Gen. Peter Pace has retired after four decades in uniform, most recently as the first Marine to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Defense secretary Robert Gates declined to recommend Pace for another two-year term in the military’s top job, fearing that contentious Senate confirmation hearings would rehash past decisions about the war in Iraq. But Pace has another route to the Senate: Virginia conservatives should recruit him to be their candidate in next year’s race to replace the state’s retiring senior senator, Republican John Warner.
Former Virginia governor Mark Warner is the presumptive Democratic candidate for John Warner’s seat. On the Republican side, Rep. Tom Davis is considered Senator Warner’s heir apparent, though he hasn’t declared his candidacy yet. Another former Virginia governor, Jim Gilmore, is expected to challenge Davis for the nomination. If the GOP field is limited to these two candidates, conservatives who hoped that John Warner’s longed-for retirement would give them a chance to “trade up” will be disappointed in their choice.
The records of both Davis and Gilmore should give conservatives pause. Both are pro-choice. Although Gilmore, as governor, signed pro-life measures — including legislation to require a 24-hour waiting period and informed consent for those seeking an abortion — he supports legal abortion in the first trimester. Either candidate would be to the left of the irresolute John Warner on Iraq. Davis was one of only 17 House Republicans to vote for a resolution opposing the surge; he called the resolution a “purely symbolic message.” Gilmore initially supported the surge, but a few months later argued for a “limited deliberate drawdown” of U.S. forces — by which he meant fewer troops, with a scaled-back mission. During his term as governor, Gilmore significantly cut Virginia’s unpopular car tax, but anti-tax activists fault him for big spending increases. And Gilmore faces challenges apart from his record: Even his fans acknowledge that his stiff personality could make him a tough sell against Mark Warner, a more popular former governor.
According to Gallup polls, Congress’s approval rating is at 14 percent, an all-time low. In the 2008 elections, career politicians could face real competition from attractive outsiders. General Pace would be just such a candidate. Last year, Virginia sent Jim Webb, a fellow former Marine and Naval Academy graduate to the Senate.
The articulate and personable four-star would be a novice politician wise in the ways of Washington. As a veteran of the Pentagon’s senior ranks, he would have a commanding advantage over all other candidates on national-security issues. Unlike other senior military leaders, the Catholic General Pace has been outspoken about his conservative beliefs on social issues. In defending the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, he has forthrightly explained that he believes homosexual conduct to be “immoral” behavior that the military shouldn’t condone. Adultery, too, should not be tolerated in the military’s ranks, he has said.
When General Pace was informed that he wouldn’t be re-nominated to another term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, he refused to retire voluntarily. Why? A soldier in Baghdad “should not think ever that his chairman, whoever that person is, could have stayed in the battle and voluntarily walked off the battlefield,” Pace explained. Only when it became public knowledge that he had been denied another term did he submit his retirement papers.
Pace has also explained that his experiences in Vietnam guided his decision about whether to retire voluntarily. Recalling the Marines who followed him onto the battlefield and lost their lives, he said, “I promised myself then that I will serve this country until I was no longer needed. I need to be told that I’m done. I’ve been told that I’m done.”
Virginia Republicans should tell this devoted patriot that he is not done, and encourage him to take on another mission.