Anger of candidates is distracting from GOP ideas

Published 11:41 pm Friday, December 25, 2015

The anger that has been part of each of this year’s GOP presidential debates rose to a new pitch Tuesday. Some of the candidates really may have been that angry; others were giving viewers a show. Either way, it was a spectacle that brought to mind a poet’s words: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

They were angry at each other, at President Barack Obama, at Hillary Clinton, at Russia and China, at immigrants.

“Like all of you, I’m angry,” were the first words spoken by Carly Fiorina, and her fellow candidates spent the rest of the debate demonstrating it.

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Hardcore Democrats loved it, of course. Not only did the candidates’ anger overwhelm their ideas, it raised questions about their ability to hold a position in which a lack of restraint can lead to disaster.

For those whose partisanship takes a backseat to patriotism, however, the debate was disturbing.

U.S. history, both in success and failure, makes clear a single ideological template is inadequate. We need ideas from the left and right. We need the ability to calmly debate those ideas, without anger blinding us.

Is debate without rancor possible? Absolutely. Thirty-five years ago, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush managed it, and their statesmanship allowed them to propose ideas that varied from the preconceived views of their base. They did not live in a political world where the ultimate fear was that the other candidate could accuse them of agreeing with a Democrat.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, also is modeling this saner version of politics. He is one of the most conservative members of a strikingly conservative House, but he spurns the “identity politics” he sees increasingly defining the presidential race.

“If we try to play our own version of identity politics and try to fuel ourselves based on darker emotions, that’s not productive,” Ryan said last week.

Also from Ryan: “If we want to save the country, then we need a mandate from the people. And if we want a mandate, then we need to offer ideas. And if we want to offer ideas, then we need to actually have ideas.”

Ideas have taken a backseat in the GOP presidential race.

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