In the first poll following the CNN debate, the GOP’s three political outsiders combined to dominate the crowed Republican presidential field winning the support 53% of those surveyed. Donald Trump (24%), Carly Fiorina (15%), and Ben Carson (14%) have zero years of political experience between them, but each has taken the early primary by storm through a combination of anti-establishment (but mostly conservative) credentials, fiery rhetoric, and a willingness to talk tough to both the media and their opponents.
The rhetoric and tough talk of the outsiders’ campaigns have certainly dominated media headlines. Unfortunately for Republicans, many of these headlines have been decidedly negative. Whether you consider Trump’s outrageous personal attacks (for instance, Megyn Kelly and fellow nominees), Fiorina’s blatant lies, or Carson’s head-scratching “scientific” claims, the political outsiders have provided plenty of fodder for comedians and commentators alike.
While we should acknowledge the focus on important issues and refreshing candor of these candidates, it is evident that these three candidates are not the strongest in the race. Conservatives need a candidate with conservative principles, leadership ability, proven experience, and the ability to win a presidential election. Nominating the “most principled conservative” in the world does no good if voters just won’t support him or her. Reagan had both a winning personality and political savvy; Barry Goldwater did not. That’s not to say these candidates – and others – haven’t played an important role in American politics, it merely means a presidential primary shouldn’t be their platform.
Donald Trump, though speaking candidly and raising awareness about several important issues, does not meet the aforementioned qualifications. Trump has experience and even some leadership ability, but his conservative qualities are less than stellar and he is as divisive as a candidate could be. Besides his embarrassing attacks on Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, Carly Fiorina, and several other candidates, Trump has filled his speeches with bombast and little substance. He has yet to explain his “mass deportation” plans, and his economic plans consist of him gathering great minds and breaking free trade agreements. It’s also interesting to note that he has switched numerous policy stances since the late 1990s, including abortion, taxation, and social security.
Carly Fiorina jumped into the national spotlight with her second debate performance. However, her conservative credentials are less than sound, her experience is lacking, and her credibility is challenged. Fiorina’s claim to fame was her stint as chief executive officer at Hewlett Packard. Yet her record there was decidedly unimpressive; some even consider her among the worst CEOs of all time. In her 2010 Senate bid, many have argued that she ran a much more moderate campaign with weaker stances on life and immigration issues specifically – though I’ll leave that for the reader to decide. One thing is for certain – she has dug herself a huge hole with her lie about the Planned Parenthood video.
Finally, Ben Carson, the famed neurosurgeon, has proven to be a reliable conservative, yet has appeared unable to be a credible presidential candidate. Denying evolution might win a few extra primary votes, but its views like that that make great Democratic political attack ads. A flat tax is great if Carson can show the economic and budgetary outcomes, but not if Carson uses the Bible as his main justification. Furthermore, Carson has not proven that he can handle the media after stirring up a firestorm over his controversial comments about a Muslim president and then walking out of his interview.
These candidates are not the only conservative options in the race. And while they have the benefit of being “political outsiders,” none of the three has made a strong case to be a reliable, electable conservative. It does not mean conservatives need to give up and select Jeb Bush, but it does mean that conservatives should look to other candidates in the race who have demonstrated their conservatism in political office and have shown leadership ability.
Conservatives need a conservative president who can work with probable GOP majorities in Congress. They need a conservative that is not only principled and experienced, but also electable. None of the GOP’s “political outsider” candidates meets those criteria. Republicans must nominate someone who does.