Conservatives face a dilemma that can become an opportunity. The 2010 election will decide whether America continues to careen toward a future somewhere between France and Greece or puts on the brakes, stops the bleeding, and earns a pause that allows the forces of freedom to begin the rebuilding. To that end all hands must scamper on deck and focus without distraction on November 2, 2010.
The challenge is that many of the best political minds in the United States are instead focused on helping elect one or another of a dozen possible Republican nominees to the presidency in 2012.
The life-and-death, here-and-now concerns of the conservative movement and the longer term personal and career interests of possible presidential candidates and their retinues can merge. But they can do so only if the movement convinces would-be presidential contenders that they will be judged more on what they contribute to recapturing the House and Senate and increasing Republican control at the state level in the 2010 election cycle than on what speeches they give in 2012.
November 2010 not only gives Republicans the opportunity to recapture the House by winning a net 40 seats and strengthening their position in the Senate to guarantee the ability to filibuster on any issue even if one or two Republicans go "wobbly," but the 37 gubernatorial races, 1,159 state senate seats, and 4,958 house seats at stake will decide who writes the redistricting lines for the U.S. Congress and the state legislatures themselves. If Republicans can win 107 key state legislative races in just 16 states they will fully control the drawing of nine new congressional districts awarded during 2011 reapportionment. A victory in the 107 key races would affect the redrawing of maps in five states projected to lose six congressional districts during 2011 reapportionment, which could ultimately result in a minimum of 20 new Republican U.S. House seats for the next 10 years.
Ed Gillespie, who is organizing the effort to win state legislative seats through the Republican State Leadership Committee, points out that it will cost Republicans 31.5 million non-federal dollars today to win those contested state legislative seats that will create safer Republican House seats that would otherwise cost 255 million federal dollars to hold over the next decade. (This is about as good an investment as one can make in politics.)
We know that candidates for president have to work endless hours to elect themselves. Darwin, Rand, and recent experience remind us of this constant truth. What we need to see from future presidential aspirants is team play. Do they view American politics as an individual sport: "elect me," full stop? Or do they recognize that winning the presidency without control of the House and 60 votes in the Senate will fail to create an opportunity to pull America back from the coming disaster of the entitlement tsunami and the increased debt and state power accumulated under Obama/Reid/Pelosi?
One can "be something" simply by electing oneself. One can only "do something" by helping elect a Republican Congress. Nixon and other examples are painful reminders that lonely presidents have no domestic agenda that matters to history. Or worse, they accept at political gunpoint the political agenda of their enemies.
Candidates who campaign on who can give the best speech or whose advertising team has the coolest ads add nothing to the common good. If they eventually decide not to run or lose in the primaries, they leave no accomplishments behind.
The campaign for 2012 can create a healthy competition among possible nominees to see who can do the most to help elect a Republican House and Senate in 2010. And this has the advantage over most political promises in that the candidates have to deliver first -- this year -- if they want our support for 2012. (One notes that most politicians like to invert this process and promise great party-building accomplishments -- after they have what they want from us: our vote.)
In an effort to get potential presidential hopefuls focused on winning congressional races in 2006, Ken Mehlman, the RNC chairman at the time, offered to participate in "Leadership PAC" fundraisers and encourage major donors to contribute to those who were actively engaged in assisting congressional campaigns.
In the contest to show who can win more House and Senate and gubernatorial and state legislative seats in 2010, even candidates who decide at the end of the day not to seek the presidency or who lose out in the primary will have created a stronger and larger conservative movement and more Republican control in Congress.
All the candidates for the Republican nomination are fully prepared to run the gauntlet of policy litmus tests demanded of would-be leaders of the Reagan Republican Party: Pro-life? Good on guns? Have you signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge against raising taxes? For tort reform? Against Card Check?
To that traditional checklist Republican leaders and conservative activists are now determined to harness the energy of presidential candidates to win and build a conservative majority in the House and Senate by asking all candidates the following questions:
What have you done to help elect other candidates for office? How much money have you raised for other candidates? How many events have you done for other candidates? How much money have you contributed from your own campaign coffers or PAC to other candidates?
