Like a cold front, you could feel the defeat coming; and you did not need Dan Rather or George Gallup to prepare you. You knew it in your bones as you listened to the sound bites on the evening news: Clinton saying nothing and saying it well; Dole saying nothing and saying it poorly. It was a campaign of style rather than substance, and Bill Clinton was by far the better stylist.
In the absence of genuine issues, interest in the presidential race plummeted. According to the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, President Clinton attracted the second lowest percentage of eligible voters since the election of John Quincy Adams. Despite an increase of seven million eligible voters over the last four years, the turnout declined in every state in the Union. As a matter of fact, in eight states, more people voted in senatorial and gubernatorial races than in the presidential race. So should we condemn Bob Dole for not attracting enough voters to avoid a decisive defeat? Should we blame him for failing to beat a scandal-ridden incumbent whom almost 60 percent of the people deemed untrustworthy?
No, it wasn’t really Dole’s fault. True, he had no message, certainly not one that appealed to the bulk of born-again Christians, who comprised fully 29 percent of the electorate. But the pro-family movement did not insist on a message. The movement’s most visible leaders gave Dole a free pass on the major social issues. They told him he did not have to talk about partial-birth abortion or gays in the military or the distribution of condoms to schoolchildren or half a dozen other outrages that would have moved traditional-minded voters his way. And so he ended up talking about nothing.
Everett Dirksen summarized the way politicians think and act as follows: “When I feel the heat, I see the light.” Bob Dole never felt the heat. It was our responsibility to light a fire under his moderate rump. In refusing to do so, we failed him as surely as we failed our own constituency. We should have forced Dole to be a better man and hence a better candidate.
So was the 1996 election a repudiation of conservative pro-family values? Already the architects of Dole’s dismal campaign arc trying to place the blame on that perennial source of all wickedness—the religious right. One GOP expert has suggested that without the pro-life, pro-family movement to appease. Dole might have run a more aggressive race. (On what issues?) Another has blamed Pat Buchanan for forcing Dole to spend all his primary money by early summer. (The GOP leadership obviously believes the liberal wing of the parts has an indisputable right to pick the presidential nominee prior to the primaries.)
But what happened in the congressional races indicates that the country is more pro-life and pro-family than either Bob Dole or the national Republican leadership. In fact, far from a “moderate” victory—as the news analysts were doggedly maintaining into the wee hours of the morning—the 1996 election was a mini-triumph for traditional values.
Not only did Republicans increase their numbers in the Senate, but conservative, pro-family forces made even greater gains. Seven examples: conservative hardliner Sam Brownback took the vacant seat of the Old Equivocator, Bob Dole; Pat Roberts, a moderate conservative, replaced liberal Nancy Kassebaum; pro-family Republican Jeff Sessions took the scat of retiring liberal Democrat Howell Heflin; conservative Republican Gordon Smith replaced liberal Republican Mark Hatfield; pro-family Republican Tim Hutchinson captured the seat of liberal Democrat David Pryor; conservative Chuck Hagel, a young Republican, will replace liberal Democrat James Exon, who retired; and GOP abortion foe Michael Enzi now owns the seat of retiring fellow-Republican Alan Simpson, who was a liberal on the key social issues. These changes are substantial and translate into a significant shift in the balance of power.
Despite the growing belief among liberal Democrats that they would be able to recapture control of the I louse, the Republican majority prevailed. To be sure, the pro-family, pro-life margin has been reduced by eight to ten seats. But several of the newcomers are outspoken pro-family activists, including Robert Aderholt of Alabama (who described himself as “the protector of traditional Alabama values”) and athlete Jim Ryun (whom the Washington Post called “arguably one of the most conservative politicians to win a seat in the House”).
In order to position himself to recapture the presidency. Bill Clinton had to sign the Defense of Marriage Act, endorse tax relief for families, and talk about “family values” during the campaign. And since he failed again to win a majority of the popular vote, no one can really argue he has a mandate. In response to the mood of the electorate, he replaced chief of staff Leon Panetta with the more conservative Erskine Bowles of North Carolina.
So social conservatives fared well in the 1996 congressional elections, and it is just possible that the country is beginning to return to the norms of its history—to marriage, family, respect for life, individual freedom, and self-reliance. But on the national level, the Republicans do not seem to acknowledge this trend. If the Democratic leadership wants to abolish traditional values as quickly as possible, the Republican hierarchy merely wants to move more slowly in the same direction.
