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THE PROBLEM WITH LITMUS TESTS

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 Peter Wehner on the search for an ideologically "pure" candidate.

Tom Marr is a conservative radio talk show host from Baltimore. While driving yesterday I listened to Marr, who was substituting for a national talk host. In the course of the program Marr said that Governor Mitch Daniels was a “fake” conservative. (So too, he added with certainty, is Governor Chris Christie.) Marr didn’t simply disagree with Daniels; he was dripping with contempt for him. At one point Marr asked “Did Ronald Reagan ever ask for a ‘truce’ on social issues, Governor Daniels?” (I’m citing his words from memory rather than from a transcript.)

Let’s see if we can sort through some of this, starting with the comparison to Reagan, the greatest political conservative we have ever known.

As it happens, as governor Reagan signed into law (a) permissive abortion legislation (which he later regretted) and (b) the first no-fault divorce law in the nation. Daniels, on the other hand, signed into law a measure imposing some of the nation’s tightest restrictions on abortions and made Indiana the first state to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood. He has a strong pro-life record. And Daniels’s education reform package is perhaps the most conservative and comprehensive any governor has ever put forward.

My point here isn’t that Daniels is the obvious person conservatives should support for president, in the event he decides to run. He may not be. At this stage it’s impossible to know which candidates will acquit themselves well and which will not. That’s what primaries are for.

The observations I want to make are separate and apart from the merits of a Daniels candidacy, and it starts with this one. The very purity test that Marr wants to impose on Daniels would have disqualified Reagan. That fact alone should give a moment’s pause to Marr and others who think like him.

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