Let the Games Begin. Here's What to Look For.

After two-plus years (for the junkiest of the political junkies among us, at least) of “who’s-gonna-run” 2016 chatter and four-plus months of having officially declared candidates, it is finally time for the most crowded presidential primary in modern history to kick off in earnest.  I will be in Atlanta this Thursday-Sunday for the 2015 RedState Gathering, and could not be more excited to watch the debate with my friends and fellow activists.  Here is what I will be looking for—both this Thursday and more generally, as the primary slogs on—in evaluating the candidates.

  • In the present culture of brazen lawlessness, blacked-robed philosopher-king diktat decreeing, and presidential imperialism, who will commit to a restoration of a constitutional, rule of law culture?  Who will mollify the Holder- and Lynch-led Department of (In)Justice’s increasingly recalcitrant and utterly unapologetic partisanship?  Who will fight to shrink the size and scope of the unaccountable administrative state, and concomitantly fight to shift back the legislative prerogative to the actual Congress?  Who will vow to systematically undo unconstitutional executive amnesties like DACA and DAPA?  Who is willing to take the fight to blatantly unconstitutional “independent” agencies like the (terrible) Dodd-Frank Act’s prescribed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau?  Who understands the solemnity of Congress’s role in the treaty-making power?  Who will commit to appointing true Federalist Society-type originalist/textualist jurists to the federal judiciary and to the Supreme Court of the United States—and not those who, while being perfectly capable of determining that “legislature” actually means “legislature,” are woefully incapable of determining that “State” actually means “State?”  Who rejects the Whig Theory “right side of history” malarkey and recognizes the Left’s “substantive due process”-driven Fourteenth Amendment exegesis for the oligarchy-abetting fraud that it is—and, as such, might campaign on a procedural constitutional amendment to overturn Obergefell and return marriage regulation to the States?
  • Who will go beyond platitudinal applause lines and demonstrate a keen geopolitical sense of the uniquely virulent threat posed by the global jihad?  Who can talk extensively about Iran’s regional—and global!—crescent of terror from Tehran to Damascus to south Lebanon’s Hezbollah to the Gaza Strip to Yemen’s Houthis?  Who will not just commit to abnegating the harrowing capitulation to the mullahs that is John Kerry’s “Peace for Our Time” Iran deal, but will provide concrete alternatives to precluding a nuclear Iran—including militarily assisting (with, e.g., aircraft carrier support, mid-flight refueling support, and airspace coordination with the Jordanians and Saudis) the Israelis if truly necessary?  Who will lament the undeniable cultural tension—and, in so doing, stand fervently athwart the P.C.-obsessed mainstream media acolytes—between unassimilated Islamic and traditional Western values, and raise Europe not just as a haunting specter of unrepentant fiscal profligacy, but also as an example of an immigration policy insufficiently concerned with assimilationist goals?  Who, amidst the unfolding Iran disaster, will not forget about the unspeakable horrors committed daily by Islamic State—and will demonstrate a genuine tactical appreciation of what it will take, militarily and in coordination with our allies, to eviscerate them?  Who, more generally, understands on a fundamental level—contra Barack Obama—that the post-World War II Pax Americana consensus has actually worked quite well?
  • Who will will side with [mc_name name=’Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’L000577′ ] over [mc_name name=’Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000355′ ] and capitalize upon the Center for Medical Progress’s recent heart-wrenching, stomach-upending exposé of the kid-killing industry’s baby parts side business to defund Planned Parenthood of every single penny in God-forsaken taxpayer money it receives?  Who will work tirelessly—by means of both legislative support but also appointment of principled Clarence Thomas-esque stare decisis-downplaying jurists (i.e., to help overturn Roe and Casey)—to remove the United States from the dubious company of North Korea, China, Vietnam, Singapore, the Netherlands, and Canada as the only countries in the world to allow abortion after twenty weeks of gestation?  Who will connect pro-life, pro-children values with the moral imperative to fix our schools by devolving as much education regulation as possible to the state level, where it stands the best chance of being reformed in a pro-voucher, pro-market, pro-(school) choice manner?
  • Who still believes that we can—and that we must—repeal every single word of Obamacare?  Who is willing to follow leading healthcare policy experts like Yuval Levin and Ramesh Ponnuru and articulately lay out a compelling vision for what market-oriented healthcare looks like in a post-Obamacare, but not pre-Obamacare status quo ante, world?  Who is still willing to also fight to spare community banks of as much as the Dodd-Frank Act’s grotesque regulatory burden and institutionalization of Too Big to Fail as possible—preferably, also, via full repeal?  Who, more broadly, is intellectually willing to fight back against the post-New Deal economic/regulatory/governing consensus, and will meaningfully slash the size and scope of the federal Leviathan to something closely approximating, as Grover Norquist famously once put it, “down to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub?”  Who has a substantive proposal to massively simplify the federal tax code and neuter the IRS from ever again being able to willfully target dissenting civic groups?
  • Who understands that, without identifiable and meaningful borders, there is no America—period?  Who can demonstrate thoughtfulness on the nuances and difficulties of what it will truly take to make our southern border secure—preferably not by simply proclaiming the Mexicans will pay for a full fence?  Who is unafraid, indeed, to talk about fence-building, but is also savvy enough to talk about the need to complement fences and Border Patrol personnel with increasingly sophisticated drone technology?  Who is unafraid to talk not just about illegal immigration, but also about legal immigration—in particular, our need to increase high-skilled H1-B visas and our imperative to shift away from the senseless status quo of family ties-based legal immigration toward a more economically shrewd regime of market-based, merits-oriented immigration?
  • Who is willing to take on the Chamber of Commerce when need be—not just on amnesty and the Export-Import Bank, but also on its invariable hostility to RFRA legislation and religious liberty protection more broadly?  Who can genuinely articulate the case that limited-government conservatism is the political ideology not of Wall Street but of Main Street—and demonstrate that it is Big Government progressivism, instead, whose incestuousness with Big Business is most directly responsible for corporate welfare and the K Street lobbyists’ “revolving door?”
  • Who will be able to debate Hillary Clinton and make her look like the vapid, cronyist, corrupt, out-of-touch, convictions-less politician that she is?  Who can simultaneously bring the fight to the Democrats whilst offering on the campaign trail a sunny Reaganite message of “opportunity conservatism”—of rising tides and lifting boats?  Who will effectively make the timeless Milton Friedman/Arthur Brooks-esque moral case for free-market capitalism as the best antidote for the past eight years of intellectually stifling, stagnant, sclerotic progressivism?  Who will stand on stage with Hillary Clinton—a politician of yesterday—and effectively offer forward-thinking market reforms as a symbolic contrast with the FDR/LBJ-centric bankrupting social programs of previous decades?  Who is not, by disposition, a management consultant-style Romney-esque technocrat, but is a genuine philosophical conservative with a deep-rooted appreciation for the great intellectual contributions to Western conservatism—from Aristotelian individualism to Burkean skepticism to Hayekian “spontaneous order” to Buckley/Meyer Fusionism?

This is what I will be looking for this Thursday, as I watch the debate from Atlanta.  With enough willpower and conviction, we conservatives will coalesce and be able to unite around a true champion of the rule of law, free markets, individual liberty, American exceptionalism, and a culture of life.  The Left is intellectually, fiscally, and morally bankrupt; we will prevail.

I hope to see many of you on Thursday.