Ed Gillespie, a 'Conservative's Conservative'

Gillespie has what it takes to help the GOP win back the Old Dominion.

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Senior adviser Ed Gillespie briefs reporters as they accompany Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to Weyers Cave-Shenandoah Valley Airport in Weyers Cave, Va., Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012.
Ed Gillespie

The 2014 election is the GOP's best and perhaps last chance to retake control of the United States Senate. The open seats and vulnerable Democrats are almost all in Romney country. The party can be aggressive on offense while sticking to a largely prevent defense unless, that is, infighting between so-called conservatives and the so-called establishment derails the Republicans' effort to get to 51 seats.

On paper, everything looks good for the GOP. It currently leads on the all-important generic ballot test. President Barack Obama's approval numbers are falling and are, at this time in office, the worst for any post-war chief executive since Richard Nixon. Voter angst over the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care continues to rise, potentially setting the stage for the defeat of many of the Democrats who not only voted for it but echoed Obama's lie that anyone who liked the health care plan they had could keep it.

Unfortunately, the GOP has more or less been in this position before and, thanks to some surprising primary victories and poor candidate recruitment, failed to significantly increase the size of the Senate caucus in what were otherwise good elections.

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One place where continued infighting could have done great damage is Virginia which, until Barack Obama, had not gone to the Democrats for president since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Party squabbling hampered Republican Ken Cuccinelli's gubernatorial bid from the beginning and that, coupled with his failure to mount an aggressive, even effective campaign, cost the GOP all three statewide offices in 2013.

The Democrats had been hoping the string would continue to play out and that GOP in-fighting would keep the party from recruiting a candidate with enough political heft to take on first term Sen. Mark Warner, who made his reputation as a moderate governor but, since entering the Senate, has basically towed the liberal line set down by Obama and enforced by Senate Majority Harry Reid. Unfortunately for them, former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie is getting ready to throw his hat in the ring.

Gillespie, who also served as state party chairman for a brief time, is a candidate all wings of the Virginia GOP can endorse enthusiastically. There are some party activists – several of whom are political consultants with skin in the game and wannabe leaders – saying Gillespie is not conservative enough, but so far they are few and far between. In most quarters, the potential Gillespie candidacy is considered a home run.

Consider his record: He's an experienced pol and an effective communicator who knows how campaigns should be run. More than one national GOP leader has relied on his counsel and he was, at the staff level, an important leader in his party's successful effort to end 40 years of Democratic control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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Some describe him as "a conservative's conservative," pointing to his work for, among others, former U.S. Rep. Dick Armey, former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour and former President George W, Bush, whom he advised during his 2000 campaign, served as RNC chairman and counseled inside the White House during Bush's second term.

As a young congressional staffer he was part of the team that made a back bench Republican House member from Texas named Dick Armey a national conservative leader. He helped Armey develop and pass the base closings plan that put him on the political map. With Armey, he pushed for the adoption of a flat rate income tax and stood shoulder to shoulder with him as he put the House Republican Conference on record as opposing efforts to increase income tax rates at the very time George H.W. Bush was out at Andrews Air Force Base giving the store away to satisfy the demands of congressional Democrats.

At the Joint Economic Committee, where he served as staff director – also under Armey – Gillespie headed up the effort to produce a significant portion of the intellectual ammunition used in the successful campaign to beat back First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's health care initiative. Most importantly, Gillespie played a key role in Armey's successful campaign to oust Californian Jerry Lewis as chairman of the House Republican Conference, giving party conservatives a key foothold in the House leadership and setting the stage for the 1994 takeover of Congress.

From the Republican National Committee, Gillespie worked with Haley Barbour in support of the Contract with America – a list of conservative objectives and examples of what the Republicans would do if the voters entrusted them with control of the House and of which he was the principle drafter. It's signature line, "A campaign promise is one thing – a signed contract is another," along with the request that the voters should "throw us out – we mean it" if they failed to honor what it promised, altered the course of the election. Indeed, the contract set the nation's domestic agenda for at least the next two years, making possible things like the landmark welfare reform bill that President Bill Clinton twice vetoed before signing on the eve of his party's national convention.

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As an aide to President George W. Bush, Gillespie urged him successfully to speak for the first time to conservatives gathered at CPAC, to the annual March for Life, and to give the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, to Illinois Rep. Henry Hyde – to whom many conservatives looked as the congressional leader of the pro-life cause. On the domestic side Gillespie, as recounted by the New York Times' Peter Baker in his book "Days of Fire," helped block a last ditch effort by other White House insiders to sign off on a cap and trade policy to combat global warming.

There's a lot more that could be said but, to most people – and certainly to the Democrats campaigning and running ads against him should he run for the U.S. Senate – Ed Gillespie is clearly a Reaganite, a movement conservative who would be an excellent addition to the GOP's numbers in the Senate.

In Gillespie, the GOP may have a strong candidate to oust an incumbent who should be vulnerable, who is more liberal than most Virginia voters suspect or would be comfortable with if they knew what his voting record actually was. Gillespie can raise the money, pull together the team, unite the party and start the Republicans down the path to victory.

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