2. MARRIAGE — What position does the candidate hold on the vital social and enculturating institution of marriage? Does he or she have proven, consistent experience defending and promoting marriage as a sacred union between one man and one woman? And as president, how will he or she not only defend but esteem and encourage the institution of healthy, lasting, natural marriages going forward? Does the candidate understand that poverty, lack of economic opportunity, and a host of social pathologies are to a great extent a reflection of the decline in marriage and the disintegration of the family?
3. RELIGIOUS LIBERTY — Does the candidate truly understand why the issue of religious liberty was so important to our Founding Fathers and the future of the country? Does he or she have proven, consistent experience defending religious freedom? As president, how will he or she advance this issue in light of current and growing assaults?
4. NATIONAL SECURITY — Does the candidate have demonstrated wisdom and proven experience on defense and foreign policy issues? What does he or she believe constitutes America's most vital national interests, those essential to protect and defend? Does he or she truly believe in a policy of "Peace Through Strength" and have a credible plan to rebuild the military, and a plan to protect our borders and national sovereignty? Does he or she have a solid team of qualified, seasoned advisors, especially on matters related to the defense, the Middle East, Russia, Asia, and energy?
5. ISRAEL AND RADICAL ISLAM — Does the candidate have a clear and coherent view of U.S. vital interests in the Middle East, including a demonstrated, consistent, long-standing support for Israel and a solid understanding of why Israel matters to the U.S.? Does the candidate have a clear understanding of the urgency of the threats posed by Iran, ISIS, and Radical Islam more broadly, and a serious approach towards dealing with such threats? Does he or she have proven wisdom and experience in dealing with the Middle East issues, or is the candidate too new to the foreign policy arena?
6. ECONOMIC GROWTH — Does the candidate have a realistic vision of how to revive the growth of the American economy and family incomes by unleashing free market forces and job growth? Does he or she have a bold, yet carefully thought-through tax reform plan? Has the candidate and his team subjected their plan to economic modeling and truly understand the implications of what they are proposing? At the same time, does the candidate have a plan for America to achieve energy independence; a serious approach to reforming and strengthening Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; a credible plan to reduce the size and scope of the federal government, balance the federal budget and stop borrowing from foreign countries; and a principled plan to repeal Obamacare and replace it with family-and-freedom-friendly health care reforms?
7. THE RULE OF LAW — Can we trust this candidate to truly govern according to the entire U.S. Constitution? Does he or she have a deep understanding of the importance, in particular, of the First and Second Amendments? Does he or she have a deep and convincing commitment to clean up the scandals in Washington and restore the rule of law in America, based upon the U.S. Constitution? Can we trust this candidate to appoint strict constructionists to the Supreme Court and the federal courts, and to urgently reform the IRS, the Justice Department, Homeland Security, and the Secret Service to ensure justice and domestic tranquility, according to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution?
To be clear: it won't be enough this time around for a candidate to simply have the "right position" on issues that matter to Evangelicals. We will need to see longstanding leadership on these issues. And we will need to see specific reform proposals.
With the threats facing the country so great, it is political malpractice for a candidate to present himself as a serious contender for the American presidency without having developed thoughtful, credible reform plans to protect America and lead an American Renewal. Any candidate who is considering throwing his or her hat into the ring must take the time to carefully develop their analysis of the nation's challenges and their plans for keeping our ship of state from listing or breaking up. As the campaign unfolds, voters have the right to hear the candidates lay out their reform proposals, and the responsibility to evaluate those proposals carefully.
That said, effective governance requires more than men and women with solid experience and the right ideas. It also requires men and women with the demonstrated ability to lead in three key areas:
• TEAM-BUILDING: Does the candidate have a team of political advisors, strategists, pollsters, and policy advisors who have a proven record of winning, and does he or she listen to wise counsel? Are they surrounded by seasoned and respected advisors who can help them govern the nation and oversee the implementation of these reforms if they win?
• FUND-RAISING: Is the candidate capable of assembling a team of major donors, bundlers, and grassroots supporters who can truly fund a winning national campaign? Barack Obama raised $1 billion in 2012. Anyone who hopes to win the presidency in 2016 will have to raise a similar amount.
• COMMUNICATIONS: Does the candidate have the wherewithal to earn the nation's trust to be the next president of the United States in word and deed? Does he or she have the ability to connect with voters who might not have considered voting conservative or Republican in the past? Is their rhetorical and personal style one of offering hope as opposed to pessimism? In this high-speed, high-tech media culture, does he or she consistently demonstrate the ability to truly and effectively communicate a powerful message of American Renewal at home, and American leadership abroad, or at least give evidence of the ability to grow more effective as a communicator during the course of the campaign? Can he or she learn quickly from mistakes, and make course corrections on the move? What's more, can the candidate withstand the pressure cooker environment of a national campaign, maintain message discipline and a positive approach, and not crack under pressure?
What happens if several candidates emerge that seem equally qualified and compelling based on these criteria? Then we must go deeper and examine their record and proposals on other critical issues that matter to us, from education reform, to how best to deal with immigration matters, to how to revitalize manufacturing and revive America's cities, to how best to reform welfare and give people an incentive to work, and so forth.
Given the nature of a free society and the rambunctious quality of our democracy, it is highly unlikely that Evangelicals — or any other single constituency — will line up behind a single candidate from the beginning. Reasonable people of good will often disagree, and some will have longtime personal or political relationships with candidates that impose a measure of loyalty and fidelity. This is all to the good. There is much to recommend Evangelicals having a presence and voice in more than one campaign. Indeed, attempting to "anoint" a single candidate early on without regard to the conservative issue positions, solid character, and personal faith of others may be impossible.
We should also remember that Evangelicals are not, as the Washington Post infamously labeled them some years ago, "poor, uneducated, and easy to command." They are not bleating sheep who docilely and obediently take orders from leaders. To a great extent, the "Evangelical choice" will be determined by the political marketplace, at the grassroots, driven by candidate performance and who consistently makes the most compelling case for their candidacy and their vision for the country.
Evangelicals should be prudent as well as principled. They would do well to remember the Bill Buckley rule of voting for the most conservative candidate who can actually win. We cannot wait for a perfect candidate. None exist. Thus, we must not set our standards unattainably high. Yet we must be careful not to set our standards too low, or allow ourselves to be sloppy — or too hasty — in how we vet the candidates. The white heat of a campaign has a way of helping voters see more clearly the essence of a candidate's character and ideas. So we must watch and listen carefully, and pray for wisdom and discernment. And then, when the moment is right, Evangelicals need to coalesce behind a specific candidate, and do everything we can to help him or her win the White House and get this great country back on track.
So, as we begin the search, what are Evangelicals looking for exactly?
We need a leader with unimpeachable moral character, deeply-held core principles, and both the experience and the wisdom to pursue them in the face of intense opposition and despite repeated setbacks. We need to seek a leader with a clear vision and a convincing plan. We need leaders with an outsider mentality but a clear understanding of how to govern. That is, we need someone with a good compass and a clear road map.
But we also need someone with a magnet. We need a candidate who is able to persuade people to follow, someone able to communicate effectively amidst a hostile media environment. We need someone able to recruit and build a team, keep them encouraged and motivated, funded and focused, even as the team keeps growing and growing, and even as the complexities and challenges of the team mount exponentially throughout the campaign.
Now more than ever, America needs a great leader at the helm. We need someone equipped with two essential tools: a compass and a magnet.
Let the search begin.