Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Adapting to the Present

Over the past few days, some insightful pieces about the 2016 race have come out, and I thought it worth pointing out a couple that reflect on the need for the GOP to adapt to the challenges of the twenty-first century.

Pete Spiliakos argues that Texas senator Ted Cruz often needs to do more to break out of the political cocoon:
Cruz talks in the coded language of political junkies. He talks about religious liberty and partial-birth abortion, but large swaths of his hearers have no idea what he is talking about. This leads to a bifurcation of public opinion about Cruz. Political obsessives like the people reading this post could tell you Cruz’s opinion on just about anything. The regular person couldn’t tell you anything, because Cruz might as well be speaking a foreign language in his prepared speeches and in his paid media.
In a memo for the Lone Star Committee, Rich Danker doesn't say exactly that, but he does offer an extensive discussion of why Donald Trump has been able to best the Cruz campaign (and all his Republican rivals) throughout the primary season so far.

Danker notes that Trump did not bow before some of the standard idols of process.  Unlike many of his opponents, Trump did not subscribe to any "lane" theory of politics.  Rather than trying to win in a lane, Trump tried to win the primary.  Also, Trump has made himself very available to the media, which helped him achieve media saturation; other candidates tried to limit their access to the media, but that hurt their abilities to get a message out.  According to Danker, within the GOP and in the broader media, Trump was willing to try to play everywhere, and that paid electoral dividends.

One of the most interesting parts of Danker's memo comes near the end:
Cruz certainly grasped something about conservatism in GOP presidential politics in that Reagan ran as a conservative across all three major policy zones – economics, social issues, and foreign policy – and Republicans ever since have resisted emulating that example. But Reagan made his conservatism seem utterly relevant to the world he was campaigning in. He understood presidential elections are situational, not ideological. Therefore the candidate who wins the primary and the general elections is usually the one who best applies their ideological outlook to the issues of the day. Donald Trump loses to Ted Cruz on a conservative scorecard, but he did a better job on selling his conservative positions as the cures to today's public evils.
Whatever one thinks about the particular diagnoses of Danker and Spiliakos vis-a-vis the Cruz campaign, they both touch on a broader issue about the importance of not confusing electoral politics with debates about ideological purity.

If Republicans hope to cobble together a national governing coalition, they will need to focus less on posturing about who is the most "conservative" candidate and more about how to adapt the principles of conservatism to contemporary, real-world problems.  Ronald Reagan might have run as a conservative candidate, but his campaign did not rest content with the message of I'm conservative so vote for me.  Instead, he argued that his vision of conservatism could respond to the problems of Americans of all political stripes.

The GOP has struggled to establish an enduring presidential majority in recent years for a number of reasons, but electoral difficulties with the middle and working classes have surely played a role.  One thing that would help would be to end the thralldom to nostalgia and the limited comforts of reciting old victories.  It's very possible for enduring conservative principles to be applied to the problems of the present and help advance the public good.  But that will demand a willingness to challenge stale orthodoxies.  It will also require leaving behind ideological posturing and instead embracing intellectual seriousness and a responsiveness to the demands of the present.

Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, and others rose to the challenges of the present in their times.  That's what statesmen do.  And now is certainly a time for statesmen and, of course, stateswomen.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Obamadulation

In GQ, Jim Nelson makes a case for why President Obama is "one of the greatest presidents of all time."  Nelson certainly does not stint with his praise:
One of the Greatest? you ask, your thumb emoticon poised to turn up or down on me. The guy haters love to hate with their very best hate game? Like 20-Dollar Bill great? Like Mount Rushmore great?
Yep. (We just won’t build Mount Rushmores anymore.) In so many ways, Obama was better than we imagined, better than the body politic deserved, and far, far better than his enemies will ever concede, but the great thing about being great is that the verdict of enemies doesn’t matter.
While this is all very passionate, I'm obviously much more skeptical about this argument.  I'm especially doubtful about the implications of the statement that President Obama has been "better than the body politic deserved."  In thinking about public figures, it's usually best to think about their obligations to the Republic rather than the Republic's need to fawn over them.

