February 20, 2008
defeat of incumbent Rep Wayne Gilchrest at the hands of State Senator Andy Harris is a victory for the conservative movement. Harris defeated the liberal Republican Gilchrest in the heavily conservative 1st congressional district of Maryland by 11%. Harris repeatedly touted his conservative credentials against the moderate to liberal voting record of Gilchrest focusing on the incumbent’s support for gay marriage, environmental legislation, and troop reductions in Iraq.
In his victory speech, Harris said “It’s hard to fool the Republican primary voters … They know who the real Republican conservative is.” Gilchrest was bitter in defeat and refused to give the normally obligatory congratulatory call the victor. Instead, he
called his loss a “defeat for democracy” and “a clear sign the party is split between dogma and tolerance.”
While Gilchrest received support from establishment Republicans like Newt Gingrich and President Bush, Harris was endorsed by the Eagle Forum, National Right to Life, Gun Owners of America, the Washington Times, James Dobson, and other conservative mainstays. Out of state conservative donors and PACs helped give Harris amass a war chest twice the size of Gilchrest’s, in addition to the $600,000 anti-Gilchrest independent expenditure by the Club for Growth.
When I blogged about the opposition to Gilchrest in an earlier post, I received some e-mails from readers who thought that I soft pedaled Gilchrest’s record and that even were it not for his opposition to the war in Iraq, he would still be in the sights of conservative groups.
I am fully willing to concede this point. Gilchrest has an abdominal record on immigration, gun control, taxes, and other important issues. Anti-Gilchrest groups like Gun Owners of America and the Eagle Forum are among the more principled organs within the conservative movement. Still, I find it rather puzzling that many establishment conservative organs like National Review barely mentioned the issue of the war in Iraq, when it was the centerpiece for Harris” campaign.
Despite Gilchrest’s less than conservative voting record, I still mourn his defeat. There are well over a hundred congressmen who have solid immigration and gun control voting records, but there are less than a handful of Republicans in the House who shared Gilchrest’s admirable opposition to the imperial presidency. If others in the conservative movement and the GOP would stand up for an America First foreign policy, I would have been the first to oppose Gilchrest.
Two of Gilchrest’s antiwar Republican colleagues, Walter Jones and Ron Paul, also face pro-war primary challengers. Unlike Gilchrest, they both have impeccably conservative credentials. Expect these campaigns to separate the real conservatives from the neocons.