What Conservatives Should Look For in a Presidential Candidate – Part II

VoteConservativeby N. A. Halkides   5/21/14
In Part I, I endeavored to show that what Republicans need to win against the Democratic Left in the Presidential contest is a principled Conservative with a coherent theory of government. Now I will attempt to establish a set of useful criteria by which we might judge prospective candidates, a task which has certainly proven difficult in the past due to Establishment Men pretending to be Conservatives and also, I think, because we Conservatives have been so desperate for what we might call “The Great Conservative Hope” we’re led to imagine our man has finally come to the rescue when in fact he has remained as elusive as the Jewish Messiah.

Let’s start by revisiting the four pillars of Conservatism developed earlier (see What is Conservatism?):

“(1) a belief in limited government and the necessity of considerably reducing the size of the current Leviathan; (2) a belief in traditional morality and the worth of every individual life; (3) a foreign policy that is nationalist in recognizing American interests and internationalist in recognizing our place among the nations of the world coupled to a commitment to a strong national defense; (4) recognition of the sanctity of life, including babies still in the womb.”

Taking these one at a time, we begin with “a belief in limited government” which explicitly negates the Progressive promise to use government as if it were a constructive force capable of building something. Government exists to preserve individual rights, not to “help” citizens (at the expense of their fellows, of course). This in turn implies a serious rollback of the regulatory and welfare state. Now we obviously cannot expect our champion to be too bold in announcing our intention to reduce welfare, but we can and should denounce it as a way of life, presenting our program as “entitlement reform” which means reducing benefits as much as we can and putting programs like Social Security and Medicare, which can’t be eliminated, on the road to privatization.

With regulatory reform we can and should be bolder, as the majority of the American people probably understand the need to remove red tape from all our lives, especially those of businessmen. Also, this will be the quickest road to economic recovery and will reduce spending as regulatory agencies are subjected to having their personnel reduced. The size of government is not a defining characteristic, but it is a useful metric, and it is clear that to begin moving the country to the right, the budget must be actually cut – it isn’t enough merely to slow the rate of growth as the Republican Establishment regularly promises – with a plan to achieve balance in a short period of time (I’d recommend four years or less) through domestic spending cuts and without tax increases.

We are led to our first two criteria for judging our candidates: (I) True Federal spending reductions (no gimmicks) including a plan for entitlement reform, and (II) Regulatory reform, or the embrace of free-market economics (this second will probably be easier to evaluate).

(2) above, the emphasis on individualism (as opposed to collectivism), does not lend itself well to easy evaluation. Its most obvious consequence, opposition to abortion, has been given a separate enumeration. I think what we need here is some sign the candidate believes in the freedom of the individual, something which is hardly ever spoken of in today’s debased political discourse. We might fit gun rights, obviously of first importance, in here. Therefore, we have (III) Recognition that government at all levels encroaches too far upon the individual sphere, and that the individual has the right to keep and bear arms, meaning arms suitable for infantrymen in accordance with the definition of “arms” and “militia” as they were understood at the time the 2nd Amendment was written.

(3) above means first that the candidate understands the defense budget, after years of cutting by Clinton and Obama, cannot be cut further. We’re a big country with two oceans to patrol, and can’t get by with the typical level of European defense outlays. At the same time, we should avoid getting embroiled in wars for the purposes of “peacekeeping” or nation-building. Let’s try to find a candidate who actually understands the U.S. military exists to guarantee our national security and is not simply a better-equipped version of the Peace Corp. Let me suggest for criterion (IV) that our candidate be reluctant to intervene militarily, but also understands that sometimes there is no alternative (say Afghanistan after 9/11) and that we need to have the best military in the world to make sure that if we do go in, we can win quickly and decisively.

