DENVER, CO – The crowd at the Independence Institute’s 27th Annual Founders’ Night mixed cocktails and rubbed ideological elbows Thursday evening as syndicated columnist and author Ann Coulter and Reason.com editor Nick Gillespie offered their assessment of the long-standing question on the Right: Can fiscal and social conservatives get along?
In addition, Coulter and Gillespie propoounded on a wide variety of topics presented by the moderator, Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute. Drawing both admiration and occasionally scorn from the diverse audience due to their widely varying opinions, both could agree on the most important issue in the 2012 election cycle.
“I object to having this discussion at all when we’re facing financial Armageddon,” said Coulter in her opening remarks. “It’s silly to even talk about these things, whether it’s gay marriage or contraception.”
“The spending problem is not due to women, it’s not due to men, it’s due to humans, mostly politicians. It’s in the form of entitlements,” declared Gillespie. He pointed to Medicare, Medicaid, and defense spending. “That’s what we need to be focusing on if we want to reduce the amount of government, the amount of borrowing, and hence the amount of future control over our lives via taxes and redistribution.”
The opening round of questions focused on foreign policy, and in particular, that of 12-term Texas Congressman and long-shot presidential hopeful Ron Paul, whose positions on the issue have polarized Republican primary voters.
Up first came the question of Iran.
“Just from a question of regional stability, our foreign policy in Iraq has done something very bad,” said Gillespie. “It has loosened up room for Iran to play around in a way that they weren’t able to when they were being bordered by Saddam Hussein.”
Gillespie rejected the isolationist label. “I do think we need to have a strong and able defense, and we do not have that,” Gillespie warned. “We have a military that is much bigger and much less mobile and much less powerful than if it was smaller and actually doing what it needed to do which is defend American interests and property, and not be the world’s police,” he concluded.
Coulter laid the rise of Iran at the feet of the President Barack Obama’s administration. “I think Iran has gotten stronger since Obama has been president,” Coulter responded.
While both agreed that America should not be the world’s police, Coulter defended President George W. Bush’s foreign policy after 9/11, citing the need for the war in Iraq.
“Republicans argue about how to deploy the military that will serve America’s national security interest. Democrats could not care less,” said Coulter, who attacked Democrats’ use of the military as a way for the party to demonstrate it could be “tough” on foreign policy. She cited President Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam policies and Obama’s surge of troops in Afghanistan as evidence.
Coulter and Gillespie next tackled civil unions and gay marriage, one of the hot button social issues at both the national and local level. Colorado’s state Senate passed legislation supporting civil unions out of committee this week.
“I don’t think there is a difference,” Coulter argued when asked if civil unions and gay marriage remained substantially different. “Protecting gay rights is done by contracts,” said Coulter. She said she respected the collective wisdom of state referenda that have consistently shot down such legislation, favoring the “civilizing” effect of the institution of marriage. “Marriages should be protected.”
“The difference between same sex marriage and civil unions is what you pay the caterer,” quipped Gillespie. “Gay marriage is upon us and will continue in the future. The poll numbers are there. Gays are moving into a place of legal equality under the law. That is right and proper and good,” Gillespie maintained.
On the subject of electability, Coulter defended her support of Mitt Romney and her criticisms of the other remaining GOP candidates, particularly the surging Rick Santorum. “I like a lot of things about Santorum, I actually agree with him on most issues, but I think he will lose. I think he’s not our strongest candidate,” said Coulter.
Coulter, who has been a withering critic of Newt Gingrich, dismissed the former House Speaker’s chances. “That’ll be a 49-state landslide,” Coulter argued.
She pointed to the difficulty of removing incumbents as one reason to support Romney, noting that the only Republican to unseat a Democrat in the past century was Ronald Reagan’s defeat of President Jimmy Carter in 1980.
“I think he will be the Republican nominee,” said Gillespie, referring to Romney. He believes Romney needs to change course on tackling entitlement spending in order to garner more support from the limited government conservatives and libertarians who wish to rein in spending. “That isn’t going to wash,” argued Gillespie, if Romney refrains from targeting Medicare and Social Security.
The speakers differed on the impact of third parties in presidential elections. “Whoever wins this election, it’s not the Libertarians’ fault,” joked Gillespie, who quickly added the important caveat that voters should stay true to their principles. “If you can’t vote what you believe in the privacy of the ballot, move to Russia.”
“No one is saying you can’t vote what you believe. This country is going to be Russia if you don’t get rid of Obama,” Coulter countered.
American Furniture Warehouse founder Jake Jabs was honored with the organization’s D’Evelyn Award.