This weekend, I attended the Centennial Institute of Colorado Christian University's annual Western Conservative Summit in Denver. The red-eye flight on Saturday night to D.C. gave me plenty of time to sort my impressions before appearing on CNN's "State of the Union" the following day, during which host Jake Tapper went out of his way to over-allocate time to me — perhaps as a sort of welcome to an ambassador from fly-over land. Here's what I reported to him:
1. While there is considerable division within conservatives generally and among Republican activists specifically on whether state legislatures and electorates ought to allow for same-sex marriage, there is near unanimity among all on the center-right that it was judicial imperialism to impose it by the majority vote of nine unelected justices, not one of whom, as Justice Scalia pointed out in his dissent, is an evangelical Protestant or even from other than an Ivy League background. Justice Kennedy would not be denied his "hero status," even if his otherwise long-defended federalism jurisprudence had to be disfigured to accomplish his own song of self.
Same-sex marriage advocates lacked confidence in their ability to persuade, so they went the route of judicial diktat. Even as the issue fades from political debates, the manner of its deciding won't. The Supreme Court and Hillary's potential four appointees will be center stage from now until November 2016.
2. All of the GOP would-be nominees at the gathering — Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Scott Walker — received warm welcomes, but hallway chatter clearly pointed to Fiorina and Walker as "winners," as Fiorina again proved the ability to convert previously uncommitted activists and Walker proved adept at confirming incipient commitments to himself. Dr. Carson gave a rousing speech as well, but the attendees buzzed the most about Carly, and the "we must nominate a winner" chatter tilted heavily to the Wisconsin governor.
3. The Washington Examiner's Byron York quizzed most of the contenders, and I quizzed Walker (my other designated candidate, George Pataki, fell ill and could not make it). York ought to be on his network's debate panels. He knows the questions Republican primary voters want asked and answered, and he moves through them deftly and with courtesy and firmness. York is also as I like to think of myself, relentlessly fair to all of the GOP would-be nominees and a model of integrity in his grilling.
4. I asked Walker, as I did Jeb Bush on my radio show Friday, if he would push Senate Republicans to break the filibuster using the "Reid Rule" employed by Harry Reid to pack courts last year in the event that this is necessary to repeal Obamacare root and branch. Bush said he might go that far if necessary; Walker emphatically confirmed that he would. Thus did these two steal a march on the field. I think this issue of repeal, even at the cost of smashing the legislative filibuster, will be a defining issue for some voters. The four senators seeking votes will have to publicly choose the rules of the Senate or repeal before Iowa caucuses get underway, and with great consequence if they defend extra-Constitutional tradition over repeal of a law most conservatives believe unconstitutional.
5. Chief Justice John Roberts has his defenders among conservatives, who see in his declaration that "[t]his Court is not a legislature," a crucial modesty about the job of judges. Pure politicos are glad he kept Obamacare whole and firmly around the neck of that nightmare law's grandmother, Hillary Clinton. The law's failures are piling up (California — a "success" among the state exchanges — has fallen 400,000 enrollees short of its 1,700,000 "goal"), and as deductibles and premiums skyrocket and patient choice evaporates. The former secretary of state has no choice but to sing the praises of this debacle, and hope that elites talking to elites continue to miss the deterioration in American medicine.
6. Rick Santorum remains by far the most underrated candidate of the GOP field, as his experience both as a senator and a candidate shows in his unfailing good humor and ready answers for any question of substance. He may be sent to the "kiddie table" debates in August and September, but he will know how to use the greater time allocations given those candidates. I said it four years ago, and I say it again: Don't underestimate the product of Western Pennsylvania, where nothing is easy and everything is earned.Hugh Hewitt is a nationally syndicated talk radio host, law professor at Chapman University's Fowler School of Law, and author, most recently of The Happiest Life. He posts daily at HughHewitt.com and is on Twitter @hughhewitt.