(4) is simple – our candidate must oppose the abortion-on-demand policy of the Democratic Left. As noted above, it’s really derivable from (2) (worth of the individual) and is only separated out here because of the visibility of this issue and because we cannot afford to run a pro-abortion candidate who would split the usual Republican coalition and certainly lose in November. There probably aren’t too many Republicans anyway who are both in favor of limited government and abortion-on-demand; those who exist we should regard as erring sisters whom we hope will eventually see the light, but until then may not hold leadership positions within the GOP. At the same time, the Left will use abortion as a trap to try to get every Republican candidate to say something that sounds extreme and may be used against him. The prudent policy at the Federal level is to take the position that Roe v. Wade is wrong and should be overturned, leaving abortion to be regulated by the states. If the candidate must give his own views on abortion, he should take a position slightly to the right of the median American voter, much as Mitt Romney did – note that no one is claiming Romney lost the race because he was too extreme on abortion.

Let us now summarize our criteria:

I. The candidate must believe in real reductions in Federal spending, including entitlement reform, and believe in balancing the budget at the earliest practical moment without resorting to tax increases.

II. The candidate must embrace free-market economics and plan to seriously roll back the regulatory state.

III. The candidate must understand that government is far too powerful and intrusive, encroaching upon the individual sphere, and that the individual has the right to keep and bear arms, including but not limited to semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 and AK-47.

IV. The candidate must wish to avoid unnecessary military intervention, but also understand that where the security of the United States is at risk, we go in to fight and win. Destruction of the enemy, not building up benighted countries, is the function of our military, which must be second to none. The restoration of the old standard of American military preparedness, being able to win two wars simultaneously, seems advisable.

V. The candidate must agree the Federal government has no role in abortion, which is strictly a matter of concern for the states. If pressed, he may certainly oppose late-term abortions and take a position slightly to the right of the median American voter on this issue.

VI. The candidate should have a coherent theory of government (limited government).

Now let’s test out these criteria to see if they will really help us separate wheat from chaff. We can take a few obvious losers from past and present and see if they can be quickly eliminated using the new criteria.

1. John (Maverick) McCain – apart from being self-contradictory and incoherent, McCain apparently never saw a country he didn’t want to impose a no-fly zone over. Rejected by criteria (IV) and (VI).

2. Jeb Bush – his apparent enthusiasm for ever-more Federal control of education certainly implies he’s not prepared to roll back Leviathan, and as far as I know he’s never had one positive remark to make about free-market economics. Rejected by (I), (II), (III), and (VI). Also by being another Bush!

3. Ron Paul – rejected by (IV) and probably (VI).

4. Chris Christie – flunks criterion (III) immediately, and probably (I) and (II) on close examination.

At this point, two admissions: First, these criteria may not always be easy to apply, for instance to men like Mitt Romney, Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker, and Rick Santorum. Walker and Santorum in particular are so difficult I think each one deserves a separate examination. Second, these criteria work by the method of elimination. Given the dearth of high-quality Conservative candidates, it could be that rigorous application will eliminate everyone running! I admit I have no solution to that problem.

Despite these drawbacks, I think we’ve got at least the beginning of something here. With a little refinement, we could have a practical metric by which to eliminate the losers, RINOs, and Establishment-Men from the ranks of Republican Presidential contenders, and then hope like hell there’s still somebody left to run. • (2565 views)

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18 Responses to What Conservatives Should Look For in a Presidential Candidate – Part II

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    As far as regulation goes, my thought is that a good president would seek to remove at least one regulation every day. I doubt that, even after 2 terms of that, we would ever reach a point where this was no longer feasible or desirable. I will also note that at some point we need to get rid of the notion that the Executive Branch can create regulations without approval from Congress. (The legal justification is that they’re only “interpreting” vague laws. Any law so vague that we need that sort of regulation is too vague to be constitutional.)

    As for part III, individual rights, it’s clear that a good candidate is also right on the other parts of the Bill of Rights, especially the First Amendment (which liberals today detest, at least when applied to those they hate for disagreeing with them). As one nice example of a missed opportunity, some pundits suggested in 2012 that Romney should provide a lunch of Chick-fil-A sandwiches (and waffle fries) — with Ben & Jerry’s ice cream for dessert. This would demonstrate that conservatives do NOT believe in destroying people for disagreeing with them (unlike liberals, who being totalitarian at heart do believe in destroying all who oppose them).


