Thursday, June 23, 2016

Trump Reaches Out to the Radical Middle

Donald Trump's speech yesterday attacking Hillary Clinton and laying out his own vision for the presidency has earned plaudits even from some of those on the right who are usually pretty hostile to The Donald.  Trump kept to the text of the speech and kept the focus on Clinton's weaknesses.

This speech comes at a time when the Trump campaign is in some danger.  The media narrative over the last few weeks--with talk of an undisciplined campaign, sinking poll numbers, and continued Republican attacks on Trump--poses risks for both Trump's hopes of winning in November and perhaps even his chances of seizing the nomination in Cleveland.  Perhaps this speech will change that narrative.

One of the more striking aspects of this speech was Trump's pivot to the radical middle, voters who support entitlements and are skeptical of transnationalist globalism, who support free markets but also want a strong public safety net.  The Republican coalition has relied on these voters for decades, and, as its hold on them has weakened in recent years, its electoral prospects have dimmed.  One possible route for Republican back to an enduring presidential coalition is to fuse some populist concerns (especially on issues such as trade and immigration) with conservatism.  By reconnecting with the "radical middle" and the working class, Republicans could strengthen their hands in numerous states, especially Rustbelt states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.  That's not the only path to get to a governing presidential coalition--but it is one way (and a route that might not demand compromising that many core conservative principles).  Any Republican candidate can use such a strategy, and perhaps Ronald Reagan offered one iteration of that fusion.

Yesterday's speech invoked some of the themes of the radical middle.  Trump reversed the Hillary-centric #ImWithHer with #ImWithYou.  He argued that the trade and immigration policies promoted by both President Obama and Hillary Clinton will further undermine the American worker.  Trump put economics at the heart of this address.  When many Americans are dissatisfied with the direction of the nation, he tried in this speech to identify Clinton with those who have charted national policy in recent years.  (An interesting subtheme of Trump's speech yesterday was his efforts to claim a conservative--or at least Republican--pedigree for some of his policy positions.  For instance, he quoted Abraham Lincoln on trade in order to justify Trump's skepticism of "free trade" deals.)

We'll see if this is just a one-off speech or part of a broader, disciplined strategy to pivot to a sustained pro-worker message.  We'll also see whether this is enough to change the current trajectory of the campaign.

A few other things seem comparatively clearer:  Continued struggles with the working class are a drag on Republican hopes of a national governing coalition.  Reaching out to the working class will require more than self-aggrandizing media feuds or sneers at the struggling as losers who can't cut it. Confronting the real challenges of the day will require less ideological posturing and more empathy, imagination, and daring.

Friday, June 17, 2016

If the Press Covered 9/11 the Way It Has Covered Orlando



A hypothetical fictional montage:*

From the New York Daily News front page 9/12/01:
An image of one of the planes going into the World Trade Center.  Headline: "Thanks American Airline Industry"

From the New York Times Editorial Board 9/13/01:
While the motivations of the 9/11 hijackers remain unclear, one thing is beyond doubt: they were the product of a culture of hate, that peculiar soil of the United States, which xenophobia and violence have watered for centuries.  While some, like former vice-president Al Gore, have tried the face the twenty-first century with cosmopolitan optimism, George W. Bush and his coterie have instead projected a Texan swagger that has alienated international allies and enraged many of those who seek opportunity but are denied this opportunity due to the petty bigotry of American immigration law.  The cultural imperialist chickens of Coca Cola, cries of "freedom," and nationalistic propaganda like Hot Shots! Part Deux have, as it were, come home to roost.
That fact that Mr. Bush quoted from the Psalms in his recent address to the nation reveals a theocratic zeal that both threatens the First Amendment and fuels acts of terror.  The history of the United States is a long tale of those using the name of religion to terrorize, murder, and pillage.  Invoking religious scripture in this context no doubt triggers more violence in the future and feeds into the broader culture of religious intolerance that helped bring the towers down.
For years now, Republicans have waged war on the fabric of American society, thereby creating the breeding ground for terror.  Mr. Bush's controversy-stained election sent the equivalent of a 767 into America's constitutional norms.  The right-wing agenda of tax-cuts for the rich and more subsidies for Big Oil has created an atmosphere of economic inequality, in which terrorists thrive.  The terrorist attack of earlier this week is only an explicit vision of that broader nativist reactionary crusade.
The thousands who died on September 11 were victims of a terrorist attack.  But they also need to be remembered as casualties of a society where hate has deep roots. 

A partial transcript of a September 13 CNN evening interview with John Ashcroft, in which the anchor absolutely grills the Attorney General:
Anchor: Mr. Ashcroft, how can you say you want to prosecute these terrorists?  I mean, how many times have you been to New York City for a reason other than a professional obligation?
JA: I've, uh, I've been there a few times.
Anchor:  A few times.  Nearly three thousand people died in the Twin Towers, and you've only been to NYC a few times?  And now you purport to talk about defending the lives of New Yorkers!?
JA: My job as attorney general is to defend the lives of all Americans.
Anchor: But isn't there a sick irony in the fact that you're here talking about defending all Americans when, as far as I can tell, you've never even worn an I-Love-New-York t-shirt?
JA:  Wha--what?  How do you know that?
Anchor: We had a team of researchers comb through every picture taken of you in the past year.  No t-shirt or sweatshirt or anything.
JA: Well, look, we've been coordinating with local law enforcement to identify...
Anchor: Hey, let's not get off-topic here.  Do you deny not having worn an I-Love-New-York t-shirt?
JA: I don't think I ever owned that kind of shirt, no.
Anchor: So I just kind of find it funny that you're someone who never expressed that much affection for New York and now, with the attacks of September 11, you're suddenly lamenting the loss of human life.  I mean, why should the members of the New York community trust you to defend them?
*Again, this is purely hypothetical fiction.  Neither the New York Daily News nor the New York Times published anything like this after 9/11.  Nor did CNN run any interviews like this.  The fact that these organizations did not run anything like this is kind of the point.  For the record, here is the actual front page of the Daily News on September 12.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Human Rights v. the Culture War

t has long been evident that the culture-war paradigm is inherently in tension with the goal of negotiating life in a free republic.  Civic life requires compromise, moral sympathy, and a respect for pluralism--all things that the all-or-nothing culture war declares an anathema.