Nelson focuses much of his argument on the importance of the president's rhetoric.
He just flew above it all. And, luckily, he took most of us with him. He was the Leader not only of our country but of our mood and disposition, which is harder to rule. At a time when we became more polarized, our discourse pettier and more poisoned, Obama always came across as the Adult in the Room, the one we wanted to be and follow...

Lastly, there’s the arc of history, bound to bend downward. As our unity becomes more frayed, more tenuous, and the ability for any politician to get anything done more unlikely, the job of president will become less LBJ tactical and less FDR big-dealer. The job will largely be to preside. To unify where and however we can. In this way, too, Obama pointed the way forward.
I agree with Nelson about the importance of unity and that some of the unifying bonds of civil society have been frayed.  However, if we're going to complain about a more polarized nation and the poisoning of our national discourse, President Obama has a significant share of blame in this coarsening.

While the president has offered statements in favor of national unity, he has so often worked to divide the nation.  While he criticized those who "like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states," he also has disparaged those who disagree with his agenda as "bitter" people who "cling to guns or religion."

The Obama administration has chosen, in implementing the Affordable Care Act, to do all that it can to polarize the debate about religious liberty.

Rather than seeking consensus on immigration and other issues, President Obama has embraced the divisive and possibly authoritarian principle that, if Congress won't act, the president somehow gains extra-Constitutional authority to promulgate new domestic legislation.

On countless public issues, the Obama White House has worked to inflame polarizing passions even as it then hypocritically denounces polarization.  There is a great task ahead: strengthening civil integration in order to help secure the promise of liberty.  Unfortunately, the Obama administration has all too often failed to live up to that task.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Considering Integration

In the Washington Post this weekend, Lawrence Summers noted some of the tensions experienced by nations across the world.  Summers argues that the post-World War II order has been marked by what he terms a project of global "integration," and the residents of many nations have new doubts about some of this project of integration.

One of the key things Summers notes is "the kind of disintegration that accompanies global integration as local communities suffer when major employers lose out to foreign competitors."  The importance of civil integration has been a favored topic of mine, so I can't resist adding to Summers' point to suggest that this is not simply a matter of economic dislocation.  The transnationalist agenda of identity politics has also attacked a broader sense of civic togetherness, which has profound social and cultural implications as well.

Tellingly, Summers argues that it's time for supporters of globalization to change course: 
Elites can continue on the current path of pursuing integration projects and defending existing integration, hoping to win enough popular support that their efforts are not thwarted. On the evidence of the U.S. presidential campaign and the Brexit debate, this strategy may have run its course.
Summers says that, rather than just continuing along the same path, proponents of global integration need to "shift from international trade agreements to international harmonization agreements," do more to refine international tax law, and attend to the concerns of the middle class.

Whether or not one agrees with Summers' proposals (and I personally think they have their limits), what's perhaps most noteworthy about this column is that it's another piece of evidence to show that even proponents of the current iteration of globalization have begun realize that the status quo is potentially on the verge of breaking down.  If even Larry Summers has doubts...

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Importance of Persuasion

In his distinctive style, Ace notes the importance of rational persuasion in some interesting remarks about my recent piece in The Weekly Standard:
Bauer goes back to James Fennimore Cooper to set up a struggle between two wicked sorts: demagogues, and the doctrinaire type.
I was just talking about this in the podcast. I mentioned that in the nineties, when Perot challenged Clinton on NAFTA, Clinton, at least, arranged for a debate on NAFTA. (Al Gore vs. Ross Perot.)
Give Clinton credit -- he was willing to debate the issue. He attempted to persuade people he was right. He briefed his Wooden Puppet Moron on some talking points and put him on Larry King Live to do this.
Public persuasion -- what an idea.
Where has that idea gone?
Anyone trying much of this on the right, lately?
Chiefly the form of "persuasion" one sees on these issues lately is ever more ghastly and baroque insults directed at the white working class.
The idea seems to be that if this cohort is insulted in even more vicious terms than the liberal ruling class did, they'll finally see the sense of supporting the right-side ruling class.
Ace's whole post is very much worth reading.  He goes on to argue that, on certain issues (especially, from his perspective, the topic of transnationalism), there's a temptation for advocates of the dominant paradigm to defend their position not with carefully argued reasons but instead with a hurricane of shame.

