The Difficulty in Judging Political Candidates on the Basis of a Few Issues

Santorumby N. A. Halkides   5/13/14
Recently I got involved in a surprising contretemps on NRO over an article profiling Rick Santorum, who is clearly contemplating another run for the Presidency.  I was surprised at how many people could not see Santorum’s liabilities, including the redoubtable Cleanthes, and picked up a surprising ally in the person of CC Writer, who will be remembered I’m sure by some here on ST.  I argued that despite appearances, Santorum was not really Conservative (CC labeled him a “crypto-Progressive” which seems technically correct to me if a bit unwieldy).  However, fully justifying that conclusion is not my purpose today; rather, I want to point out the possible pitfalls in judging a Presidential candidate on the basis of just a few issues.

Sticking with Santorum for just a minute, his concern for the American family is no doubt sincere and of course shared by many of us Conservatives; likewise, he is correct in pointing to the plight of the American middle class.  But Santorum has no commitment at all to free-market economics (the solution for the problems of the American middle-class, as it happens) and probably does not comprehend the nature of contemporary Leftism, which to be an effective President he would have to wage war against.

Or consider a hypothetical Libertarian candidate (one may substitute Ron Paul or Rand Paul here if desired).  If you were an unwary voter of Conservative inclinations, you might hear his views on the need to abolish or at least audit the Federal Reserve and think, “That sounds good to me.”  Our Libertarian candidate might also make a speech on the necessity of abolishing the Departments of Education and Energy – wonderful!  How could we as Conservatives oppose such a thing?  It might be some time before we encountered the candidate’s nutty foreign policy views, or realized he favored open borders and “getting the government out of marriage”.  (Of course, ST readers already know all these things about Libertarianism, as several of us on this site have basically taken it apart at its creaking joints).

How about the media’s favorite Republican, Senator John (Maverick) McCain?  McCain is less a maverick than he is an intellectually incoherent loose cannon, but how is it he became considered “Conservative” by anyone when he frequently attacks Conservatives, favors amnesty for illegal aliens, and wants to censor political speech (see the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law)?  The answer is that McCain has always been an opponent of abortion, which is recognized as a Conservative position but is of course not all of Conservatism.  McCain didn’t really fool too many people except for being even further to the Left than they thought, and his unfortunate nomination in 2008 was due more to his involvement in a three-way race against Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, but it’s still helpful to use him as a test case for any set of criteria we might develop.

We could multiply these examples almost without limit, but I think the point is clear:  you can’t properly judge a Presidential candidate on the basis of a few issues; we really need to understand his entire philosophy of government (if he has one).  I would suggest that if he doesn’t have one, he’s unsuitable as a candidate because I do not think we can defeat Leftism without an explicitly Conservative candidate and program.  And if I may, I’d like to humbly reprise my short summary of Conservatism (presented in What is Conservatism?) as a practical yardstick for judging the men who would lead us:

“American Conservatism is dedicated to the preservation of those governmental and non-governmental institutions which have proven their worth over time, and it rests upon these four pillars: (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) the sanctity of life, including babies still in the womb.”

Notice that applying these standards would quickly expose McCain and our Libertarian candidate as un-Conservative and therefore unsuitable (Santorum is a more difficult case but would ultimately fail by criterion #1, which I should probably rewrite). • (1917 views)

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11 Responses to The Difficulty in Judging Political Candidates on the Basis of a Few Issues

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Excellent, Nik. Here’s the money quote:

    …you can’t properly judge a Presidential candidate on the basis of a few issues; we really need to understand his entire philosophy of government (if he has one).

    I would suggest that most do not have a philosophy of government – other than a mushy “Progressive” general outlook melded with Stockholm Syndrome wherein “conservatives” and Republicans are constantly shadow-boxing with the ingrained (and mostly un-rebutted) Leftist slanders. They’re constantly trying to prove that they’re really not the uncaring monsters (like those other guys) because, gosh, I’m for “immigration reform” or I’m for fighting “global warming.”

