What Conservatives Should Look For in a Presidential Candidate

VoteConservativeby N. A. Halkides   5/21/14
In The Difficulty in Judging Political Candidates, I explained that it was easy to be misled if we were too quick to embrace a Presidential candidate based on one or two positions. I suggested we needed to take a look at his entire philosophy of government, and mentioned that if he didn’t have such a philosophy, he was “unsuitable as a candidate because I do not think we can defeat Leftism without an explicitly Conservative candidate and program.”  I did not, however, attempt to further justify this claim, and while I relied on the four pillars of Conservatism I had developed earlier, I did not clearly enunciate a four-pronged test of much practical utility, as Mr. Kung Fu Zu pointed out.  Allow me, then, to remedy these deficiencies here.

First, is it true that we must have an explicitly Conservative candidate and program?  To answer that question, we must understand what we’re up against in the Democratic Party.  During the 1960’s, the New Left was notorious for its overt radicalism and violence, neither of which ultimately did it any good.  America survived their communist advocacy, riots, and bombings largely intact.  But while Billy Ayres and the Weatherman cult were robbing banks and setting bombs in the 1970’s, more insidious elements of the New Left were completing their “long march through the institutions,” with the result that they were in full control of the Democratic Party by 1972, and by 1987 their domination of higher education was evinced by the hiring of Ayres himself as a Professor of “Education” (a notorious non-subject) by the University of Illinois.

But “politics is downstream of culture” as the late Andrew Breitbart is supposed to have said, and thus the Left’s hold on the Democratic Party was not enough by itself at first to push America in their direction.  The American middle class still firmly rejected socialism, and George McGovern was overwhelmingly defeated by Richard Nixon in 1972.  No matter:  the Left was firmly ensconced in the Party, in the public schools and universities, and in the media; a generation of children was educated by them and watched one television melodrama after another in which the villain was always a businessman, while the media slanted every story to favor the Left’s point of view.  At the same time, mass-immigration was bringing in a million third-world residents every year, the vast majority of whom (I would infer 60 – 70% based on later polls) favored big government and massive welfare payouts.  Politically, the government continued to grow in size and power, which forced the country Leftward as more government workers and government dependents were created (this point is important enough to warrant further consideration at another time).

Ronald Reagan was a gifted enough Conservative leader to stymie both the Democratic Left and the Republican Establishment from 1981 – 1988, and left a record of such success that George H. W. Bush was able to ride his coattails into the Presidency in 1988, but over the long term, the result was inevitable:  starting in 1992 an era of firm Democratic dominance at the Presidential level was beginning to take hold.  A wildcard in the form of the erratic candidacies of H. Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996 makes it impossible to say that Bill Clinton would have defeated Bush in ’92 and Bob Dole in ‘96 because we can’t know for certain whom the Perot voters would have selected had he not been in the race, but the results of the 2000 and 2004 elections left no doubt as to the overwhelming strength of the Democratic Party.  In 2000, George W. Bush lost the popular vote to Al Gore, an uninspiring and even frightening candidate with his environmental extremism, but was installed as President when he managed to win the Electoral college by one vote.  In 2004, Bush enjoyed a slight lead over John Kerry in the popular vote, but exit polling revealed an alarming fact:  Kerry was seen as so much better on the economy(!) that not even Bush’s lead on national security issues would have saved him, but the huge turnout of social Conservatives outraged by same-sex “marriage” being forced on the country by an activist judiciary pushed Bush over the top in critical swing areas.  (Those supposed “fiscal conservative/social liberals” who are always hectoring true Conservatives about the need to give up on social issues should take note that without social Conservatives, Republican candidates would have lost the Presidential popular vote in all six out of the last six elections!).

It should have been obvious that neither of the wins of 2000 or 2004 could serve as a model for future campaigns; indeed, the results in 2004 showed that the moment the economy became voters’ number one concern, the Democrats would certainly prevail.  The Republican Establishment being as obtuse as it was (and is), instead of making adjustments in policy, strategy, and messaging, made confident predictions of a “Republican Realignment” (Karl Rove) and ran John “Maverick” McCain in 2008, losing the race to a Marxist of no particular distinction (with close ties to the aforementioned Billy Ayres, no less) and with no significant political achievements named Barry Obama.  The Left’s political takeover of America was now very real, although perhaps not yet irreversible through the electoral process.

The post-nomination 2012 Presidential race is easily summarized:  Mitt Romney, a smart and talented businessman, ran a distinctly non-ideological campaign against Obama on the theory that Obama’s dismal record of failure on all fronts, foreign and domestic, should allow Romney to get the nod on the grounds of his superior executive abilities.  We all know what happened; many of us were stunned:  Romney, for all his failings, was clearly the better man (I thought him the best of all the Establishment-Men the GOP had run for the past twenty-five years), yet he lost to a man who could not point to one single positive accomplishment during his entire four years in office except for the absurdly-easy judgment call “Do we kill Osama bin Laden now that we know exactly where he’s hiding?”

My view is that Romney lost mainly for the same reason the Republican Establishment has consistently lost to the Democratic Left over the past fifty years:  by failing to fight on principle, he conceded the Democrats’ basic policies were moral and just, and was left arguing essentially about decimal points in expenditures and who could better manage the bloated welfare state.  There is a principle well-understood in formal debate; namely, when you fail to rebut any point made by your opponent during his argument, you lose that point by default.  And the Republican Establishment’s modus operandi all these years has been to lose by default.  Thus Republicans have argued that this or that welfare program was too expensive and that the deficit was not sustainable, but they refused to argue that it was wrong to deprive a man of the products of his labor to redistribute incomes, or that the reason for the Democrats’ deficit spending was to enable them not only to buy votes, but to buy votes on a grander scale than would be possible based on any non-catastrophic level of current taxation.

