The 2004 Republican primary in Georgia stands out in my memory. My older brother Kirby, who lives in Douglas County, Ga., and who is not famous for his political correctness (I put it mildly), called me in Washington that spring raving with enthusiasm for Herman Cain.
A businessman who made a fortune as an executive in the food-service industry, Cain is solidly conservative and preaches a pro-free-market message of individual empowerment. Cain sold his company, Godfather's Pizza, and entered the Senate race to replace retiring Sen. Zell Miller. If elected, Cain would have become the first black senator from Georgia since Reconstruction, and his endorsement by my politically incorrect brother struck me as highly signficant.
Alas, the primary was won by Rep. Johnny Isakson, who became a congressman by winning the special election to replace Newt Gingrich, who had stepped down after the 1998 election. Isakson had a reputation among Georgia Republicans as a squishy moderate, and I've always blamed his Senate victory over Cain on interference in that primary by the national GOP apparatus, particularly then-RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman and Bush political advisor Karl Rove.
During the Bush years, one often sensed the Mehlman-Rove thumb on the scales in key Republican primaries. The influence of that thumb was explicit in the 2004 Pennsylvania primary where Pat Toomey challenged Arlen Specter. The NRSC moved heaven and earth to defend Specter, and the White House put heavy pressure on Sen. Rick Santorum, forcing him to abandon his preferred neutrality and endorse Specter.
In the Georgia Senate race that year, the Mehlman-Rove thumb was not explicit, and they would probably deny interfering at all, but . . . Well, let's just say that the White House didn't do Herman Cain any favors. You hear things, y'know what I'm saying?
And so I told you that long story because today, Red State's Erick Erickson has a post about Isakson's enthusiastic endorsement of the ObamaCorps Youth Slavery Act. It's the kind of anti-freedom legislation that no friend of liberty could ever support, so once again Isakson betrays his unprincipled establishmentarianism by supporting it.
It's dumbass moves like this -- and this is certainly not the first such move by Isakson -- that make me think, "Damn, if only Herman Cain had been elected!"
The official national GOP apparatus should always be strictly neutral in contested Republican primaries, even where incumbents like Specter are facing primary challenges (as Specter is again this year from Pat Toomey). The NRSC and the NRCC should never spend a dime to defend an incumbent in a race like that; such favoritism is a violation of principle that kills grassroots enthusiasm.
However, the Republican Party is a conservative party, and if the party's national leaders should ever get involved individually in contested GOP primaries, then they should, in general, favor the more conservative candidate. Otherwise, they forfeit their claim to legitimacy as conservatives. The national Republicans who backed Isakson in the 2004 primary should feel ashamed of themselves.
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