Now that Mitt Romney has decided to attend the “American Principles Project Palmetto Freedom Forum,” hosted by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Robert George, a conservative legal scholar, voters will have a chance to hear the presidential contenders expound on some topics. In the spirit of civic-mindedness I offer some suggestions for grilling the candidates.
For Romney, the issue is ideology, that is, how conservative are his views and what are his core principles. Questions on RomneyCare should be framed with care so as to get to the nub of the issue — whether an government mandate to buy health insurance is a trivial infringement on personal liberty. If it is not, Romney should explain the trade-off he made in designing his plan and why he made that deal. What did he learn from that experience? Does he regret crafting his reform as he did? On other topics, when he talks about private-sector experience, it would be interesting to find out what what skills or ideas he now possesses that distinguish him from his opponents. And on foreign policy, his recent VFW speech left us wondering: Would he have intervened in Libya?
For Texas Gov. Rick Perry, there are a variety of areas to explore — on his governance, ideology and experience. King, a Bachmann supporter and rapid opponent of illegal immigration, will no doubt go after him on his very moderate record, including his support for allowing in-state college tuition rates for children of illegal immigrants. More interesting would be to ask him to explain his own words and ideas. In foreign policy, for example, we don’t know what he means by “military adventurism” and how he defines “vital national interests.” He signed a pro-life pledge that promises not to appoint pro-choice candidates to cabinet-level spots, yet he endorsed Rudy Giuliani for president in 2008. Have his views on pro-choice office-holders changed? On domestic policy, his book “Fed Up!” suggests many avenues to explore including his preference for many constitutional amendments. There are also some apparent inconsistencies to explore. If government shouldn’t pick winners and losers, why did he set up tech funds to dole out millions to politically connected insiders? Why was mandatory HPV vaccination a mistake and why did he defend it in his 2010 reelection campaign?
For Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.), this is a chance to flesh out her philosophy and policy proposals. It would be interesting to ask her to tell us what is wrong with the sort of 10th Amendment views espoused by Perry and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.). If the people of Massachusetts or California democratically choose to legalize gay marriage, why is that a problem? On entitlements it would be interesting to hear if she contends that we end Social Security as we know it, as Perry suggests. Is she fully supportive of Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan or would she have something different?
For Hermann Cain, it’s time to get serious, demanding that he account for his comments and explain his policies — just as the voters expect of the top tier candidates. How do his comments about Muslims comport with the text and spirit of the Constitution? What specific health-care and tax reforms does he favor? He’s plainly getting up to speed on foreign policy; he just needs to explain why we should trust another candidate with zilch experience (or expertise) in national security.
And for Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) someone should finally have the nerve to expose just how extreme he is. He should be asked if he would do away with Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid. Do we need an FDA, federal civil rights laws and the FAA? Would he end foreign aid? And finally, it’s time to quiz him on his racist and homophobic newsletters.
The questioners should reject generic answers, demand specifics and get out of the way. Let the candidates talk. Let’s see what they are made of.