Things aren’t working out well for Alan Keyes. The perennial candidate with a worse electoral track record than Harold Stassen spent most of his adult lifetime in the Republican Party. He lasted in the Constitution Party for less than two weeks. After his defeat at the hands of relatively unknown members of a small third party, Keyes the pro-life stalwart analogized his political career to an abortion.
On entering the race, Keyes was the biggest-name presidential candidate the Constitution Party had ever attracted. But he disagreed with the paleoconservative party’s positions on the Iraq war and foreign policy more generally. Keyes’s supporters tried to modify the platform and were overwhelmingly defeated. Shortly afterward, so was Keyes himself.
Chuck Baldwin — a preacher, radio show host, and columnist who actually agreed with the Constitution Party’s platform on the issues in question — beat Keyes 3-to-1, a margin worthy of Barack Obama or Barbara Mikulski. Paleocons praised the Constitutionalists for sticking to their principles, which they did, but Keyes’s odd notions about how to win friends and influence people also contributed to his drubbing.
Many activists wanted Keyes to play some role in the Constitution Party but had misgivings about making him the nominee. He managed to alienate members of this group by offending them in conference calls and refusing to consider the vice presidential slot, which ended up going to Darrell Castle. “It would have been best for Alan to take a cue from the Bible,” said Georgia state chairman Ricardo Davis. “When you come into the room, don’t go for the nice chair in the front given to those who are honored lest you be told to get up and get to the back pew. It is better to come in the room and take the back pew and have someone say ‘Alan, come and take the seat of honor.'”
Keyes wasn’t exactly magnanimous in defeat, either. He said that the party whose nomination he sought was “governed by a spirit of dictatorship and despotism.” In the same interview, Keyes protested that he had been invited into the Constitution Party and then likened himself to a fetus being aborted in the womb:
In the act of procreation, people are joyfully, ecstatically, with great joy in every fiber of their being, saying “yes” to the coming of that new life. And then in abortion, they kill it. So what, in fact, my political career is, is the paradigm and pattern of that which I am trying to stop for the child. I kind of represent, in political terms, the abortion. You’re invited in, then they kill you. You’re invited in, then they kill you.
Debates about whether Keyes was shafted by Howard Phillips and the Constitution Party will rage on among third-party aficionados for years, like the arguments between those who say Pat Buchanan took over the Reform Party in 2000 and the brigade members who maintain he was robbed by Ross Perot. (Though at least Buchanan actually won the party’s nomination.) But there’s a larger question: How did a man who was once considered a conservative rising star and one of the more promising young Reagan administration alumni turn into the punch line of a cruel political joke?
It seems hard to believe now, but Keyes was once in heavy demand. Jeane Kirkpatrick brought him into her United Nations delegation, a career move that came back to haunt him in the out-of-the-UN Constitution Party. In 1988, the Maryland Republican Party recruited Keyes to run for the Senate to replace another candidate. The Illinois GOP did the same in 2004. In 1992, Keyes actually beat 14 other candidates in a Republican primary to make his second run for the Senate, his only win at the ballot box (one wonders if any of the others put “lost election to Alan Keyes” on their resume).
Keyes even launched his first presidential bid after being drafted by a group of pro-life Georgians who were impressed by a series of impassioned speeches he made on behalf of their preferred candidate in the 1994 GOP gubernatorial primary. His second run for the White House won him third place in the Iowa caucuses, a million primary votes, and a short-lived talk show on MSNBC.
Yet for all Keyes’s rhetorical brilliance, there are reasons he has found himself on the losing end of so many landslides. “I would rather bankrupt my family than live any longer with policies and views that are bankrupting my country, morally as well as financially,” he thundered during his 1992 Senate race. “I will campaign against Barbara Mikulski on foot in the streets and sleep in homeless shelters if I have to, but I will never give up.” In fact, Keyes paid himself an $8,500-a-month salary out of his campaign funds and then denounced national Republican leaders for racism when they did not give him more money and a prime speaking slot at the convention.
When Keyes accepted the Illinois Republican Party’s invitation to jump state lines to run against Barack Obama, it became difficult even for some of his admirers to deny that he was a man in search of a podium. From arguing that Jesus Christ would not vote for Obama to calling Mary Cheney “a selfish hedonist,” he also became a shrill parody of himself.
By the time Keyes appeared onstage at the Des Moines Register debate last December, conservatives had grown tired of his shtick. Asked what he was actually doing to campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, Keyes insisted to National Review‘s Byron York, “I have had several campaign events here in Iowa, but I will not define those events as you do.” How did he define them, then? “[E]very time somebody comes forward and takes the [online pledge to support Keyes], that’s an Iowa event.” And every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.
There is no word yet on whether Keyes will soldier on as an independent, but his national political director is sore with the Constitution Party. “They just rejected the most qualified man to be president,” he sulked to the Kansas City Star. “Chuck Baldwin will have no impact on this election whatsoever.” No electoral defeat has had any impact on Keyes before, so why should this time be any different?