so the Speaker, Dennis Hastert, kept the vote open for another three hours while a few fence-sitters were converted to the President’s side. Conservatives were outraged by this unorthodox maneuvering, but Toomey shrugs it off. “That’s the political process,” he said. Despite his disagreements with the White House on a number of key bills, and no matter what some of his backers may think, Toomey insists that he is not running against Bush, and he hopes soon to be running with him.
“By fighting these seemingly lonely fights, Toomey is winning the heart of the Party, and certainly the rank and file has responded,” Steve Forbes said, adding, “If Pat wins, I think it’s going to send a very strong message to the rest of the Party that there’s a different way to do things.” Paul Weyrich agreed. “It would be big,” he said. “It would be very big.”
In the basement of a public library in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, across the Susquehanna River from Harrisburg, Pat Toomey was talking with a group of parents involved in home-schooling their children when a man in the audience said, “I would characterize your opponent as a militant left-wing extremist rather than a moderate. How do you think he’s been painted as a moderate all these years?”
Toomey, who never slips, as many of his conservative friends and backers do, into the incendiary rhetoric of right-wing talk radio, responded with a compressed version of his stump speech. “Arlen Specter is a liberal,” he said. “Across the board, he’s much more likely to come down on the side of Ted Kennedy than he is on the side of conservatives. The reason I’m running is that there’s a real opportunity now for the center right of the Republican Party—commonsense conservatives—to finally govern. We’ve waited seventy years to have complete control of the elected government in Washington. And we’ve got that today. We’ve got a Republican majority in the House, we’ve got a Republican in the White House, and we’ve got a Republican majority in the Senate. But, unfortunately, in the Senate it’s really a nominal majority. It’s not a functioning majority, and it’s certainly not a conservative majority. And the reason is that a handful of liberal Republicans who never bought into the Republican conservative ideas in the first place are continuing to side with the Democrats and prevent us from accomplishing so many wonderful things we could be doing.”
Toomey presents himself as a national figure engaged in a struggle for the conservative Republican cause, and his message to conservative voters is quite simple: it’s our time now. “You could make the case that, when Bill Clinton was President, Arlen Specter’s liberalism didn’t matter that much because you couldn’t get good legislation signed into law,” he said. “You could make the case that when Tom Daschle was running the United States Senate we couldn’t get much passed, regardless of Arlen Specter’s liberalism. But you can’t make that case anymore. Today, we have complete control. And the question that I’m posing to Republican primary voters all across Pennsylvania is a simple one: Are we going to seize this opportunity to govern with a commonsense conservative agenda, or are we going to let it slip away by reelecting a liberal who will fight our agenda? That’s what’s at stake here.”
Since the Hoover Administration, Republicans—conservative Republicans in particular—have had a minority status in the American political consensus. To be sure, during much of that period conservatives also found a home in the Democratic Party, notably in the South, but, while conservatism has never been as much of an outsiders’ creed as conservatives like to claim, it has been the country’s ruling ideology only fitfully, and for the last quarter century Republican history has played out largely as a struggle between the Party’s Reaganite right wing and more moderate figures, like the first President Bush, a multilateralist internationally and a centrist domestically. To the Reagan revolutionaries, who count Toomey as one of their own, Bush the father was an apostate: when he broke his vow not to raise taxes, many Republicans felt betrayed. He lost his base and then the White House.
The rejection of the elder Bush by the Republican right was a measure of the mounting influence of a young activist named Grover Norquist, the president of an advocacy group called Americans for Tax Reform, who had begun extracting anti-tax pledges from lawmakers in the late eighties. Norquist’s tax pledge became one of the defining Republican credentials of the nineties, and Norquist emerged as one of the Party’s preëminent power brokers. “I got ninety-five per cent of House Republicans and eighty per cent of the senators to sign the pledge never to raise taxes,” Norquist told me recently. “Ninety per cent of Republicans in the House and the Senate will vote for every tax cut that’s put on the table. So the guys who aren’t with you are oddballs like McCain, who has a psychotic hatred of Bush—I mean if Bush was for raising taxes he’d be for cutting them.” Norquist helped Newt Gingrich engineer the Republican takeover of Congress in the 1994 election, and to this day he holds a weekly breakfast salon at his Washington office, where conservatives in and out of government line up to win approval for their agendas.
