In 1967, the father of conservatism, William F. Buckley, coined what is now known as the "Buckley Rule." It runs something like this: Support the most conservative and viable candidate who could win.
It's actually a pretty good rule of thumb to follow, if you're interested in putting the most conservative and electable candidates into office.
Here's the problem, though, for conservatives following the Buckley rule this presidential election cycle. Every candidate running in the Republican primary takes the conservative stance on all of the important issues. Whether it's abortion, same-sex marriage, taxes, spending cuts, or healthcare - each candidate supports or opposes all of the right things.
And, if the newest polling is to be believed any Republican challenger could defeat Barack Obama. So we have to look for something other than electability and conservatism when choosing whom to support for president in 2012. We have to have some way to look for something other than just positions when making our decision.
Here are five things to look for, beyond the issues, when picking your pet candidate for president.
Vote for someone who is consistent in his or her positions. Just think of Mitt Romney's track record on abortion. In 1994 while running against for US senate against Ted Kennedy, he argued that, personal beliefs aside, he thought women should have the right to murder their babies. During the Massachusetts gubernatorial race in 2002, he reiterated his support for abortion. Even in 2005 as governor of Massachusetts, Romney was still espousing his support for the legality and ease of abortion.
Whether it's Romney on abortion or another candidate on another issue, flip-flopping should throw up a huge red flag in your mind.
Support an experienced candidate. We hear a lot of talk these days about how positions matter more than experience, that skills can be learned on the job, that advisers can help anyone become an expert. To some extent I agree, but there isn't a person I know who would vote for a 40-year-old college dropout who lives in his mom's basement and plays Halo all day, even if that college dropout shares our political views.
We're not hiring someone to take orders at a McDonalds; we're choosing the next leader of the free world. Experience matters. And like it or not, some candidates aren't as qualified as others.
Don't vote for a reactionary candidate. If a candidate tries to fire up his or her base by turning serious issues into intentionally incendiary pandering, that person trivializes his or her candidacy. It's even worse when a candidate exchanges serious debate for caustic invective on red-meat issues. We should look for a candidate that goes beyond the attention-grabbing headlines and focuses on the tough policy questions.
Find the candidate who's a leader. Sometimes we just assume that if a candidate is running for president, he or she will automatically make a great leader. This isn't always the case, though. And while it's one of those vague, hard-to-pinpoint attributes, a potential president's leadership ability will have a great impact on this nation.
Look for an adept communicator. As great as it would be, I'm not expecting any candidate to have the rhetorical savvy and oratorical whimsy of Ronald Reagan. But the ability to clearly and effectively communicate ideas on the stump, in the 30-second sound bite, and during lengthy speeches is a must for any candidate, during the election and as president.
Very few of the current group of presidential hopefuls would be able to pass this five-question test with flying colors.
I still haven't decided whom I'm going to support for president. But in the Republican primary, I'm not going to vote for a candidate who fails one of these criteria, even if he or she has the right positions on all of the issues.
Because at the end of the day, positions aren't the entirety of what makes a president good or bad. Much of what makes or breaks a presidency are those things that we don't think about during the election, because we're too focused on a candidate's purported stances on the issues.