To this end, party leaders are already talking about a Powell-Kemp ticket in the year 2000—the one in favor of abortion, the other an economic determinist. No one in authority can bear to say the obvious: that the party needs to run a pro-family conservative who can bring born-again Christians and blue-collar Catholics back to the GOP. Reagan won on a pro-family platform. So did George Bush the first time out. Then the Republicans lapsed into “moderation” and lost two elections in a row to a “moderate” Democrat up to his earlobes in scandal.
The question for pro-family Christians: What should we do about the Republican Party? We all know that the people who really call the shots in the GOP are closet liberals on social issues. They would rather lose elections than win with people like us. So how do we respond to the fact that they call our candidates “extremist,” deny us a voice at the national convention, and refuse to speak to our issues during presidential campaigns? There arc at least three possible responses.
First, brushed aside, we can continue to support the GOP, hoping that someday the party leaders will be struck blind on the road to Damascus. This is the course we followed in 1992 and 1996. Christian pro-family leaders told Bob Dole that he did not have to address the great moral questions of our time. The so-called Christian right put aside its principles in order to go with the apparent primary winner; and when Bob Dole lost the general election, we could not even console ourselves with the thought that we had gone down fighting for a good cause. Yet this attitude is precisely what some of the same pro-family leaders are already recommending. As one of them said after the GOP convention, “All we want is a place at the table.” Never mind that no one will be allowed to say grace—or that our bowls will remain empty. The people who take this course of action arc already preparing us for the candidacy of Colin Powell—who favors abortion, but who can, they tell us, win in the year 2000. At present, the smart crowd is betting on this strategy to prevail in the GOP.
Second, we can adopt the Barry Goldwater approach and try to capture the Republican Party in the next four years. This strategy rests on the assumption that the GOP is redeemable. that its “moderate” leadership can be persuaded to support a conservative candidate next time in order to win back the presidency—and that conservatives can, in a mere four years, purge the party of its Haley Barbours and Bill Paxons and take control from top to bottom.
There are several problems with this approach. In the first place, most of the GOP’s big donors are moderates rather than hard-core conservatives. They are the ones who write the big checks three and four years before a presidential election. Evangelicals may provide the grassroots workers, but pro-business, pro-abortion fat cats fund campaigns. And the fat eats are not interested in a pro-family agenda. (As one businessman said during the primary season, “Politics is supposed to be about economics not morality.”) Increasingly, multinational corporations are promoting abortion, gay rights, and the dismemberment of the American family. Why should they contribute money to a GOP that nominates a pro-life, pro-family candidate?
In current politics, the golden rule is: “He who has the gold makes the rules.” That is not merely a bumper sticker slogan. It defines one of the hard realities of Republican politics— money talks. So if pro-family activists wanted to take over the GOP, they would have to find a way to come up with $30 million over the next two or three years, just to give their candidate a chance in the primaries. This task would be more daunting than the six labors of Hercules. We are talking about an enormous amount of money to be raised largely among lower- and middle-income people who ordinarily devote their extra dollars to private schools and the church-building fund. Pro-family political leaders would have to convince these good people that the Republican Party is worth yet more sacrificial giving. It would be a hard sell—particularly after Bob Dole.
And once they had found a way to raise money, pro-family leaders would have to field a credible candidate—and field one fast. You can bet that liberal Republican hopefuls are already making phone calls, writing fundraising letters, and lining up local support in every state. A run for the presidency is a four-year operation. Even if the candidate does not declare until 1998, his supporters should be activated no later than the spring of 1997.
So could pro-family activists unite quickly behind a single candidate who supports their agenda? Such a swift selection process would be virtually impossible within the current Republican Party, where GOP moderates—terrified of a pro-family, pro-life candidate—would do everything in their power to meddle in our affairs, complicate our deliberations, confuse our supporters, and slander our best possibilities. Look what they did once they realized Pat Buchanan was a real threat to liberal control of the Republican Party. And look how we were treated at the convention. After 1996, it should be clear that we are unwelcome guests in the GOP, barely tolerated because of our usefulness in the general election, but always regarded with suspicion and distaste.