James Fenimore Cooper understood that shame politics has its limits.  It's not pandering to address the real concerns of voters, nor is it statesmanship to respond to public concerns with a self-righteous sneer.  The Founders of this nation and many of its great political figures, such as Abraham Lincoln, found circumspection, rationality, and intellectual diligence to be of more use than proclamations of their own virtue.  They did not rest content with calling worried Americans losers, monsters, and idiots.  Instead, they actually tried to address the desires of the people and channel popular energies in a responsible way.

The rise of Donald Trump points to significant shortcomings in the current ideological chic.  An identity politics allied to elite malfeasance and haughty transnationalism has encouraged a broad economic slowdown, instability in foreign affairs, and increased divisions in the body politic.  The responses of the left to these problems have proven dissatisfying, and the right needs to do more to offer real solutions to these issues.  I think that conservatives can offer such solutions, but running on the same old policies, which were designed to respond to global conditions forty years ago, is unlikely to do the job.

As Ace notes, defeating Donald Trump will not solve those broader problems, so disappointment awaits those who hope that they can return to the halcyon status quo if--somehow, just somehow--they can stop The Donald.  Absent policy reform, the dynamic that has given rise to Trump will continue to persist.  Some of the more interesting analysts of the Trump phenomenon, including the team at the intriguing and pugnacious Journal of American Greatness, have looked beyond Trump the man in order to consider the broader forces that have fueled Trump's rise.  Whether one supports Trump or not, that bigger picture is crucial.

I've been arguing for a while that a potential detente between conservative and populist tendencies is possible.  Such an association might frustrate some transnationalists, nostalgiacists, and lobbyists, but it could also reinvigorate national affairs and strengthen the enterprise of a free republic.  Some on the right, including Laura Ingraham, have been more open to Trump because they think his candidacy could make some reforms more likely to be implemented.  However, supporting Trump and supporting conservative reform are not identical; some of Trump's fiercest critics--such as Ross Douthat, many writers at National Review and The Weekly Standard, and so forth--have been supportive of conservative reform.

When faced with a disruptive force, existing institutions can curl up into themselves or they can adapt to the new circumstances.  In the wake of dis-Trumption, Republicans have to decide whether to double down on the past or to evolve toward the future.  This evolution need not require the surrender of key principles of individual integrity, personal freedom, and limited government, but it would require fresh thinking to confront facts on the ground in light of these principles.  Doctrinaire scorn is a poor substitute for imagination, empathy, and reason.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Doctrinaire and Demagogue

In The Weekly Standard, I turn to the topic of demagoguery and the forces that enable it.
Pundits on both the left and the right accuse Donald Trump of being a demagogue. Whether or not one agrees with that particular diagnosis, it's gratifying to see a variety of voices worrying about the dangers of demagoguery. Self-government demands rationality, realism, and restraint--all virtues that a demagogue slanders as vices. However, defeating demagoguery over the long term will require more than eloquent denunciations of rabble-rousing. To fight demagoguery, we will have to look beyond the demagogues themselves, who are often as much a symptom as a cause of a fevered body politic.
In his 1838 essay collection, The American Democrat, James Fenimore Cooper offered the "demagogue" and the "doctrinaire" as complementary antagonists. For Cooper, the demagogue elevates popular whims over individual rights and the claims of reason. Preying upon popular sentiments in order to benefit himself, the demagogue panders to and manipulates public passions, fears, and anxieties.

The "doctrinaire" might differ from the demagogue but is, in Cooper's opinion, just as injurious. The doctrinaire "affirms a disinterestedness and purity in education and manners, when exposed to the corruption of power, that all experience refutes." Cooper portrayed the doctrinaire as a "theorist of the old school," who "clings to opinions that are purely the issue of arbitrary facts, ages after the facts themselves have ceased to exist." While the demagogue declares that the will of the people is infallible, the doctrinaire clings to a narrow policy vision that fetishizes old solutions to old problems. If the demagogue's vice is a distorted attention to current sentiments, the doctrinaire's is a haughty indifference to them.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Trump's Electoral Peril

One should always be wary about blowing a news cycle out of proportion, and, in this crazy primary season, it can be hard to tell what exactly counts as "winning" a news cycle.  Still, the past week or so has revealed some potential obstacles for the Trump campaign.  Even Ann Coulter has some doubts about the Trump Train's current trajectory.

