Monday, December 21, 2015
This week, I'll be sharing a graphical representation I have created of the lead-up to the 2016 Presidential primaries. The thirteen slides below represent the status of the contest at different points in time from March to December. The notes in the slideshow itself explain most of what it going on; I'll leave it to the reader to judge which candidates are strong and which are weak.
Friday, December 11, 2015
While the surprising rise and persistence of Donald Trump has been the story of the year in Republican politics, Trump’s candidacy was not completely unforeseen. Trump has been involved in national politics for decades, taking positions on a variety of issues and working with officeholders from both parties. Though often considered as a candidate in past presidential elections, he has declined to seek a major party’s nomination until this year.
If he wins in the primaries, Trump will not be the first businessman with no experience in government to be nominated for president – Republican Wendell Willkie was nominated under similar circumstances in 1940, and though he lost to Franklin Roosevelt, the election was decided by a smaller margin than any of the previous five presidential contests.
Although Trump’s campaign is fueled by anti-establishment anger, his long history of political involvement, especially with Hillary Clinton, preclude him from ever running as a true outsider. That distinction instead belongs to a much more bizarre candidacy – that of Dr. Ben Carson.
Ben Carson is the ultimate outsider. Like Trump, Carson appeals to those who are frustrated with the current political system and who entertain dreams of sending an outsider to Washington to clean it up. Like Trump, Carson has never held public office. Neither candidate is taken seriously by the Republican Establishment. But Carson differs from Trump in many significant ways.
In order to evaluate Carson’s potential as the leader of the next generation of conservatives, it is necessary to look at three questions. First, how is he different from all other candidates? Second, why is he popular? And third, how can he be expected to handle future political pressures?
We can learn a lot about a candidate by looking at his or her endorsements. While writing this article, I studied the endorsement profiles of the eight candidates who made the most recent prime-time debate – Trump, Carson, Rubio, Cruz, Bush, Fiorina, Kasich, and Paul – counting the number of current and former United States Senators, Representatives, Governors, and State Legislators who have declared their endorsement for each candidate.
Jeb Bush was in the lead among endorsements by Senators (14), Representatives (38), and Governors (11), which is rather unsurprising due to his family background and long history of connections with the party Establishment. Fellow Establishment champion John Kasich came in second, with Rubio in third place and Cruz in fourth.
However, among state legislators, Cruz is in the lead with 151 endorsements to Bush’s 131 and Kasich’s 137. As a fierce critic of the party’s establishment and the big-government Republicans who control both houses of Congress, it’s little wonder that Cruz is feared and disliked by many who walk the corridors of power in Washington. Nevertheless, state legislators, who are far closer to the people they represent, are generally supportive of Cruz.
In the endorsement primary, Rand Paul comes in fifth place, Carly Fiorina in sixth, and Donald Trump in seventh. While the majority of experienced office-holders in both political parties are either terrified of or disgusted by Trump, he has nevertheless earned the endorsement of former Representative Virgil Goode of Virginia and 22 state legislators.
And in last place there is Ben Carson, who has been endorsed by four state legislators, and not a single Senator, Representative, or Governor. While a certain amount separation from the Establishment may be desirable in a candidate, it is downright bizarre that one of the most popular candidates for a nation’s highest office is not supported by any prominent members of its government.
It seems, therefore, that Carson’s major difference from the other candidates is his total lack of political credentials or a political history. Carson had no significant involvement in national politics until his famous speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in early 2013, less than three years ago! In that brief time, Carson has made a name for himself by criticizing the current administration, mainly on Obamacare, which he has called “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.”
Ben Carson’s complete lack of political experience, and his fierce and unapologetic criticism of the current regime, qualify him as the ultimate outsider. In a year when most voters seem to prefer outsiders, this has served him well thus far. According to the latest results from Public Policy Polling, Carson is currently at 19%, behind only Trump, while Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have 14% and 13%, respectively, and no one else exceeds 5%.
Why then is Carson so popular? He is, first of all, an outsider – he appeals to voters who feel that they have been betrayed by career politicians in both parties, and see the election of a president with no connection to the political system as the only way to effect positive change. Second, he says the things that his base wants to hear – in this he is similar to Trump, and while the two men differ in style, much of their substance is the same. Third, Ben Carson is nice.
Ben Carson has earned a place in our hearts as the nicest candidate. (His favorability rating, according to Public Policy Polling, is +37, higher than any opponent’s.) Carson is a soft-spoken man, who overcame a background of poverty and racial discrimination to become a world-renowned surgeon, saving hundreds of lives over the course of his illustrious. His remarkable success story has earned him universal respect. And now he seems to have embraced conservative ideology in its entirety.