Norquist always cultivated an image as a rebel, but from his days as a college Republican he was a pal of Karl Rove, and when Rove began preparing the younger George Bush to run for President, Norquist was summoned to Austin to strategize and to offer his stamp of ideological approval. These days, he is usually seen as a consigliere to the Bush White House—Karl Rove’s Karl Rove—a position that some say has softened his edge. (“It restricts your movement to be a revolutionary when the politburo is giving you your dictates,” a Republican Senate staffer quipped.) But Norquist did not hesitate to tell me that it would be a mistake for the President to become too focused on foreign policy during the campaign. “Americans don’t care about the rest of the world,” he explained. “If they mess with us, go blow them up, and don’t bother me, y’know—don’t sit and talk about it all day. You went out and blew up the nice Taliban. Good. O.K. Next. What are you doing for me?”
Norquist is a pudgy, owlish man with a light, fluffy beard and round glasses. He fidgets incessantly while talking, rifling through papers on his desk, wiping his glasses, applying hand cream from a tiny hotel sample bottle. At one point in our conversation, he removed both his shoes, placed them on the desk, and set about replacing the laces. The walls of his office are decked with National Rifle Association flyers and a poster of Janis Joplin. As a young man, in the late years of the Cold War, he displayed a taste for blowing up foreign enemies himself, primarily in Angola, where he became an acolyte of Jonas Savimbi, the anti-Communist puppet of Washington and apartheid Johannesburg. There, among the guerrillas, Norquist had himself photographed holding a submachine gun, and he picked up a pair of combat fatigues that he later liked to wear to Washington meetings. For a time, he carried a briefcase with an “I’d rather be killing commies” bumper sticker. Now that he finds himself a pillar of the Washington establishment, he allows that having power can be duller than wanting it. About this year’s election, for instance, he said, “The left is more excited because they have more at stake.”
Beneath the bombast, Norquist’s brand of conservatism, like Pat Toomey’s, is largely about bookkeeping. He likes Bush’s tax cuts, wants more of them, and was disappointed recently when Congress, in alarm at the growth of the federal deficit, postponed making those cuts permanent. Norquist blames “inexcusable explosions of spending” for the deficit, not the decline in tax revenues. Non-defense spending increased twenty-five per cent under Bush, and that figure doesn’t include the new Medicare plan. “the president and Republican Congress have been rock solid on almost everything—except federal spending,” Norquist wrote in last month’s American Spectator. “How could that be? If the professed goal of the Republican Party is to limit the size and scope of government so as to maximize individual liberty, how can it fail to limit federal spending? Something is wrong when everything on the agenda gets attention—except the one big thing.” Norquist has said that his ideal is a government cut “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub,” and he told me, “One of the steps for getting there is a permanent Republican government, in the sense of fifty-five Republican senators and a thirty-vote margin in the House and a Republican President for twenty years in a row. That’s when you can do to the left what the left did to us in the thirties and the forties.”
I said this sounded like a one-party state. He preferred to call it a dismantling of “the non-democratic institutions that have been put into place by sixty years of Democratic hegemony”: trial lawyers, organized labor, and what he called the public-school monopoly—the same targets that Pat Toomey lists. “When that happens, the Democratic party will have ceased to be the economic statist party,” he said. “They can be the weird-sex party, they can be the tree-hugger party, they can be the secularists-against-the-religious-zealots party. There are a lot of different things they can be. There will be two parties. Just dissolve the anti-democratic institutions, and you can have a fair fight.”
Grover Norquist supports Pat Toomey in the Pennsylvania primary. “The Pennsylvania thing is an interesting microcosm,” he said. But he wondered what would happen if Toomey lost. “Would that convince people that the Specters are more important or powerful than they are?”
Stephen Moore, a supply-side conservative who’s been raising a lot of money for Toomey, prefers to ask, What if Toomey wins? “The message is that somebody’s watching over the shoulder of the moderate Republicans, and if they keep voting for bigger government programs and higher taxes they’re going to be defeated,” Moore said. “It will have a very disciplining effect.”