One of the biggest challenges facing the Trump campaign right now is shifting from an insurgency campaign to a consensus one.  The tactics that might have worked earlier in the campaign--such as rhetorical hand-to-hand combat and a reliance on broad slogans--may reach a point of diminishing returns later on.  Trump's job is now not to distinguish himself in a pack of seventeen candidates.  Instead, it's to unite the party behind him in order to have a good chance in the general election.

Polarizing personal attacks and a lack of policy fluency make that enterprise of unification much harder.  General-election voters will be looking for a candidate who seems to have a presidential temperament, and many Republican voters on the fence about Trump have doubts about his public persona.  If Trump can't get the support of every Republican, his candidacy can survive, but he faces a much bigger problem if a huge portion of GOP voters refuses to support him.

An inability to forge a broad consensus will harm his quest for the GOP nomination--and the presidency--in multiple ways.  If he can't convince many in the party and conservative establishments that he has a reasonable shot at being a successful nominee, he risks collapsing on the second ballot in Cleveland.  Furthermore, if his campaign doesn't organize effectively for delegates in various states, many of the delegates pledged to him on the first ballot will be very hostile to him on later ones.  The only guaranteed way of avoiding that potential collapse would be to win the nomination on the first ballot with over 1237 pledged delegates going into the convention.

However, his path to 1237 probably requires him to achieve a consensus among Republican voters.  To win a majority of delegates, Trump probably has to win by significant margins in many of the outstanding states (few of which are winner-take-all).  If he squeaks by with margins of a couple of points in most of these states, he will have a hard time getting enough delegates to arrive at a majority.  And, without a majority and a party consensus, he could lose in Cleveland.

Even if Trump were somehow able to win the GOP nomination without a consensus across the right, a fractured Republican party could also spell doom for his chances in the general election.  So achieving a consensus would be important for his campaign in both the primary and the general.

The current trend in Wisconsin exemplifies the danger Trump faces.  No poll taken over the past couple weeks has shown him with a significant lead, and Ted Cruz's strength in the state has grown considerably throughout March.  In fact, numerous polls have shown Cruz with a lead.  If Trump can't regain the momentum, Cruz could win the state and get a significant portion of its delegates--delegates Trump will need if he hopes to reach 1237.  Trump might have a strong shot of racking up large delegate numbers in states like New York, but many other states (such as California) seem much more in play.

If Trump can't start to do more to build bridges within the right, he'll have a hard time seizing the nomination and occupying the Oval Office.  That bridge-building will require more policy sophistication and rhetorical discipline.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Maintaining Good Cheer

As the national conversation grows increasingly contentious, I thought it might be worth noting this passage from the conclusion of Calvin Coolidge's address when he accepted the presidency of the Massachusetts state senate:
We need a broader, firmer, deeper faith in the people; A faith that men desire to do right, that the Commonwealth is founded upon a righteousness which will endure, a reconstructed faith that the final approval of the people is given not to demagogues, slavishly pandering to their selfishness, merchandising with the clamor of the hour, but to statesmen, ministering to their welfare, representing their deep, silent, abiding convictions.
Statutes must appeal to more than material welfare. Wages won’t satisfy, be they never so large. Nor houses; nor lands; nor coupons, though they fall thick as the leaves of autumn.
Man has a spiritual nature. Touch it, and it must respond as the magnet responds to the pole. To that, not to selfishness, let the laws of the Commonwealth appeal. Recognize the immortal worth and dignity of man. Let the laws of Massachusetts proclaim to her humblest citizen, performing the most menial task, the recognition of his manhood, the recognition that all men are peers, the humblest with the most exalted, the recognition that all work is glorified. Such is the path to equality before the law. Such is the foundation of liberty under the law. Such is the sublime revelation of man’s relation to man, Democracy!
Coolidge's remarks here stress the importance of a republic recognizing the dignity of all.  Moreover, he offers here a politics of conviction.  Coolidge argues that politics cannot just be about material welfare; it also involves questions of principle.  Especially in troubled times, it's very much worth keeping an eye on those principles.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Neither Marco Rubio's Career nor the Conservative Reform Project Is Over

In the wake of Marco Rubio’s withdrawal from the GOP presidential race, two myths have arisen. The first is that this is the necessary end of Senator Rubio’s political career. The second is that this is the end of optimism or hopes for conservative reform.

