Checklist Conservatism

I started using the term “checklist conservatism” during the candidacy of Mitt Romney, who ran a presidential campaign geared toward methodically checking off the favored conservative position on any given issue, without regard to his record or prior positions. I’m reminded about the phenomenon when reading about this absurd proposed resolution to institute a “purity test” that would require the RNC to only send contributions to candidates who agree with eight out of 10 items. Practically, many of the principles are too subjective. For instance, one principle is “Legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants” and another one is “Containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat.” How would either of these be judged? Even most Democrats would say they oppose amnesty, but the devil is in the details. Some people would say that making illegal immigrants legal is not amnesty if there are enough fines and hoops to jump through to become legalized, while others believe that anything short of deportation is amnesty. Same thing on nuclear weapons. Even liberals say they want to contain Iran and North Korea, but the debate is what constitutes “effective action.” 

But beyond the practical aspect, this sort of thing is exactly the wrong message for conservatives to send to possible candidates. Candidates who merely regurgitate a set of pre-selected ideas to conform with the diktats of the national party will not do anything to advance conservatism. What conservatism needs is more thoughtful candidates who have a grounding in policy, are competent, have genuine accomplishments, and are able to persuade undecided voters that conservative ideas are superior. The RNC doesn’t need to support more trained seals who can talk a big game to conservative audiences and check all the right boxes, without having the ability to deliver the goods even if they managed to get elected.