My so-called Republican life

According to Nate Silver, the Illinois primary is a must-win for Rick Santorum. Normally, I’d say that means his campaign is dead, as there are few states in which the Republican party is more in tune with a Mitt Romney-style candidate. But there is a glimmer of hope for Santorum, and it rests in the hands of people like me.

Throughout my life, Illinois has been the home of what are now called “moderate” Republican officeholders: Charles Percy, Jim Thompson, Robert Michel, Jim Edgar. These were solid conservatives of the Sinclair Lewis model, more in tune with bankers and businessmen than with bishops and Birchers. In short, Mitt Romney’s kind of people.1

If it were wholly in the hands of Illinois Republicans, I have no doubt Romney would win the primary.

The wild card is that Illinois’ primary is open (or at least semi-open). Democrats like me can ask for a Republican ballot and our votes count just as much as anyone else’s. And since our presidential primary this year is just a formality, many of us may take a Republican ballot and do our best to extend the circus and make life difficult for the inevitable nominee.

Is this unfair? Maybe. But I live in a distinctly Republican district. The Republican primary is the real election for our US Representative and all the state, county, and municipal offices. Unless there’s a serious race on the Democratic side for President or US Senate, voting in that primary is a waste of time—all you get to do is pick the eventual loser in the general election.

In 1992 I was living in a different solidly Republican district and chose to vote in the Republican primary so I could vote against a particularly obnoxious candidate for state representative (or maybe it was the state senate). The presidential race had been decided on both sides, and I wasn’t even thinking about it when I walked into the voting booth and was confronted with a choice between George Bush and Pat Buchanan. Buchanan was, and still is, a thoroughly despicable man, unfit for any office above Kleagle. But I really disliked Bush and wanted nothing more than to cause trouble for him. So I punched the hole next to Buchanan and moved on to the other races.

A few months later, Buchanan—by virtue of the votes he’d collected during the primaries—was given the prime speaking slot on the opening night of the Republican Convention. He gave the “Culture War” speech, which appalled independents and helped deliver the election to Clinton. It’s now most famous for the Molly Ivins joke that it “probably sounded better in the original German.”

So my vote for Buchanan in the primary may have had as much effect as my later vote for Clinton in the general. It’s something I’ll be thinking about as I decide which ballot to use on March 20.

By the way, here are some excerpts from Buchanan’s speech:

Friends, this is radical feminism. The agenda Clinton & Clinton would impose on America–abortion on demand, a litmus test for the Supreme Court, homosexual rights, discrimination against religious schools, women in combat–that’s change, all right. But it is not the kind of change America wants. It is not the kind of change America needs. And it is not the kind of change we can tolerate in a nation that we still call God’s country.


Yes, we disagreed with President Bush, but we stand with him for freedom to choice [sic] religious schools, and we stand with him against the amoral idea that gay and lesbian couples should have the same standing in law as married men and women.


There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself. And in that struggle for the soul of America, Clinton & Clinton are on the other side, and George Bush is on our side.

Twenty years later, I can well imagine Santorum giving that same speech.

  1. It’s true that Illinois has a history of being, um, inhospitable to Mormons, but that’s long in the past.