There is a particularly poignant scene in the movie Gettysburg where Major General John Buford (played by Sam Elliott) stands just outside the town reflecting on the battle that he knows is about to take place. He is distraught over the fact that unless the Union troops can unite hold the high ground against the advancing Confederate forces they will play out a scenario he has seen before. General Buford says, “We will charge valiantly… and be butchered valiantly! And afterward men in tall hats with gold watch fobs will thump their chest and say what a brave charge it was. Devin, I’ve led a soldiers life, and I have never seen anything as brutally clear as this.”
History holds the rest of the story. Major General Buford refuses to accept the inevitable and he deploys his cavalry forces in a brilliant maneuver that gives Major General Reynolds time to reinforce Buford’s position and deny the Confederates the high ground in the coming battle. It is very likely this one decision to stay and fight when the odds demanded a retreat decided the outcome of the battle on day one at Gettysburg. And most historians agree that Gettysburg decided the outcome of the war.
Today, when I look at the South Carolina primary I feel like General Buford. I have led the life of a political observer and participant who cares deeply and believes fervently in the core values and traditions that have made America great. Nothing could be more brutally clear than the likely result of the Republican primary in this state. There are three principled men who are running as conservatives, one principled man running as a libertarian, and two principled men who are clearly moderate. Unless conservatives and I mean all conservatives including fiscal, moral, social, Tea Party, Reagan, etc, rally to one candidate the vote will be split and the way to the Republican nomination will be paved, by stubbornness and pride, for Romney.
We have seen it before. In fact, 2012 is eerily similar to 2008. In 2008 Mike Huckabee came from nowhere to win the Iowa caucus. His victory gave him a good chance to unite conservatives in South Carolina for a primary victory that would have sent him to Florida with the wind at his back and a good chance of winning the Republican nomination. But conservative Fred Thompson, who did poorly in Iowa and New Hampshire decided to make South Carolina his last stand. The conservative vote split four ways and John McCain used the momentum of a slim South Carolina win to propel him to the nomination.
Here we are again in 2012 trapped in a bizarre kind of Groundhog Day scenario where we keep repeating the same actions over and over. Rick Santorum comes out of nowhere and gets to within eight votes in Iowa of defeating the heavily favored, massively funded Romney. Michelle Bachman, one of the most conservative and honorable candidates decides to step aside. Rick Perry announces he is returning to Texas to reassess his campaign and a glimmer of hope begins to shine that maybe, just maybe conservatives have learned the lesson of 2008 and are ready in 2012 to unite around one candidate.
But Perry decides to stay in the race and soldiers on to South Carolina where he will siphon off conservative votes from Santorum and Gingrich. So here we are as conservatives about to make the same mistake of dividing our votes and handing the establishment candidate the nomination on a silver platter.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Just as Major General John Buford changed history by defying the odds and deploying his forces we can still defy the odds and rally around a true conservative candidate who can win. At a meeting in Texas this past weekend over 150 evangelical conservatives met, listened to speeches by representatives of the candidates, prayed, and after three ballots gave overwhelming support to Rick Santorum. Men and women like James Dobson, Gary Bauer, and Maggie Gallaher who have been on the front lines of the culture war for over thirty years decided to lay aside their differences and unite behind Santorum.
It couldn’t have been easy for these remarkable leaders to make such a bold choice. They must have known that not everyone would be pleased. They knew the risks of endorsement. They knew the odds were great that those who don’t agree would criticize them. But as they stood and surveyed the primary field of battle they refused to accept the inevitable outcome of a split conservative vote. They decided to unite and take a stand.
If evangelicals and conservatives in South Carolina will follow the courageous decision of our national leaders we can change history. Let’s unite behind one very good man… Rick Santorum. If we do we won’t have to look back and lament over what could have been a great victory for conservatism.