It is well-known from my posts, that I do not support the candidacy of Senator John McCain for President of the United States. Other people have equally strong reasons for their dislike of Governor Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, or Congressman Ron Paul. Still others hope against hope that their chosen leader will yet join or rejoin the contest, such as those who say they will write in former Senator Fred Thompson’s name in their primary. Opinions, and emotions, have been strong among Republicans. To a point, this is all to the good, as such debate sharpens understanding of what our party stands for, and why. We will not choose a Republican version of John Kerry, just because someone has declared that he is the ‘most electable’. But that virtue only works to a point.
I believe that after today, the contest will still be in dispute, though someone will win the most of the contests decided on February 5. But it is entirely possible that McCain will dominate the primaries so strongly as to make it near-certain that he will win the nomination, or that Romney’s surge over the weekend will spur him on to a stunning advantage, or perhaps even Huckabee will produce a surprise as he did in Iowa. Regardless, after today Republicans will have to begin to come to grips with the coalescing of the ticket. There will be sharp disagreement on certain key issues, which simply cannot be glossed over, yet we must never, never forget that Hillary or Obama in the White House will certainly be worse than anything we would see from a Republican President. Whether or not we get a candidate who excites us, the lessons of 1976 and 1992 warn us that we cannot risk a Democrat in the White House, given the candidates they put up on their ticket.
The problem is, the Republican candidate – no matter whom he is – does not have the automatic right to support from the people who disapprove of him and disagree with his policies. All of the candidates still in the race on the Republican side have made statements to the effect that they are the most Reagan-like of the candidates. They should remember 1980, when Reagan took care to address the concerns of all Republicans, and to give fair hearing even to those opinions he did not share. Whether McCain, Romney, or Huckabee, the candidate who wins the nomination must understand that double-talk or arrogance will not win over the Republicans not already on board, that no matter who wins the nomination they have a lot of work to do to mend fences, and that healing the divide in the party must be the top priority between winning the nomination and beginning the general campaign. Taking party support for granted only insures defeat, and the hardest truth is that no matter how much America needs a Republican President, the Republican candidate cannot win the White House simply by claiming the race is over and the party owes support to him, or by ignoring valid criticism and complaint. No one will be compelled to put away discontent or doubt of a candidate they did not support, so Reason alone may hope to settle the dispute. The party nominee, whomever he is, must be bold enough to stand against the Democrats’ onslaught of attacks and slime, yet must also be humble and open to the concerns of his whole party.