Saturday, December 31, 2016

Fear Itself

In March 1933, Franklin Roosevelt spoke to his country at a time of great crisis:
So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.
In many respects, we seem in a moment of some crisis today.  Extended economic stagnation, proliferating debacles abroad, and cratering trust in public institutions are some of the signs of this crisis.  Roosevelt reminded his countrymen that the crisis of his time was as much one of sentiment as it was of exterior forces.

A similar point applies to our own time: Many of the challenges we face are internal--not external.  And even many of the external challenges (in foreign affairs, for instance, or international terrorism) will depend upon our internal constitution.  A fractious and divided nation will unable to confront many of the real exterior threats facing the United States.

So in the year ahead, we need to be vigorous in addressing those internal challenges honestly, fairly, and imaginatively.  Decadence can take many forms.  We face a governing caste that all too often confuses self-righteousness with virtue and cant with learning.  A vulgarized political and cultural discourse inhibits our ability to draw measured distinctions.  The withering of civil society threatens the maintenance of the norms upon which republican governance depends.  In part due to our elites' emphasis on no-choice politics, our public debates remain frozen in tired antagonisms.  The recourse of the powerful to shame politics risks empowering shamelessness, which itself can be troubling; courtesy and empathy--the quest to mediate difference--often prove crucial for defending the architecture of a free society.  As can be seen in the wake of November's election results, tantrum politics might amuse political partisans, but it usually only worsens our broader civic fever.  Indulgence in a paranoia fed by cryptic inference can be hardly afforded now, when we need a rejuvenation of civic faith.

These challenges are vast.  They cannot be traced to one man or women.  They cannot be settled by a single election.  They cannot be solved by one political actor.

Dealing with them will require virtue and judgment in our daily lives.  Thankfully, virtue can take many forms, too.  It can be witnessed at a volunteer at a charity soup kitchen, in a person seeing the best in another, in a parent teaching a child, in the good works and good words of countless religious organizations, and in a person sitting down and grappling with with the intricacies of Plato or Aquinas.  We can advance the restoration we so desperately need by rebuking partisan blindness, by cultivating a sober love of liberty, and by recognizing our own fallenness and what our nobler hopes depend upon.

The American people have inherited a great thing in the Republic.  The challenges that we face can be addressed.  We are not fated to decline and disunion--not yet, at least.  In 2017 and beyond, we need to put away the childish things of despair and vanity and instead take on our duties to our fellow man and to our own higher callings.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Apples and Oranges

A common bit of punditry over the past month has been to compare Donald Trump's margin of victory to that of congressional Republicans.  This type of analysis, however, might be a kind of apples-to-oranges comparison, as the dynamics of congressional races, especially House ones, differ substantially from the dynamic of the presidential race.

One of the key differences between those two kinds of races is the power of incumbency.  Outside of wave elections or significant personal misconduct, congressional incumbents are notoriously difficult to dislodge.  In 2016, about 97 percent of House incumbents on the general-election ballot won reelection.  In the wave year of 2010, the House reelection rate slipped down--to a mere 85 percent.  House incumbents can often blow out their challengers with higher name recognition, overflowing campaign coffers, and a seasoned political team.  This leads to a situation where, in a presidential election year, House incumbents often do better than their presidential counterparts in a district.  When a political party has a majority in the House, that advantage is compounded, leading to a situation where the majority party in the House gets more votes than its presidential standard-bearer.

It's hard to compare House and presidential electoral performance over an extended period of time because, in recent decades, House elections have become much more tied to presidential politics.  Ticket-splitting still lives, but it is much diminished from the middle of the 20th century.  That caveat aside, over the last twenty years, the majority party in the House usually performs better than its presidential nominee.

In the chart below, I give the raw popular-vote percentage followed by the margin in parentheses:
House Republicans: 48.2 (0)
Bob Dole: 40.7 (-8.5)
Difference between margin of majority party and that of nominee: +8.5
House Republicans: 47.6 (+0.5)
George W. Bush: 47.9 (-0.5)
Difference between margin of majority party and that of nominee: +1
House Republicans: 49.4 (+2.6)
George W. Bush: 50.7 (+2.4)
Difference between margin of majority party and that of nominee: +0.2
House Democrats: 53.2 (+10.6)
Barack Obama: 52.9 (+7.2)
Difference between margin of majority party and that of nominee: +3.4
House Republicans: 47.6 (-1.2)
Mitt Romney: 47.2 (-3.9)
Difference between margin of majority party and that of nominee: +2.7
House Republicans: 49.1 (+1.1)
Donald Trump: 46 (-2.1)
Difference between margin of majority party and that of nominee: +3.2
Now, if one wanted to be truly rigorous about this whole comparison, one would have to take some further numbers into account: the size of the House majority heading into the general election (the bigger the majority, the bigger the compounding advantage of incumbency), the number of vacant and non-contested House seats, and the rate of House-race nationalization.

Nevertheless, the back-of-the-envelope chart above suggests that, relative to House Republicans, Donald Trump performed better than Barack Obama did relative to House Democrats in 2008.  Democrats had a smaller majority heading into 2008 than Republicans did heading into 2016, which suggests that House Republicans in 2016 had a greater incumbency advantage than House Democrats did in 2008.  If you're looking for evidence that Trump was radically weaker than a generic Republican candidate, the overall House vote might not provide it.

As with Senate elections, House elections have a baked-in power of incumbency, which is one of the reasons why trying to compare the performance of incumbent members of Congress to presidential candidates is a tricky enterprise.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Restoring Public Debates

At NRO today, I argue that the attempt to impose arbitrarily narrow bounds on public debates has helped cause some of the current political crisis.  On immigration, flag-desecration, entitlements, and other issues, there's often a significant gap between public opinion what pundits view as acceptable bounds of debate. Rather than trying to cast mainstream views as belonging to a fringe, we would be better off engaging in good-faith efforts of persuasion.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Just Say What?