Think how much cheaper and better it would be to discuss potential candidates in a spirit of mutual purpose—and in the relative peace of our own house. There, in an act of prayerful deliberation, we could choose a candidate other than George Bush or Bob Dole. We could reject anyone who was weak and pliant, who scurried from one side of an issue to the other in a futile effort to please an abstract electorate defined by Gallup and Roper. We could pick a person who believed unshakably in the right values and who could articulate them in such a way that they seemed attractive to a majority of Americans. That would mean reinventing the rhetoric of the mainstream media without budging an inch on the issues. Without the jaybirds of liberal Republicanism shrieking around us, we could do it. Ronald Reagan showed us how.
These, then, are formidable objections to a strategy based on capturing control of the Republican Party four years from now. And the more you calculate the odds, the more impossible the task looms. It might take 12 or 16 years to put together the kind of effort necessary to build a genuine consensus in a divided party already corrupted by the love of power and money—and by then the Supreme Court may well have ruled that men and women can marry their parakeets.
And suppose we succeeded? Far from rewarding us with cheers and confetti. Republican liberals would do everything in their power to crush our movement and smear our candidate during the general election. They would run a third party candidate if necessary, as they did against Ronald Reagan in 1980 and Oliver North in 1994. They would rather lose to liberal Democrats than win with bigots and ignoramuses like us.
Finally, even if we won, we would lose—just as we did in 1980—when conservatives thought they had elected one of their own and then had to be content with a “coalition government” run in large measure by the Bush crowd. After Ronald Reagan’s victory, the “moderate” wing of the party, led by James Baker III, subverted the Reagan Revolution by blocking the President-elect’s supporters from key appointments, installing their own cronies, and then conducting the most crucial affairs of government behind the President’s back. If our man won the general election, they would do everything in their power to take over again, demanding the biggest share of the pie for their minimal role in a victorious campaign.
But enough of such speculation. We do not have to remain m the Republican Party, for there is a better road to follow: we could create a new party to carry the pro-life, pro-family banner. This is undoubtedly the most attractive option, but not without its perils. First, let us consider the arguments against such a strategy.
To begin with, Americans do not take third parties seriously. You have to go back to the early years of the GOP to find one that ultimately won the presidency. Fremont ran as its candidate in 1856, and Abraham Lincoln was elected four years later, though only by a plurality. Since then, a number of third parties have surfaced, but few have been able to win even a handful of electoral votes. After spending millions, Ross Perot’s Reform Party has yet to carry a single state, and its strength declined significantly in 1996. For this reason, it would be difficult (though not impossible) to persuade a majority of conservative activists to leave the GOP for an entirely new organization.
Then, too, the system is set up to discourage third parties. It is very difficult to gain ballot access to all 50 states. To do so, we would need time, money, and a dedicated organization—all of which are in short supply, even for the established parties. Unless its leadership had strong grass-roots support—or enormous wealth, like Ross Perot—a third party effort would court failure.
Finally, the media would paint any such efforts in the darkest colors on their palette. Liberals have a vested interest in maintaining the two-party system, since it usually results in compromise candidates and a watered-down agenda, both supportive of the status quo. The liberal media always presume to define the “center” in relation to their own position. In so doing, they characterize conservatives as “outside the mainstream”—even when their views are supported by the majority of Americans. If you were disturbed by the unprincipled attacks on Pat Buchanan after he won the New Hampshire primary, you would be even more shocked by the names the same commentators and editorialists would call organizers of a viable pro-life, pro-family party. You can be certain we would be labeled “bigots,” “hate mongers,” “fascists,” and “Nazis”—to mention but a few of the terms routinely used by the left. If you do not think such demonizing can be effective, see what the name-calling did to Buchanan’s support in a matter of days.
Given these obstacles, why would anyone want to start yet another third party in order to advance the pro-life, pro-family cause? Several very good reasons come to mind. First, neither major party is currently defending traditional American values. Congressional leaders in both houses of Congress have cooperated in side-tracking legislation designed to correct the most outrageous actions of the Supreme Court, including the forbidding of prayer in the public arena and the legalization of abortion. Republicans as well as Democrats have voted to increase funding for the gay rights movement, which can survive only with a massive infusion of federal dollars. In fact, in the last week of the 1996 campaign. Dole’s chief aide. Sheila Burke, met with gay rights activists and assured them that, if elected. Dole would support homosexuality as strongly as the Clinton administration. A genuine conservative party would never engage in such double-dealing.