Ben Carson is universally liked and admired, and accordingly he has benefited from a significant polling boom at this early point in the season. Nevertheless, his lack of political experience or credentials should be a cause for suspicion – can he be and do what he says he will be and do? Can he accomplish the things that true conservatives desire from a president? Thus the third question, how can Ben Carson be expected to handle political pressure?
At this point, it is impossible to say with any degree of certainty what kind of a president Carson would be. He has no political history. All politicians begin as outsiders, but sad experience has shown that most of them, upon taking office, abandon the principles on which they were elected and fall in with the bipartisan Establishment, serving the interests of political class rather than the people whom they represent. While there is no reason to question Carson’s character, at a trying time like this, good intentions are hardly enough. The only candidate that can be trusted to fight the establishment is one who has fought the establishment, and Carson, with his total lack of experience, is not that candidate.
Ben Carson is running for president as celebrity, gaining support because he is universally liked and respected for of his many great accomplishments in the medical field. And while neurosurgery may be a more honorable profession than that of a celebrity musician, actor, or athlete, it is not any more relevant to the duties of the President of the United States. Carson has provided conservatives with an inspiring story and strong rhetoric, but so far he has done nothing to show that he is ready for national leadership.
Ben Carson’s political views are, in effect, the views of a child. The brevity of his involvement in politics means that he lacks the essential experience of hearing challenges to his opinions and refining his views as he comes into contact with more people and ideologies. Much that he believes is admirable, but at this point, his understanding of the issues is too shallow to withstand serious criticism.
Consider the comments Carson made last spring, when asked by a reporter whether he believed that sexual orientation is a choice. “Absolutely,” said Carson. “Because a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight — and when they come out, they’re gay.” Later that day, Carson apologized and rescinded his statement.
Whether Carson’s statement is accurate is of secondary importance – what matters here is that, as soon as he realized that what he had said was very controversial, he changed his mind about the issue. Carson did something similar when pressed over a comment to the effect that Obamacare was worse than slavery, explaining that what he actually meant was that Obamacare was worse than 9/11. Holding unusual political opinions that melt away at the first sign of criticism is something one would expect from a precocious youth, but hardly from a presidential candidate.
If nominated for President, Ben Carson would likely change his views many times in his struggle to win acceptance with wider blocs of voters. If he could overcome his unfamiliarity with the political process and actually become the next president, Americans could look forward to four years of unpredictable rule with their callow commander-in-chief repeatedly reversing his positions in a futile attempt to bring harmony to the disparate interests that govern Washington. In the end, Carson would prove to be an unprecedentedly weak president, as his good intentions and expert knowledge of neurosurgery could do nothing to take actual policy decisions out of the hands of ill-disposed men in both parties whose political acumen far exceeds Carson’s feeble talents.
Ben Carson may be the most likeable of the candidates now vying for the presidency. He may have the most inspiring personal history. And he is certainly the ultimate outsider. But, in the end, these are not the qualities that the conservative movement – or the nation – needs in a leader. The battle lines are drawn, the enemy will broke with no compromise, and our side could do nothing worse than to choose an inexperienced commander. Ben Carson is an honorable man with good intentions, and conservatives are fortunate to have him on their side. Nevertheless, he is not, at this time, ready to take on the unique duties and challenges of the Presidency.
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
In the previous essay, I wrote of the need for a thorough analysis of the field of Republican presidential candidates. Since then, we’ve seen a slight drop in the number of contenders when Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal withdrew from the contest. Indeed, after Rick Perry and Scott Walker, he is the third governor to drop out of the race in a year that has seen traditional, establishment qualifications utterly repudiated by the Republican base.
In large part this is due to Donald Trump, who has carved out an (appropriately large) niche for himself as the angry man’s candidate. The establishment never anticipated his rise (what place do they see for a candidacy based on the rejection of everything they stand for?) And for many months they have refused to acknowledge his staying power, obstinately pretending that his support has reached its apex, and that his campaign is about to collapse.
Nevertheless, Trump always remained in the lead, and always remained strong. He is a serious candidate, and since this year’s election has, thus far, been defined largely by his presence, it makes sense to consider in greater detail the merits of the Trump candidacy. There are, in my opinion, three essential questions to consider. First, why is he so popular? Second, is he a conservative? And third, what will happen if he wins the presidency?
