Where Have All the Conservatives Gone? Right Runs Out of Potential Presidents

Where have all the conservatives gone?

Are there going to be any running for President?

First it was Virginia’s George Allen, the great white hope, the George on a horse, the governor with a smile, on his way to a White House run, once he got past that frisky re-election campaign.

He was, less than a short year ago, the Hotline’s unknown front-runner, the insider’s best guess, the neocon’s next new best friend.

Now, thanks to a Macaca joke, a ham sandwich joke, a terrible campaign, and some smart moves by senator-elect Jim Webb, he’s toast.

Then there was Rick Santorum. Mr. Conservative. Surely he would at least make a run. Give the hard core a place to be. Just as soon as he got past his Senate re-election campaign in Pennsylvania. The number three Senate Republican and conservative stalwart is as good a friend as conservatives have in the Senate.

Correction: Had. History.

Hello Bob Casey. Goodbye Rick Santorum. Another one bites the dust.

Which should have been good news for Bill Frist, the Tennessee doctor and retiring Senate Majority Leader who also had close ties to conservatives. With Allen gone, and Santorum gone, Frist would seem to have been in position to inherit much of the conservative support on the Republican side.

White House ambitions? Frist had already built the house in Tennessee with pillars. All he needed was the one in D.C.

But it now appears as if the only pillars Frist will be living behind are the ones in Tennessee. This week, he pulled out too.

What’s happening?

Conventional wisdom, in this case yet to be proven wrong, holds that the party nominating process is dominated by ideological activists, on the right for Republicans and on the left for Democrats. You can hear the ones on the left; they’re making all that noise for Obama to get in the race.

But what about the folks on the right?

Are they going to have anybody left to support after all their candidates get done dropping out of the race?

What’s going on here?

Next thing you know, someone will start explaining to me that John McCain really is a hard core conservative....

Of course, Mr. McCain is not quite as liberal as his neck-and-neck rival, Mr. Giuliani, who supports abortion rights and gay rights (can you believe I’m writing these sentences comparing the front-runners for the Republican nomination on the abortion and gay rights issues?)

But on a host of other issues — from judicial filibusters, to campaign finance reform, to bipartisanship and support for George Bush — there is a reason that my Democrat friends feel more warmly towards John McCain than do the conservatives I usually spar with on Fox.

If the conservatives dominate the Republican party, why can’t they come up with a candidate to run for president, even two years out?

I know, there’s that long shot governor from Arkansas with a story to tell (in the Republican’s case, the story is about losing weight, I kid you not), but any comparisons to my former governor of Arkansas are vastly overstated.

After all, Bill Clinton was hardly an unknown, as Mike Huckabee is, when he ran in 1992; Clinton had been the “boy wonder” of politics for decades at that point; had been a much talked about potential candidate already in 1988; had a national network of supporters dating back from his own days as an organizer for McGovern in 1972; was one of the founders of the Democratic Leadership Council; in other words, was already a national figure. Not so the current Arkansas governor.

Which leaves one of my favorite Republicans, the governor of my home State, Massachusetts, Mitt Romney. Mr. Romney is a conservative, but he is a Mormon conservative.

Will Southern Baptists vote for a Mormon for president? That’s what I keep asking. And the answers I get are mixed, to say the least.

You think it’s tough being Catholic, John Kerry.

You think it’s tough being a woman, Hillary Clinton.

You think it’s tough being black, Barack Obama.

No one will face the prejudice this election season that Mitt Romney will face as a Mormom.

And it is conservatives who will be the ones who must confront their own biases.

Stay tuned.

Which is worse?

A conservative Mormon or a moderate Christian?

Republicans may yet be forced to decide.

Or else to find their own version of a conservative Barack.

Click here to read Susan's response to your email .

Click here to link to Susan's new book, "Soulless."

Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission.

Estrich's books include the just published "Soulless," "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System," "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders," "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women" and "Sex & Power," currently a Los Angeles Times bestseller.

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel.

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