      ” I will also note that at some point we need to get rid of the notion that the Executive Branch can create regulations without approval from Congress.

      This is absolutely true, Tim, and in fact a very important point. Sometimes there’s a thin line between policy prescriptions, which tend to be specific, and judgmental criteria, which are more general. It looks like it will take a Constitutional Amendment so that the Supreme Court can be compelled to understand the legislative power is non-delegable. One of the things eroding our freedom most quickly is the ability of non-elected bureaucrats to write laws the rest of us must obey.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        The basis of the Schechter Brothers decision in 1935 was that the powers delegated to the National Recovery Administration were too vague in their purposes, giving it too much legislative power (or at least that seems to have been why the liberal justices, such as Brandeis, voted with the majority and made the decision unanimous).

  2. steve lancaster says:

    Funny, these are the same things Libertarians discuss when we meet in our secret cave in the Ozarks. Admittance is a secret handshake, and each and every one of us is named John Galt. That can be confusing for newcomers, but after a while they understand how we can all be John Galt.

    Items 1-6 I endorse completely and have written on, read Mostly Libertarian Point of View. The reality is no candidate for president or past president can fulfill these qualifications. Reagan for about 5 years slowed the growth of government but never, repeat, never reduced the size of government. His best accomplishment was to slow the growth.

    Yet, I would take a Reagan in a New York minute over Romney, McCain, Santorum and the rest of the looser RINO’S that comprise the Republican Party establishment. I have and will support the most conservative/libertarian candidate that can win.

    Outside of Ted Cruz no one in the GOP fits that qualification and I have some doubts about Cruz.

    So, we come back to my question in part one:
    How much ideological purity is enough?

    • Timothy Lane says:

      The problem is that you seem to be a very unusual libertarian. One reason I gave up on Reason was that they considered Democrats a reasonable alternative from the libertarian viewpoint. Since the Donkeys have been the party of maximum government for decades, and by that time had become actively hostile to the existence of political opposition, this indicated either stupidity or an emphasis on libertinism (as was certainly the case with William H. Stoddard of the Libertarian Futurist Society). The “Thank you for pot smoking” types (such as L. Neil Smith, who was LP presidential candidate in a state or two a few elections back) don’t agree with you. So the question is: How many Libertarians today are like you, and how many are like Stoddard and Smith?


      Remember, Steve, that Reagan was saddled with that most pernicious of creatures, a Democratic House, during his term in office (with a Democratic Senate some of the time to boot), so it would be a little unrealistic to expect him to have been able to cut the budget. The Bush years from 2001-2006 are a different story, of course.

      In answering your question, I would say we first look for someone meeting all the criteria, and if we can’t find anyone, we go to 95%, 90%, etc. until we get the best available candidate. One thing I left out was immigration, which should probably be considered the #1 criterion at the present time – any amnesty shills have got to be “out” as the country couldn’t survive it.

      • steve lancaster says:

        The last president to actually cut the size of government was silent Calvin Coolidge. He and his secretary of Treasury successfully cut actual spending. I will not hold my breath waiting for that to happen again.

  3. steve lancaster says:

    The small government republic that most of us would prefer died on the battlefields of Gettysburg and Vicksburg in July of 1863. Since then we have been fighting a steady retreat against the big government progressives. It has taken 150 years to reach the point where millions of Americans are fed up enough to refuse the progressive lie. Yet that is not enough. Polls show that most Americans consider themselves conservative; if that were true we would not have BO in the White House for a second term. I fear that H L Mencken was right:

    The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out… without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, intolerable.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      In any meaningful sense, the secessions of 1861 ended the original republic as designed by the Constitution. There was no possibility that the North would simply let the South go, and the effort to suppress the rebellion inevitably led to the beginning of Big Government. Perhaps, if the rebellion had collapsed in the summer of 1862, the genie might have been kept in the bottle, but even then I doubt it.

  4. steve lancaster says:

    For myself, and a few friends we remain Libertarian believing that individual freedom is the source of all other freedoms.


