|The candidacy of Congressman John Ashbrook of Ohio in the
New Hampshire and Florida primaries is based on a premise
that Richard Milhous Nixon's performance these last three
years has not been conservative enough. Yet this is what John
Ashbrook truly believes, and he is not alone. Behind his
seemingly quixotic crusade stand most of the leaders of
intellectual conservatism in America—among them William F.
Buckley of National Review, Thomas S. Winter of Human
Events, J. Daniel Mahoney of the New York State Conservative
Party, and Ronald F. Docksai of Young Americans for
Freedom—and the reasons behind their discontent, and the
hopes they have for the Ashbrook candidacy are not as
unrealistic as they first seem.
First, many conservatives (among whom were some of the
President's most enthusiastic backers in 1968) feel that the
1972 model Nixon has changed greatly from the 1968 Nixon,
and that the change has been for the worse. They sense that
they have been had, and basically they are correct. Few
persons of whatever political persuasion would have, in 1968,
looked ahead to a Nixon visit to Peking or the ousting of
Nationalist China from the United Nations. Few expected a
Republican president to saddle America's free market
economy with wage and price controls. Few had inklings of a
Family Assistance Plan which would double the number of
those on welfare, or of a projected $70 billion dollar deficit for
the upcoming fiscal year.
But besides these errors of commission, conservatives also
find Nixon guilty of serious errors of omission. In their opinion
Nixon has tragically failed to cut back any of the social
legislation of the Johnson years. Even more alarming, however,
in their view, is the Nixon failure to take sufficient steps to
secure the nation's security in the face of increasing Soviet
challenges in strategic armaments and in naval power,
particularly in the Indian Ocean and in the Mediterranean.
So it can be seen that conservatives who have supported Nixon
have been disappointed. Still what possible gain could result
from the Ashbrook campaign. They don't really expect to beat
Nixon either for the nomination or in any single primary, rather
they hope to influence Nixon to operate in a more conservative
fashion. The effort is not to "dump" Nixon, but instead to push
him in the right direction. Some feel that Nixon has already
begun to drift toward starboard because of the Ashbrook
candidacy. Human Events, for example, theorizes that the
President's veto of child development legislation, his statement
to CBS correspondent Dan Rather in support of keeping Vice
President Agnew on the ticket, and a new Administration
energy in regard to defense priorities, can all be traced to the
efforts of the Ohio congressman.
Although his showing in the polls has been small, Nixon has
turned much attention to his conservative challenger. Prominent
Republican conservatives such as Ronald Reagan, Barry
Goldwater, John Tower, William Brock and Spiro Agnew, have
all been scheduled to take to the stump for candidate Nixon.
Reports have circulated that Nixon forces have planned a
primary campaign in Ohio to unseat Ashbrook from his
Congressional seat. (This is not the first time G.O.P. higher-ups
have tried to rid themselves of Rep. Ashbrook. He has been
gerrymandered twice, but escaped unscathed in both cases.)
According to columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, Mr.
Nixon dispatched Vice-President Agnew to dissuade William
P. Buckley from supporting Ashbrook. In the same vein, John
Mitchell, up to the last minute, implored John Ashbrook not to
run. And when L.E. Thomas, Florida State GOP Chairman,
predicted that Ashbrook would receive 25% in that state's
primary, he was quickly brought into line and is now predicting
an Ashbrook disaster.
So much for the Ashbrook campaign. What about Ashbrook
himself? Although largely unknown to the general public, the 43
year-old Congressman has long been known and respected
among the nation's conservative community. A poll of
conservatives conducted in 1969 ranked Ashbrook behind only
Goldwater, Reagan, Tower and Bill Buckley in their respect.
While the Ohio AFL-CIO has termed him "a Neanderthal,
mossback reactionary", others have described him as "an
attractive and militant conservative," and one of "the world's
most charming, intelligent and natural men . . . "
In 1956 at the age of 28, he was elected to the state legislature
and also to the post of GOP County Chairman. Meanwhile in
1954 he was elected president of the YR organization, and one
year later became the first chairman of the Young Republican
National Federation to be elected without opposition. In 1960
he defeated incumbent Robert Levering and began his
In the House, Ashbrook compiled a solidly conservative record
and until recently served as chairman of the American
Conservative Union. Early in the Nixon administration,
Ashbrook's disenchantment began, and soon he was
challenging one Nixon program after another, but his formal
break with the President did not come until last December.
Said Ashbrook, "I am not one of those who 'can view with
alarm' under Kennedy and Johnson, then 'point with pride' when
the same policies are advanced by a Republican President. In
time some circumstances may change, but basic principles
remain the same." And that fact that John Ashbrook holds fast
to his principles, no matter what the cost, earns him respect
from even those who hold differing viewpoints.