    I don’t rub elbows with the Ivy League crowd. But I suspect what you said about Santorum fits many other “conservatives” and Republicans, and probably most libertarians – and 1/2 of National Review’s stable of writers.

    probably does not comprehend the nature of contemporary Leftism, which to be an effective President he would have to wage war against.

    The problem is the fishbowl principle. If you are a fish swimming around in a fishbowl, you’re not aware of the water or even the concept of it. Many, if not most, of the Republicans who rise to the top are products of the popular culture and “Progressive” universities. And I would say libertarianism, as practiced, is a refusal to come to grips with this fact.

    The memory of what it means to be a free and thinking member of Western Civilization, lucky inheritors of a noble heritage, is being lost, intentionally blotted out by the media and the education establishment and facilitated by the various weak, cowardly, or just dense useful idiots who imagine they are on the right.

    That’s why any battle for conservatism starts with ridding the party of “Progressives” who swim in the water of Leftism and do not know how soggy they have become with it.

  2. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    I am not sure I agree with your characterization of Santorum. How would he be seen as “big government”? Especially when compared with the other candidates who ran in the 2012 Republican primaries.

    I hope you are not applying a “litmus” test as I think it doubtful we will find anyone, running for the Presidency, with whom we completely agree. How does one weigh the importance of your four requirements? Which is most important and which is least important?

    While I am no fan of McCain or Romney, I would have taken either in a heart beat rather than the destroyer now in office.


      KFZ – I avoided going into a detailed justification for my characterization of Santorum because I was trying to make a larger point, but perhaps I should make such a justification in the future. I won’t do so here, except to point to Santorum’s stance on the minimum wage as likely indicative of a much deeper problem – the failure to embrace free-market economics.

      As for the 2012 race, I feel we must definitely apply a “litmus test” although I’m not quite so egocentric as to insist on the four-prong test I suggested, useful as I feel it is – if someone can devise a better test, by all means, let’s go for it. (Immigration was something I left out, and it’s an absolutely crucial issue at the present time).

      Now I voted for Romney, like most other Conservatives (some people are still trying to blame Conservatives who supposedly didn’t turn out for Romney’s loss), but I will not vote for Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, or any other Establishment-Man this time around. My reasoning is thus: an Establishment-Man cannot win, and even if he did win, would be unable to turn back the rising tide of statism. To prove the first assertion, consider the record of Republican candidates beginning in 1992, Establishment-creatures all: they all lost the popular vote except for Bush in 2004, and that one win was only due to social Conservatives turning out in high numbers.
      I consider Mitt Romney probably the best of that bunch – and he lost too. Another Romney/Bush/Dole type is going to suffer the same fate.

      To prove the second assertion, consider the Presidency of G. W. Bush – all he did was very slightly delay the inevitable collapse of America under continuing deficit spending while making Bill Clinton look like a fiscal conservative by comparison. So there is no reason to vote for another Establishment-Man.

      On the other hand, there is a very good reason not to vote for another Romney/Bush/Dole – by doing so, we will make it plain to the Establishment that their only chance of winning the Presidency, which requires our support, is to run a Conservative candidate. If we don’t do this, the Establishment will run Bush clones (or even Bush family members) from now until doomsday. The irony is that the Establishment will draw the wrong conclusion – that they could have won running one of their own with our support – but they will be impelled to do the right thing, namely, accept a Conservative candidate at last.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        In the primary, I would vote for the best available conservative. In 2012, once Perry self-destructed with “oops”, there really wasn’t one; Santorum was probably the closest, at least for a while. (By the time Kentucky voted, it was pretty much irrelevant anyway, but this didn’t keep me from voting for Paul over McCain in 2008 — though mainly as a protest vote.) I certainly agree here with your disdain for the GOP Beltway Bandits, all too eager to “Stand Tall in Georgetown” (as Allen Drury put in Capable of Honor).