Moore runs the Club for Growth, an organization in Washington that bundles contributions from a network of conservatives, including some big donors from Wall Street, to bankroll primary challenges against moderate Republicans. (Most recently, the Club has supported the successful campaigns of Katherine Harris, in Florida, and John Sununu, in New Hampshire.) When I stopped by Moore’s office, he sat behind a cluttered desk in a swivel chair that stood in a sprawling puddle of envelopes, each one carrying a check, nearly all of them to be funnelled to Toomey. “We’ve raised almost a million dollars in hard money for Toomey, and we’ll probably put another million into voter-education campaigns in Pennsylvania,” he said. “It’s a huge investment for us. It’s probably three times more than we’ve ever spent in any other race.” Moore was feeling “buoyant” about some new poll results that showed Toomey gaining on Specter. He credited a television spot the Club for Growth was running, which painted Specter as John Kerry’s ideological twin, voting the same way as the Massachusetts liberal seventy per cent of the time.
“I’ve said from the start this really is a race for the heart and soul of the Party,” Moore said. “If Toomey wins the race, it will have reverberating effects around the country. One of the problems we’ve had in the conservative movement is that there’s a very thin talent pool among the Republicans in the Senate. Conservatives don’t have anyone to go to who will champion their cause the way the liberals have Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy. So it’s a big race. The Olympia Snowes of the world and the Lincoln Chafees and the George Voinoviches would behave themselves much better if one of their colleagues got knocked off.”
Moore makes no secret of his hostility to the Bush White House, and he recognizes that the President’s high level of support among Republican primary voters could be a problem for Toomey. “We’d like Bush to just stay out of it, obviously, as much as possible,” he said. “One of the points we’ve made to him is, look, it is not in your political self-interest to take a high-stakes position for Specter given that you’re already seeing a little bit of a collapse in your conservative support. This would only reinforce the idea that you’re not a real conservative.” After all, Moore said, “I think if you’re a Republican in 2004 you’ve got to stand for a few things. You’ve got to be for school choice, and you’ve got to be for cutting taxes, and you’ve got to be for smaller government. Otherwise, what are Republicans good for? That’s why we keep saying Specter’s a rino—a Republican in name only—and let’s replace him with a real Republican.”
Arlen Specter regards Moore as a blowhard and a bully. The one thing he does agree with Moore about is that the race with Toomey has broad ramifications for American political life. “I would say it’s an election to see if there’s going to be any place in the Republican party for the big tent,” Specter said as we drove through Lancaster County in a freak March snowstorm. “If a guy in my position can’t win in a moderate state like Pennsylvania, albeit in a closed primary, I think it bodes very ill for the big tent and balance in the Party. When I came to the Senate, we had a lot of members of the Wednesday Club”—a weekly gathering of Republican moderates. “You had Lowell Weicker, you had Bob Stafford, you had Bob Packwood, you had Mark Hatfield, you had Lincoln Chafee, you had John Danforth, you had Jim Jeffords, you had John Heinz. Now there are only a few of us. And it’s important. When Joe Biden needs a co-sponsor, he comes to Arlen Specter. That kind of balance is really important for the country. It’s more than the soul of the Republican Party; it’s to have some balance within the Party and within the two-party system.”
Paul Weyrich thinks it’s the other way around: that the Party is wounded by moderates. “I don’t see that they contribute that much,” he told me. For example, he said, “One of Bush’s main objectives right now is to drive home this idea that Kerry has been weak on defense, that he’s never voted for a weapons system. And here comes John McCain and says, ‘No, he’s not weak on defense—you know, we have different voting records, and he’ll have to explain that, but I do not consider him weak on defense.’ Well, that is like knocking the props out from under Bush. Is it helpful to have a liberal Republican like that hanging around? I don’t think so.”
Grover Norquist is no fan of McCain, either, and he has made clear with his endorsement that he prefers Toomey to Specter, but he questioned the wisdom of the Club for Growth’s strategy in Pennsylvania. After all, he said, “What do these so-called moderates have in common? They’re seventy years old. They’re not running again. They’re gonna be dead soon. So, while they’re annoying, within the Republican Party our problems are dying.” In the meantime, he worried: “Does the right make a mistake in demonizing Specter? He’s not that erratic or far left. And if we can’t win ‘the biggest race in the country’ or beat ‘the worst senator,’ what does that say? Why not go after the Democrats instead? Why not use the same resources to go after Tom Daschle?”