Regarding the first myth: Rubio is a relatively young man with considerable political talent. One setback does not end a career, and nearly every president in recent memory experienced some kind of major political defeat before eventually making it to the Oval Office. So there is every reason to believe that Senator Rubio has a bright future ahead.

If it’s premature to write political obituaries for Marco Rubio, it also jumps the gun to say that the failure of his candidacy spells the end of political reform for conservatives. One of the biggest reasons for Rubio’s defeat in this primary was his decision to champion the Gang of Eight bill in 2013. Contrary to media spin, the Gang of Eight was in many ways a backward-looking bill, one that enshrined long-standing and flawed Beltway policy imperatives. If Rubio had led the battle against the Gang of Eight (or would it have been the Gang of Seven?) in 2013, he would have been in a much stronger position to harness populist energies in 2016. Even after the Gang of Eight debacle, he still could have escaped the box-canyon on immigration by pivoting to specific, pro-worker reforms he would put in place for the immigration system. However, he didn’t and so was always on the defensive on immigration. Marco Rubio might have stumbled in this race not because he embraced policy reform but because he did not embrace reform enough.

There’s an even bigger reason why efforts at conservative reform might be even more important now. Whatever one thinks about Donald Trump’s character and policy positions, he has drawn attention to the fact that many at the core and on the fringes of the GOP coalition have policy priorities at odds with conventional Beltway orthodoxies.

On many of these issues, Republicans and conservatives can address these concerns without sacrificing essential principles. Efforts to improve health-care coverage, reform trade, defend national sovereignty, reinvigorate broad-based economic growth, and create a pro-integration immigration system could be part of that effort of reinvigorating the GOP coalition without surrendering principle. If the #NeverTrump movement is serious about creating an electable alternative, its proponents will need to think even harder about policy reform. The policy positions of 1980 should not be the eternal principles of 2016, and the window-dressing of noting economic concerns while offering policies that are more of the same will likely lead to more of the same electoral result--defeat.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Tea and Crumpets in Florida

In contrast to the hand-to-hand combat in Detroit last week, the GOP debate in Miami was a restrained affair.  Personal insults took a backseat to a discussion of policy specifics.  Here are a few CW-ish points:

Donald Trump presented himself as a more restrained, disciplined figure tonight.  He seemed less defensive and less eager to go toe-to-toe with his opponents.  A telling moment happened in his closing statement, when he suggested that his candidacy was the chance for the GOP to grow by accepting millions of new voters.  Trump is attempting to pivot to the role of party unifier.
Ted Cruz tried to paint himself as the most compelling non-Trump.  He never got into the gutter to fight with Trump but did hammer home policy differences.
Marco Rubio offered a sunnier, less combative side tonight.  Senator Rubio's campaign seems to have decided to end the insult comedy tour and instead present the Florida senator as a Next Gen Reformer.  Rubio also seemed to be making a big play for Florida voters in his remarks throughout the debate.
John Kasich likewise seemed to be angling toward many of his homestate voters in his remarks on the economy, his record, and opportunity.
An interesting policy development could be seen in tonight's debate: all four candidates seemed to raise doubts about the current trade consensus.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Attacking Immigration Reform

If someone is a proponent of "comprehensive immigration reform" that includes a path to citizenship, last night's Democratic debate is probably cause for indigestion.  For those who missed that spectacle, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders edged pretty close to signing on to the agenda of bad-faith open borders in perpetuity: both nearly implied that it was immoral to enforce immigration law at all.

It's obvious that refusing to enforce immigration law would increase illegal immigration and all the civil disruptions and human-rights abuses that illegal immigration entails.  But, leaving that issue aside, efforts at comprehensive immigration reform are troubled by statements by Sanders and Clinton to the effect that, if they're president, they'll make NOT enforcing immigration law a top priority.

