Look no further than the current Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts to see why conservatives at the grass-roots level sometimes fail to vigorously support candidates who otherwise would pass muster with the so-called “Buckley Rule.”
William F. Buckley’s famous axiom — “support the most conservative who is electable” — was the topic of a panel I was on during the recent Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.
The topic struck a nerve with the crowd of conservatives from across the nation, as the panel chairman had to extend the session because of so many questions from the audience.
The question for many is how far to compromise beliefs for the sake of winning. Should conservative activists back controversial Republican candidates— such as 2010 Senate hopefuls Christine O’Donnell of Delaware or Sharron Angle of Nevada — knowing their chances of winning in the fall are long, or should they simply line up behind Republicans who are less conservative, have money, and can win?
Now conservatives are asking that same question about Massachusetts, where Republicans hope to pick up the Senate seat vacated by Secretary of State John Kerry.
Gabriel Gomez, Cohasset venture capitalist and onetime Navy SEAL, seemed like a good candidate to carry the Republican banner in the special election for Kerry’s seat.
Such leading Bay State pachyderms as Republican National Committee members Ron Kaufman and Kerry Healey backed him early, and Leonardo Alcivar, who was campaign manager for the 2010 GOP gubernatorial nominee, signed on with Gomez. But primary voters soon began to find out other things about the candidate who looked so good on paper. Gomez admitted to voting for Barack Obama for president in 2008 and said he supported the president on issues such as gun control and immigration reform.
All of this came out in a letter the self-styled moderate wrote to Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick in January, when he offered himself for appointment to the temporary vacancy Kerry’s departure created until the special election.
“I fully understand that naming a moderate Republican like me would be completely unconventional,” Gomez said in the two-page letter, dated Jan. 17.
“However, given the partisan and acrimonious atmosphere in the U.S. Senate today, this is even more of a reason to consider appointing a moderate Republican with my background,” Gomez wrote. “I supported President Obama in 2008. I strongly believe that this appointment would be good for the Democrats as well since it is in everyone’s interest to have the two parties at the negotiating table.”
According to The Boston Herald, Gomez hand-delivered the letter to Patrick’s former chief of staff William “Mo” Cowan, who ended up receiving the Senate appointment. In the letter, the Herald reported, Gomez praised the liberal Democrat, noting Patrick’s “growing national reputation for bold and thoughtful leadership.”
State Rep. Daniel Winslow, a onetime counsel to former Gov. Mitt Romney, also entered the race and received the support of Barbara Anderson, longtime leader of the state’s largest anti-tax group.
But Winslow told WCVB-TV the Republican Party “deserved to lose” if it nominated a pro-life candidate for the Senate. Winslow also addressed a recent rally calling for the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act, and has made substantial contributions to seven liberal Democratic legislative candidates.
Had enough? Many grass-roots conservatives in Massachusetts certainly did. Supporters urged former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan to make the race and got their wish after volunteers gathered enough signatures to place his name on the ballot for the April primary. Sullivan also has the endorsement of the Massachusetts Citizens for Life’s federal political action committee.
Sullivan cannot be accused of being a “fringe” candidate, given his past position as a top federal prosecutor and the support he has won from Democrats and independents in his earlier bids for lower office.
As to whether Sullivan can defeat the likely Democratic nominee, Rep. Ed Markey, is questionable. This is Massachusetts, after all, where Obama received 61 percent of the vote in November.
But one thing is clear: When Republican activists have a candidate thrust upon them whose record is unacceptable to conservatives, neither money nor the blessings of party leadership will bring them along. They’ll find someone else.
John Gizzi is the former political editor for Human Events, working for the conservative weekly from 1979 to 2013. Gizzi is a recipient of the William A. Rusher Award for Journalistic Excellence, was named Journalist of the Year by the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2002, and has appeared on hundreds of radio and TV talk shows.
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