Monitoring the Future, a project that tracks teen drug use, released some new data for 2015.  Fortunately, there has been a decline in many areas of teen use of illicit drugs over the past year.  The numbers swing a bit from year to year, but the overall trends can be revealing.

It's an assumption in many contemporary political discussions that the "Just Say No" campaign and, more broadly, Nancy Reagan's campaign against teen drug use were failures.  However, the broader trends of Monitoring the Future show a substantial and long-term decline in teen drug use during the 1980s.  Media headlines to the contrary, teens today are less likely to use illegal drugs than they were in the early 1980s (this is not to discount the recent explosion of opioid-related deaths, a serious concern but one distinct from teen drug use).  During the sustained anti-drug campaigns of the 1980s and early 1990s, teen drug use plummeted.

In 1979, over 54 percent of high school seniors (see Tables 5-1 to 5-4) had used an illicit drug within the past 12 months; by 1992, that had been cut in half, to 27 percent.  In 1979, a majority of seniors had used marijuana in the past year, but only 22 percent had in 1992.  Similar declines can be seen in the number of high-school seniors who had used illegal drugs in the past month, and, in certain categories, huge declines were seen in the daily use of drugs.  For instance, in 1979, almost 10 percent of seniors reported being daily pot users, a number that collapsed to 2 percent by 1991.  In many areas, the use of drugs has increased from the nadirs of the early-to-mid-90s (alcohol is an exception to this; it has fallen since the mid-90s).  For example, the use of illicit drugs over the past year hovered between the low 30s and high 20s in the early 90s but reached over 40 percent in 2015; the use of illicit drugs other than marijuana has not shown the same increase.  By and large, similar trends play out for college students.  (An interesting side note is the collapse in cigarette smoking among college students.  While the percentage of college students who are daily cigarette smokers did dip in the late 80s and early 90s, it rebounded in the late 90s only to fall through the floor in recent years.  Whereas about 18 percent of college students were smokers in 2000, only about 4 percent were in 2015.)

Correlation is, of course, not causation, and there are no doubt a variety of factors that contributed to declining drug use among America's youth.  But it seems possible that the sustained White House-led anti-drug campaign played a role in a broader public turn against drug use.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Rethinking Fusionism

A couple links on the enterprise of mediating between conservatives and populists:

Robert VerBruggen argues that Trump's Cabinet picks represent a blend of populist and conservative tendencies.

On Twitter, Henry Olsen says that the Carrier deal underlines the need for conservatives to reinvigorate their thinking about economic policy.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Carrying Shibboleths

At the moment, I'm not going to get into a deeper discussion of the mechanics of the Carrier deal (though I will say in passing that announcing a deal to save 1000 jobs is better optics than standing around chanting "You did build that").  But it might be worth looking at a few of the attacks against this measure--and see how these attacks may fundamentally misunderstand some of the dynamics and history of manufacturing in the U.S.

Some critics note that the Carrier deal is just a drop in the bucket of the manufacturing jobs lost since 2000.  That's quite true, but small, incremental changes can be both a foundation for further change and a narrative rallying point.  Political messaging is in part about making the small example a sign of something bigger, so it's not clear why the smallness of this deal should invalidate any worth it might have.

But an even bigger argument made against the Carrier deal is that it's fruitless--any jobs saved will soon be eaten up by automation.  It's certainly true that automation is changing employment patterns and that some jobs have been lost--and will continue to be lost--to automation.  However, we should not turn automation into a shibboleth that freezes all thinking or that offers a comprehensive catch-all for explanations of the economy.

First of all, the huge U.S. trade deficit is not caused by automation.  For years now, the United States has supported a regime that incentivizes (often artificially) cheap imports from foreign nations.  Maybe this incentivization is in the broader interests of the American economy; maybe it isn't.  But, whatever its ultimate utility, this trade regime has caused some products that might be produced domestically to be produced abroad.  A reformed trade policy might cause some of these goods to be produced in the United States, which would in turn increase manufacturing employment.

Second, it's not clear how quickly--if at all--automation will ultimately devour all manufacturing jobs.  A chart in this Brookings Institution report is revealing: it shows that manufacturing employment (in terms of raw numbers of workers) was basically stable from 1980 to 2000.  The United States only shed millions of manufacturing jobs after 2000.  Interestingly, manufacturing gained far more in productivity in the twenty years between 1980 and 2000 (about doubling over that period) than it has in the years since 2000 (only increasing by about 25 percent).  Thus, the period between 1980 and 2000 saw huge gains in technology and productivity while not losing that many manufacturing jobs; the years since have seen a sluggish growth in productivity while also hemorrhaging manufacturing jobs.  This suggests that automation may not be a sufficient explanation for the loss of American jobs in manufacturing.

Third, even if automation will destroy many manufacturing jobs, there is no reason why policy-makers shouldn't take what responsible steps they can to ensure the survival of the manufacturing jobs that remain.  If more responsible trade, tax, and regulatory policies can help some manufacturing jobs stay even temporarily, that could be a not negligible win.  Human beings are not just economic inputs or outputs, so, if major economic disruption could be put off for even a decade, that could give older workers a chance to finish their careers before retiring while also providing space for younger workers to retrain.

