Not me, not yet

The favorable words about John McCain from Newt Gingrich on Fox News last night were measured, not glowing. He indicated an intention to vote for the GOP ticket (on which I'd love to see Newt himself as VP), but there was no ringing endorsement of Mac the Maverick. My sentiments exactly. It's all very well that Sen. Wayne Allard, former Gov. Bill Owens, former Rep. Bob Beauprez, and Attorney General John Suthers found a way to formally declare for McCain before the sun went down Thursday, mere hours after their former endorsee and mine, Mitt Romney, suspended his campaign. But sorry, I'm not there yet. I'd ask those four friends of mine: What's the hurry?

The very meaning of "suspend" in Romney's statesmanlike announcement at CPAC is that he's keeping his options open. He's still in formal control of his delegates. He too, like Gingrich, is looking to the main event, recognizing the need to beat Barack or Billary, and talking unity -- but he's not yet endorsing McCain. When they do, and Huckabee does, then maybe I will. We do have some time. It's only February.

Sen. McCain's speech at CPAC, conciliatory in tone and solid in substance, was a start, as Patrick Buchanan has written. Buchanan approvingly noted its contrast with Goldwater's open defiance of internal party detractors at the 1964 convention.

However we've yet to see from McCain anything like the strenuous fence-mending efforts of another famous episode from that era, the Treaty of Fifth Avenue in 1960 when Nixon averted a conservative-liberal GOP fracture by paying court to Rockefeller. What would that look like in 2008?

Some kind of summit with conservative movement leaders -- not just elected senators, congressmen, and governors -- might or might not lead to a similar "treaty" as the understanding of 1960. But it would be a long step beyond the rhetoric of CPAC. It might occur as a side meeting at the Council for National Policy's next quarterly conference, a high-level gathering of Reagan faithful and the Christian right, members-only and closed to the press.

I have no idea if any such summit is in the offing, but if McCain is really serious about working with conservatives and not just play-acting, he should be actively seeking it. His pick for Vice President will also be an important signal and gesture to the right. Pat Toomey of the Club for Growth makes several good suggestions there, though Gingrich is still my first choice.

Bottom line, American conservatives aren't mainly a political party or party faction. We are a movement dedicated to conserving, protecting, and where necessary renewing, America as it was meant to be. We can readily acknowledge, at this juncture, that our country would be better defended against most external enemies and threats under President McCain and a Republican administration than under President Hillary Clinton or Obama and a Democratic administration.

But defense and national security, though paramount, are not definitive as far as conservative political choices in 2008 are concerned. Supreme Court appointments, highly important as well, are not definitive either.

We want a conservative movement that preserves its integrity, its spirit and soul, to fight another day -- regardless of defeat within the party or between the parties this year. We insist on one of the two major parties remaining a distinctively conservative party, not a pale centrist echo of the distinctively liberal party opposing us. That way lies a European-style social-democratic future, utterly un-American. That we reject.

Are these non-negotiable goals best achieved by a tactical accommodation with the unconservative John McCain for the purpose of contending for the White House next fall -- which is still a fight against the odds, remember -- or by a parting of ways with McCain despite the short-term political losses certain to result? What leverage do we still have over the presumptive nominee, and what should we demand? What constitutes settling too cheap?

As of today, I honestly don't know. But I know these are the right questions to be asking and the right priorities to be weighing. We'll have to see how it plays out. Again, it's only February for pete's sake -- the convention isn't until September. That's why I prefer to bide my time, even as Allard, Owens, and the others rush with their endorsements of Mac. Not me, not yet.