Thursday, February 4, 2010

Rising Tide

Over the years, a big source of irritation for us conservatives has been the way the Republican Party establishment falls for the idea that it must run "moderate" candidates in order to win elections.

We point out that when conservatives run on conservative principles, they win. We point out that the folks who most loudly peddle the "Republicans must run moderates" idea are enemies of the Republican Party, and therefore any "advice" they offer is not intended to help it. Yet over the last several years the Republican establishment has ignored us -- and, voila!, it was over those years that the party withered and fell from power.

But now the tide is turning.

For quite some time, Florida Governor Charlie Crist has been held up as the kind of moderate who could save the GOP. Blessed with a perennial tan, an ability to seem busy while doing very little, and a gift for sounding smart despite saying almost nothing of substance, he is a consummate politician -- one who can make himself sound conservative by uttering phrases like "fiscally conservative" and "responsible spending," even as he appeases liberals by signing up for anti-global warming crusades and obediently suckling from the federal teat.

The problem for Crist is that the more time he has spent in the governor's mansion, the more obvious his charade has become, and the citizens of my home state have caught on.

When he announced that he would run for the U.S. Senate, everybody in the national press, and almost everybody in the Florida press, assumed he was a shoo-in. With a history of well-heeled support, he possessed campaign funds too vast to count. He was the incumbent governor, whereas Marco Rubio, his challenger for the Republican nomination, was a former member of the state House of Representatives who was unknown outside his district. Crist came from a connected family whose successes go back generations, whereas Rubio was the son of immigrants. Less than nine months ago, polls showed Crist ahead by 46 points.

Then came summer, when the full force of Obama's liberalism became evident and the grass roots caught fire. People grew wary of the way Crist canoodled with Obama. They realized that his environmentalist fetishes are likely to lead to the kind of job-killing policies that would obliterate any good that might otherwise come from his on-again, off-again fiscal restraint. Suddenly, Crist's pubic feuds with insurers looked less like concern for citizens, and more like a populist ploy played from left of center.

Rubio offered a contrast by embracing limited government and doing so without apology. Whereas Crist's heroes from political history are murky, Rubio openly admires the ascent of Ronald Reagan, which dethroned the moderate wing of the GOP as personified by Gerry Ford.

People responded. A full month before summer ended, the 46-point gap between Rubio and Crist had narrowed to less than 30. Rubio continued to chip away steadily and surely, and shortly before Christmas, polls showed the race to be a tie.

Then came the political earthquake of January, when Massachusetts elected Scott Brown; i.e., when one of the most solidly Democrat states in America placed a Republican in the same Senate seat that for the prior 47 years had been held by one of the most solidly liberal Democrats in history. No other political event in my adulthood has so vividly illustrated the public's opinion of the federal government.

Now, in this first week of February, two separate polls show Rubio not only leading Crist, but leading him by double digits. And even more ominously for liberals, both of them lead the likely Democrat nominee by double digits. This shows that no matter what, Floridians don't want a Democrat; and given a choice between a conservative Republican and moderate Republican, they want the conservative. And don't forget that Florida is a crucial swing state that voted for Obama in 2008. (If you want to read about the polls I just mentioned, you can do so here, here and here.)

There is a long way to go between now and the primary, and even longer between now and the general election, but the tide has turned against liberalism, and it is lifting conservatism as it rises. Let's hope the Republican establishment understands what is happening and does not allow this opportunity to go to waste.

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