Donald Trump continues to lead the Republican presidential contest. Ted Cruz continues to gain ground against the front-runner. John Kasich continues as the outside chance in the race.
The eventual Republican nominee needs to take something from all three candidates to win.
Forget the personalities for a moment, hard as that might be. All three sometimes seem to do their best to irritate friends as well as foes.
But all three also have strengths. Whoever gets the nomination needs to draw on those advantages in November and beyond. Because it is critical for America that another Clinton—or, even worse, an admitted “democratic socialist”—not sit in the Oval Office.
The starting point for the GOP nominee must be principle. America needs a dedicated constitutional conservative in the White House. Otherwise we can expect more of the same. Unfortunately, Republicans as well as Democrats have presided over the vast expansion of government regulation and spending.
In truth, when it comes to the growth of government there wasn’t a lot of difference between Presidents Bush I and II and their Democratic successors. Government grew steadily. The GOP presidents talked a good game. And they had good intentions. But they were unable to resist the extraordinary pressure, including from congressional Republicans, for Washington to grab ever more control over people’s lives.
We can’t afford another wasted Republican presidential term, presiding over slightly slower growth in the welfare state. Instead, we need someone who will lead the fight to roll back Washington to the role actually authorized by the Constitution. The candidate who best fulfills that role is Ted Cruz. A constitutional scholar, dedicated conservative, and avowed Christian, he understands the need to return to the vision that animated the American Revolution.
The federal government should be small but effective. It should protect Americans from foreign threats and create the essential framework for a free society. It should promote justice and provide a safety net, acting only when a free people cannot. For most issues Uncle Sam should be the last, not first, resort.
The next president also will need to utilize the talents of conservatives at the state as well as federal level. As Washington shrinks more will have to be done by governors, state legislatures, and local authorities. They all will need to work together, with responsibility passed out of the nation’s capital to elected officials closer to both the people and problems.
The presidential candidate who best embodies this characteristic is John Kasich. After serving in Congress he returned home to Ohio, where he was elected governor. Conservatives understandably have serious concerns with some of his policies in Columbus, but that only reinforces the broader point. We need conservatives at all levels of government working together.
For instance, as Ronald Reagan long ago proposed, Uncle Sam should send both responsibilities and resources back to the states. Even limited devolution helped make the 1996 welfare reform a resounding success. We know that government closest to the people works best, so we should build on what’s been proven to work and get Washington bureaucrats out of the welfare business once and for all.
Finally, the next president will need to channel the enthusiasm of his followers. Give Donald Trump his due. He may offend as many people as he attracts, but he has brought in a lot of energetic new voters who want real change. There’s a lot not to like about what he says. But we need a presidential candidate to speak with passion to ordinary people.
Conservatives in Washington sometimes lean toward the ivory tower. They all know how the free market benefits society, despite the nostrums spouted by the Left, and why the Constitution must be interpreted as written, not as people might want it to be. We need a nominee who can explain these and other positions to those voting in November. It’s not enough for the Republican to be the best candidate. He must convince the American people that he is the best candidate.
When they vote in the final primaries Republicans should consider which GOP contender could handle all three roles. We must put forth our best candidate in November. America already has suffered under nearly eight years of Barack Obama. We can’t afford to risk America continuing down the path of failed socialist policies and the erosion of our constitutional freedoms. The next president must understand and respect our Constitution, have solid plans to address our challenges, be willing to devolve federal power to the states, and sell his vision to the American people.
[Ken Blackwell is a member of the Policy Board of the American Civil Rights Union.]