While it’s been a wild run-up to the first big debate of the Republican primary season, one of the more interesting elements of it has been little remarked upon: the general agreement of the candidates.
The GOP is America’s conservative party, and it is not surprising that those seeking its nomination are generally conservative. In primaries and caucuses ahead, though, the voters will make choices, and there remains very little to distinguish one from another.
In some cases, there have been genuine policy differences among the candidates, but quite often some of them have adjusted back toward party orthodoxy — former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, for example, has tacked back and forth over details of his position on immigration.
Of course, you’d need a spreadsheet to discern a pattern in the ego-driven utterances of Donald Trump.
Much of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s campaign hasn’t involved any really new ideas, but a good bit of new rhetoric, including his applause lines at a New Hampshire forum this week. “This president is trying to turn the American dream into the European nightmare,” he said at one point.
The son of immigrants, Jindal sounds the bell of American unity. “We’re not hyphenated Americans.”
Few of the candidates seem to vary from the GOP mainstream, but a couple do.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, of Kentucky, is more of a libertarian and has been outspokenly critical of the hawkish views of many in the party; U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, is his polar opposite, but few other candidates in the race appear to agree with Paul’s take on foreign affairs.
Gov. John Kasich, of Ohio, is among those who buck the party line of Jindal and some other fellow GOP governors. He fought for expansion of Medicaid insurance coverage for the working poor, calling it a moral imperative.
It might be noted that Kasich was joined by a number of other GOP governors around the country. We agree with him more than Jindal, but for the purposes of the current debates we hope that they talk about this difference.
There may be relatively few genuine policy differences on view in the debate season now looming, more than a year before the 2016 general election.
There is plenty of time for candidates to sharpen their distinctions with others, but we hope there are real differences, and not just rhetorical devices. America’s problems are large, and the scope of thinking in both major parties requires new approaches this year and next.
Recycling the same views will get pretty old among no less than 17 announced candidates, and the debates and forums might be tiresome and attract few views, as the GOP organizers found in the extensive round of candidate meetings in 2012.