Monday, July 17, 2023

What I'm looking for in a 2024 candidate

 At this point, it seems that what you see is what you’re going to get. Six months prior to the kickoff of the 2024 primary season, it’s unlikely that any more candidates will enter the overcrowded Republican field and only slightly more likely that another Democratic challenger will emerge against Joe Biden. We have our choices and the odds are that one of of the candidates that has already announced is going to be the person inaugurated on January 20, 2025.

It’s no secret that I voted for Joe Biden in 2020. As a conservative, I saw Biden as the most conservative candidate because, despite being a Republican, Donald Trump was not conservative in any sense of the word.

Photo by Elliott Stallion on Unsplash

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I stand by that choice. Even though I knew that I’d have lots of disagreements with Biden, I believed that it was of the utmost importance to remove Trump from the levers of power. The post-election events proved me right and I’d make the same choice again without hesitation if I had it to do over again. In fact, Biden has exceeded my low expectations, and if 2024 is a rematch of Biden versus Trump (and I think it will be), I will make the same choice for the same reason.

Even though Biden has performed better than I thought he would, I’d prefer a real traditional conservative over the moderate Democrat in the White House. My mind is open and I’m willing to consider Republican candidates, but unlike years past, I won’t be voting Republican by default.

At this point, there is no longer a single Republican Party. There are at least two different factions that are loosely allied and sharing the same tent. Other than not liking the Democrats, these groups don’t seem to have much in common.

When it comes to considering my 2024 options, there are going to be a few different factors and issues for me to consider. In the past, I generally picked candidates who were pro-life, pro-gun, and anti-tax. I still hold these positions but due to successes in recent years, both legislatively and in the courts, they don’t hold the same priority for me.

The Dobbs decision put abortion back at the state level where it belongs. In most red states, the battle is won and we are at a point of diminishing returns. In most cases, I don’t support further reductions in the allowable window for abortions or tightening of laws that would prohibit procedures that are medically necessary. I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of prosecuting people for out-of-state abortions. I think the next battle should be in helping families to afford the children that now won’t be aborted.

Likewise, our Second Amendment rights are now firmly entrenched. I’m not worried about the government coming after my guns. Now, I’m more concerned about keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people while respecting the rights of law-abiding citizens.

It’s a similar story for taxes. The 2017 tax reform was a boon for tax payers, but it’s irresponsible to cut taxes any further without cutting federal spending. Like it or not, we need government and government needs to be funded.

Nowadays those old political concerns have given way to new priorities. And not all of the new Republicans share my traditionally conservative values and morals. Once again, there are going to be some Republicans that I won’t be able to support.

Donald Trump is only the most obvious example. Just as I couldn’t support a candidate with the looming possibility of an indictment in 2016, I won’t support a candidate who is under two indictments in 2024. That number will soon increase to three as The Former Guy finally amasses more indictments than impeachments.

Along the same lines, if a candidate can’t criticize Trump and speak the truth about the 2020 election, I can’t trust him with power. And by truth I mean the facts supported by evidence that Joe Biden won a free and fair election without massive fraud. This is not a controversial position anywhere except inside the Republican Party. 

Rejecting the insurrection and its rationale is easily the most important issue facing Republican candidates and voters. The stolen election lie was an assault on the Constitution and core of the American republic. A stake needs to be driven through its heart.


Any candidate that I support must acknowledge that Donald Trump is not being persecuted by the Department of Justice. Instead, they should admit that Trump made his own trouble. Sure, plenty of people would like to take down Trump, but if Donald Trump himself had not played fast and loose with the law, there would be no case against him. I don’t trust those Republicans who obliquely promise to overhaul the Justice Department, implying that The Former Guy is the victim of a political vendetta rather than a lawless and incompetent man who dug his own whole and needs to be held accountable.

I place so much weight on this point that I am hesitant to support anyone who served in the Trump Administration. This is especially true of those who stayed until the end without objecting to Trump’s behavior. If you don’t see anything wrong with Trump’s example prior to losing the election then I have to question whether we hold the same values.

And speaking of lawless, I need to see real respect for the Constitution, not just lip service. I don’t want to vote for a potential president who will flout the Constitution and the rule of law to advance his own agenda and/or punish his enemies.

Some Republicans don’t seem to believe that the First Amendment is an important part of the Constitution. Or at least not as important as the culture war. But for a constitutionalist, protecting the speech of political opponents is just as important as protecting the gun rights of the Republican base. 

As an aside, I’ve been reading G.J. Meyers’s “The World Remade” about America’s role in World War I. An unappreciated part of the story is the Wilson Administration’s crackdown on political opponents and unions in which the government literally sent people to prison for exercising their right to free speech. Courts upheld these sentences at the time, but thankfully, we’ve had lots of landmark First Amendment cases in the last 100 years. Still, I’m leery of anyone, Republican or Democrat, who tries to use the power of government to stifle speech.

One of my other big litmus tests for this election is Ukraine. The Republican Party of my youth was staunchly anti-communist and opposed to Russian aggression. Sadly, a large part of today’s GOP is openly sympathetic to murderous dictator and former KGB officer Vladimir Putin. Others try to take a neutral position by criticizing Russia but taking a hard line on aid to Ukraine.

In reality, failing to support Ukraine is tantamount to advocating for a Russian victory. Without Western aid, the Ukrainians cannot take the country back. Without outside help, they won’t be able to win the war of attrition and will likely eventually lose the rest of their country.

Some of the pro-Putin sentiment is cloaked in sympathy for the Ukrainian people. Putin sympathizers have been saying that we should cut off military aid to avoid prolonging the conflict and killing more Ukrainians. These people have been saying this since the day the Russians invaded almost a year and a half ago. They said this through the Ukrainian counteroffensives and the Russian retreats. Eighteen months into the war, with the Ukrainians in good spirits and gaining more ground and Russian soldiers disillusioned and turning against Putin, this line of reasoning is a transparent attempt to disarm Ukraine to make them easier prey.

There has been a maxim in the Middle East for the past few decades that says if the Palestinians put down their weapons there would be peace, but if the Israelis put down their weapons there would be a massacre. The same dynamic applies in Ukraine. If the Russians put down their weapons, there would be peace. If the Ukrainians put down their weapons, Ukraine would cease to exist as an independent nation. 

Ukraine has no choice but to fight on, with or without Western help. The only question is whether the West will provide them with the tools to make it a fair fight or they will go up against (the surviving) Russian tanks with rifles and Molotov cocktails.

It isn’t only that there’s a strong moral case to help Ukraine fight off Russia’s imperialist armies. There’s also a good case that helping Ukraine destroy Russia’s military is good for America. Aside from weakening a major geopolitical foe, the war is also showing the world that American weapons are much more effective - and a better buy - than Russian ones. Conversely, the best way to protect other American allies, such as Taiwan, is to demonstrate both our resolve and the amazing capabilities of our defense industry.

I still hold onto my old, limited government, traditional conservative principles, but these days conservatives have to look deeper at candidates than just glancing at their pro-life and NRA ratings and the (R) after their name on the ballot. We have to look beyond the culture war issues to separate the faux conservative populists from the actual conservatives. All Republicans are not equal. 

I haven’t decided who to vote for next year. I intend to follow a version of the Buckley Rule in the Republican primary and support the most conservative candidate who can win. But there are some Republicans that I won’t consider because some Republicans aren’t conservative. And some just can’t be trusted.

My suspicion and fear is that we are going to see another election where the most conservative choice isn’t a Republican at all.

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