For years certain characteristics defined a Mainstreet Republican. These Republicans were wary of taxes, skeptical of government action and suspicious of foreign entanglements. That strand dominated Republican politics until 1976. That year, Ronald Reagan’s forces lobbied for an amendment calling for morality in foreign policy. While the measure angered Henry Kissinger, author of the policy of “detente” with the Soviet Union, Gerald Ford’s political handlers were faced with a choice: accept the amendment or risk losing the nomination to Reagan. They chose to install the amendment. The decision came from President Ford’s campaign manager, James Baker, who is today the ultimate executor of the Kissinger-Scowcroft “realistic” tradition.
Nowadays, you don’t hear much about this old Republican tradition from the current crop of Republican candidates. McCain, Giuliani, Romney — all of them more or less are carrying forward the Reaganite idea of morality in foreign policy. But there is one potential candidate who could represent this older Republican strand, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. I write about him this week in my column in The New York Sun. Charles Hinderliter, the man behind Hagel for President 2008, says traffic on his blog has grown six-fold since Hagel spoke out about the Bush Administration’s call for a surge last week.
Jeff Bell, a former aide to Reagan at the 1976 convention, says the convention fight that year represented a fundamental shift among the GOP rank and file. He argues that because many of the same social conservatives who took over the party with Reagan in 1980 also maintain this foreign policy view it’s impossible for a contrary candidate to gain traction. A Hagel candidacy will test that premise.