What is a Conservative?


We have all heard of the Buckley Rule – that you should vote for the most conservative candidate who can win. (And yes I am paraphrasing what he actually said). But what defines being a conservative? Is it about a balanced budget? Is it abortion? What about foreign aide or Afghanistan?

I tend to think of three policy areas: Social Issues, Spending and Foreign Policy. But even within these areas there are many complications and even contradictions.

Social Issues can be particularly vexing.   Sure we all know that a conservative is against abortion, but what about those who are more libertarian and say that the government should regulate as little as possible. Does this apply to abortion? This same conflict could come up around gay marriage. Is a true conservative for traditional family values or staying out of people’s lives. If we are for devolving power from the federal level to the state and even lower when possible what happens when a community wants Single Payer?

Democrats try to paint conservatives as being supportive of big business but many conservatives would reject that notion as crony capitalism and be more supportive of entrepreneurial ventures. How does this play out in the tax code and spending?   Is a conservative for exemptions and credits because they reduce taxes? Does this apply to an expanded dependent exemption as proposed by Marco Rubio? What about to credits for solar panels as proposed by virtually every democrat? Why are they different? Is it because one is about family and the other about green energy?

Is a conservative supportive of boots on the ground in Syria? What about in Ukraine? What is the difference? Do we support dictators who keep the pot from boiling over because they are our guys as Ted Cruz said on Tuesday or do we support democracy everywhere as President Bush advocated? What about data collection under the patriot act? Should we allow that? Should Apple and Google be able to sell phones that allow for encryption?

These are complex and nuanced issues and I am sure that if we surveyed top Republicans we would get lots of different answers. That is what makes this idea of the most conservative, electable person hard to wrap your head around.

As we saw in Tuesday’s debate there are many flavors of conservative. And we saw specifics from every candidate which helps each of us decide who to support. Unfortunately the two who have been leading lacked many specifics. Can anyone tell me where Trump stands on any of these very specific issues?   Other than things being a disaster and that he would bomb the hell out of everybody and build a really good wall do we know specifically where he stands on a complicated issue?

The one thing that I always admired about Reagan and why I believe he was an effective president is that he had a foundation of what being a conservative meant to him. It didn’t always match up with mine but when something came up in the Oval Office he was able to go back to his core beliefs and use that lens to make a decision.

I am curious, if you could summarize your core principals in one sentence what would it be? I would love to hear what your sentence is.


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