The most important question for conservatives today is not who will be the GOP presidential candidate in 1996. It is whether Republican congressional leaders will honor their Contract With America in such a way as to build a permanent governing majority. As Newt Gingrich said upon being elected Speaker, the Founding Fathers intended Congress to be the most powerful branch of the government in peacetime. Except during a national crisis, who bestrides the Capitol is more important than who sits in the White House.
Yet much of what conservatives hope to achieve and undo in Washington requires control of the White House as well as Congress, and the time has come to consider the 1996 presidential hopefuls. At the moment, to use the words of Heritage Vice President Kate O'Beirne, conservatives are "dating around," still unready to make a commitment to any suitor. What follows are comments from well-known American conservatives about what each of the leading prospective candidates must do to win more conservative support.
author, Dead Right
The most urgent task for the next conservative president will be to work with (what we hope will remain) the Republican Congress to reduce federal domestic spending. Few of the presidential aspirants on most odds-makers' lists have much credibility on the issue; to win that credibility, they need to demonstrate their personal conviction that government is too big and costs too much. How? A good place to start would be with an attack on the spending programs that each of them knows best and has been closely associated with.
Lamar Alexander: The federal education budget now consumes more than $30 billion per year. Almost all the money is spent either on things that should not be done at all (bilingual education) or on things that do not belong to federal jurisdiction (aid to handicapped schoolchildren). You were Secretary of Education. Will you promise to abolish the department, end all federal expenditure on primary and secondary schools, and get out of the student banking business?
Dick Cheney: David Stockman complimented your fiscal virtue as a congressman. As a past Secretary of Defense, will you extend that austerity to inessential programs that masquerade as "national security"? Would you, for instance, end the U.S. contribution to regional development banks, shut down the National Endowment for Democracy, bring to an end the Defense Department's experiments in industrial policy, and pledge to postpone all manned space voyages until the budget is balanced?
Bob Dole: Nobody can straight-facedly criticize wasteful spending while supporting farm and dairy price supports. Will you prove yourself to be more than a regional politician and propose phasing all of them out by the end of your first term as president? Will you drop U.S. barriers to free trade in food? Will you recant your support for subsidized fuels?
Phil Gramm: Your record for frugality is unequalled, but in your speeches you concentrate your fire on programs for the poor. A great national party must not be the party of middle-class self-interest. Will you pursue middle-class entitlements like Medicare as avidly as means-tested programs? Will you take the time to denounce students loans, the National Endowment for the Arts, and highway-construction boondoggles?
Jack Kemp: Everything comes back into fashion: even root-canal Republicanism. If you want to defend an alternative vision of Republicanism, would you show spending hawks that you at least share their dislike of overweening government, and not just the taxes that finance it? Will you pledge that there will be no net growth of the federal non-defense budget over the four or eight years of a Kemp administration?
Dan Quayle: You were right about Murphy Brown. Will you now follow your warnings with action? By pledging an end to all federal assistance except emergency medical care for unmarried mothers? …