Photo by New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College

The five to seven presidential primary debates that the Republican National Committee proposes for next year, as opposed to 2012’s grueling circus of 26, will provide that many fewer occasions “for liberal moderators to focus on how exotic Republicans are,” remarks Karl Rove. How about limiting those occasions to zero—not by cutting the number of debates further but by broadcasting them entirely on Fox News and C-Span? After all, the candidates will be trying to persuade Republicans, so why should they debate on the hostile platform of the mainstream media, with the likes of Wolf Blitzer moderating? And while the thoughtful and gentlemanly Brit Hume would make an ideal moderator, questioners should also include print journalists, from Charles Krauthammer and George Will to Victor Davis Hanson and Bret Stephens.

The spotlight, though, should be primarily on the candidates, who should be asking one another where they stand and why, with moderators merely raising issues and keeping order. Instead of a sound-bite format, the events should be more like real debates, with plenty of time for candidates to make statements and rebut—to demonstrate how they make a coherent argument, how deeply they have considered the range of issues that will face the next president, and how statesmanlike they seem when placed in a setting that lets them be something more than TV performers or gameshow contestants.

After all, President Obama will have left the country and the world a shambles, and Republicans have deep divisions among themselves on profoundly serious issues. Where do we stand on immigration? On what basis should we select among all those who wish to come to America? Do we believe that we still have powerful enough cultural machinery to ensure assimilation and upward mobility, so that we can welcome the most unskilled and uneducated and turn them into productive workers and citizens? Do we believe that the unskilled are crowding out native-born workers and pushing them, most unwillingly, into the ranks of the minority underclass? Do we think that permitting still more Muslim immigration will make America as divided and dangerous as France or Britain have become? What do we do about the illegals, as opposed to those who have followed the law in trying to get to America?

Yes, Republicans are the pro-business party, but how do we reduce crony capitalism, in which government favoritism plays so decisive and corrupting a role, as it has done in the last eight years, and return to entrepreneurial, creative capitalism? How do we get the big banks and the mortgage industry out from under the government thumb while still maintaining prudent regulation? How do we undo the mess that is Dodd-Frank, while still providing an orderly, confidence-inspiring financial marketplace, rather than a souk? Should we let the Federal Reserve return to its original mandate of ensuring sound money, leaving the question of full employment to the political process that sets fiscal policy? How do we return to a normal interest-rate environment?

What should America’s role in the world be? Let me put a thumb on the scale and say that the neo-isolationism of Rand Paul strikes me as misguided, but many Republicans agree with him, and the issue needs a full airing. The alternative is not nation-building and the naïve belief that all we need do is topple dictators, and we will turn their citizens into democratic republicans. But what course do we take, if we mean to be once more, as we should, the leader of the free world?

And most important, how do we restore America as a nation of self-governing freemen, rather than quasi-serfs bossed around by the overpaid bureaucrats of the administrative state, including the entire Obamacare mandarinate? How do we restore something like the limited-government, free-enterprise republic that the Founding Fathers envisioned?

There is much to hash out, so let’s make sure we do it in the most illuminating and serious way possible.


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