This primary season has been, from my point of view, about two stories. It has been interesting, to be sure, to watch the rise and fall and rise of the various candidates and to watch much of the media either attempt to manipulate the process or catch on to the latest trend. In fact, one of the side stories of this primary season that I find most fascinating is the dearth of creative and original thinking among political journalists. To some degree I have come to expect this from the leftist-dominating side; as Limbaugh pointed out fairly recently on his show, to read the New York Times is to read the Washington Post is to read the Boston Globe and so on. Among the right leaning media, this trend has showed itself as well. Look at the pile-on that has happened, in turn, to Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich. Many of the so-called stories are just retread lines that seem to proceed from some sort of “master narrative.” I am not suggesting a grand conspiracy here, but am merely noting it. But I digress.

The first story is the more important one, and that is finding the candidate to beat President Obama in 2012. That is, after all, the point of the primary process, and an object that seems to engender little disagreement among those on the right. The second story, however, is the battle between conservatism and party. We have on one side the conservative movement, and on the other, the Republican Party. It is important to understand that the two are not the same, and have quite often been uneasy partners in the decades since the administration of Calvin Coolidge. On rare and happy occasions at the national level, such as the 1980 Presidential election, and more commonly in House, Senate, not to mention state and local elections, the GOP and conservatism become indistinguishable from one another. Yet the synchronicity is illusory. While the GOP remains the only real home for conservatives in our two party system (for the time being), the GOP is not about conservatism. It is about party, which leads me to the point of this essay and why I believe this distinction is crucial to understand for 2012 and beyond.

There can be no doubt that Republicans and conservatives alike are horrified at the Presidency of Barack Obama. Anyone who professes even the least bit of fidelity to individual liberty and economic well-being has to admit that the current administration is a disaster. The thought of another four years of this wrecking ball tearing down the fabric of the United States and attempting to remake it in the best image of Progressivism and Fabian Socialism ought to frighten anyone who loves this country and what is has stood for over the last 235 years. On that Republicans and conservatives agree, and that is precisely why it will not do to elevate party over ideology. Not this time. We are past the point where merely having “our” party in charge is enough. It is not the point here  to do here what others have done far more eloquently and exhaustively and detail the many ways in which the GOP has, and continues to, let conservatives down. It is the point, however, to suggest that the stakes are now too high to do “business as usual.”

We have a choice this primary season as conservatives, and as Republicans, and it is increasingly clear that it will be between a Republican and a conservative. By which I mean that we can choose party or ideology, regardless of the letter after the candidate’s name. We have our Republican in this race, a well-funded party man in the shape of Mitt Romney. Given Mitt’s connections, organization, and money, it is evident he will be fighting hard for the nomination until the end. To the extent that conservatives can agree with Mitt on many issues, he might have been an acceptable choice. In another election year.  Most of us agree that he would certainly have been a better nominee than John McCain in 2008, and we can all agree, I hope, that he would have been far better than Barack Obama as president. I would even stipulate that had Mitt become President in 2008, we would not be in the shape nationally, than we are now. The time for the party approach, however, is over. Too much has happened in the past 3 years for a party solution to work. What is the party solution? It is the Boehner, Cantor, and McConnell way. It is compromising, fearful, and too little for the demands of the day. It favors party health and fortune over what is best for the country. It values election day wins over bold and meaningful change. It seeks control of congressional committees, even if those committees will not accomplish much. The party solution certainly aims at goals that conservatives can agree with, but the approach is half-hearted, timid in the face of media fire, and ends up nibbling around the edges and failing to address the critical problems facing America. And far too often for comfort, it promotes what conservatives cannot agree with: the expansion of the role of the federal government beyond its constitutional boundaries and fiscal malfeasance. This is to be expected, of course, when the overriding concern is party. After all, they believe, bold, uncompromising conservatism cannot win so why play a losing hand? Even if in their hearts they would like to take a forceful stand for conservatism, the better approach, the one that wins elections, the one that serves the party is the path to follow. At the end of the day, party, they believe, provides the best means to create the American we all want. Unfortunately, what we have seen is that party largely fails at this task because it is loyal to itself, and not to its country.

Yet we as conservatives have the opportunity to elect a conservative candidate. While we can certainly elect the Republican Mitt Romney, and feel somewhat assured that he at least won’t drive us further into the Fabian wilderness, we cannot reasonably expect him to challenge the fundamental premises of Washington, D.C. and party. He is a Republican, first and foremost. What our times call for is an individual more committed to principles than party when those principles come into conflict with party. We need conservative leadership, a candidate that will stand up to the RNC and the House and Senate party men and pull them rightward. We need a leader to boldly promote conservative ideas and insist that his party follow him. We need a leader who cares more for his country and his principles than party loyalty, re-election, or the tender feelings of the national media. Mitt Romney, for all of his good qualities as a person, and a politician, is not that man. There is however, a candidate, who has done those things in his home state, and has given every indication that nothing will change should he get to Washington. That man is Rick Perry. He is not perfect, not by a longshot. Who is? Yet Perry’s conservative instincts are strong and uncompromising. While we might hope that Mitt Romney will lead well in that regard, I know Perry will. He’s done it for a decade as my governor. If you doubt his willingness to buck party, then simply investigate why the Bushes, Rove, Kay Bailey, and the rest of the Texas Republican elites don’t like him. Also take a look at those conservative (not merely Republican) Texas House and Senate members who almost unwaveringly support him.

I believe Perry best represents what conservatives want, and what America needs in this election cycle. There are, of course, other candidates, and there are reasons you might not like Rick Perry. We can respectfully disagree on our choice of candidate, but by all means, choose conservatism over party in 2012. If that is Jon Huntsman, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum, or even Newt, then vote for that person. Just keep in mind what you are voting, and what we need: principle over party where they conflict, and leadership that will take a stand when they do.