- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2000

Conservatives find themselves in a peculiar situation going into a presidential election.
For the first time in 40 years, their movement has no big-name national leaders.
"Who are the movement's leaders is a difficult question to answer," said Mike Farris, a Virginia-based social-conservative leader. "I don't think there are any now."
Down the road, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the probable Republican nominee for president, could emerge as the man who restores might to the right. "If he is elected and performs the way I expect him to, he will become the leader of the conservative movement," said Mr. Farris, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor of Virginia in 1993.
For now, leader-starved conservatives say they have memories and unfulfilled hopes, but little else. Barry Goldwater is dead. Ronald Reagan is retired. Newt Gingrich is in eclipse. Jack Kemp is not running for anything. Steve Forbes is back at his magazine job.
Pat Buchanan, a 40-year defender of the social-conservative faith, has dumped the Republican Party, endorsed campaign finance reform and teamed up with a black Marxist, Lenora Fulani, in quest of Ross Perot's blessing and the Reform Party presidential nomination.
Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority has been defunct for years. Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition went into decline. The coalition's former executive director, Ralph Reed, went into the campaign consultancy business.
And Gary Bauer, at 53 the youngest of the aspirants to conservative leadership, is in the doghouse with many on the political right.
Even conservative leaders say, paradoxically, that their movement has no leaders by which they mean no stars.
Veteran conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly said, "Hmm. That's a problem. Who are the leaders today?"
Mr. Bauer, attempting to answer the same question, paused for several moments, then said: "I don't know."
Howard Phillips, who headed the Office of Economic Opportunity in the Reagan administration, said, "There is no one with the combination of resources and microphone who is unfurling the conservative standard today."
But former Reagan administration Attorney General Edwin Meese III maintained that there are no movement chiefs with "mainstream media" star appeal in part because the movement "is considerably larger than ever before."
"It has more constituencies legal, home-schooling, think tanks, governors, lawmakers, media and more leaders of those constituencies," he said.
"And who are the liberal leaders who are any more prominent than today's conservative leaders?" Mr. Meese asked.
Nonetheless, the political right normally looks to conservative elected officials for national leadership, but "there is a job vacancy here," Mr. Farris said.
Mrs. Schlafly agreed. "Conservatives were not able to coalesce around a candidate in '96, the Christian Coalition lost credibility with its enthusiastic backing of Bob Dole, and Gingrich was a terrible disappointment," she said. "I guess [House Majority Whip] Tom DeLay is the best leader we've got up there. Otherwise, I don't think there are any real, identifiable conservative leaders today."
Some conservatives once thought Mr. Bauer was on his way to that title until he dropped out of the Republican presidential nomination contest and endorsed Arizona Sen. John McCain, who then proceeded to attack Mr. Robertson and Mr. Falwell.
That angered social conservatives and caused Mr. Bauer to suffer collateral damage as the Republican Party closed ranks behind Mr. Bush.
"There are people who think John McCain walks on water and if he proves to be a long-lived phenomenon, then Gary will be seen as a comer and not as a has-been," said Bauer friend Frank J. Gaffney Jr., who was assistant defense secretary when Mr. Bauer ran the Reagan White House domestic-policy shop.
"Gary was a leader," Mrs. Schlafly said. "But a lot of people were disappointed that he endorsed McCain after McCain made one of his statements critical of the Republican pro-life platform. It remains to be seen what Gary's standing is."
"Gary is an enigma, as opposed to being a good or evil person," said Mr. Farris. "For years, he was clearly on the same basic team as everyone else in the social-conservative movement, and suddenly it's like, 'Do we really know you, Gary? We don't know how to figure you out.' "
For some conservatives, Mr. Bauer had wandered off the reservation when he praised Social Security, a minimum-wage increase and taxpayer subsidies for farmers and then climbed aboard Mr. McCain's campaign finance reform bandwagon.
"His participation with McCain in the 'let's bash Falwell and Robertson' speech and his attempt to defend the speech for a few days finally destroyed his credibility with social conservatives," Mr. Farris said.
But Mr. Bauer, citing evidence that his credibility appears undamaged, at least outside the Beltway, said he continues "to receive requests to speak to social-conservative audiences, and they respond with standing ovations to the same pro-family, pro-life message I have presented for 20 years."
Despite his setbacks, Mr. Bauer now talks like a man who has acquired a taste for campaigning. He told The Washington Times that in deciding last year to run, he made "a sea-change decision to be back overtly in the political arena not as outside lobbyist, but as a participant, an equal in the political debate among those competing to offer the country a governing vision."
"And that is what I intend to do with the rest of my life," Mr. Bauer said.
He plans to earn a living on the speech circuit and by drawing a salary as head of his Campaign for Working Families political action committee, which seeks donations to distribute to federal and state candidates.
He also will draw income from American Values, a small research and public-policy group, where he is putting together a team of allies and former campaign aides. "I am going to do everything I can to defeat [likely Democratic presidential nominee Vice President] Al Gore, but if that fails, I'm certainly leaving the door open to another [nomination] run in the future."
As for his future with the Arizona senator, Mr. Bauer said he will work with Mr. McCain whenever there's something they agree on, but "we've not talked about combining our efforts or anything like that."
He says it is too early to tell if his association with Mr. McCain has hurt him permanently with the Christian conservative movement.
"Some of the tension right now is due to colleagues and friends having a hard time thinking of me as someone who has entered the political arena instead of my old role as a lobbyist for the movement," Mr. Bauer said.
In fact, many Republicans awarded him high marks on the stump. "The highlight of his candidacy was his performance in the debates," said Scott Reed, who managed Bob Dole's 1996 Republican presidential campaign.
Meanwhile, with no sure bets to fill the conservative leadership vacuum, people like Mr. Farris are looking to redefine the job.
"We are at a stage in the history of the movement when there aren't any clear leaders," he said. "And my hope is we move beyond the stage of having two or three principal spokesmen to having a team of a couple of dozen who can carry it forward on the basis of ideas rather than personality."

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