Donald Trump has been leading in every national poll since August. Public Policy Polling, which has a reputation as the most accurate pollster, found him to be at 26 percent in a poll conducted last Thursday. He leads the pack by a large margin: Ben Carson is at 19%, Ted Cruz at 14%, and Marco Rubio at 13%. No one else is above 5%.
It is quite apparent that this eccentric billionaire has brought something to American public discourse that resonates with tens of millions of Americans. Why has a man so out of place in the world of politics garnered such admiration from the public? Because, at heart, Mr. Trump is a populist. He appeals to the common people and spurns elites. “Our politicians are stupid,” he says, blaming “truly stupid leadership in Washington,” for holding our nation back. “They’re holding back this incredible, pent-up energy, and when we release it, we will be great again.”
That, then, is his message: the politicians are stupid, so elect me and I’ll make America great again. Because conservatives across America are very angry with their current government, and very much want to see their country made great again, they are generally supportive of Trump.
Clearly, Donald Trump is one of the most successful, practical, and plainspoken people in the country. What could be a bigger contrast with our current leaders in Washington, who refuse to listen to the people and are unable to pass even routine budget measures without lengthy and ultimately fruitless partisan squabbles? Indeed, Trump’s unique experiences in climbing to the top have given him the insight and confidence needed to both recognize and ridicule our nation’s most overrated people. Trump’s undeniable accomplishments, harsh attitude toward the establishment, and commitment to decisive action are a combination that voters haven’t seen in a long time.
“I’m going to make American great again,” Trump says. “I will build a great wall. I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created. I’ll hit ISIS so hard your head will spin. I’ll bomb the hell out of them, and take their oil.”
Conservatives across the country are very angry about the status quo, and rightfully so. Donald Trump is extremely popular because he is the perfect vessel to channel their anger – he is, or seems to be, the opposite of everything they hate about Washington. Trump has carved out a niche for himself as the angry man’s candidate, and the way things are going right now, that niche is turning out to be larger than any other.
But supporters of Trump should beware, and ask themselves much value they place on anger alone. Finding someone who is loud and outspoken about a few political issues is, in itself, unimpressive. Trump’s success as a real estate developer and reality television star have given him a place on the national stage, but voters should be asking themselves how deep his commitment to conservatism really runs. Hence the second question: is Donald Trump a conservative?
Donald Trump gets most of his attention for his views on immigration and the Middle East. His harshness toward illegal immigrants and his strong opposition toward rapprochement with Iran or a soft policy toward the Islamic State are the issues on which he is the loudest, and he seldom gets any attention for his views on the issues about which he is not loud. But his positions there are clear to see, and he has stated them amply in the recent series of televised debates.
Donald Trump has a moderate attitude toward Vladimir Putin and Russian expansionism, and believes that he can negotiate favorably with Putin. He believes that single-payer health care works in Canada. He is supportive of strong eminent domain powers, and has praised the Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which condoned the use of eminent domain to further private interests.
David McIntosh, president of the Club for Economic Growth, has said that “Trump is the most liberal candidate on fiscal policy in the whole field, with the possible exception of Bernie Sanders. His angry style may reflect the deep frustration Americans have with Washington leaders who have failed to keep their promises. But the policies he’d implement would benefit himself and his own interests, not the American people.”
Except for the few issues that he’s loud about, Trump’s views generally range from moderate to liberal. The common misconception that he is the most extreme conservative in the race has gained traction because those who listen to the liberal media mistake his rudeness for conservatism. It is a sad reflection on the current state of our nation that so many people cannot distinguish between the two qualities.
Even more frightening is Trump’s past political history. From about 2001 to 2009, he was a registered Democrat. Within the last two decades, he has described himself as “very pro-choice,” and voiced support for an assault weapons ban, wealth tax, and universal health care. He has a long history of supporting Hillary Clinton, and gave money to her presidential campaign in 2007. These are but a few of the many glaring political flip-flops that dot his career as a public figure.
There is room in the Republican Party for ex-liberals; indeed, Ronald Reagan himself supported Democratic candidates and causes early in his life. But Reagan entered presidential politics only after a long history of supporting conservative principles and conservative policies. Donald Trump has no such history.
Rome was not built in a day, and an opportunist who became a Republican during the current presidential administration, jumping into the race just as it became fashionable to hate the establishment, is wholly unsuited to lead the next generation of conservatives. Love him or hate him, Jeb Bush spoke the truth when he remarked: “El hombre no es conservadore.”