The past eighteen months have shredded many Beltway political truisms.  There are some policy truisms that could also use reexamination.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Finding Middle Ground

The history of movement conservatism as a major political force reveals the electoral alliance between conservatism and vigorous populism. In recent decades, leaving aside the most recent example of Donald Trump, Republicans have relied on populist energies to power major electoral victories: Ronald Reagan, the Gingrich revolution of 1994, and the tea-party wave all depended on populist energies (even if these energies were less than they now are). While he didn’t deliver on many populist policy aims, even George W. Bush relied upon populist optics in 2000 and 2004. This conservative-populist alliance might not always be healthy, and there is no reason for conservatives to surrender their deeper principles in order to cozy up to a populist insurgency. However, conservatives might be wise to locate areas of sympathy between conservatism and populism and work to address the broader causes of this latest populist disruption.
For those interested in the theme of populism, Noah Millman has an interesting case for the necessity of populist energies as a way of informing the preferences of those in power:
Populists may be the only ones who truly understand what democracy really is for, and that is, fundamentally, for expressing dissatisfaction. Elections force leaders to turn to the people and say: How am I doing? — and to accept the people's verdict if the answer is: Not so great.
For a large swath of the country, the answer has been "not so great" for quite some time. This year, they rendered their verdict.
And I am thankful that they did. In the absence of populism, democracy becomes a competition between groups of elites to divide the people up with maximum efficiency, such as to lower the economic cost of bidding for a majority that will deliver power. Populist revolts of the left- or right-wing variety are the primary mechanism by which the electorate can punish elites for that strategy, and force them to consider the alarming possibility of losing control of the political economy entirely.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Virtue of Gratitude

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to outline briefly some of the reasons why gratitude is something very much worth celebrating.

Gratitude calls upon us to think about what is good in our lives.  Reflecting on the good is good for the heart, but it's also good for the head.  Attending to the good helps us better understand what is actually beneficial and really worth striving for.  Inside and outside politics, the continued inquiry into the good is essential.

Gratitude also helps us realize our own partiality and our dependence upon others.  For many religious believers, the ultimate entity toward which we should have gratitude is, of course, God.  However, there are other figures deserving of gratitude as well: our families, our friends, heroes past and present, kindly strangers, and so forth.  We can feel particularly keen gratitude for gifts that are unearned--that are given out of the fullness of the heart regardless of our own shortcomings.  We can feel gratitude knowing how much we depend on others and with hope that, despite our many flaws, charity and grace can still come upon us.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 18, 2016

The 14-Year Rule Lives

An unacknowledged winner of 2016 has been John McConnell, a veteran Republican speechwriter who served in the George W. Bush White House.  According to Jonathan Rauch, McConnell outlined the following rule in the early 2000s: "No one gets elected president who needs longer than 14 years to get from his or her first gubernatorial or Senate victory to either the presidency or the vice presidency."  As Jeffrey Anderson noted in The Weekly Standard last year, that 14-year rule holds for every presidential election since 1860.  Thus, once a presidential aspirant gets elected to the Senate or the governor's mansion, he or she has 14 years to make it to a winning presidential ticket (either as VP or president) if he or she hopes to be president at some point.  Obama had 4 years between being elected to the Senate and winning the White House, and George W. Bush and Bill Clinton had 6 and 14 years, respectively, between winning their first gubernatorial race and the presidency.  George HW Bush had never been elected to the Senate or a governorship, so the 14-year rule did not apply to him.

There's obviously no metaphysical reason why this 14-year rule has to be the case, but Rauch and Anderson have some interesting reflections on why it is a trend.  It seems to suggest the American people's preference that presidents have some experience but also represent something politically fresh.

In 2016, Donald Trump (never previously elected to any government office) faced off against Hillary Clinton, who was first elected to the Senate in 2000.  Secretary Clinton was thus 2 years past the 14-year rule.  (Interestingly for Democrats, Joe Biden would also have been well past the 14-year rule; first elected to the Senate in 1972, it took him 36 years to make it to the vice-presidency.  Bernie Sanders, however, would not have run afoul of the 14-year rule; he was first elected to the Senate in 2006.  Nor would Hillary Clinton have been past the 14-year rule if she had been the Democratic nominee in 2008 or if Obama had picked her to be vice-president in 2008.)

When Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton, the 14-year rule won again.

Do Not Press the Button

At NRO, I mount an old hobbyhorse and criticize yet again the nuclear option on the filibuster:

The nuclear option would lead to a situation where senators — the legislative voices of their states — would lose their independence. The challenges facing the nation are complex indeed, and the nation needs a multiplicity of voices and brains working to solve those problems. In recent years, the Senate has benefited from a variety of reformers — from Jeff Sessions to Mike Lee to Marco Rubio — working to propose solutions to both new and old problems. Detonating the nuclear option would help centralize and stiffen the Senate when the moment calls for decentralization and flexibility.
The results of last Tuesday remind us that seemingly permanent majorities can be anything but. Both the Republican and the Democratic parties will face some time in the electoral wilderness in the years ahead, and the minority protections of the Senate should be there for both sides. The Obama years have led the Democratic party into one political box canyon after the next, and Senate Democrats may yet come to rue Harry Reid’s use of the nuclear option for executive appointees (because of Senator Reid’s decision, removing the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees would be far less of a shock to the congressional system than removing it for legislation).

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Still Counting

As I mentioned last week, it takes a long time for the votes for a presidential election to be counted.  This fact didn't stop many pundits from using early totals to say that Donald Trump got fewer votes than Mitt Romney or John McCain.

Dave Wasserman has a handy running vote total, and his figures now show Donald Trump with 60,961,967 votes (this number will almost certainly continue to increase).  According to figures I've seen, Mitt Romney got fewer than 60,940,000 votes.  This implies that Trump has now passed Romney's popular vote total.

The first task of coping with political disruption is to see where one's feet stand, even if (especially if) that can be a tricky enterprise at times.

(Update: If you're interested in votes, you might also enjoy this analysis of the shake-up of electoral coalitions in 2016.)

The Party of Sam's Club, Maybe?

