Warming Up to Hit Hard
MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Just 23 weeks after the second inauguration of the 43rd president, someone who aims to be the 44th came here for the annual luncheon of the New Hampshire Federation of Republican Women. It was a target-rich environment for George Allen.
He has the same name as his father, the late Hall of Fame head coach of the Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins, who was, to say no more, tightly wound, as coaches tend to be. If the son is similarly driven -- and he must be to embark on this marathon -- he conceals it beneath a demeanor akin to Ronald Reagan's, which was once described as "Aw, shucks, I just stepped on my sneaker laces." Except there are no laces on Allen's cowboy boots, which go with the smokeless tobacco in the circular can in his pocket.
One of his father's mantras was "Hit hard and good things will happen." The son, who as a University of Virginia graduate headed Young Virginians for Reagan in the 1976 nomination contest with President Gerald Ford, has Reagan's knack for expressing strong views in an unthreatening manner.
By 2008 it will have been 48 years since the country chose a senator to be president, so the ideal candidate is not a senator, or, if he is, he has been a governor, someone with an executive's temperament and experience. Allen served a single term as governor of Virginia, where the constitution forbids consecutive terms. He is in the fifth year of his first term in the U.S. Senate, which prudence might tell Allen is enough, because full-time campaigning often wins presidential nominations. Asked if he enjoys the Senate, he pauses, then says: "Every now and then. It's better being governor."
The ideal Republican candidate can meld two Republican tendencies that are in tension -- social conservatism and libertarianism. Social conservatives have no complaints with Allen, and libertarians vibrate like tuning forks to his invocations of "Mr. Jefferson," as Virginians refer to their saint of minimal government.
For example, concerning the inheritance tax, which conservatives call the death tax, Allen cites New Hampshire's motto: "We want to 'Live free or die,' but when we die we don't want that to be a taxable event." He says he asked a Virginian, the great-great-great-granddaughter of the state's first governor, Patrick Henry, for permission to paraphrase him: "No taxation without respiration."
One Allen supporter, who, like many New Hampshire conservatives fled liberal Massachusetts -- "I was like a Mennonite living in Las Vegas" -- is the kind of Republican primary voter who relishes Allen's description of New Hampshire as "what America was." As Allen drove from Massachusetts into this state -- one of just nine states without an income tax -- he took note approvingly of motorcyclists riding lawfully, if not wisely, without helmets.
Allen's luncheon speech cited his achievements as governor -- welfare reform, school accountability and the end of "social promotions," abolition of "the lenient, dishonest parole system" -- and his current interest in America's technological competitiveness. The product of a football family, he believes in meritocracy, is implacably opposed to taxation of the Internet and favors government measures to encourage the education of more engineers.
John McCain won New Hampshire's primary in 2000, but party activists regard as a betrayal, not a compromise, the deal he helped fashion to confirm some of the president's judicial nominees while preserving the right to filibuster others. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who is leaving the Senate to pursue the presidency, was hurt by that deal, which prevented him from pleasing the Republican base by ending judicial filibusters.
Allen expects them to be ended, and he hopes the occasion will be the confirmation of William Myers to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, the hyper-liberal and frequently reversed court that declared the Pledge of Allegiance phrase "under God" unconstitutional. Allen says, let the Democrats define themselves by filibustering Myers to preserve the 9th Circuit as it is, while also filibustering John Bolton to preserve the United Nations as it is. Bolton, says Allen, speaking the lingua franca of Republican activists, "will not be seduced by the vacuous platitudes and meaningless pontifications of international bureaucrats."
Four of the first five presidents were Virginians, then one more was, John Tyler, but none since 1840. It could produce two candidates in 2008. Gov. Mark Warner, a red-state Democrat, seems interested in asking Democratic primary voters, "What red state can Hillary Clinton turn blue?" Warner might challenge Allen in next year's Senate race, but not if he is as serious about the presidency as Allen is. Instead, their paths could cross here.