Donald Trump isn’t a conservative. The angry conservatives who support Trump are either ignorant of what he really stands for, or they’re angry first, and conservative only second. Hopefully, they will wake up to the reality of what they’re supporting before it’s too late.
The first two questions, concerning why Trump appeals to voters and where he really stands ideologically, have been answered. This leaves the third; concerning what Trump will likely do if he is nominated and elected to the presidency.
To answer this question, we need to look past politics and rhetoric to Trump’s character, and to two problems in particular: his lying, and his arrogance. To put it simply, Donald Trump is a lying liar who lies. Unlike most politicians, he isn’t even subtle about it. Consider his remark in the third televised GOP debate, where he flatly denied having said that Marco Rubio is Mark Zuckerberg’s personal senator. That exact statement was present on his campaign website at the time of the debate, and it’s still there today, in his policy statement on Immigration Reform.
One need only search the internet to find dozens of other completely false statements. As a political opportunist, Trump will say what sounds best at the moment, with no regard for whether or not it’s actually true. While such behavior may be acceptable, or even desirable, in a liberal, conservatives should know better than to support a candidate who plays so loosely with the truth. With such wild variation’s in his policy positions, there’s no way to know what he’ll do about any particular issue if he actually becomes president.
Donald Trump is also extremely arrogant. I think that this was clearly manifest in his response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in King v. Burwell, after which he tweeted: “If I win the presidency, my judicial appointments will do the right things unlike Bush's appointee John Roberts.” Not only does this tweet present a grossly simplistic view of Chief Justice Roberts’ jurisprudence, but it manifests Trump’s belief in his own ability, as someone who has never before held public office, to consistently make conservative judicial appointments – a goal which eluded even experienced statesmen such as Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush.
Donald Trump’s insistence that he can cut taxes by hundreds of billions of dollars without either running up enormous deficits or diminishing retirement benefits, all because of his acumen for business, only adds to the reasons to doubt his integrity. If elected president, he’ll do something about the deficit, but there’s no way to tell what. Trump is a loose cannon; while he makes many fabulous promises, no one can know which ones he’ll keep and which he’ll renege on.
In summary, Donald Trump is not the right man to lead the conservative movement into the future. While Trump is very successful as a businessman and has many good policy ideas, his questionable political history and utter lack of honesty or humility should disqualify him from the presidency. The American people seem to agree; according to a recent Quinnipiac poll, Trump is the only major Republican candidate who loses in a one-to-one matchup with Hillary Clinton.
Donald Trump may be the angry man’s candidate, but if you’re looking for a true conservative to represent the Republican Party next November, he’s not the one. If our nation is to experience a true revival of our founding principles, we will need a very different kind of man as our standard-bearer in next year’s general election.
Friday, November 13, 2015
The presidential election of 2016 has been at the top of the minds of politically concerned men and women for a long time. Indeed, this could be a make-or-break moment for the cause of liberty, and the tasks and opportunities with which the new president will be faced are monumental in scale. Accordingly, the ever-fractious GOP has seen the largest and most diverse field of primary contenders ever to assemble. They numbered 17 at their peak, and even now they include five senators, seven governors, two CEOs, two surgeons, and the brother of a former president.
The question of who to nominate is vitally important, and no evaluation of the candidates would be complete without consideration of the type of election that the nominee will face next year. History ought to be our foremost guide in these matters, and accordingly history has shown that the status of the incumbent party – this year, the Democrats – is the best predictor of the election’s outcome.
I will give the full details of my analysis in a later essay, but suffice it to say that the future bodes poorly for the Democrats. Not since before the Civil War has one Democrat been elected president while a different Democrat was in the White House. The American people may not always vote the way conservatives want, but there are some mistakes they never make twice in a row.
So unless a sudden stroke of misfortune befalls our current Leader, and a suddenly rejuvenated Joe Biden rides a wave of well-deserved sympathy to victory in November’s election, this one electoral trend predicts a sure win for the GOP. The question, therefore, is a question of what kind of Republican to nominate.
Will we nominate a true conservative as committed to defending the Constitution as the liberals are committed to tearing it down? Or will we choose a Republican who looks with disdain upon any attempt to roll back the growth of the central government, and instead measures his success in terms of compromises with the Democrats, giving them half of what they want at each new turn, so that, in the end, he accomplishes in eight years what the other party would have done in four?
Republicans voters have come out in force in 2010 and 2014, not asking for more from the government, but for less. Less taxation, less regulation, less intrusion into local affairs, and an end to the reckless accumulation of debt. Knowing this, how can we choose a business-as-usual Republican who, like the Democrats, measures his worth in terms of the amount of legislation he has passed?