Perhaps because of an indoctrination in identity politics, many in the media are obsessed with viewing the results of the 2016 election through a racial lens.  Exit polls (I know, I know) suggest Donald Trump improved on Mitt Romney’s margins with all ethnic groups.  In fact, he seems to have received a smaller absolute percentage of the “white” vote than Mitt Romney.

Even as pundits fixate on racial dynamics, the changes in income and education for partisan preferences might be far more revealing.  According to national exit polls, there was a decisive swing of voters without a college degree toward the Republican nominee and an appreciable movement away from him by college-degreed voters.  In 2012, Mitt Romney lost high-school dropouts by 29 points and high-school graduates by 3; those with some college but without a college degree he lost by a single point.  Trump, however, won those who had a high school degree or less by 6 points, and those with some college he won by 9 points.  While Trump substantially improved with those without a college degree, he lost ground with college graduates, with a margin that was 8 points worse than Romney’s with college graduates and those who held postgraduate degrees (he lost the latter group by 21 points).

Income tells a similar story: Trump still lost those making under $50,000 a year, and he only fought Clinton to an essential draw among the middle and upper classes.  However, compared to Mitt Romney, he did much better with the poor and working class and worse with the wealthy.  Romney lost those making under $30,000 by 28 points; Trump lost them only by 12.  Trump did 6 points better than Romney among those making between $30,000 and $50,000, losing them by only 9 instead of 15.  Conversely, he lost about 9 points relative to Romney among those making over $100,000 annually.

Polling has had some errors this year, and the early rounds of exit polling presented a mistaken picture of the electorate.  Still, county-level electoral data confirm these trends.  Working-class counties across the country--especially in the Midwest--swung toward the GOP relative to 2012.  Meanwhile, many wealthy inner-ring suburban counties trended more Democratic.  This trend was noticeable both around coastal metropolises like Washington, DC and in middle America; Romney won Johnson County, Kansas, the wealthiest county in the state and part of the Kansas City metropolitan area, by 17 points in 2012, but Trump only eked it out by 2.  The New York Times has a handy map showing the swing of each county in the Democratic or Republican direction; most counties across the country swung more Republican, but, often, the counties that swung more Democratic are among the wealthiest in a given state.  In Minnesota, for example, the only counties that swung more Democratic were those in Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

In many of the counties on the southern border, Trump received more votes than Romney.  For example, he improved upon Romney’s margins and absolute vote total (getting 19 percent of the vote rather than 13) in Texas’s Starr County, where Hispanics constitute over 95 percent of the population.  That may be evidence that Trump did indeed improve upon Romney’s numbers with non-”white” voters.

State results accentuate and at times exaggerate this national trend.  The Rust Belt was crucial for Trump’s victory, and huge swings can be seen in these states.  In Wisconsin, Trump did over 20 points better than Romney’s margin with those who had a high school degree or less and 15 points better with those with some college, but his margin with postgraduate voters fell by 18 points compared to Romney; he lost that demographic 26-69.  He did much better than Romney with workers making under $50,000 annually, losing them only by 4 points instead of 25.  However, he lost those making over $100,000 annually by 2 points rather than win them by 20, as Romney did.  (See this interesting thread by Jeff Blehar on the county-level results of Wisconsin.  That county-level analysis tracks in many ways with what the exit polls suggest.)

In Pennsylvania in 2012, Romney lost high-school graduates by 21 points, and those with some college by 4 points.  Trump won them by about 13 points and 3 points, respectively.  College graduates and those with graduate degrees swung against Trump relative to Romney, who won college grads by 16 points and lost postgraduates by 8 points.  Trump, however, only won college graduates by 4 points and lost postgraduates by 22 points. By massively improving his standing with voters without a college degree, Trump more than made up for his slippage with college grads and advanced degree holders.  Trump also considerably improved upon Romney’s performance with mid- and lower-income voters.  While Romney lost voters making under $50,000 annually by 36 points, Trump only lost them by 12 points.

Michigan in many ways follows the trends of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin: Trump gained with lower-income voters and with voters with less formal schooling but also lost ground with upper-income and degreed voters.  In Ohio, he did better overall than Romney in many categories.  Tracking union voters sheds light on this dynamic.  In Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin, Trump did at least 20 points better than Romney among union voters, which helped him secure those states.

These trends could also be seen in states that Trump did not win.  For instance, in Virginia, Trump did better in 2016 than Romney did among lower-income voters, but slipped with the middle and upper classes.  The educational swing in New Hampshire caused the Granite State to become more educationally polarized than racially polarized; the gap between “white” and “non-white” voters was smaller than the gap between high-school-only voters, who backed Trump, and postgraduates, who overwhelmingly didn’t.

Again, exit polls are imperfect vehicles, but the magnitude of those swings suggests that there was likely some shift in the electorate based on income and formal schooling.  Peggy Noonan has proposed that one way to view the 2016 election is a clash between the “protected” and the “unprotected.”  In Coming Apart, the social scientist Charles Murray noted a similar divide between the secure Belmont, a fictional embodiment of white-collar wealth, and the more precarious Fishtown, an imagined locus of blue-collar struggles.  It seems as though Trump drew some of the traditionally Democratic “unprotected” to him while repelling some “protected” voters who usually lean Republican.

These results suggest great opportunities and equally great dangers for Republicans. If Donald Trump and the GOP Congress are able to govern well (by avoiding international crises, behaving ethically, and successfully responding to economic anxiety), it would seem possible that they could expand their majorities in 2018 and 2020 by winning back the college-educated and upper-income voters who used to favor them more.  Trump’s 47 percent, then, could be a foundation for a majority in 2020.  In addition to locking down the states he has already won, a marginally better performance with Belmont voters could help Maine, New Hampshire, Minnesota (where Trump won voters making under $100,000 a year), and even potentially Colorado  and Nevada tip into the Republican column.

