Thursday, October 1, 2009

Personal Aside: Is Roskam Going the Rick Santorium Route?


Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) who succeeded Henry Hyde in the 6th district has a perfect social conservative voting and advocacy record. Like Hyde he is a personable, attractive salesman for his issues which include pro-life, anti-embryo research and a strong military. In the state senate he was the social conservatives’ go-to guy and logically gravitated as Hyde’s ideological successor.

But while Hyde had a wealth of Democratic friends in the House and also was highly respected by many liberal Republicans (notably the North Shore’s manifestly pro-abort Rep. John Edward Porter), the convivial Henry…whom I knew well for over 40 years… never made the mistake of diluting his conservative base by touting the candidacy of Republican pro-aborts in either House or Senate. When Porter was challenged by conservatives, Hyde kept mum: neutral where Porter was concerned. In other states he would occasionally endorse like-minded conservatives in primary races. But essentially, both men—Hyde and Porter--knew the value of sticking close to their allies in elections: negotiations on legislation was something else.

Roskam worked as a staffer for Henry and more than most, he should understand how important it is not to risk diluting a valuable brand in party intramural contests and that Hyde always supported social conservative regulars and never mixed brands. Thus with his steadfastness until his death, Henry earned the best of the political world: beloved by many on both sides of the aisle (Jesse Jackson, Jr. among others whom Henry regarded fondly) but staying firm with his philosophical convictions and retaining his conservative ballast.

Unwisely, Roskam has not followed that course, evidently believing that since the tenor of Illinois is highly liberal and he’d better show some evident accommodation to it. Thus he has engaged in a kind of political Damon and Pythias act with fellow Republican Rep. Mark Kirk, one of the most vehement pro-aborts in the House. The act bolsters Kirk but demeans Roskam. Roskam and Kirk are diametrically opposite on major issues. Kirk is an advocate of partial birth abortion, embryonic stem cell federal research, opponent of “Born Alive” and if opposition to his party’s social issues were not enough, has carved out an unvarying record of support for liberalism on many issues: notably one which sorely disturbs the establishment GOP country clubbers, Cap and Trade.

Now Kirk has a serious primary opponent in Patrick Hughes of Hinsdale who shares every ingredient of Roskam’s philosophy. Roskam could have remained neutral as does Kirk Dillard—but Roskam backs Kirk. This is the antithesis of what Hyde would do. It smacks of blatant opportunism. There are those who say that by doing this and failing to stay neutral Roskam is playing a waiting game: hoping to use a future Senator Mark Kirk to help him skim off some liberal good-will in the future to avoid being clobbered by Democrats in the next redistricting go-round. It’s the age-old argument of the RINOs: do good unto the liberals and a big percentage of liberal voters will do good unto you while you take your base for granted. But it is a foolish game, born of too-cute opportunistic rationalizing.

The political graveyards are littered with RINOs who have believed that. After years of dutiful service to liberalism, Chuck Percy through the years steadily destroyed a residual conservative base he started with in 1964 when he ran for governor and later in 1966 when he first went to the Senate. His veering away from conservatism from the first day he walked into the Senate chamber was comedic: culminating when he endorsed Nelson Rockefeller for president and his glowing countenance when his daughter married a Rockefeller. After his narrow victory in 1978 he surveyed his tattered conservative remnant after his near defeat by conservative Dem Alex Seith and issued a public apology to conservatives: that he would listen to them once again and reconsider his course. He didn’t and when he came up against Paul Simon in 1984 he was overwhelmed: the liberals he had romanced deserted him and the conservatives didn’t care.

Nor did it work for Rich Williamson, a pro-lifer when he managed Phil Crane for President against Ronald Reagan no less but who did an instant changeover on abortion when he opposed Carol Mosley Braun. It didn’t work for Al Salvi who kept his conservative base strong enough to beat a RINO Bob Kustra but who gave it away later by renouncing his earlier position on the 2nd amendment which sealed his career forever.

Will Roskam be the latest to prove this truism?

“He’s playing it too cute,” one veteran conservative told me, “and he’s really taking great chances with his base—for what? For Mark Kirk who is about as constant as a weather-vane? Who touted his conservative credentials on military but rushed to the floor to announce his opposition to George Bush’s Iraq Surge which stabilized the war?”

Roskam’s pro-life base has been shaken with his chummy almost buddy-buddy support of Kirk. In doing so, says Paul Caprio, veteran conservative and family issues leader, Roskam is ignoring what happened to another pro-life leader…probably social conservatism’s number one champion in the Senate, Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) Santorum climbed aboard the bandwagon of militant pro-abort Sen. Arlen Specter in the same hotly contested primary (serving as Specter’s campaign co-chair) which saw Hyde…chairman of House Judiciary… support Senate Judiciary Chairman Specter’s opponent, Toomey. Specter narrowly won re-nomination.

But let Caprio, an early backer of Roskam when he was in the legislature and now major consultant for Pat Hughes, re-tell the story of Santorum and Specter.

Santorum backed Specter over the man who agreed with Santorum on most if not everything, says Caprio—“and in the process shattered the loyalty of his base.”

Then in 2006 when Sanctorum ran again he found that, many of his followers were angry at his seemingly opportunistic maneuvers in behalf of Specter. To make matters worse, the Democrats’ reigning Svengali, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) who with his broad Brooklyn wise-guy “Noo Yawk” accent could play the part far better than the late John Barrymore in any updated film version of “Trilby” chose as opponent to Santorum an ostensible pro-lifer, Attorney General Bob Casey…son of a legendary pro-life Democratic governor…as the nominee.

Santorum spent $8 million more than Casey but lost 59% to 41%. Key reason: Casey cut into Santorum’s principled base which was sorely weakened by Santorum’s having served as general co-chairman of the Specter reelection. Upshot: Casey for all practical purposes abandoned pro-life in his quest for the vice presidency with pro-abort Barack Obama and Specter went south on the Republican party…and Svengali Schumer is still chortling up his sleeve.

Caprio says Roskam is following the Santorum direction. Today, private citizen Toomey is running for the Senate on the Republican side to oppose Specter and he’s leading. The conservative base remembers that Toomey has been constant in his philosophy and is enraged that Specter bailed out of his own party as soon as he perceived he would lose to Toomey in the primary. Something about that duplicity strikes the base as unfair and unprincipled.

The purpose of this history lesson? Peter Roskam—take note.

Hyde would have been officially neutral in the Kirk-Hughes race but would have acknowledged to many that he agreed with Hughes more.

That’s because Hyde always valued his base, recognizing who his friends were.

And it appears Roskam doesn’t.

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