Until now, the 2016 presidential campaign has consisted mainly of speeches, debates, interviews, and the publication of some issue papers by the candidates. The coming contests in the states will actually elect delegates, and this race will become a test of each candidate’s ability to identify supporters and organize them to participate personally in the primaries and conventions. Every state and U.S. territory has different election laws and party rules, not to mention different sets of political circumstances and local leaders. Organizing successfully to win nomination contests in enough states and territories to win a national presidential nomination is a massive problem. Some candidates will not come close to solving it.
Conservatives are keenly aware of the fact that, among the several presidential candidates the Republican Party has nominated since Ronald Reagan, not one of them supported Reagan for nomination in 1980. If they can, conservatives should nominate in 2016 a candidate as genuinely committed to conservative principles as Reagan was. Several candidates appear to be more conservative than anyone Republicans have nominated for President since Reagan.
Conservatives hope they can unite behind a single candidate, but they haven’t yet come close to uniting. Can they achieve this and win the nomination and the general election? I think they can. First, almost every conservative leader I know, even those who have already endorsed a Republican candidate, will admit that there are several among the current field of candidates whom they would happily support in the November 2016 election. Their current preferences are at least somewhat fluid. Second, a great many conservative activists and leaders now have no single preference. If asked, they will list a number of candidates whom they believe are reliably conservative and infinitely preferable to the Democrats’ likely nominee.
As the contest enters the phase where grassroots organization and activism will determine who wins how many delegate votes at the Republican National Convention, serious conservative activists and leaders will have to decide for sure whom they choose to support. If enough of them choose the same candidate, that candidate will win the presidential nomination. That important decision will determine the future of our country.
As a member of the Republican National Committee, I’m an automatic Delegate to the 2016 national convention. I know almost all of the presidential candidates, and some of them have been personal friends and allies of mine for years in the public policy process. Put me personally among the undecided in this contest. To help me think through this, I’m writing this brief discussion of what I believe to be the most important factors to take into consideration, and then I’ll share it with conservatives whom I hope may find my thoughts useful in their decision-making process.
Has the candidate a record of personal activism and leadership for conservative principles? Talk is cheap. Actions have consequences. Every experienced conservative has heard many candidates make false promises to appear more conservative than he or she has ever been. Past performance does not necessarily predict future results, but it usually is the best indicator.
Is the candidate surrounded by people notable for their firm commitment to conservative principles? Personnel is policy. Long before he became President, Ronald Reagan surrounded himself with competent and serious conservatives who were known and trusted by movement conservatives. If elected, a candidate without an inner circle of reliable conservatives to help him or her staff an administration has no chance of winning victories in tough battles against liberals. And conservatives should not forget that one more reliably leftist presidential appointment to the Supreme Court could irreparably damage America.
Are the candidate’s currently stated policy positions solidly conservative? Quite often candidates, if elected, turn out to be less conservative than they promised to be in their election campaigns. Very rarely does an elected official turn out to be a better conservative than he or she led conservatives to believe. If a candidate currently advocates some liberal positions, the chances are almost zero that he or she will ever fight hard against the liberals on many issues.
Has the candidate ever continued to fight hard for conservative principles when it appeared to be a losing battle? Never fully trust anyone who has not knowingly gone down fighting for an important, good cause that he or she believed was losing. Sometimes we have to live with content-free Republicans, but conservatives should not promote any of them to the White House.
Does the candidate frequently reverse his or her positions on important issues? Every major politician, including the most admirable among them, occasionally changes position on at least a few issues, but a candidate who frequently flip-flops on policy issues for personal political advantage cannot be trusted to keep even promises solemnly made.
Has the candidate built a record of helping conservative organizations and working to elect conservative candidates? The fight for conservative principles cannot be won without strong conservative organizations to pressure politicians and without conservative election victories, including in nomination contests with non-conservatives. A candidate who has never helped conservative organizations or conservative candidates cannot be expected to change that behavior if elected.
If elected, would the candidate melt when the heat is on? Our country is in deep trouble. Most Americans believe the U.S. is headed in the wrong direction. Only strong, principled leadership can enable us to recover from the damage already done. Business as usual would make our major problems worse. Conservatives should consider candidates’ strength of character. Assume that Republicans elect a President in 2016 and keep Republican majorities in both Houses of Congress.
How will the left react if a new President starts the difficult task of repairing damage the left has already done? For example, what if legislation were passed to cut significantly our currently bloated government spending? Leftist organizations now receive billions of dollars each year from government funds. For them, most government spending, except for defense spending, is virtually sacred. And left-wing groups are larger and better organized than ever before in our history. They would surely react immediately to any real threat to cut the cost and intrusiveness of government. I expect that the left would take violently to the streets and create as much ugly chaos as they could. The liberal media would work overtime to blame conservatives.
What would conservatives have accomplished if Republicans nominated and elected a President without the strength of character required to persevere for the good of the country under difficult circumstances? Can the liberal media destroy any truly conservative presidential candidate? They’ll try, but they have much less of a communications monopoly now than they had when they savagely but unsuccessfully attacked candidate Ronald Reagan in 1980.
In the current run-up to the 2016 presidential primary season, the liberals have already fired their big guns to little effect against all the Republicans who now appear to be strong candidates. Most often those attacks have not weakened the targets’ support. Some media attacks have actually helped those the liberal media intended to destroy. Polls now show that any of half a dozen Republican candidates could beat the likely Democrat nominee.
If enough conservatives unite, they can nominate and elect any of the more conservative Republican presidential candidates. So there’s every reason for conservatives to try hard now to unite in support of a candidate they believe would be the most determined and effective conservative President possible.