If, however, Republicans disappoint the working class and prove the fears of many white-collar voters to be well-founded, they could be in for a massive electoral repudiation.  Blue-collar voters could desert them while college-educated voters continue to shake their heads in disgust.  Trump’s Electoral College majority seems robust, but, absent continued working-class enthusiasm, it could also prove tenuous.

A further difficulty might face Republicans hoping to build on Trump’s coalition: There might be such tensions between Belmont and Fishtown that any gains with one group would be offset by losses with the other.  If that’s the case, expanding the current Republican majority could be troublesome.  However, while there are conflicting interests (and ideologies) here, statesman-like behavior in the White House combined with prudence in legislation, which meets at least some of the demands of both groups, could establish some common ground.

With a base that is more economically anxious and more blue-collar than in the past, Republicans will need to keep worker-oriented policies at the front and center. Trade could prove an especially tricky topic; many embattled Republican senators campaigned against or were conflicted about TPP, and a majority or plurality of voters in key Rust Belt states agreed with the idea that international trade “takes away U.S. jobs.” The GOP will need to be very cautious about introducing new trade compacts and might need to embrace a more proactive case for trade reform. On immigration, Republicans could increase federal enforcement while working to implement changes to the legal immigration system so that it better encourages opportunity and fosters national belonging. Tax reform would be wise to focus on improving the condition of working families. The Affordable Care Act’s many deleterious effects could be rolled back and a more inclusive and flexible health-care reform could be passed. Regulatory reform could provide more opportunity for workers while also improving business vitality. As president, Donald Trump would be able to put a halt to the administrative culture war launched by the federal bureaucracy during the Obama years. Trump’s judicial appointments could also shore up his support with the traditional Republican base and with voters who view governing through judicial fiats as another embodiment of unaccountable political power.

In the aftermath of 2012, it seemed clear that Republicans needed to improve their standing with the working class.  Trump's election may be a sign that they have made some headway in that goal.  But it will take success in governing to solidify and to expand that coalition.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Costs of Executive Supremacy

Many commentators--including Marc Thiessen--have noted a major policy consequence of President Obama choosing to push much of his agenda through executive action: because all of these policies depend upon the whim of the president, Donald Trump could easily remove most of Barack Obama's actions with the stroke of a pen.  This renders the president's policies, ranging from the Paris climate accords to actions on immigration, about as permanent as a block of ice left outside-- seemingly solid during one political season but melting away during the next.  Conservatives might rejoice at the impermanence of President Obama's legacy on many issues, and some on the left might lament this same impermanence.  The president chose to push constitutional norms to their breaking point, and now the Left must reap the whirlwind.

On a deeper, structural level, however, there's something troubling about this highly mercurial policy situation.  The more the federal government concentrates policy power in the hands of the president, the more unstable government policy becomes.  Elections are in part about forcing change into the political system, but wild swings in government policy can also threaten the overall stability of the nation.

The executive does have considerable power, especially on foreign policy, but the legislative process sets limits on how much one president can diverge from the policies of his or her predecessor. When a bill is passed through Congress, the system of checks and balances gives the resulting law some permanence.  Changes can be made, of course, but those changes have to go through a multi-part process in order to be realized (winning majorities in both houses of Congress and then, barring a veto-proof majority, the president's signature).  Laws are rigorously passed, and their modifications have to undergo a similarly rigorous process.  That's not the case with policies adopted according to executive whim.  Governing by executive supremacy means calling for the nation potentially to careen wildly from one policy extreme to the next every four or eight years.

In establishing the Constitution, the Founders realized the importance of some level of stability for the overall architecture of the nation.  The project of executive supremacy in part threatens constitutional norms by allowing the president to dictate policy, but it also threatens that broader project of stability.  Hopefully, folks on the right and left will learn from Barack Obama's unfortunate excursion into executive supremacy.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Market Aims

George Will's columns are always thoughtful and always worth reading (even if one doesn't always agree with them).  In the Washington Post, he outlines what he takes to be some of the challenges facing conservatism.  In addition to noting that anger alone is not enough to ensure good government, Will turns to the topic of trade, which has been a decisive issue this campaign:
People who have been conservative since before 2015 should, in considering how to relate to the president-elect, ask themselves some questions, such as: What are we saying if we say we are against free trade? Protectionism is comprehensive government intervention in economic life. It supplants commercial calculations with political considerations. Using tariffs, which are taxes imposed at the border, government imposes its judgment of what Americans should be permitted to purchase, in what quantities and at what prices. If conservatism can embrace such statism, can it distinguish itself from progressivism — the doctrine that government experts are wiser than markets in determining individuals’ choices and directing the efficient use of labor and capital?
To answer the final question first: Calvin Coolidge was a big proponent of what many would today call "protectionism," but he was very capable of distinguishing his political vision from that of progressivism.  Unless conservatives want to read Coolidge (and Lincoln and Hamilton many others) out of the pantheon of conservatism, it's hard to say that support for "protectionism" disqualifies one from being a conservative.

However, there's a more fundamental complexity here, and it relates to the idea of "supplant[ing] commercial calculations with political considerations."  Many of the United States's trading partners (most notably, the People's Republic of China) use political energies to distort the market through massive subsidies, demands of private-public partnerships for American firms to have access to local markets, etc.  The system of globalized accords often called "free trade" agreements, then, often increases the ability of foreign nations to dictate economic outcomes to the United States through these politically-motivated market distortions.

One could argue that this increased foreign intervention is a good thing taken as a whole or that it is a necessary step on the way to a free-market nirvana.  But one should not discount the political (and economic) doubts some might have about the risks of such a policy.  Tariffs are a government policy, of course, but it would be a mistake to deny that many of the outcomes of the current "free trade" regime are themselves a product of government policy (and often of policies set by governments that are not accountable to the American electorate).

