The Corner

Politics & Policy

A Few Questions for the Candidates

Over on the homepage, I list a few highly specific commitments the Republican candidates should be asked to make.

Noah Millman criticizes the article in a post.

He takes the article to be proposing that these commitments are a “litmus test” for conservatives. He says the demands in the article are too dominated by “culture war” concerns and ignore other important issues. He concludes that the list “sure doesn’t read like much of an agenda to me.”

It isn’t meant to be an agenda, let alone a comprehensive one, and I never suggested otherwise in the article. Nor did I say (nor do I believe) that conservatives should vote against candidates who fail to make these commitments–which is what a “litmus test” would mean, if it means anything.

My point was that these are yes-or-no questions that candidates could usefully be asked. They take the form: Would you rescind this executive order? Would you sign this particular piece of legislation being discussed in Congress? There are many, many other important issues that the candidates should talk about more than they should talk about any of the items on the list: defense policy, judicial nominations, entitlement reform, health care. But on those issues, either I couldn’t think of a useful and specific yes-or-no question that the candidates should be asked, or conservatives are sufficiently divided that it would not make sense to recommend that conservatives as a group ask it, or both.

Millman writes, “It’s also striking how defensive the list reads, with many of the items related to reversing Obama-era policies that social conservatives fear threaten their ability to operate on an equal basis in American life.” Because President Obama took certain executive actions, there’s a yes-no question that can reasonably be asked: Will you reverse those actions? A lot of Obama’s controversial executive actions–a lot of any recent president’s–concern social issues. So if you make a list of specific commitments to seek from a presidential candidate, you’re likely to end up with a social-issues-heavy list. (Although, come to think of it, I don’t think a single one of the items on my list is accurately characterized as reversing an Obama policy “that social conservatives fear threaten their ability to operate on an equal basis in American life.” The item that has the most to do with that kind of equality, the First Amendment Defense Act, is not directed against any specific Obama policy on the books.)

I suggest that conservatives have not asked the candidates to make enough of these specific commitments. I acknowledge that they have asked for some specific commitments, and that they require candidates to be “broadly pro-life, anti-tax, and pro-defense.” Millman takes this and writes that “Ponnuru breezily asserts at the top of his article that of course all conservatives agree on low taxes and a strong defense–as if there were no more that need be said about economics or foreign policy.” He concludes by wondering whether he’s “a bad reader.” I should say so, yes, in this case.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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