There seems to be a major issue separating conservatives today (or at least two groups that both use the term to describe themselves): defining the contours of the appropriate use of federal power. The two current GOP frontrunners, despite their occasional anti-federal government rhetoric, both seem to believe in the power of the government--even the dreaded federal government--to do big things. Mitt "59-point plan" Romney has an unfortunate history of using the levers of power to make people's lives better and, of course, the base is wary that if elected President he'll try and do it again, and Gingrich's history and views led George Will to recently brand him as the least conservative candidate running, in part because of his "anti-conservative confidence that he has a comprehensive explanation of, and plan to perfect, everything." One of the areas that most clearly separates the likes of them from the true blue "state>federal" crowd is tort reform, something I was reminded of today by a moment in last weekend's forum for presidential candidates. Michele Bachmann's campaign website assures visitors that: Yet at Mike Huckabee's presidential forum this weekend, she revealed that, indeed, sometimes the solutions to our problems do come from Washington. It made for an awkward moment because her questioner, Tea Party darling and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, clearly seemed to come down on the side of state authority, not federal authority (Bachmann gets on the hot seat near the 37:00 mark). For a little perspective on Cuccinelli's personal opinion on such proposals, you need only look to an op-ed he wrote a month ago on that federal tort reform bill, vowing to "file suit against it just as fast as I filed suit when the federal health-care bill was signed into law in March 2010 (15 minutes later)": Similar intraparty confrontations played out in the House of Representatives earlier this year when Republicans moving a federal tort reform bill through committee met opposition from Tea Party-sympathizing freshmen: Similar questions arise when certain folks on the right propose to use federal power to deregulate state health insurance regulations (i.e. the standard GOP across-state-lines suggestion), though I'm not aware of any federal legislation for that proposal receiving serious attention in the House, nor do I know how deep the philosophical and intellectual consistency of the states' righters extends, so I don't think there have been sparks over that one (yet). But it seems the GOP is grappling with a very important question: when is it appropriate to use federal power, particularly as it involves overruling state actions? Then again, given the frontrunners, maybe that question has already been answered.