Tweaking the ‘Buckley Rule’ for the tea party era

Ken Blackwell Former Ohio Secretary of State
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Shocking rhetoric does not a tea partier make, nor do all activists make good candidates.

The movement has matured from protesting government largess on the sidelines to actually passing legislation winnowing it. So, too, must it continue to mature in the selection of candidates.

So here we are.

In Alabama last November, discerning conservatives denied Dean Young the Republican nomination to succeed ex-Rep. Jo Bonner. This was serious evidence that we are getting smarter as a movement.

But once again Tea Party and GOP voters in Alabama are faced with the challenge of a nomination which, if not handled smartly, could harm genuine small government conservative candidates nationwide.

As with the contest between Young (whose campaign hyperbole became a national issue) and now-Congressman Bradley Byrne, the wrong choice in Alabama’s sixth district Republican congressional primary could harm Tea Party efforts across the country.

The decision by Congressman Spencer Bachus to forgo reelection in the sixth has triggered an avalanche of Republicans, both announced and lurking, vying to represent the deeply conservative district.

Voters there will soon learn that among that candidate crop is a Young facsimile, whose bombast will likely be assigned to conservatives writ large by Democrats keen to portray the movement as unhinged. And they will discover most of the establishment media is all too willing to assist them.

Last week, state senator Scott Beason announced he’s not running for reelection after 20 years in the state legislature, prompting speculation he will join the sixth district fray.

If he does pursue the seat, it won’t be his first attempt. He challenged Bachus two years earlier in the Republican primary but was defeated so handily he failed to win majority support in his hometown.

Should he run again, he will as before appeal to Republicans as the true conservative in the race. But let’s be clear: shocking rhetoric does not a tea partier make.

Beason found himself in hot water in 2011 when, in the course the course of an FBI investigation into government corruption, was recorded referring to African-Americans as “aborigines.” He has since apologized for the comments.

Like Young, whose intemperate comments became a campaign fixture, Beason’s missteps could harm the entire conservative moment.

In primaries, our responsibility as conservatives is to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Do not underestimate the massive influence of the liberal mainstream media, which will be positively giddy with the prospect of saddling tea party candidates nationwide with the gaffes and missteps of the candidate that wins this race. The stakes are too high to allow that.

From his perch at National Review, Bill Buckley measured candidates by asking, who’s the most conservative candidate who can win? But in today’s exceedingly hostile media environment, the famed “Buckley Rule” needs some tweaking: who’s the most conservative candidate who can win and won’t embarrass us?

Dr. Chad Mathis is the candidate many conservatives think is the strongest in the field. He meets the “Buckley Rule,” both original and tweaked.

A movement conservative with a spine to go toe-to-toe with the White House and Senate Democrats, Mathis can win this seat. And he won’t be a drag on other conservatives elsewhere in the process. That’s why organizations like Citizens United and RedState are supporting his campaign.

Dr. Mathis decided to roll up his sleeves and and run for office for the first time because, like so many of us, he’s fed up with the big-spending and overreach of the Obama administration.

His background, as a surgeon and small businessman, is encouraging. It shows he’s signed the back of a paycheck, not merely voted as a lawmaker to take greater portions of those belonging to taxpayers.

We need more conservative fighters who hold true to principles and do so in a manner that unites Americans. As I talk with conservatives in Alabama and elsewhere in the movement, a growing number are saying, “We need Chad Mathis.”

Let the debate begin!

Ken Blackwell is a best-selling author and conservative political commentator. He is a former mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio Treasurer and Secretary of State.