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What to Look for in a Presidential Candidate

Recently, I examined what not to look for in a presidential candidate in a previous piece. The question now becomes: what should conservative voters look for in a Republican nominee?

Obama has shown electing a president to be far easier than electing one who will govern well. Republicans must nominate a presidential candidate who can achieve three primary goals: 1) the enactment of a pro-growth agenda that will revitalize the economy, 2) the reform of entitlements programs to ensure fiscal solvency, and 3) a long-term plan for the reduction in the national debt.

These three things must be accomplished in the next term. The rising tide of debt and entitlement spending threatens to wreak havoc on America’s economic security. Other issues can factor in a voter’s choice, but to choose a candidate who can’t achieve these three ends will be a wasted effort. The fate of most conservative issues is tied to the electoral fate of Republicans. If the GOP takes the White House, the fate of Republicans will be tied primarily to the state of the nation’s economy.

These goals are not easy. A president who can make them happen must possess the following four things:

Political Courage. Washington’s ability to spend unlimited amounts of money without paying for it has created an irresponsible world where political convenience rules the day. A GOP president must be willing to go against the political grain and demand that real and difficult reforms be enacted.

Republicans do not need to nominate a gadfly, or a soldier who dies on every hill, but they do need someone who will not run from a fight when the country’s future is on the line. They must be willing to push ahead in the face of political opposition.

Character. Character is important in the negative sense of not being dishonest or unfaithful. Whether or not we believe personal character is a qualifier for the presidency, the Anthony Weiner case has shown how much a lack of character can distract from the business of government.

Character is also important in the sense of having positive virtues like compassion and decency. The left will personally attack any president who proposes reductions in government as uncompassionate and inhuman. Voters will be less likely to believe these lies if the person is truly a good and decent person.

This same personal character will give them credibility when they explain to the American people what hard choices must be made.

The Confidence of the Base. A Republican president trying to address entitlement reform and the debt will need to cut deals with moderate Democrats like Mark Pryor (D-AR) and moderate-to-liberal members of the GOP like Susan Collins (R-ME). To cut deals, the president must have the confidence of the Republican base. A Republican president must be trusted as a true supporter of conservative values.

Republicans would make a mistake if they nominate a candidate whom party regulars don’t trust in hopes of winning the general election. Any compromise by such a president will be greeted with suspicion as a long-expected sellout -- and the compromise will be undermined, and probably fail, thanks to a groundswell of opposition.

Only a president trusted by the party’s base can be a successful negotiator. A compromise may not be welcomed, but more of the base will be willing to accept it if someone they trust obtained it. They’ll be more likely to understand that the compromise was the most conservative outcome under the circumstances.

Ability to Inspire Optimism. This is vital to long-term economic recovery. Under President Obama, America has received uncertain leadership. As was the case after Jimmy Carter, America needs a boost to its self-confidence to be able to grow and succeed. A nation where the people believe buying gold and food storage make more sense than buying homes and investing is not one that will prosper.

If the American people elect a Republican president in 2012, that president must renew the confidence of Americans in America’s future, not just by being cheerful, but also by being clear that America’s fiscal problems can be fixed and are being addressed.

This is a tall order, and no candidate will be found to be perfect in all areas, but if voters keep in mind the task the next president must achieve and what it will take to accomplish it, we’ll make a far better choice.

Also: Read up on Mitt Romney's primary confusion on the Tatler.