That's Hugh Hewitt on the big screen Saturday night at the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach. Kathy O'Connor, Richard Nixon's last chief of staff, has know him since 1980, when they briefly worked together in Nixon's Manhattan office. Born in the Bronx, she calls him You You-it.
Hugh and I are serial job-swappers. In 1979, before the Nixons moved east from their post-Watergate exile in San Clemente, he recommended me (then a Democratic journalist) for a job writing research papers for 37's book Leaders. Then Nixon hired me to replace Hugh after he headed off to go to law school, serve with future chief justice John Roberts in the Reagan White House, and, on my recommendation to Nixon, launch the Nixon library in 1990. I replaced Hugh again when he left the library to become a law professor and nationally syndicated radio talk show host. In the late 1990s, when he starred on a local PBS news program, "Life and Times," he invited me to sit in for him occasionally when he was out of town.
On Saturday Hugh was genial master of ceremonies at a 50th anniversary celebration of the Lincoln Club of Orange County. Thanks to Lisa Hughes of St. John's, who has joined the club's board, I was invited to give the invocation. I paid tribute to club founders' "bold and audacious belief that it was possible to cultivate candidates who embodied conservative virtues but could still win elections in the state of California." At right that's Bruce and Lisa Hughes with Kathy and me.
In the 1990s, during long afternoon conversations at the knee of the late Bob Beaver in historic Fullerton, California, I'd learned how he and other local politicos had built the Lincoln Club from the wreckage of Nixon's disastrous 1962 gubernatorial campaign against popular Democratic Gov. Pat Brown. Bob, inventor and philanthropist Arnold Beckman, and other business-minded Republicans thought Nixon would've won if it hadn't been for his bruising battle for the GOP nomination against a super-conservative state assemblyman, Joe Shell.
So the Lincoln Club actually began by championing moderates. Bob and his friends wanted to identify and fund candidates who could win and scare off those who couldn't. Though Nixon joined the club in its early years, these days it leans well to his right, so he doesn't get quite as much space on the marquee as other famous Republicans. In a video presentation at the dinner, Newt Gingrich credited the club for its longstanding support of Ronald Reagan but didn't even mention Nixon, who in many respects, after all, governed to the left of Barack Obama.
Last night's keynoter, political consultant and George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove, is taking Bob Beaver's Lincoln Club model national. He said he's raised $250 million toward the $300 million he wants for political action committees that will oppose Obama while trying to elect and reelect Republicans to the House and Senate. Rove gave a spirited, detailed critique of 44 -- high unemployment, big deficits and growing debt, an increasingly unpopular health care bill, and polls showing him stuck at 45% overall approval and running even with near-certain GOP nominee Mitt Romney. He urged Republicans to run a respectful campaign, warning that Romney won't win without millions of people who voted for Obama or stayed home in 2008.
Other speakers were more pointed. I hadn't been served such a heaping mess of political red meat for years. Romney was getting the same treatment at a Democratic gala somewhere else in the U.S., I'm sure. Hyperbole beats the ways certain other countries settle their differences. Besides, it was fun for Kathy and me to talk to friends from our past lives such as former Gov. Pete Wilson, political stalwarts Jo Ellen Chatham, Doy Henley, Buck Johns, Howard and Janet Klein, Lincoln Club chairman Richard Wagner, and former chairman Mike Capaldi.
But in 2012, I remain 100% undecided. For the next seven months, I'll be waiting with millions of others for answers to two questions. Rove told us that one out of six adult Americans needs a job. Which candidate will do a better job for them? Second, whose policies will spur the kind of Reagan- and Clinton-era GDP growth that we need to create opportunity and jobs and reduce deficits, debt, and the spirit-sapping anxiety of bad economic times?
Romney's advocates will say that Obama would do no better on growth and jobs in a second term than he's done so far. But as I listened to Rove last night, I wondered what a President John McCain would've done in the midst of early 2009's panic. A big-ticket Keynesian stimulus and the GM and Chrysler bailouts, just like Obama? Almost certainly. A health care bill? Certainly not (and I'll bet the president now feels that he should've focused on job creation instead). Obama-style contributions to the national debt, which has swelled to 70% of GDP? Maybe not, if only because McCain, in "Nixon goes to China" style, would've grown federal spending and also raised taxes in the name of fiscal probity, just as the Lincoln Club's hero Ronald Reagan did (and in record fashion). But for purposes of argument, if during a national emergency Congress wouldn't vote modest new revenue for Obama that it very well would have done for a Republican president, whom should we replace: The occupant of the White House, or the House?