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Votes Are Still Being Counted

A trap some pundits seem to be walking into is thinking that the vote totals that we see on Wednesday or Thursday will accurately represent the complete vote totals for 2016.  They don't.  Votes are still being counted (especially mail-in and absentee ballots).  These votes won't change the results of key states, but they will have an impact on the number of total votes cast in 2016, which will continue to rise.

Because those totals will continue to rise, we can't compare the totals we have now to the results from 2008 and 2012.  Trying to do that leads to some mistaken narratives.  For instance, the Washington Post published an article yesterday saying that Donald Trump got fewer votes than John McCain and Mitt Romney.  Vote totals on Tuesday night might have shown that, but they no longer do.  According to the latest count at The New York Times, Trump has 60.1 million votes.  Senator McCain got 59.9 million, and Governor Romney got 60.9 million.  Trump is not yet at Romney's totals, but many votes remain to be counted.  (Incidentally, that same mistake was made in analyses of vote totals in 2012: looking at early vote totals, some pundits claimed that Romney got fewer votes than McCain, a claim that was disproved by later, more complete results.)

Along the lines of pundit misperceptions, this piece by Nate Silver on polling and 2016 is well worth reading.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Comparing Margins in Senate/Presidential Races

As I noted the other day, in 2012 and 2008, the GOP presidential nominee did about 7 to 8 points worse, on average, than incumbent Republican senators.  So I thought it might be helpful to compare the margins between Trump and some closely watched Senate races featuring incumbents (results are still coming in, so these might shift a little):

McCain +11.9
Trump +4
Difference: McCain +7.9

Rubio +7.7
Trump +1.3
Difference: Rubio +6.4

Kirk -14.2
Trump -16
Difference: Kirk +1.8

Blunt +3.2
Trump +19.1
Difference: Trump +15.9

New Hampshire (still undecided)
Ayotte -0.1
Trump -0.2
Difference: Ayotte +0.1

North Carolina
Burr +5.8
Trump +3.8
Difference: Burr +2

Portman +21.3
Trump +8.6
Difference: Portman +12.7

Toomey +1.7
Trump +1.2
Difference: Toomey +0.5

Johnson +3.4
Trump +1
Difference: Johnson +2.4

A couple things jump out: It seems as though, in many swing states, Trump did not do substantially worse than many Republican incumbents.  Portman was the only candidate in these close states who did appreciably better than the +7-8 incumbent advantage of 2008 and 2012.

It also seems as though creating a radical distance from Trump might not have delivered that many votes for Kelly Ayotte and Mark Kirk (Portman also distanced himself from Trump).  In New Hampshire, both Maggie Hassan and Senator Ayotte received more votes than Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, but Ayotte's margin is only a tenth of a point better than Trump's.  The New Hampshire Senate race is very close, so those few votes might matter (currently Hassan is up by about a few hundred votes).  But there's also a chance that a more unified GOP in New Hampshire could have pulled both Trump and Ayotte across the finish line in the Granite State.

President Trump

What more is there to say?

(Actually, there's a lot more to say, but just a few quick thoughts for now...)

Donald Trump looks like he's heading to the biggest Electoral College majority of any Republican since George HW Bush in 1988.

Trump's victory is a sign of massive dissatisfaction with the status quo and the alternative offered by Hillary Clinton.  Folks on the left who are upset with this result should realize that it is in part a response to their policies.

One of the biggest losers of this election is the theory that shaming voters is an appropriate substitute for listening to them.

Great challenges lie ahead--and great opportunities.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Tuesday Thoughts

I have no grand predictions about the outcome of tomorrow's vote.  The polls this cycle have been inconsistently inconsistent.  At times, right on target; at other times, way off the mark.  In perhaps one of the largest divergences of polling from election results, polls of the Democratic primary in Michigan had Hillary Clinton up by 20 points on the eve of the election, but Bernie Sanders ended up winning.  Now, most of the primary polls were more accurate than that, but the Michigan result should perhaps give some pause to pundits who want to project the election with supreme confidence.

As Sean Trende argues, there are many reasons to doubt that early voting offers a perfect window into the electorate, either.  That's one of the reasons I'm skeptical of the claims advanced by Jon Ralston (a very astute Nevada political observer) and others that early voting in Nevada conclusively proves that Hillary Clinton will win the state tomorrow; without definitely knowing the breakdown of independent voter preferences, we can't project how much of a lead Hillary Clinton has in Nevada going into tomorrow.  The Silver State may already be decided, but we'll only know that after the votes are counted.

If you are looking for projections for tomorrow, you could do worse than Henry Olsen's extensive projection over at NRO.  Olsen thinks that Hillary Clinton has the edge but that this election could be closer than many anticipate.  One of the more helpful aspects of Olsen's projection is his use of ranges for the popular vote and the Electoral College:
Popular Vote
Clinton 48 (range 46–48.5)
Trump 47 (range 44–48.5)
Johnson 3 (range 2–4)
Stein 1 (range 1–2)
Others/Write-ins 1 (range 0.75–1.5)
Electoral College
Clinton 278 (range 248–323)
Trump 260 (range 215–290)
Whether one agrees with the precise breakdown here or not, the ranges seem relatively sensible.  They also capture something of the dynamic of the race: in terms of the Electoral College, Clinton's ceiling and floor are higher than Trump's.  For instance, I doubt there's a plausible scenario where Clinton falls under 200 Electoral Votes, but Trump could definitely go underneath 200.  Likewise, Trump scoring over 300 EVs would be a tremendous surprise; Clinton getting over 300 EVs wouldn't be that striking.  This difference in their floors and ceilings suggests, I think, Clinton's advantage heading into Tuesday.  But it's still possible to see how Trump could still get to 270, as Nate Silver has argued.

