Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union, tells National Review Online that conservative activists, for the most part, are embracing Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee.
“Conservatives are supporting him, even after a rough primary,” he says. “I thought it’d take longer; that there’d be bruises. And we still have some work to do.” But Cardenas swats back the idea that conservatives will sit at home in November. Any talk of continued internecine warfare, he argues, is a Beltway creation.
“There are two components at work: There are conservative voters at the retail level, and there are conservative leaders and certain organizations in Washington,” he says. “The retail conservatives are coalescing around Mitt Romney. For the second group, that process is just beginning, and there will always be some who resist. They may find it better for their own reasons to be skeptics rather than supporters.”
In late 1964, Bill Buckley huddled with a merry band of conservative leaders following the defeat of Barry Goldwater. Energized by Goldwater’s rise, the group decided to form a new umbrella organization, the ACU, to bring together the coterie of voices within their nascent movement. Over the years, its annual scorecard, which rates lawmakers on their conservative principles, made it a political player.
“The conservative movement and the ACU started started humbly,” Cardenas says. “But, frankly, we in the movement have secured a stronghold in the party to the point where we’re not just one point of view, but really the soul of the party.”
David Keene, a former political adviser to Richard Nixon and Reagan, led the ACU from 1984 to 2011. These days, Cardenas, a Cuban-born attorney from Miami, helms the ship. In the mid-1990s, Cardenas, a former Florida GOP chairman, famously gave Senator Marco Rubio his first job in politics — to work as an organizer for the Dole-Kemp presidential campaign.