November 7, 2005
Wanted: True-Red Conservatives

By Salena Zito

You have to wonder about Republicans' state of mind of late.

Did they wake up one morning and confront an unfamiliar face in the mirror? Like some bad political Botox, gone is Ronald Reagan's face; staring back in his place is Teddy "I will spend your money like a drunken sailor" Kennedy.

Republicans are knee-deep pork barrelers practicing the fine art of fiscal irresponsibility. Who passes the baton that began with Goldwater, took root with Reagan and gained power through the "Contract with America"?

Contrary to popular belief, the core of conservatism does not spring from "life" issues; those just suck up all of the air and make all of the noise. Conservatives are, first and foremost, proponents of limiting government's power and strengthening national defense.

A search for someone who runs and governs as a Goldwater reveals three leaders from different parts of the country: former U.S. Rep. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. All are preachers in the church of Reaganomics.

Toomey, now chairman of The Club for Growth and a near-spoiler to U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter's last re-election bid, embodies what a conservative should be. And not because of his pro-life stance; that was the gravy to his meat of fiscal accountability.

Toomey winces over the quicksand in which many Republican officials stand. He recognizes that the Republican Party faces its biggest challenge since coming to power in 1994.

"We have our disagreements with life issues, but we should remain rock-solid on fiscal and defense issues," he says.

Toomey enjoys solid street credibility with all factions of the GOP, largely because he wisely recognizes that the glue that must hold things together is limited government.

Ken Blackwell, the former U.S. Housing and Urban Development undersecretary, never is offended when described as a "black Ronald Reagan." Not only does he adhere to his teacher's principles, he shared a friendship with him.

Reagan once quipped to a younger Blackwell that "you and I share a distinction -- we were not born Republicans ... we chose to become one." According to Reagan, it produced in both men "clarity that gives us passion when we speak it."

Rising from mayor of Cincinnati (he followed Jerry Springer, proving that the sublime can follow the ridiculous) to Ohio secretary of State, Blackwell says spending is his biggest beef with conservatives.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry is steadfast about governing responsibly, which translates into consistently facing resistance when balancing fiscal policies with social concerns. His maverick approach to remaining true-blue has earned him a solid reputation with conservatives. Beltway-types look to him as perfect vice-presidential material, despite his disdain for elbow-rubbing.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a fellow Republican, briefly considered running against Perry in 2006. Faced with a daunting primary against a truer Republican, she quickly backed down.

Toomey, Blackwell and Perry are not conservative stray cats. They have a clear understanding of limited governing and they know how to apply it. They're three examples of why the GOP should consider support for cloning as a plank in its platform.

Democrats are taking every opportunity to shovel the alleged scandals of Lewis Libby, Bill Frist and Tom DeLay down Americans' throats. Instead of offering up nothing but accusations, Democrats would be smarter to chip away at the GOP for its real problem -- fiscal lard.

In the end, scandal will not strip power from Republicans' hands. Consistently launching wasteful entitlement programs and wild-eyed spending will do that.

And if that pattern continues, ask the last conservative to leave the party to please turn out the lights.

Salena Zito, a political consultant who has worked for Democrats and Republicans, lives in Mt. Lebanon, PA.

Salena Zito

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