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American Conservative Union president David Keene on his endorsement of Mitt Romney.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

HH: Joined now by David Keene, president of the American Conservative Union, who made big news today when he endorsed Mitt Romney. Mr. Keene, welcome, good to have you on the program.

DK: It’s a pleasure.

HH: We’ve got to start by telling people who may not know how old and vast the ACU is.

DK: (laughing) Well, ACU, the American Conservative Union, was founded in the wake of the Goldwater defeat in 1964, and since then, has become the largest of the traditional conservative lobbying organizations in the country. We’ve got about, at any given time, 800,000 to a million members, and we’re the principal sponsors of the Conservative Political Action Conference each year in Washington that now draws about 5,000 activists from around the country, and we do the ratings of Congress, and have been doing that for over thirty years.

HH: CPAC, of course, is the preeminent gathering of conservatives every year in Washington, D.C. And David Keene, how long have you been president of ACU?

DK: I’ve been president since the 80’s.

HH: Wow, that’s a long record. Now you stunned a lot of people this morning when it was announced you’d endorsed Mitt Romney. Does that mean the ACU has endorsed Mitt Romney, or is it just David Keene?

DK: It’s just me, for what that’s worth. The ACU doesn’t endorse candidates. I was going to stay out of this for a variety of reasons. As this race began, and I think you’ve been watching it, none of the candidates seemed capable of really reaching into the various component parts of the conservative movement, and therefore, the Republican base. We’ve got, as you know, economic conservatives, social conservatives, national defense conservatives. And the candidates seem to be isolating themselves with one part of the base, rather than the whole thing. Secondly, frankly, I have a lot of friends that are running. I know a lot of the candidates. I had breakfast this morning with Duncan Hunter. And I admire a number of the candidates, and I thought a number of them would be able to win. But in the last few months, a couple of things have happened. One is I’ve become convinced that the single candidate that is capable of reaching into all the camps is Mitt Romney. Secondly, I’ve become more and more convinced that if Mayor Giuliani were to win the nomination, he would fracture the coalition, and it would be very difficult to pick up the pieces after it’s over. If you combine that with the fact that the only candidate, other than…that has a plan to win other than Giuliani, is Mitt Romney, who’s doing it the old-fashioned way. He’s organizing in the early states, he’s doing the things that candidates have traditionally done to break through and then win in the big states. It’s become clear to me that particularly with the collapse of Fred Thompson, that what we have shaping up, and there’ll be bumps in the road, you’ll have Huckabee getting more votes expected here, and somebody else getting more votes than expected there, but what we’ve really got is a race between Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani. And the reason that I came out for Mitt Romney today is on the one hand, I believe he is the candidate that can unite the party and win, and on the other hand because I think it’s time for conservatives to step up to the plate and say if we’re serious, and this is the choice, then let’s make that choice.

HH: Do you believe he is genuinely pro-life?

DK: Yes, I do.

HH: Do you believe he will appoint Roberts and Alitos to the Supreme Court?

DK: Yes, I do. I’ve spent some time with him, and I am convinced that he’s sincere. I thought last night in the debate, his, actually, his best moment was on the life question, whereas you watched it, and many of your listeners did, and he said I was wrong. The only thing that he could have added was that I’ve traveled the same path that Ronald Reagan traveled.

HH: Yup. Now…

DK: And I don’t see anything wrong with that.

HH: I want to focus on Iowa for a second, David Keene, because there are a lot of social conservatives in Iowa, and some of them like Mike Huckabee. Mike Huckabee’s not really a conservative. He’s solid on life, but do you think Mike Huckabee’s a conservative?

DK: No, he’s a populist.

HH: Right. And so…

DK: He governed as a populist, he’s got, his rise is the result of really three things. One is the demographic makeup of Iowa, where the social conservatives are more important. You remember, Pat Robertson ran very well in Iowa.

HH: Yup.

DK: Secondly, he is benefiting from the implosion of the Fred Thompson campaign, because Fred’s support was basically none of the above support. And with him gone, and the top three candidates, Giuliani, Romney and McCain not making the sale, or not closing the deal, those voters are parking somewhere else, and that’s with Huckabee. In addition to which, one has to say that Mike Huckabee is a heck of a campaigner. I mean, he shines in those debates, and he also is in a sense doing it the old-fashioned way in one state. He’s doing what Jimmy Carter and George Bush’s father did, which is essentially move into Iowa, and get to know everybody that you meet. And that works. Now the question in Iowa is whether or not the fact that all of these things have combined means he can translate the popularity that he’s developed into actual votes in the Caucuses. And that’s a tough thing to do. So I wouldn’t believe the poll numbers very much, but the fact is that as I put it to somebody yesterday, right now, a vote in Iowa for Mike Huckabee is in fact a vote for Rudy Giuliani for president, because Rudy has to stop the string of victories that Romney might build up before he gets to Florida, and to the big state primaries.

HH: And do you think that that message, that a vote for Huckabee is a vote for Giuliani is resonating in Iowa?

DK: I’m not sure that it’s been made as strongly as I hope it’ll be made in the next few weeks (laughing).

HH: Now you’ve been around a lot of presidential campaign, David Keene. What was your first one?

DK: Well, I guess the first one I was involved in nationally was the 1972 campaign, although like most, maybe not most, but many of my generation, I quit college to work in the ’64 Goldwater campaign.

HH: So do you think that Romney’s campaign structure, apparatus, organization, is strong and enough to win over the greater name identification that Rudy Giuliani has, because it is indeed a Romney-Giuliani race. The other people are not going to be in the ring come…

DK: Oh, I think he can do it. You know, one of the things that I learned when I was actually running campaigns, and I don’t do that anymore, is that you’re far better off with a bunch of people who are fired up, and who don’t know what they can’t do. Mitt Romney’s got a lot of new people, a lot of people that were attracted to him in Massachusetts and elsewhere. And they don’t know what they can’t do. And people who don’t know what they can’t do go out and do what other people know can’t be done. And I’m very impressed with the Romney people. I’m very impressed with the way they’ve organized things. In Iowa, they’ve got new people and old people that have been involved, and most of them, the ones that have been involved before, are doing a better job for Romney than they’ve done in the past. So I think he’s got the organization that he needs.

HH: On that note, David Keene, president of the American Conservative Union, endorser of Mitt Romney, thanks for making a stop today on your big news day, and I appreciate it.

End of interview.

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