What have you done to build the Republican Party in your state? How much money have you raised for the state and local Republican parties? Have you actively campaigned against Democratic incumbents in your state -- or have you bought a separate peace, refusing to campaign against leading Democrats?
And beyond party politics, what have you done to build the conservative movement? Does your state have a conservative think tank? A taxpayer group? A traditional values group? Have you worked with them, helped them raise funds, and promoted their work?
Let's look at some of the expected presidential candidates and how they might help in 2010.
Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, got off to a fast start in providing strong support for Scott Brown's surprising upset in the race for "Teddy Kennedy's" Senate seat. After he left the presidential campaign in 2008, Romney campaigned for and raised money for 28 House and 5 Senate seats. In 2009 Romney did 25 fundraising events for federal and state candidates.
In 2009, Newt Gingrich did 16 events for GOP candidates and 10 events for Republican parties as well as letters and auto calls for candidates and the NRCC and the College Republicans.
Rick Perry, present governor of Texas, took office in 2000 with 72 Republicans in the state house and 16 in the senate, and Texas now boasts 77 state house members and 19 state senators. He gave more than $350,000 of his own campaign funds to Texas candidates in 2008.
Mitch Daniels's major contribution to the Republican Party in 2010 will be in recapturing the state house now controlled by the Democrats 52 to 48 and maintaining GOP control in the senate. There are four possible pickups in congressional seats and the open Senate seat abandoned by Evan Bayh. Daniels could deliver one-tenth of the wins needed to capture both the House and Senate.
Pennsylvania's Rick Santorum can make up for throwing away his own perfectly good Senate seat in 2006 by helping Pat Toomey defeat now-Democrat Arlen Specter and picking up the third, fourth, and tenth Pennsylvania house seats lost in 2006 and 2008. As important would be campaigning to ensure that the Republicans win the governor's race, keep the house, and take the senate -- a three-seat pick-up is needed to allow Republicans to redistrict Pennsylvania's expected 19 U.S. House seats for the next decade.
Sarah Palin has announced she has a target list of 17 House seats (Seventeen? We need a net 40 and there are only 200 days to the November election) and has been campaigning for Michele Bachmann and against Nevada's Harry Reid. Palin has also been active fundraising for the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List.
Tim Pawlenty has formed a PAC and has attended party and candidate fundraisers in Missouri, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Florida. He remains governor through 2010 and could greatly help the party by winning back some of the state legislative seats lost over the past eight years. The GOP went from 81 Republicans in the state house to 47 and from 31 state senators to 21.
Louisiana's governor Bobby Jindal has strengthened his party by helping elect six Republicans in the house and one in the senate. He has worked well with the conservative movement in Louisiana and supported its institutions. As the highest-ranking Indian American in the United States -- and today Indian Americans are the highest-income-earning ethnic group in the country -- Jindal could be a fundraising wonder for Republicans running for anything, anywhere.
Luis Fortuño, the Republican governor of Puerto Rico, while obviously not a U.S. presidential hopeful, offers an object lesson for others on our list. He won control not only of the state-house for the GOP, but also of the Puerto Rican house and senate, and brought about conservative majorities on the supreme court. Fortuño expects to enact full school choice and serious tax rate reduction this year, but his greatest impact on 2010 could be campaigning for Republicans, providing an unexpected opening to the Puerto Rican and Hispanic community. First stop could be in Florida, courting the 250,000-plus Puerto Ricans in the Sunshine State who could help elect a GOP senator (Marco Rubio) as well as maintain the Republican governorship and house and senate for redistricting purposes.
Mike Huckabee, as governor, saw Republican numbers in the Arkansas house climb from 13 to 25 and from 7 to 8 in the state senate. Still, in 2008 Huckabee failed to run against Democratic senator Mark Pryor in a race he would have won. He could have been Scott Brown before there was a Scott Brown and denied the Democrats their 60-seat Senate with which they did so much damage. Huckabee could still use his Fox TV fame and Arkansas roots to help in house and senate races in Arkansas and elsewhere.
Let the competition begin. The candidate who does the most to bring about victories in 2010 deserves the presidency in 2012. And if every candidate competes for 2012 through party building in 2010, the 2012 nomination and presidency will actually be worth the having.