How can we choose a politician who often sees the protection of life, liberty, and property, not as the true end of all government, but as some minor annoyance that must not get in the way of the supernal business of governing? Such was the attitude of Republican congressional leaders who voted to continue funding Planned Parenthood rather than jeopardize the budgetary process by making a move that Democrats would not approve of. The fact that Democrats have no such qualms is much of the reason why they have been the ultimate winners of every major political battle in the last century.
And what a century it has been! Once the indomitable leader of the free world, our nation is now hedged about with existential threats on every side. For the first time in our history, the national debt has exceeded the gross domestic product. Entitlements now account for two thirds of the federal budget, so that even as spending grows uncontrollably, our military is choked out, and we find ourselves unable to project power abroad. Our enemies are proliferating in the Middle-East, Iran is on the verge of acquiring a nuclear weapon, and Vladimir Putin is now ranked by Forbes as the most powerful man in the world.
The situation is dire at home as well. The liberal intelligentsia has perverted our free system of tripartite government, wherein the Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary once checked each other’s excesses, into one where each branch of government exercises independent initiative to destroy the liberties of the people. Free enterprise is being crushed by the regulatory burdens of a bureaucracy so vast that only those who are wealthy, powerful, and well-connected can compete.
The Supreme Court has established oligarchical rule over many of the most vital areas of our society and culture. The autonomy of the states has been violated, and the democratic process rendered void, as the Justices go about taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, altering fundamentally the forms of our governments, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
The year 2016 is a make-or-break year for the cause of liberty. When the next president is sworn in, three Supreme Court justices will be over the age of eighty. These are Antonin Scalia, the Court’s leading originalist; Ruth Bader Ginsburg, most prominent among the liberals, and Anthony Kennedy, who for twenty years has cast the deciding vote in almost every landmark case. If a conservative president appoints their successors, the Court will likely surrender the powers it has been usurping since the 1960s and return to its proper role as a guardian of liberty, allowing conservative principles to flourish everywhere. But if the vacancies are filled by liberals, we will find ourselves in the end game of the long struggle by liberal elites to remake America in their own image.
The next presidential term may also be our last chance to reign in the debt. Interest on the $18 trillion debt now amounts to $223 billion, or 6% of the federal budget. In order to sustain this absurdly low, 1.2% interest rate, the Federal Reserve has engaged in reckless manipulation of the money supply, providing obscene amounts of currency to big banks and big businesses even as ordinary Americans suffer stagnant wages and record levels of underemployment.
Eventually other nations will see that the emperor has no clothes, and the US government, in order to keep its currency viable, will need to borrow at a reasonable interest rate. A rate jump of as little as 2% will add half a trillion dollars to the deficit, entirely erasing the pitiful cuts made by the current Republican Congress and, in the absence of extreme fortitude on the part of our leaders, placing us well beyond the point of no return. As a nation, we will end up like Rome in the third century, or Germany in the 1920s, neither of which would long retain its former degree of prosperity or freedom.
The time for Republicans to turn our nation away from its dreadful course is now or never. It will not be easy, but it is still possible, provided that we, as a party, choose the right man. The Democrats can trust their own, but we conservatives must always be watchful. Consider the recent spate of Congressional budget battles, which Republican leaders always resolved by persuading a minority of their own party to vote for legislation universally supported by the Democrats.
If, in the upcoming presidential election, we nominate a true conservative, one who has devoted his life to defending the Constitution, and has the strength of character and rhetorical prowess to persuade a majority of Americans that conservative principles are good for the common man, we will probably win. If we pick another moderate, we would likely lose, and if we win we will gain no lasting benefit. The pundits will say that the opposite is true, but they ignore history. Ronald Reagan won against nearly-impossible odds in 1980 because a large bloc of Reagan Democrats supported him. But in 2008, there were no McCain Democrats. In 2012, there were no Romney Democrats.
The election of 2016 may be our last chance to reclaim our nation’s destiny. And Republicans can afford to nominate no common man. What we need is the bravest of the brave and the strongest of the strong, one who fought for federalism before it was fashionable, and one whose deeds never vary from his words.
For the next few weeks, I will devote my blog to essays on each of the candidates now seeking the nomination, their background, their strengths and weaknesses, and where their true loyalties lay. I hope that, by doing this, I may shed some light on this vital question, and perhaps help to find a path that that the conservatives of the future may take, a conservative path that will bring our nation, not to a perfect future, but one in which at least some of the principles that made American great can be restored.