A huge deficit of trust is one of the biggest obstacles to granting citizenship or even legal status to current illegal immigrants.  In 1986, amnesty was exchanged for promises of enforcement.  These promises were not delivered on, and the illegal-immigrant population exploded in the two decades after Reagan's amnesty.  The failures of the 1986 amnesty have again and again mobilized opposition to efforts to "comprehensively" legalize current illegal immigrants.  Even many opponents of the Beltway's version of immigration reform--including Mark Krikorian and Mickey Kaus--are open to the idea of legalization for illegal immigrants, but they stipulate that such a legalization requires a record of immigration enforcement.  If real efforts at enforcement and reforms of the legal-immigration system are put in place, it seems very possible that a compromise on mass legalization could be arrived at.

However, if the Democratic party pledges that immigration law will never be enforced, that compromise becomes much less attainable.  In order to pander to open-borders elements in the progressive coalition, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders may be torpedoing the long-term hopes of a path to citizenship.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Escalation

After Saturday's primaries, many observers began to wonder if Donald Trump's "momentum" had been slowed, but last night's results seemed to suggest that his candidacy still has a lot of force behind it.  One thing seems clear, though: Trump's opponents at many conservative institutions as well as his GOP rivals will continue to hit him hard.

Elizabeth Wilner points to some data that suggests how intense the media combat could be over the next week.  According to advertising data, about 62% of all GOP ad spending between February 29 and March 6 was used on anti-Trump ads.  During that period, there were almost as many anti-Trump ads as there were ads put out by Republican candidates and their SuperPACS during the first week of February.  Advertising dollars haven't necessarily moved the needle that much this primary cycle (just ask Jeb Bush), but the magnitude of that anti-Trump spending is noteworthy--and may have an effect.

Tomorrow's debate could be fierce indeed.  Stumbles on policy answers and responses to personal attacks likely hurt Trump in the last debate, and his rivals are almost guaranteed to renew these attacks.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

On Populist-Conservative Tensions

I've spent a bit of time exploring the possibilities of an alliance between conservatives and populists (the "popucon" synthesis).  However, in the interests of fairness, I thought it worthwhile to survey in The Weekly Standard the possible tensions between conservatism and some iterations of populism:
Conservatism and populism align when they take on a decadent elite. The current populist insurgency has been fueled by years of broken promises, economic stagnation, and identity politics. Conservatives and populists can agree that there needs to be a shake-up of the powerful. However, conservatives must break with populists when populists call not for a thoughtful decentralization of power or a more virtuous elite but instead cry out for an authoritarian white knight, who will deliver the body politic from the messy compromises of civic life. Some of the problems faced by our republic do stem from governing incompetence, but competence alone will not solve the challenges ahead of us. Moreover, calls to set up a strongman utterly vitiate the populist cry to return power to the people.

One of the greatest indictments against our current elite is that it has weaponized identity politics. The culture war against free thought, artistic expression, and intellectual diversity has, alas, all too often been led by many of those who occupy the commanding heights of our culture. Populists are right to attack the tyranny of Marcusian identity politics, and conservatives have every incentive to join them in that battle against cultural alienation. However, populists betray this critique of identity politics when they themselves succumb to tribalism. Bigotry is but one of the weapons used by collectivists to oppress the individual, and conservatives who seek to defend personal liberty and dignity should attack all such displays of malignant tribalism.
Read the rest here.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Detroit's Demolition Derby

Perhaps one of the more noteworthy things to happen last night was the fact that Texas senator Ted Cruz made a more overt play for populist sentiments.  At multiple times in his comments during the debate, Senator Cruz emphasized the challenges faced by working people and argued that his plans would help them.  He specifically argued that tax reform, repealing Obamacare, and rolling back the regulatory Leviathan would ignite growth for everyone.  The economic hollowing out of much of the middle class did not start with the Affordable Care Act, and tax reform is unlikely to be a silver bullet for economic decline.  However, at least Cruz put the idea of helping the average worker front and center.

Donald Trump may have given Cruz an opening to run in a more populist direction by his statement that he was "changing" on immigration.  Throughout the campaign, Trump has noted the abuses arising out of guest-worker programs, such as the H-1B.  Many of his top advisors and allies (such as Senator Jeff Sessions) have been very critical of guest-worker programs, and Trump's pledge to roll back such programs has been key for rallying economically restless voters to his side.  At last night's debate, though, Trump started repeating many of the arguments made by proponents of expanding guest-worker programs, talking about a lack of Americans who can do various jobs and so forth.  This rhetorical turn caused even many Trump supporters on Twitter and elsewhere to doubt Trump's seriousness on this issue.

