The limits of the Buckley rule

The Buckley rule holds that conservatives should support “the rightwardmost viable candidate.” It’s a fine rule for conservatives to apply to races for Congress where the victor’s main role will be to vote on legislation that conservatives either favor or disfavor.

The rule is more problematic in a presidential election (note, though, that Buckley formulated it in the presidential election of 1964). The president’s function isn’t just to formulate policy. He or she must govern. Thus, it seems to me that in picking a candidate, conservatives should consider not just ideology and electoral viability, but also administrative ability and leadership skills, to the extent they can be assessed.

It might be objected that too much is riding on the 2016 election to worry about anything other than ideology and winning (if, so Buckley should be altered to demand more than mere “viability”). Even just four additional years of a liberal Democratic president could be disastrous given the threat posed by terrorism and the possibility that the next president will appoint a Supreme Court Justice to replace one of the five non-leftists on the Court.

I understand the argument, but I think it is shortsighted for two reasons. First, the country desperately needs a capable president, not just an ideologically sound one.

Second, the Republican Party cannot afford another failed Republican presidency. Personally, I don’t consider George W. Bush a failed president. However, the American public sees him that way.

When Bush left office, I thought the Democrats would probably hold the office for the next 12 years the same way they held it for 20 years after Herbert Hoover’s presidency. Barack Obama’s presidency opened the door for Republicans to win the White House sooner than I expected.

However, I believe the GOP is on probation. If the next Republican president comes to be viewed as a failure, who knows when the electorate will give the Party another chance?

Accordingly, it seems to me that Republicans need to nominate a presidential candidate who possesses the skills necessary to succeed in the White House. (This, by the way, is why I was inclined to support one of the Party’s successful governors, especially Scott Walker). Ideological soundness and electoral viability aren’t enough. The Buckley rule should be modified.


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