Back in 2005 and 2006, when it looked like George Allen would be sailing to an easy re-election victory and the Democrats were having trouble even coming up with a candidate, there was some very serious speculation that George Allen would be the candidate that could unite conservatives in 2008.
Then, things fell apart. It wasn’t just the macacca incident, though that didn’t help, the truth is that George Allen ran a really bad campaign in 2006. By 2007, any idea of the former Virginia Senator running for President was out the window.
Now, with John McCain pretty much guaranteed to be the Republican nominee and conservatives forced to make the choice between a flip-flopping former Massachusetts Governor and an economic populist, some people are wondering what might have been:
“A lot of us saw him as the 1,000-pound gorilla. He would have had so much clout and credibility within the party around the country,” said Chuck Smith, chairman of the Virginia Beach Republican Party.
Other Republicans say Allen would have been far from a shoo-in for the nomination despite his potential advantages. As the race heated up last summer, President Bush’s approval ratings were plunging to record lows among GOP voters frustrated over his immigration policies and his management of the war in Iraq.
With his signature cowboy boys and “aw shucks” personality, Allen could have been defined as the candidate most like Bush, some Republican strategists say.
“To some, that would have been his only drawback,” said Grover Norquist, a conservative activist who heads Americans for Tax Reform. “People say he does kind of look and dress like Bush.”
But Norquist and others believe Allen could have been the front-runner today, filling a void in the current field to be what GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio called “the consensus conservative candidate.”
Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte (R-Va) said: “One of the problems with each of the Republican presidential candidates this year is each of them doesn’t connect with all segments of the party. Allen would have been able to do that.”
Although Sen. John McCain of Arizona shares Allen’s desire to achieve “victory in Iraq,” as Allen was fond of saying, some conservatives are angry about McCain’s stance on immigration reform.
Before Rudolph W. Giuliani dropped out of the race, the former New York mayor shared Allen’s zeal to fight Muslim extremism. But the two diverge considerably on social issues.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is campaigning on many of the same issues Allen would have touted but lacks Allen’s track record of embracing conservative views.
Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, has many of Allen’s personality traits, most notably being witty and personable. But Allen probably would not have supported higher taxes, as Huckabee did when he was governor.
Personally, I don’t buy it. Though Allen was a tempting candidate, he was far from the formidable candidate that others have claimed, as I noted in my 2006 post-mortem:
First of all, Allen ran an appallingly bad campaign. It started with the admittedly over-hyped macaca controversy and continued into the final weeks of the campaign with the exceedingly stupid obsession of the Allen campaign and its allies over certain explicit passages from Webb’s novels. In an ordinary year, things like this wouldn’t have amounted to anything; in a year when the President’s approval ratings are in the basement, it just served to reinforce negative feelings that the electorate already had.
Finally, I’ve just got to say it, previously-stated Presidential aspirations notwithstanding, George Allen really wasn’t all that great. He calls himself a Jeffersonian conservative (leaving aside the fact that Thomas Jefferson was anything but a conservative), but he never seemed all that committed to individual liberty. Like his mentor, John Warner, he seemed more concerned with bringing home the pork to the Old Dominion and being the loyal Republican.
So, no I don’t think George Allen would have been the super candidate that some claim he would have been.