    Originally, I had planned on 5 criteria, one each for the “4 pillars of Conservatism” and then the 5th for immigration. I ended up with 6 criteria derived from the pillars, and then forgot immigration, which was a serious oversight. Immigration should probably not be such an important issue, but the Left in Europe and America have discovered how potent a weapon it is in destroying their opposition (and their own countries – may they be cursed for all time). It’s been gone into at length elsewhere, but if the Democrats and their Establishment GOP allies get their amnesty through, we will wind up with effective one-party rule in this country at the national level.

    Therefore, we have Criterion VII: The candidate must repudiate amnesty or its equivalent, and must recognize that continued high levels of legal immigration from third-world nations will destroy America, which needs a long immigration pause so we can assimilate all the millions brought here during the past 50 years.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I think some degree of amnesty is inevitable eventually, but it MUST come after genuine, measurable closure of the illegal immigration spigot. Anyone who talks of any sort of legalization must explain how he will accomplish the closure, and in particular how he will guarantee that there can be no degree of legalization until after that closure.

      Incidentally, watching Sarah Palin (who meets many of your criteria, perhaps even all of them) on Fox News reminded me of another criterion: The ideal candidate would have adequate experience (particularly executive experience). Palin is a bit weak there (though better than the Bystander President has even now), as are most of the senator hopefuls. Reagan, of course, was a 2-term governor of a large state.

      • faba calculo says:

        Too bad Palin fails to meet a very important yet unspecified condition: she isn’t electable. Maybe put another way, the candidate must be able to edge out Hillary. And, right now, I just don’t see who that is. Let the economy take a turn for the (even) worse, and that could change a lot, but, even if I were to hope for such a thing, hope isn’t a plan.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          I was thinking about that; obviously it does no good to nominate someone who can’t be elected. On the other hand, I suspect that a lot of “unelectable” people really don’t live up to that. Recall that Carter preferred to run against Reagan rather than Bush in 1980. He was wrong then, and the “conventional wisdom” is no doubt equally wrong on occasion today. But about which candidates? We’ll never know unless they get nominated, and that’s very high risk — we might get a Todd Akin or we might get a Ronald Reagan. I have no idea which Sarah Palin would finally turn out to be.

          • faba calculo says:

            I think we’ve seen enough of Palin’s performances to take a mighty good guess, to say nothing of the lack of support for her in the polls.

            Not that any of that is totally immune to change. Let things get bad enough and people won’t need to be voting for the Republican if they’re voting strongly enough against the Democrat.

  6. steve lancaster says:

    Immigration is and has been a touchy subject in this country for over 150 years. I oppose amnesty until the incentive for free stuff from the government is eliminated.

    There is no way outside of a massive federal infusion of troops on the borders and shooting potential immigrants that the flow will stop. I doubt even the most avid control the borders political leader will institute military action to control the border.

    I suggest a new Ellis Island in the Southwest. Every immigrant is examined for health issues, and quarantined if necessary and like Ellis Island the new immigrant has to opportunity to become a citizen by:

    1. Learn the language
    2. Be self supporting no welfare of any kind
    3. Obey the laws

    Illegals must go through the same gate make the same commitments and achieve the same goals. In short if you can not obey our laws, learn our language and support yourself and your family without government support, then go back we don’t want you.

    • faba calculo says:

      I am extremely torn on immigration. I love all that Give Me Your Tired, stuff. I really do. But, even if you somehow slay the welfare monster, the people we’re most likely to get as immigrants just don’t seem all that likely to not want to bring it back.

  7. Timothy Lane says:

    Steve Deace has an article available from TownHall today that covers the same idea and comes to similar conclusions. Deace argues that the conservative movement should support a candidate who has 4 key qualities: integrity (such as actually trying to live up to one’s ideals), worldview (not merely correct issue stands, but a coherent outlook), capability (it should be someone with relevant and successful experience for the office being sought), and communication (it should be someone who can actually explain his or her worldview and why people should support it). He considers electability a mirage (the failures of people like Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, and Christine O’Donnell were largely failures to communicate adequately, for example, though he didn’t get into that much detail himself).

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