        But the general election is another matter. Even if all the GOP would do is delay the Deluge, that’s better than speeding it up. But (as I’ve told the NRCC in e-mail replies this year), I won’t work for or donate to a candidate I consider virtually worthless (which is true of all or most Establishment Republicans).

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          I have to agree with you Tim. If I am bailing water out of a sinking boat, I would rather have someone in the boat doing nothing than someone using an ax to make a bigger hole.

          The only way to turn this thing around is to work from the grass roots level up. If one lives in a dark blue area then find conservative candidates in red or purple areas who you can support and do so.

          This is not a short term proposition. It is not going to happen quickly. The only thing which will happen fast is the ruin of this country if people elect another Democrat as President. This person will fill the Supreme Court with more leftists and then the game will be over.

          W wasn’t a conservative, but at least he nominated 1.5 originalists to the Supreme Court. And I still suspect Roberts was coerced into making his decision on Obamacare. He has been very solid in just about all other cases.

          Who have we gotten from the Obamanation? Kagan and a “wise Latina”. Who did we get from Clinton? Beyer and an ACLU hack. Bush 1 gave us Souter, but he also gave us Thomas. Reagan gave us O’Connor, Kennedy and Scalia. Not perfect, but a hell of a lot better than an Earl Warren or William Douglas type. Where do you think the country would be if W hadn’t been able to nominate Alito and Roberts?

          So I will take the pneumonia of a possible soft Republican to the stage 4 lung cancer of a Democrat, anytime.

      • steve lancaster says:

        I suppose it could happen that way, given a strong conservative at the top of the ticket. Let me know when that happens as most of the wannabes currently, including the Pauls are not suitable, until then the only choice is between syphilis and gonorrhea.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          The conservative base working for the right candidates is the penicillin.

          And, while I am repeating myself, we must never forget they are all politicians and will never be completely true to the trust given them.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            I think this is the mistake a lot of amnesty advocates made when they had Rubio spearhead the effort in order to deceive conservatives into supporting it. I suspect most assumed that conservatives, like liberals, inherently trusted their favorite politicians. In reality, conservatives judged the arguments, and found Rubio’s wanting — so much so that it cost him the support they counted on for selling their fraud.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        Nic, I think it would be interesting and helpful if you would make up a list of what you consider the most important points to look for in a possible presidential candidate.

        As to the reasoning of your last paragraph, I respectfully disagree.
        The establishment types will continue to try and run Bush clones whether or not we vote Republican. The only way to have a conservative on the ticket is to push from the bottom up. If the base works hard enough, these clones may be defeated.


          O.K., I’ll do it. Misplaced my research on the reality of “the tipping point” anyway which was going to be my next article.

  3. Timothy Lane says:

    I try to judge candidates based on the totality of issues (there’s usually no chance of getting a reliable look at whatever political philosophy they have). Thus, in the 2010 Senate primary, I concluded that there was little to choose between Trey Grayson and Rand Paul on issues; I agreed and disagreed with both probably about as often. So I voted for Grayson in the belief that he would be the stronger candidate. (Elizabeth voted for Rand Paul, and event since have conclusively shown that she was right.)

    In the 2012 race, I liked Rick Perry (until his “oops” destroyed his credibility) and to an extent even Jon Huntsman (he had an excellent record as governor and credibility on foreign policy, but had the disadvantage that in the end he decided to play to the synoptic media against the GOP grassroots). After that I was inclined to favor Rick Santorum (as was Elizabeth) until he got too badly caught on contraception, and then Mitt Romney. (I think Newt Gingrich would be a great “idea person” in any GOP administration, providing lots of interesting ideas that others could then evaluate to see which ones were actually good, but I have doubts about him as President. One friend did favor him because of Gingrich’s “Opportunity Society” appearance at the 1983 World SF Convention in Baltimore, which he and I both attended.)

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