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I’ve always wanted to watch an extended political interview where the host stubbornly refuses to allow the politician to retreat to pat answers and stump speech talking points, where he interrupts evasive techniques and forces arguments to their logical ends. Sure, Bill O’Reilly made a career out of his no-spin schtick, but despite the yelling and interruptions everyone still spinned on his show. What passes for a tough cable news interview aims for shock and Gotcha! not clarity and conviction. Last Friday night the CrossPolitic crew delivered the interview I’ve wanted to see as Idaho gubernatorial candidates Brad Little and Tommy Ahlquist joined the show for a live event in Moscow. It was part debate, part conversation, part preaching, and part did that just happen?

The conversation started off predictably enough for a campaign stop for the Republican candidates. Little and Ahlquist affirmed their belief in small government and lauded the rights of states over against an overreaching federal government. But soon their unwillingness to be consistent with their conservative principles would be exposed. With President Trump in the White House and a Republican-controlled Congress, both candidates agreed that the present affords a prime opportunity to make radical changes at the state level without having to fear recrimination from the federal government. Ahlquist proposed saying No to the feds on insurance mandates and rolling back other healthcare and business regulations. Little’s bold plan for defying the feds involved a passing lane on Highway 95. This answer was a harbinger of tension to come as Pastor Toby Sumpter interrupted, “Wait a second…as I think about Hillary versus Trump and what might have come down the pike with someone like Hillary, the kind of regulations that were probably coming, and the example you give me is a passing lane?!

The conversation later shifted to abortion, and things got tense. Pastor Sumpter reiterated his proposal for defying the federal government regarding abortion in a similar manner to what some states have done with marijuana. The interview reached its most revealing moment as Sumpter put forth an analogy of a shooter on the loose. Any self-respecting governor would act quickly to protect the citizens from such a domestic terrorist. He would call in the National Guard and protect innocent life. Sumpter then added:

“This is happening to the tune of 1,400 [babies] every year in the state of Idaho. There are legal executions taking place and I want to know what are you going to do to stop it… We’re talking about the murder of babies.”

Silence.

No answer.

Jeopardy music. [1]

All of a sudden, neither candidate was willing to just say No to the federal government. When the issues were bureaucratic red tape and taxpayer dollars one would have thought they were vying to be the second coming of Robert E. Lee. But as soon as the topic switched to matters of life and death for babies all states’ rights bravado morphed into to a big slop of mushy precaution. We must read bills, study consequences, and obey the Supreme Court—we have a system of law, you know.

The candidates’ inconsistency was also exposed when they refused to apply their confessed conservative principles to education. After touting their beliefs in free markets, neither would apply free market principles to education. Why should a parent be forced to pay for public schools that they have no interest in sending their children to? Even if we implement some sort of voucher system, why must parents send their money to the government to then try to get some of it back? Why not just let families keep their money and decide the best education option for their children themselves? “Well, I believe in public education,” said Little. The message was clear: free market education is beyond the political imaginations of our current politicians.

As a South Carolinian I don’t have a dog in this Idahoan fight. But from what I saw in this interview I make the following assessment of the two candidates. First, I commend them for being good sports. It was a tough and sometimes tense conversation, but they kept their composure and took the heat with laughter and a good nature. I wouldn’t say all their answers were satisfactory, but they showed up and gave answers to hard questions. Mr. Little seems to be a fairly predictable Republican. He’ll likely follow the party line, be pro-business, talk about conservative principles, and act on some of those principles. But he is unlikely to make any significant changes or be a real force for the pro-life cause. He’s more or less what one would expect from an establishment candidate: go along, get along, and pass the buck on the most important reforms. Mr. Ahlquist is harder to read. He seemed more amenable to substantial changes, but only after provocation. It was unclear if he possesses a firmer conservative foundation or if he is just more pliable to the opinion of whatever room he is in. Both seem to be upstanding, decent men, which is good as far as it goes. But our times call for more than decent men; we need courageous men. And courageous men don’t swallow their tongue when the conversation turns to infanticide.

Viewers sporting Tone Police badges may have felt that some portions of the interview and the ensuing Q&A were unfair. The abortion line of questioning was relentless. Language was strong and sometimes snarky. They interrupted the candidates a lot. But these men are asking the good citizens of Idaho to hand them the keys to the government for the next four years. A grueling interview is not out of bounds. Forcing them to answer for the 1,400 babies slaughtered in Idaho every year is not too much to ask. I have no idea how these candidates responded to the event (although I did notice that neither of them referenced it on Twitter afterward). But a worthy candidate would have left chastened and resolved in his pursuit of conservative ideals and a true pro-life platform; he would not leave angry or with hurt feelings.


1. For the full exchange, start watching around the 58:00 mark.

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