In a forum put on by the Sutherland Institute on Thursday, GOP candidates Carl Wimmer, Stephen Sandstrom, Mia Love and Jay Cobb all took turns agreeing with one another. But a question from a delegate about how the candidates would actually have their bold conservative agendas enacted in Congress highlighted some key differences among the contenders.
The tele-townhall forum (see video below) was one where the candidates took turns responding to questions dialed in from some of Utah’s republican delegates about how they would remedy the nation’s woes if elected. By the way candidates like former state legislator Carl Wimmer talked about leaving Medicaid up to the states and putting charity care back on religious hospitals or the way candidates talked about the wholesale elimination of federal agencies like the Department of Education, it almost sounded they like were running for President.
Then, a delegate from Riverton called in to ask the candidates how they would accomplish their plans in such a “polarized” political environment. Jay Cobb, the dark-horse candidate who worked as counsel to former Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, and has been involved in law and business in Utah, made one of the strongest arguments of the four for finding new ways to work with Democrats on Capitol Hill.
Cobb used the example of how to eliminate the Department of Education as an example of using the lawyerly art of playing the strongest argument depending on the audience -- in this situation, Democrats.
“There are several valid, good arguments for cutting the Department of Education,” Cobb said, listing off that it’s unconstitutional, poorly administered and just costs too much. “If I’m going back to D.C. and we need to get some Democrats to vote on this [cut], then you lead with the argument that wins.” Cobb says that means appealing to the dire state of the economy to woo Democrat votes. “We fight the good fight but we also need to win the good fight,” Cobb said.
Cobb’s argument was echoed by other candidates such as Love, who argued that compromise is necessary but only so long as it doesn’t compromise core principles such as upholding the Constitution. Those who can do that can get results, she said. “To me, that’s actually doing the work of the people,” Love said.
Sandstrom argued that coalition building is the best approach and cited bipartisan support he received on a firearms bill in the recent legislative session as proof that he knows how to bridge the divide with Democrats. “You can pound your feet -- and slam your hat on your desk -- but if you can’t build a coalition of likeminded people,” then you can’t be effective, Sandstrom said.
Wimmer, a former legislator, set himself apart from all the other candidates by answering the question about breaking through gridlock -- not by suggesting bridge building, but by setting Democrats up as on the wrong side of the debate.
“We are at a crossroads in this country, a battle for the heart and soul of this nation,” Wimmer said. “To follow President Obama’s top-down, big-government-status policies, where the federal government is the beginning and end of all policy, or to do what the founding fathers envisioned where states have sovereignty and the people are free?”
Paul Mero, the director of the conservative Sutherland Institute eventually had to jump in and repeat for Wimmer the delegates’ question of how does one fix the political deadlock.
“It’s not just about talking about coalitions but actually building them,” Wimmer said. He cited the Patrick Henry Caucus, the states-rights group he cofounded in 2009 that became a national movement as the kind of coalition that can break through gridlock.
Wimmer pointed out that the caucus even enjoyed support from Democrats in Missouri. In a follow-up interview, City Weekly asked Wimmer why he seemed to feel building bridges with Democrats was less important for being effective in Congress.
“Certainly, there is a time and a place to work together as a team, not to work as Republicans and Democrats but to work together as Americans; however, many of the issues we’re dealing with now you cannot continue to compromise on,” Wimmer says. “Compromise is what led this nation to have a $16 trillion debt.”
It was one of several moments that showed Wimmer following a tea party attitude of being the least likely to budge on principle, even to the point as other candidates warned of making more noise than change in D.C. The point distinguished Wimmer the most from Cobb who, having worked on the Hill, argued for better conservative arguments to win moderates.
Sandstrom touted his experience on the Hill building support even among Democrats, while Love simply said the Constitution is her guide for the principles she can’t compromise.
For the full forum including the wonderful lightning round where candidates squirm to try and just provide a “yes” or “no” answer to tough policy questions, see the video below.