Joe Hoeffel, the Democratic challenger for Pennsylvania’s Senate seat, has been watching the Toomey-Specter showdown closely, and he is no longer convinced that Specter really qualifies as a moderate. “He’s been meek, a supporter of the Bush program, which has alarmed a lot of moderates, with the budget deficits growing and the deceptions in Iraq and all the rest,” Hoeffel said. He pointed out, as Toomey also does, that Specter swung to the right in preparation for the primary challenge. But he didn’t think that in the general election Pennsylvania voters were going to be interested in the sort of ideological debates that are dividing the Republicans now. “We’ve lost a hundred and fifty thousand manufacturing jobs in the state,” he said. “People are worried about the economic and pocketbook issues, and I don’t think they are going to be distracted by what the right wing wants to talk about.”
It was a curious experience to talk to a Democrat after my days among the Republicans. The Republicans had seemed so self-sufficient, hardly even mentioning that other party. Four years ago, American voters were complaining that there was no real choice between the Presidential candidates—the “pragmatic liberal” and the “compassionate conservative.” A Pew Research Center poll in June of 2000 found that only fifty-one per cent of American voters realized that the Republican and the Democrat had different ideas of the world. Even among the well-informed, there was a strong sentiment that Al Gore and George Bush weren’t merely uninspiring but essentially interchangeable. This delusion that it hardly mattered whom one voted for did not survive Election Day, 2000, in Florida, and, in the eruption of partisanship that ensued, it was often suggested that the bruising closeness of the vote would require the incoming President to reach out across party lines to govern as a healer from the political center. But when the Supreme Court gave Bush the White House he proceeded as if he had the mandate of an electoral landslide. Drawing heavily from the right wing of his party, he assembled an Administration whose defining attitude was, from the get-go, you’re with us or you’re against us.
This should not have been a surprise. Bush, whose conservative credentials are now being questioned because of the deficit, never pretended to be moderate. As Newt Gingrich said to me in Washington recently, “If you go back and look at what his campaign pledges were, it was stronger defense, massive tax cuts, much more American nationalism in his foreign policy, much less multinational kowtowing to the Europeans, a clearly socially conservative, pro-life position—he even talked about having an office of faith-based solutions in the White House—and he was for personal Social Security accounts. In the 2000 campaign, it seemed to me, if you were reading his speeches, he was running at least as conservative as Reagan ever did, and maybe more conservative.” In fact, Gingrich said, “he’s probably to the right of Reagan, most days.” And he added, “Reagan was pretty cheerful about saying that he didn’t worry nearly as much about deficits as he worried about cutting taxes and strengthening the military.” The Reaganite notion is that big deficits eventually take care of themselves by intimidating Congress into cutting spending.
“There’s irritation on the right, yeah,” Gingrich said. “But that’s the nature of being a majority. Just as in the great age of the Democratic Party you had Mississippi segregationists and Chicago blacks both supporting Franklin Delano Roosevelt, both proud to be Democrats, largely because they weren’t Republicans.” Grover Norquist, whom Gingrich has described as the new standard-bearer of the conservative cause, took an even broader view of what it means for Republicans to have a majority: “If we lose Bush, we still have the House, we have the Senate. Kerry can’t steal our guns, raise our taxes, spend any money we don’t want to.”
It’s true, as the Republican idea men say, that a great deal is at stake for the Party in Pennsylvania, but the stakes may be far more prosaic than their high-flown rhetoric suggests. After all, the Republicans’ ability to hold the Senate in November is far from certain. If Pat Toomey were to beat Arlen Specter, he would be a long shot for a statewide victory, and a Senate seat that has been securely Republican would suddenly be up for grabs. For ideologically uncompromising voters who want to send the White House a warning of their disaffection, Toomey presents an attractive messenger. But they risk losing their majority in the name of toughening it. While Toomey invokes the century-old dream of conservative political dominion, perhaps it is Specter, the known quantity, posing in campaign literature arm in arm with Dick Cheney, who is, in the literal sense of the word, the conservative choice.