After the Republican presidential candidates finish their first debate this summer, many will head to Atlanta for a summit hosted by Erick Erickson, conservative activist and editor-in-chief of RedState.com.
This year, Erickson's RedState Gathering is scheduled for the same weekend as the Iowa Straw Poll.
Jeb Bush has already indicated he will go to the RedState Gathering rather than Iowa. Scott Walker, Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio and Rick Perry are also going. Most will try to attend both events, Erickson says.
Erickson has asked his guests this year to not just criticize President Obama as they make their case to be president.
"I would rather [have] them talk about where they want the country to be, should they get elected," he told NPR's Scott Simon. "What do they actually want to do as president? How do they think the country needs to be changed, and what should it look like by the end of their four years?"
Erickson objects to the media's — and the public's — fixation on candidate squabbles and "gotcha" moments.
"I'm not doing the RedState Gathering for the media or even the public at large," he says. "I'm doing it for the Conservative grassroots who are going to play an outsized role in picking the next presidential candidate for the Republicans."
Erickson's argument against Democrat-bashing — including Obama and Hillary Clinton
I think we should be judging them based on what they want to accomplish, as opposed to a 50-point plan no one's going to read or the latest red meat they can throw about the president ...
They're going to govern differently than Hillary Clinton, but when we're in the primary season, it is how these candidates are different from each other, not how they're different from the Democrats. Oftentimes, we get through several primaries before we kind of figure out how they're actually different from each other.
On promoting campaigns of substance
I'm very critical of a lot of people on both sides at the base level who've developed cults of personality. They don't know what candidate X thinks, but they just love candidate X. I think we need to figure out what candidate X thinks.
On his hopes that the politics of substance will catch on
I would like to see this done in the presidential debates. Instead of really trying to do gotcha moments between the candidates, there should be a discussion about the future of the country. There are a lot of people — not just Republicans, Democrats alike, liberals, conservatives, non-partisans — who get the sense that a lot of the leaders in Washington feel like they're just managing the decline of the country, as opposed to trying to revitalize the country. Hearing their views on that, and probing to see which sides they fall on, I think should be important for picking the president.