While the media was obsessing about the latest Hillary-Obama feud, the 34th annual Conservative Political Action Conference was taking place in Washington D.C. this past weekend. Every declared Republican presidential candidate, except Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), was present at the event to woo the conservative base.

Scott Bell
John Stiglich

While I was not able to attend this year, bloggers who did attend the event were unanimous on one observation – Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney separated themselves from the field. Unfortunately, only one of these men can earn the Republican Party’s nomination.

The fact that America’s mayor, Rudy Giuliani, has survived this long and is rated the highest in national polls is surprising. Giuliani is an inspiring leader who demonstrated his executive abilities by cleaning up a decrepit New York City in the 1990s and handling the aftermath of Sept. 11 with class.

But Giuliani is a pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-gay rights, twice divorced New York Catholic in a party full of pro-life, pro-gun, pro-marriage, southern Protestants. If he can convince the pro-life wing of the Republican Party that his promise to nominate judges in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas is sincere, he will have a real shot at winning the nomination. Short of that, Giuliani will have to settle for a cabinet post.

Most polls have former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney ranked fourth behind Giuliani, McCain and Gingrich, but Romney had to be encouraged by his first place finish in the CPAC straw poll. The way I see it, Romney has two salient problems: He was the governor of “Taxachusetts” and he is Mormon.

Normally, being a Republican governor in a blue state is something of a badge of honor, but there is no state in the union that conservatives hate more than Massachusetts. Furthermore, Romney’s religion presents a unique problem. While there isn’t a religion test in the Constitution, there certainly is one in the Republican Party, and many partisans are concerned about the tenets of Mormonism. With Romney out of contention, there is only one policy innovator left.

Although he has not declared his candidacy, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is in a delicious position to enter the 2008 race as the Republican Party’s savior. Given the state of our Bush-whacked country and the sorry showing by Republicans in the 2006 midterms, Republicans are going to have to remake their image through another revolution. Gingrich would be the only candidate in the field at the forefront of two major conservative revolutions – Reagan’s in 1980 and the Republican Revolution in 1994. If Republicans are serious about returning to core principles, there is no better candidate.

Since he left the House in the late 1990s, Gingrich has devoted himself to doing what he does best – crafting conservative policies. His fellowship at the American Enterprise Institute has given him access to the best conservative thinktank in Washington and allowed him to build his 2008 platform from the ground up.

In 2005, Newt released some of his platform in his book “Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract with America.” Unlike the literary works of Barack Obama, the book provided detailed descriptions of policies that would secure the homeland, keep our economy thriving and educate future generations of leaders. Book signings, college circuit tours and appearances on Fox News have given Gingrich opportunities to spread his message while reminding conservatives exactly how brilliant he is. More importantly, Newt’s rising poll numbers within the conservative base indicate that the statute of limitations on his mishandling of the Clinton impeachment and his own marital infidelity has expired.

Newt has repeatedly said he will not decide on his candidacy until September, which leaves Giuliani, McCain and Romney plenty of time to waste their money on convincing the base that they really believe in conservative principles. By then, I expect wealthy conservative donors to be so turned off by the candidate courting process that they will turn to Gingrich with war chests open, begging him to lead one last revolution. Then, it will be up to him to convince Americans that electing a competent executive is more important than electing a saint.

– John Stiglich is can be reached at jcsgolf@umich.edu.

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