Once the results start coming in, there could be some telltale signs.  Polls close in North Carolina at 7:30 pm EST.  If Hillary Clinton is declared the winner shortly afterward, that's probably a dire sign for Trump; barring some earthquake in the Rustbelt, North Carolina is pretty close to must-win for him, and an easy Clinton victory there could be a sign that he'll be in trouble in other swing states, too.  On the other hand, an early call for Trump in Ohio should probably make Brooklyn, the site of Clinton's campaign HQ, nervous.  Polls close by 8 pm EST in most of the major swing states.  If Trump wins Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina (or if those states are still too close to call) while Michigan and Pennsylvania remain in the Democratic column, the nation will turn with increased interest to Iowa (10 pm), Colorado (9 pm), and Nevada (10 pm).

In the battle for the Senate, here's a range to keep in mind: 7-8.  With the exception of Nevada, most of the closely contested Senate races this cycle feature Republican incumbents.  According to my calculations, incumbent Republican senators outperformed the GOP presidential nominee by, on average 7-8 points in 2008 and 2012 (technically, it was about 7.8 points in 2008 and 7.2 points in 2012).  If 2016 is anything like 2008 and 2012, that precedent suggests that, if Trump can be within 7 or 8 points of Hillary Clinton in crucial states, the Republican incumbent has a good chance of winning.  So pay particular attention to Trump's margin in Wisconsin (Johnson), New Hampshire (Ayotte), North Carolina (Burr), Pennsylvania (Toomey) and Florida (Rubio).  Again, that's 7-8 points on average; some senators will outdo that margin, while others will fall short of it.  It looks at the moment that Rob Portman is going to outperform substantially Trump's margin in Ohio and so seems likely to win no matter what.  Conversely, Roy Blunt represents Trump-friendly Missouri and is still locked in a neck-and-neck battle with Jason Kander, his Democratic challenger.

Whatever happens on Tuesday, the challenge of civic rejuvenation and restoration remains to be faced.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Crisis and Conservative Intellectual Renewal

Matt Continetti's "Crisis of the Conservative Intellectual," published last week, has set off a bit of a conversation.  In recent days, Ross Douthat, Ben Domenech, and Conor Friedersdorf have responded to it.  While I posted some of my own thoughts on Continetti's piece at NRO, I thought I might add a few more observations here.

Domenech makes a solid point in his argument that a loss of faith in American institutions and a broader collapse in social trust paved the way for Trump.  One thing we might take away from Domenech's piece is the importance of conservatives working to restore that public trust and rebuild the various civic and political institutions of this country.  Part of that restoration and rebuilding will involve encouraging virtue, tolerance, empathy, and competence (something that Friedersdorf and Douthat also talk about).  This enterprise is not just about policy, but it will in part require some hard thinking about how various policies can strengthen our communities (and also how to avoid policies that weaken them).  Some promising work has been done along those lines, but more, I think, will be needed.

I'm not as confident as Friedersdorf that a more temperate version of Trump would have lost the Republican primary.  Still, the penultimate paragraph of his essay offers a provocative take on the challenges facing the right:
So long as a significant faction on the right is driven by ressentiment to embrace adversarianism, so long they’d rather see their enemies attacked than achieve anything constructive, and they choose their champions based on their stridency more than their virtues or competence, it will be extremely difficult if not impossible for anyone to win a Republican presidential primary and a general election. And so long as the Republican establishment fails to grapple with the failures of its foreign policy ideology, to purge its hucksters, and to construct policies for its base more effectively than it does for its donor class, it will fail to win back enough voters from adversarianists, whose grievances have some truth to them.
One thing worth saying in passing is that a disconnect between the Beltway GOP and its voters' preferences actually contributes to a kind of adversarianism.  If one wants to muster populist energies without actually delivering on populist policy priorities, invoking the language of radical adversarianism might--in the short term, at least--seem a promising avenue.  It rallies the populist base without actually making any policy concessions.  Over the long term, though, a party that employs such a strategy ends up feeding an ever-swelling shark of rage, which imperils the party's ability to institute a governing agenda.  As Friedersdorf suggests (and I might not agree with all the details of the picture he paints above), more directly addressing the key concerns of many Republican voters would be a way of lessening adversarian tendencies, which would give the party more flexibility in crafting and implementing a policy agenda.  Trying to address the real concerns of voters both inside and outside the GOP coalition could also lead to some good policy outcomes, too.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Fighting for What?

Some seem to be laboring under the misconception that Mitt Romney lost in 2012 because he didn't "fight" hard enough.  In reality, Governor Romney ran a disciplined campaign and  launched a number of attacks against President Obama.  Where the governor struggled was his ability to convince working-class Americans that his agenda would help them; exit polls suggest that his underperformance with working-class and middle-class voters likely cost Romney the election.

This has implications for the current presidential race.  Donald Trump is fighting hard--and not just with Hillary Clinton.  Yet, despite all this fighting, he continues to sink in the polls.  Clinton's 3-point lead in early October has grown to a 7-point one, according to RCP.  Trump's major polling deficits are in questions about his temperament and judgement; the groups he struggles with are women and college-educated votes.  Without improving his standing with those voters, it's hard to see how he wins the White House.  Lashing out at all comers might provide a momentary frisson, but it's unclear if such a strategy provides that many electoral benefits.

