With Ted Cruz’s announcement that he is running for president, the 2016 race has began.
Yeah, I know. You probably weren’t ready yet. But here it is, you can’t escape it, and you might as start taking a look at the likely candidates now.
But before we examine the individual candidates one-by-one (which I will do next week), it’s important that we know exactly what we’re looking for.
As Republicans, but more important as lovers of liberty, what are we going to need the most from a candidate in 2016?
There are four big requirements.
1) Someone who will fight.
Republicans have won two major victories in midterm elections and won back control of both the House and the Senate. But you would hardly know it from the actual legislative results, and Senate Democrats still seem to be setting a lot of the agenda. Republican leaders in Congress are a little too used to acting like whipped dogs; they tend to assume they have lost any fight before they even begin.
All of this is part of the Democrats’ political calculus. It’s why big government is always a one-way ratchet. The left pushes for its agenda knowing that once they get ObamaCare passed, for example, they might pay a political price for it in the short term—but in the long term, now that the new entitlement is in place, Republicans will never dare to repeal it.
So we need someone who will repeal it. We need someone who won’t just try to be a more responsible manager of the bloated leftist state, but who will try to roll back as much of it as he can and push for major new reforms.
2) Someone who can win.
Republicans have lost the last two presidential cycles, and they badly lost one congressional cycle before that. While they’ve bounced back in the last two midterm elections, there’s really not much anyone can do for a pro-liberty agenda until Republicans also control the presidency. We can expand the Tea Party caucus in Congress, and we can even take over the Republican leadership or at least pressure them into bolder action. But it won’t amount to much if President Hillary Rodham Clinton still has the power of the veto—not to mention the vastly expanded powers of the executive branch.
This will require a difficult balancing act. To find someone who will fight, we need an ideological firebrand. To find someone who can win, we need someone who is more than just an ideological firebrand. We need someone who can explain those ideas in a reasonable, articulate way that connects to the concerns of the average voter. We need someone who will push for a significant change of direction from the Obama years—but someone who can get more support for it than just 50% plus one, someone who can appeal to and rally a wider consensus. And that may mean someone who doesn’t promise to deliver the entire agenda of the right, but who focuses on convincing the public on just a few key reforms.
Speaking of reforms and of the vastly expanded powers of the executive—there is one specific commitment to reform that we should seek in the 2016 nominee.
3) Someone who will restore the limits of the presidency.
When it comes to rolling back the policies of the Obama years, we will have a great advantage. Precisely because President Obama has tried to bypass Congress, it will be very easy for a new president to undo everything. What is done by executive order can be undone by executive order. But we don’t want a leader who will just take over those powers and wield them for his own agenda. We need a chief executive who will choose to reduce his on power.
We need someone who will set out deliberately to restore the balance of power between the executive and Congress—who will set an example of working with Congress to achieve agreement and pass actual legislation.
We need someone very rare: a leader who can seek after power in order to not use it. We need another George Washington.
And in more ways than one.
4) We need a commander-in-chief.
If President Obama has usurped too much power domestically, he has largely abandoned the post of the presidency on foreign affairs. Just in recent days, consider the way his administration is still claiming Yemen as a success, even as its president flees, its government collapses, and neighboring countries plan an invasion. Or the president’s refusal to even meet with the new head of NATO, even as the crisis in Ukraine rages on.
The world is going to be one giant mess when the next president takes office, and that gives us the last, indispensable thing we’re looking for: someone who will use his legitimate powers vigorously in foreign affairs, who will rejuvenate our battered relations with our allies, put a little bit of fear back into our enemies, and wipe out the worst of the bad guys (starting with ISIS). And he’s going to have to be in it for the long haul. It has taken six years for President Obama to unravel American power and credibility. It will take at least that long to put the pieces back together again.
All in all, it’s a tall order. The only president I can immediately think of who could claim all of these characteristics—he stood firm on principle, enjoyed the nearly universal support and good opinion of his countrymen, set an enduring example of limited executive power, and was an effective leader in war—was the first one. So we’re not looking for much in a 2016 nominee, just another George Washington.
Or as close to it as we can muster.
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