Clearly, the problem has not been that Republicans tried to please Conservatives and no one else, and that they “need to move toward the center” if they want to win elections, a tired refrain some are still singing to this day.  How much more to the center could Romney, Dole, McCain, and Bush (either one) have moved without crowding their Democratic opponents?  In fact, the Republican Establishment has repeatedly shown its contempt for the Party’s Conservative base, the base without which it has no hope of victory.  (A more thorough account of the Establishment’s failures may be found in The Case Against the Establishment GOP.)  What they needed to do was present a Conservative set of ideas and policies diametrically opposed to those of the Democrats – and this they have not done (except under Reagan).

For example, in 2014 the Democratic Left is going to push (economic) inequality as an ill which should be further remedied by government with even more income redistribution than we have today.  The proper way to counter this stratagem is to emphasize that political freedom always means economic inequality, and that income equality (at a poverty level, of course), as advocated by the Democrats, must destroy political freedom.  This moral argument should then be buttressed with appeals to the superior economic growth that greater freedom from government regulation will bring, and the manifold benefits to the typical American family of this growth.  And that is the way to tackle the Left:  point out the terrible immorality of their positions on everything from racial quotas to the rights of businessmen and then remind the non-welfare recipient and non-government worker how much better off they will be with the morally superior free-market alternatives Conservative policy offers.

I think this pretty well establishes the kind of candidate we need:  someone highly skilled in argumentation who will contest both the morality and the efficacy of the Democratic Party platform; in brief, a principled Conservative.

In Part 2, I will try to develop a multi-pronged test to help us distinguish such a candidate from the Establishment/RINO alternative. • (883 views)

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3 Responses to What Conservatives Should Look For in a Presidential Candidate

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    This makes good sense; basically, an articulate and principled conservative. That’s exactly what Reagan was. As a matter of fact, we need such people now to fight the Democrats in Congress; for example, I’ve pointed out many times that the GOP could have won the shutdown fight last year if they had articulated their message instead of idiotically believing that the synoptic media (emotionally committed to whatever success they can claim for the Obama Gang) would present their side fairly. (The liberal trolls on NRO mocked me as a whiner on occasion, but my point wasn’t a complaint about the reality of the gross misbehavior of newsliars, but rather the failure of the GOP to deal with a pre-existing condition.)

    One thing I should point out here is that it’s well to remember that conservatives, unlike liberals, think for themselves and therefore inevitably don’t agree precisely on everything. (As Sam Rayburn once pointed out, if two people always automatically agree, only one of them is thinking. The same thing is true, incidentally, if someone reflexively disagrees with someone, as liberals did with Bush.) For example, I’ve never called myself pro-life, though I’ve tended to vote that way going back at least to 1976 (it was more or less an irrelevance in the few elections before then in which I voted). I used to favor legalizing abortion prior to viability, though Elizabeth has persuaded me that a more reasonable standard is heart and brain function (those are how we detect the end of life, after all). Obviously, this is very different from those who believe life fully deserving of protection begins at conception (which means that IUDs should be illegal). To me that’s a minor difference in detail; we can agree that abortion should be greatly restricted, understanding that someday in the (distant) future we’ll disagree.

  2. steve lancaster says:

    “What they needed to do was present a Conservative set of ideas and policies diametrically opposed to those of the Democrats – and this they have not done (except under Reagan).”

    Like Diogenes searching for an honest man, a principled conservative may be elusive.

    I have no objection but who do you think is going to do this? Establishment GOP, Tea Party, or someone else?

    How far from conservative purity are you willing to go 90%, 80%, 50% to win an election?

    Someone who is OK on marriage but slippery on abortion? or the other way around?
    Someone who is OK on marriage and abortion but is at heart a statist?

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      How far from conservative purity are you willing to go 90%, 80%, 50% to win an election?

      Someone who is OK on marriage but slippery on abortion? or the other way around?

      The way I look at it, Steve, is that if a candidate sounds as if he has put together his issues in the style of a smorgasbord, he’s not a conservative.

      Conservatism is like learning to ride a bike. One you learn the gist of it, you then apply it to whatever road you are on. But one cannot be a conservative and be pro-abortion. The most basic unalienable right — and the one from which all others flow — is the right to life.

      If someone is missing that basic element, they can’t possibly pedal the conservative bike down the road without falling into a ditch. They are just a conglomeration of half-baked, half-realized positions rooted in little more than either focus-group-testing or Kultursmog. Electing them is even worse odds than a crap shoot.

      Purity isn’t the point. I don’t worry that the water that I drink is 100% pure. But I do worry that it is H20 and not Kool-aid or perhaps some colorless poison.

      And regarding the issue of gay marriage, a conservative would note that this issue is part of a larger issue of the attempt by the Left to undermine the status of marriage. Nothing against gay people, per se, but we have to man-up and see that either the family unit remains the basic unit of a society or the state becomes the surrogate parent or spouse. No conservative can be for gay marriage if they not only consider the context of this issue but consider the fascist nature of the pink mafia who is pushing this issue.

      It’s certainly possible that someone could pull from a focus group (or some other self-conscious method) the stances of being pro-life and pro-real-marriage and still be a statist. That’s what we would call a fraud. And surely the gist of Nik’s efforts here are to help us see through the frauds.

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