An hour after the debate, Trump's campaign sent out a statement clarifying that he was not going to expand the H-1B and would continue to fight to reform guest-worker programs.  However, that lack of policy clarity during the debate has stoked some worry among Trump supporters.

Last night's debate also showed the importance of Trump speaking with more policy fluency and clarity on other issues, including the budget deficit and the powers of the commander-in-chief.  With four candidates still in the race, the ability to debate policy specifics will become more important,

A key moment in the debate happened near the end, when Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich all pledged to back Trump if he is the nominee.  Many #NeverTrump proponents have argued not just that Trump is unfit to be president or that people are mistaken for supporting him; some have tried to imply that supporting Trump for the presidency is a moral crime worthy of exile from polite society.  However, Senator Cruz, Governor Kasich, and Senator Rubio are now on the record as saying, again, that they will support Trump if he is the nominee.  Thus, it's hard for anyone supporting any of Trump's current rivals to argue that only moral monsters support Trump.  (Of course, they can still make other criticisms of Trump without any fear of logical infelicities.)

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

If Mitt Romney Wants to Reset the Race

Will Mitt Romney's forthcoming speech on the GOP race in 2016 change the fundamental dynamic of the race?  Endorsing a candidate might change the dynamic of the race (depending on the candidate), and declaring himself a candidate in some form would definitely change it.  However, if Governor Romney's speech simply attacks Donald Trump personally, that will likely not change the current dynamic: the Republican and conservative establishments entering DEFCON 1 and using every effort imaginable in order to derail Donald J. Trump.  As Super Tuesday shows, that dynamic might not be enough to stop Trump.

Barring a major endorsement or getting in the race himself, Romney might have the greatest chance of resetting the primary by making a bold call to the non-Trumps to champion policy reform that addresses populist concerns.

An evolving consensus has suggested that, if any of Trump's rivals hope to be able to supplant The Donald and win in November, they would be wise to trumpet policies that will provide opportunity to the aggrieved and forgotten.  (See, for instance, these recent efforts by Dean Clancy and Reihan Salam.)  Common ground can be found between the populist insurgency and many key conservative principles, and, if Republicans hope to win in November, they likely can't afford to alienate middle-American populists.  The fact that Trump has won in states across the country shows how powerful pro-disruption sentiment is.

As a person congenial to the establishment but also someone who ran as an immigration hawk and proponent of trade reform in 2012, Romney has the ability to speak to both camps in the GOP.   The current dynamic seems as though it could rip the Republican party apart.  Governor Romney could radically shift the dynamic of the race by laying down a policy marker and calling for the GOP to target the concerns of those who feel voiceless.  A speech advancing a policy-reform pivot could include something like the following:
We have seen over a decade of stagnating incomes for middle-class Americans, many of whom feel left behind and poorly served by the powerful.  The economic decline of the past eight years has exploded our debt--yes--but it also makes it harder for our nation to fulfill its promises to the elderly and the sick.  Barack Obama's presidency has clearly failed the middle class and the average American.  Too many are shut out of too few jobs.  Too many paychecks have shrunk.  Too many of those with a good work ethic have been shoved to the economic sidelines. It's time for our party to reach out to those who are justifiably upset with all these failures and champion policies that address their concerns.
We need to fight to end Too Big to Fail.  We need to take steps to stop guest workers and illegal immigrants from undermining American workers.  We need to reform trade so that we stop rewarding unfair competition from abroad.  We need to champion health-care reform that, unlike Obamacare, doesn't trap people in higher premiums and fewer choices; Republicans can offer a vision of health-care that defends choice while also ensuring that medical care is available to all Americans.  We need tax reform that helps working families get ahead and save for the future.
I call on all my friends still running for president to address these concerns not just with press releases, talking points, or insults.  Instead, I look forward to seeing a rigorous debate about policy specifics in the weeks ahead.  Americans have a lot to be upset about, and we owe it to them to think seriously about how to solve some very real problems.