The aftermath of the Orlando terrorist attack has also revealed that the culture war may undermine more directly human rights in general.  After a terrorist attack, there's something bizarrely disproportionate about news anchors hectoring elected officials about their Twitter feeds rather than asking tough, probing questions about how law enforcement can better identify terrorist threats and how national strategies can make such threats less possible.  We might rationally be worried by the fact that so many in the media and politics--from the New York Times to cable-news voices to major political figures--have spent far more energy excoriating their tribal enemies rather than the forces of terror.  With its random violence, terrorism seeks to nullify all of our rights.  (Of course, terror cannot ultimately undo our inherent rights.)  When the culture war takes priority over serious efforts to fight terror, the enterprise of defending our rights suffers.

We should mourn the victims of Orlando not because of their belonging or lack of belonging to any narrow identity group, but because they are human beings.  The slaughter of innocents is wrong--no matter their race, religion, sexual identity, or political beliefs.  Defending civil society requires the defense of the rights of all members of that society.  The attack upon Pulse was an attack upon the ability of Americans of all kinds to gather peacefully and without fear of violence, just as the attack on Charlie Hebdo was an attack upon the ability to speak, write, and think freely.

As Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry has suggested, great tragedies should remind us of our common fellowship.  It is an act of moral cowardice and cultural myopia to focus on our petty tribal fixations rather than our deeper duties to our fellow men and women.

Friday, May 13, 2016

A More Fluid Race

Philip Bump of the Washington Post has an interesting story up comparing how polling looked at this time in 2004, 2008, and 2012.  As Bump notes, the candidate leading around this time in national polls ended up winning in the last three elections:
As of Thursday, there were 180 days until the election. Of the 540 days that made up the last 180 days of the past three races, the person who ended up winning led in 79 percent of them. There's some back-and-forth — but the person who wins has led pretty consistently. Clinton's lead in the most recent Real Clear Politics average, 6.4 points, was exceeded by past winners only 6 percent of the time. It's a big lead, in other words.
But, then, past experience suggested that Trump's lead in the primaries would collapse, and we saw what happened there.
Bump rightly underlines the fact that this electoral cycle has had some unexpected twists, a feature that could apply to the general election, too.

By historical standards, it wouldn't be that surprising for the election results to swing further in one direction (either in Trump's favor or Clinton's favor).  Elections prior to 2000 could often show considerable volatility.

According to Gallup polling of the 1988, 1992, and 2000 elections, the candidate who led in May ended up losing the popular vote in November.  In 1988, Dukakis was up by around 16 points over George HW Bush in mid-May; Bush ended up winning by 8 points (for a 24-point shift from May).  George HW Bush led Bill Clinton by about 6 points in early May 1992, and his son had a 5-point lead over Al Gore in May 2000.  (Bush won the presidency in 2000 but lost the popular vote.)

The upshot of this is that there are a lot of possible models for an election--and there's no reason to believe that this race is settled.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

After the Trumpening

Just a few quick thoughts in the aftermath of Donald Trump becoming the presumptive Republican nominee:

Trump was Romney all along.  I mean this here strictly in terms of their roles in the primary campaign dynamic--not their personae, issue portfolios, or other areas.  Throughout 2011 and 2012, Mitt Romney stood near the top of the primary polls, and the other candidates competed to be the not-Romney.  In the 2016 cycle, Trump basically dominated national polls from the end of the summer onward.  For a long time, pundits liked to compare Trump to the various 2012 candidates who temporarily eclipsed Romney in 2011-2012 only to come hurtling back to earth (Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, etc.).  Instead, Trump had the dominant position of Romney throughout the campaign.

His ascent really is rather unprecedented.  It's become common to mock pundits who underestimated Trump's chances in the primary, but, in reality, their skepticism is pretty understandable.  Since its founding, the GOP has nominated only one person with no previous experience in public office (either in elected office, civil office, or high military position).  And that one person was Wendell Willke, the Democrat-turned-Republican businessman who ran a dark-horse campaign to be the GOP nominee in 1940.*  Other than Willkie, every Republican nominee since 1856 had prior experience in public office.  Precedent suggested, then, that Trump would not be the nominee.  But that precedent has been broken.

Trump's victory does not mean the end of conflict in the Republican/conservative coalition.  Trump's success in the primary has fueled debates about party loyalty, the identity of conservatism, the identity of the GOP, and how to face up to the policy and political challenges of the 21st century.  I'm hopeful that we can address some of those challenges as a nation and that conservatism in particular can contribute to that search for solutions.  But it will be important to place our emphasis on light--not heat.  In part because things are so up in the air right now, intellectual charity, imagination, and courage will be especially helpful.


*A lot could be said about the parallels and contrasts between Trump's and Willkie's candidacies.  But that's a story for another day.

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.