It made news this week when 2012 Senate candidate Kurt Bills endorsed 2014 gubernatorial candidate Scott Honour. It is insignificant to the election (who has heard of Kurt Bills?), but it is a story that highlights the difficulties that conservatives must overcome in order to keep their leaders from drifting to the left.
When he was nominated by Republicans to run for the Senate in 2012, Bills sold himself as the conservative option. He had endorsed Ron Paul. He ran to become a delegate for Ron Paul at the Republican National Convention, taking one of the state's thirteen slots. He overcame outsiders like Gov. Rick Perry & Bill Kristol who had endorsed a different candidate.
Yet once he was endorsed, Bills began a process that has become regrettably familiar to Minnesota conservatives. Establishment Republicans began telling him that he was too "extreme," that the conservative ideas that had helped him to defeat an incumbent Democrat in the Minnesota House and win the nomination were unacceptable to the public. Bills spent the next several months frantically trying to disavow his former beliefs and get as far as he could from the Republicans who had voted to endorse him.
That August, he made news by endorsing Mitt Romney for the first time. His opinions on the presidential race were uncalled for, and, considering that Romney lost the state by seven percentage points, ultimately unhelpful to Bills. At the time, though, his establishment backers were telling him that he had to turn his back on the commitment he had made when he was elected a delegate. His willingness to violate a campaign pledge, they said, would make him more electable by showing voters that he could wheel and deal, and Bills bought it.
In spite of his efforts to show voters that he could be reasonable, Bills lost two out of Minnesota’s eight congressional districts in the Republican primary held August 14. The defeat was incredible and unprecedented, but Bills pressed forward with his strategy. He ultimately lost the general election, receiving a pitiful 35 percent of the vote.
Thus it was interesting when Bills endorsed Honour this week, but electorally insignificant. A donor to both Republican and Democrats – including Al Gore – Honour is no conservative. At a recent gubernatorial forum, Honour stated that he would have opposed the Amash Amendment in Congress that would prevent President Obama’s indiscriminate collection of the phone records of literally every US citizen. In individual conversations, he informed attendees that he also supported mandatory seat belt laws. It is clear that limiting the scope of government is not what Honour is trying to accomplish.
With views like that making it difficult to win the support of Republicans who believe in limited government, Honour has also said that he either does not know or definitely will not abide by the Republican endorsement next year. (If he isn’t endorsed to run on behalf of a political party, who is he running to represent? Like Mark Dayton in 2010, the answer may be that he is running to represent, simply, himself.)
The same day that news of Bills’ endorsement was released, his appointment to the board of a little-known consulting group – H&H Partners—was revealed in a separate press release. While Bills’ attempts to appease Republican VIPs for the last year may have resulted in few political payoffs for him, it may be that his efforts paid off in a different way.
Bills’ endorsement is a reminder of the challenges that conservatives face when they select candidates that they hope will seek to create a more just form of government. That motivation inside of candidates must be genuine, or it will be overcome by self-interest and they will stop doing the right things. Bills’ endorsement of Honour is another harsh illustration of that reality.