John Avlon enthusiastically touts former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge for Senate against Arlen Specter. He naturally focuses on Ridge’s strong biography and impressive electoral history. But he’s troubled by conservatives who point out that Ridge has some Specter-like tendencies himself:
The Club for Growth is supposed to be a libertarian organization, devoted to fiscal issues only, remember? But when they say that Tom Ridge isn’t conservative enough, they can’t be talking about his military record or his tax cuts or his spending record or his national security credentials. They’re not talking about support for gay marriage (Ridge doesn’t.) They’re talking about choice — which without delving too deeply into a well-trod debate — is supposedly the essence of libertarianism.
Not surprisingly, this is incorrect. The issues on which Ridge “isn’t conservative enough” far exceed abortion. Take those “national security credentials”: While in Congress, Ridge voted against the Strategic Defense Initiative, against the MX missile, against aid to the Contras, and for the nuclear freeze. Ridge coauthored with a Democrat a successful amendment to cut SDI funding from $4.9 billion to $3.1 billion. He was, in fact, a leading anti-SDI Republican.
On economic issues, Ridge was once one of 19 House Republicans who voted to increase the minimum wage, was a vocal opponent of the first President Bush’s efforts to cut the capital gains tax, and raised the gasoline tax as governor. Between 1984 and 1988, Congressional Quarterly rated him as being more likely to oppose President Reagan’s position on a given issue than support it. Finally, he voted to expand welfare eligiblity and in favor of the Fairness Doctrine.
Ridge was definitely better as governor than he was in Congress, and he has obviously since run the federal Department of Homeland Security (whether that’s seen by voters as a national-security plus or a bureaucracy minus remains to be seen). He’s got solid numbers. I’m not taking a position on his candidacy. But to say that Ridge’s conservative critics are focused exclusively on abortion is just plain wrong.