Religious Right's New Mandarin
The year was 1964, and Gary Bauer had just finished high school in Newport, Ky. Ronald Reagan was speaking on television, and the young Mr. Bauer turned to his father and said, "That guy's gonna be president someday, and I'm gonna work for him in the White House."Skip to next paragraph
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"My father said, 'You're nuts,' " Bauer recalls. "But he was able to visit me in my West Wing office a few years before he passed away."
Gary Bauer, former chief of domestic policy for President Reagan and head of his own conservative activist empire, has always known exactly what he wants.
Now, after 10 years leading the Family Research Council - an increasingly influential think tank and lobbying group - Bauer can finally stake a claim on a long-held goal: to be the top spokesman for religious conservatives.
He has lobbied successfully to keep the anti-abortion plank in the GOP platform. He made a high-profile alliance with Democrats - and went toe-to-toe against Henry Kissinger to fight for human rights in China.
He's formed a new political-action committee, which is already spending six-figure sums in congressional races, much to the dismay of moderate Republicans.
It also hasn't hurt Bauer that his sometime rival, the media-savvy Ralph Reed, has left the leadership of the Christian Coalition, and that Mr. Reed's successors have yet to emerge as national figures. "Gary Bauer's star is very much on the rise," says Barry Lynn, head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a Bauer opponent who gives the man credit for doing his homework and sticking to his principles.
Bauer doesn't always get what he wants. Last week, his favored candidate lost a hotly contested congressional race in California. But even in defeat, Bauer wins. He and his anti-abortion agenda get attention, and establishment Republicans scurry to make sure Bauer doesn't strike again by defeating more moderate party members in coming primary races.
Oval Office ambition
Now the diminutive conservative is talking about running for president - not so much because he thinks he can win, but to sound a clear call for the issues he says the Republican Party should be focusing on. If Mr. Reed's aim as executive director of the Christian Coalition was to have a seat at the table in GOP politics, then Bauer's is to change those politics altogether.
"I don't believe our campaigns in the last two cycles have been very useful in helping us deal with what I call the virtue deficit and the breakdown of family life and what's happening to America's kids and the relationship of liberty to virtue," says Bauer in an interview at his new six-story headquarters in downtown Washington, his office lined with pictures of his wife and three kids.
"So I'm committed to doing everything I can to elevate those issues, even if in the process I may make some of my longtime Republican friends and allies a little uncomfortable."
"A little uncomfortable" is probably an understatement. When Bauer's political-action committee, the Campaign for Working Families, helped a hard-line social conservative beat the mainstream party choice in the January primary for a special congressional election in California, GOP regulars worried he was effectively throwing the race to the Democrat.
And when Democrat Lois Capps did win the runoff, some political observers suggested that's exactly what Bauer and other conservative activists ended up doing. The district, centered in Santa Barbara, was marginally Republican, and the man who lost in the primary - Brooks Firestone - could well have beaten Mrs. Capps in a head-to-head match, local analysts say.