Second, if a pro-family, pro-life third party actually won the White House, the American people could expect to get what they voted for. In a party as philosophically divided as the GOP, “coalition government” is probably inevitable. Such would not be the case in the government of our pro-life, pro-family President. We could choose our own people to fill every job in every nook and cranny of the executive branch. And if James Baker III tried to climb in a window, we could slam it shut on his fingers.
Finally—win or lose—it would be a cleansing experience for pro-life, pro-family conservatives to vote for a candidate and a party that truly represented the values they endorse. Not since 1980 have we been given a pure choice. By 1984, it was clear that liberals were running the most influential segments of the executive branch (e.g., the Department of Health and Human Services), and in 1988 and 1992 we had to vote for two-faced George Bush and, in 1996, no-faced Bob Dole. We could redeem all those tainted votes if we fielded a genuinely pro-life, pro-family candidate, even on a third-party ticket. How nice it would be to go to sleep on election night, knowing we had done the right thing—win or lose.
To summarize: going along with a Colin Powell or a Pete Wilson is spiritual suicide, a prescription for the ultimate moral collapse of the nation. Whatever we do, we should not again follow some high-profile Judas into the camp of another liberal Republican. Too many pro-family leaders have already abandoned principle to stake their souls on the triumph of political expediency. We must resist the temptation to compromise with party leaders in order to be members of the club. We cannot allow ourselves to believe that there is no political salvation outside the Republican Party. If the GOP turns its back on our nation’s traditional values, it is our responsibility to turn our backs on the GOP. After all, we do not just want “a place at the table.” We want to help plan the menu and serve the meal. And we want to say grace before anyone takes the first bite.
As for capturing the GOP, forget it—unless you believe the Holy Spirit will intervene (which is possible, of course, but highly unlikely). Why would God want to save the Republican Party from the oblivion it has so eagerly sought and so richly deserves?
Again, our best course of action is the establishment of a third party, and as quickly as possible—in a matter of months. Such an action will demand an enormous amount of advance work and tens of millions of dollars. It will require a candidate and a structure—soon, very soon. No single group can accomplish this end alone. To be successful, we must involve the entire pro-life, pro-family movement—or at least those who are willing to break their recent ties with the GOP. To implement this strategy, I suggest that all interested pro-life, pro-family groups hold a summit meeting immediately to form our own political party, to define our agenda, to determine a means of enlisting a candidate or candidates, and to lay plans for fundraising and the development of a grassroots campaign organization.
We must establish the structure and goals of this party in the crucible of honest debate—and we must do so publicly, while the entire nation looks on. This debate must be among those who share a common commitment to traditional America. We may disagree initially as to strategy and priorities, but we must be one in our commitment to first principles. (Those who believe that a political party should focus exclusively on economic issues—that social concerns are irrelevant and ultimately embarrassing —should remain in the GOP. They are right where they belong.)
We should come out of that initial meeting with a clear understanding of what we want from the federal government—and, more importantly, what we do not want. We want a constitutional amendment to permit prayer in schools. We want to exclude homosexuals from military service and end all federal funding of the gay rights movement. We want to undo Roe v. Wade by whatever constitutional means possible. We want to stop Washington from promoting the distribution of condoms and the approval of sexual license in the public schools. Most of all, we want the federal government to cease meddling in our private lives and put an end to its current efforts to change the moral code that has traditionally governed our conduct as a people.
That is the kind of agenda we must frame and then lay before our potential supporters nationwide. We should ask millions of pro-family, pro-life advocates to pledge financial support only to a party or candidate dedicated unambiguously to traditional values. Then—and only then—can we be strong enough to tell our political opponents: “No more uncertain trumpets. No more lukewarm Social Contracts with America that hedge on abortion and hide from gay rights. No more subservient support for a political party—any party—that won’t let our leaders speak at its national convention and won’t campaign on our principles, even when they’re a part of the official platform. And no more Bob Doles.”
If we delivered that message with unity of purpose and voice, millions would listen and join our movement. Americans have always responded to an unequivocal commitment to truth, virtue, and freedom. They would respond again in overwhelming numbers—or face the ravages of a grim and soulless future. The electorate is there for the taking, so let us get on with the business of restoring America.