Anger is rarely a foundation for a national political coalition.  For those seeking elected office, fighting is less important than working to build a winning coalition.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Contra Radicalization

At NRO, I argue that we need to beware indulging in radical despair in response to the upcoming election:
There’s something troubling about a presidential candidate’s openly championing the idea that he or she alone is the last defense against the apocalypse or tyranny. It might help rally a candidate’s base, but it also sows the seeds of alienation: In a presidential contest, someone is bound to lose, which means that tens of millions of that person’s supporters are likely to be disappointed. In a healthy political system, those disappointed millions take the loss in stride, return to their daily lives, and work for victory in the next electoral cycle. When presidential campaigns trumpet their candidate as the only hope, they risk causing this disappointment to curdle into a political radicalization. To court this radicalization is to play with fire.
If Donald Trump loses on November 8 by five points (about how much he is down in the polls right now), it would not be because of a rigged system, vote fraud, or a sinister globalist cabal operating from the shadows. He would lose because of his traits as a candidate and the choices of his campaign. Nor would his loss be the final nail in the coffin of the American republic. We would muddle through, as we always have. A Clinton presidency – especially if backed by a Democratic Congress – could take a toll on the nation and set back many hopes of limited government. But, with hope and prudence, the nation would persevere.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Temperament, Temperament

Heading into his second debate with Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump has a central task: convincing people that he has the temperament to be president.  According to the latest CNN/ORC poll, only 33 percent of likely voters think that Trump has the temperament to serve effectively as president, and 34 percent of voters think he is prepared to be president (Clinton scores in the high 50s on both qualities).  Giant rallies won't change that popular perception, nor will attacking the New York Times or the Clintons' marriage.  Going beyond crude dominance politics, tempering his language, and showing more policy fluency might, however.  Many voters want a change, but they will keep their distance from Trump unless they can be assured that he's not too risky a bet.

Trump will need to appeal particularly to women and college-degree holders. Some polls suggest that Trump is racking up healthy margins in exurban and rural communities, he often needs to improve his standing in inner-ring suburbs.  For instance, a CNN/ORC poll taken in mid-September showed Clinton with a 2-point lead among registered voters in Pennsylvania (other recent polls show her with a larger lead); while Trump did well in the central and western regions of the state, he trailed Clinton in the Philadelphia suburbs by over 20 points.  According to Varad Mehta, Mitt Romney only lost the Philly suburbs by 10 points in 2012.  Without improving his performance in the suburbs, Trump will see a much narrower path to the presidency.  Addressing concerns about temperament would help Trump pull GOP-leaning suburbanites into his coalition.

He can do that by tempering his displays of anger with a policy fluency so that Trump can explain in detail how exactly his policies would improve the lives of voters.  Part of that deescalation would involve toning down or eliminating insults, especially against private citizens.  In the final weeks of the campaign, Trump needs to run as a presidential candidate--not a reality TV star--if he wants to close the deal with voters.

That will also entail more polished and disciplined debate performances.  In light of those concerns, Trump might have a few strategic goals in the upcoming debate:
  • Be willing to rephrase questions so that his answers to them can advance his broader strategic imperatives.
  • Not try to counterpunch on all of Clinton's attacks.
  • Avoid insults (especially against private individuals).
  • Focus more on advancing a positive agenda rather than litigating past controversies.
  • Emphasize message of inclusivity.
  • Bring up policy specifics.
  • Raise questions about Clinton's record and policy vision.
  • Favor optimism and restraint over anger.
  • Show empathy and courtesy in interacting with townhall questioners (even if they ask harsh questions).
  • Avoid looking rattled or defensive.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Losing Battles

My guess is that, if Hillary Clinton had her way, she would spend all the campaign comfortably ensconced in Chappaqua or Whitehaven (her mansion in DC), and have the whole campaign be a solo show by Donald Trump.  The Clinton campaign would clearly like to make this election a referendum on Donald Trump, and it's not clear why he should play along.  The more the Trump campaign allows the Clinton team to make Trump the central question of the election, the more it plays into her hands; the more it makes this election a referendum on the status quo, the better the odds of Trump winning the White House.

During the primary battle, Trump might have benefited from generating media controversy and engaging in blood-feuds with all who challenged him; in the primary, media oxygen was a valuable commodity, and remaining in the headlines helped make Trump the central player in the primary.  But Trump is now the GOP nominee.  Ex officio, he plays a leading role in the general election.  At this stage of the campaign, the kind of media attention is more important than the amount of it.  (That will be even more true, by the way, if Trump does become president.  The president never has to fight for headlines, but the content of those headlines can be a major source of concern or comfort.)

There is almost no way for Trump to "win" the Alicia Machado controversy.  Every day he spends litigating the 1990s is a day that keeps him from advancing his case for president in 2016.  Keeping this controversy alive also keeps the Trump campaign from fighting on favorable territory.

The media consensus seems to be that Trump was strongest in the first debate when he battled Clinton on trade and her desire to re-write history about her support for TPP.  Secretary Clinton is vulnerable on a host of policy issues; that's one of the reasons why she prefers to make this a campaign about Trump's previous statements and not her record of decisions or the exact details of her policy vision.  Delivering a sustained critique of Clinton's policy agenda and offering an alternative vision might not generate wall-to-wall media coverage, but the actual coverage might be more helpful to the Trump campaign.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Round One

I won't even try to get into who won/lost tonight's Clinton/Trump debate (this cycle has frustrated far too many horse-race analyses).  Instead, a couple reflections on strategy:

Hillary Clinton continually attacked Trump.  Many of her policy answers pivoted to attacks on him, and she also assailed his character.  Throughout the campaign, Clinton has tried to make the campaign a referendum on him (something the questions at tonight's debate might have helped).  Interestingly, she also reversed strategy from earlier in the campaign.  For months, she has been trying to isolate Trump from the rest of the GOP.  Tonight, though, she instead tried to tie Trump to the GOP, suggesting that he was just a return to old Republican policies.  Clinton seemed throughout the night to be trying to rally the democratic base.  She presented more of a negative case against Trump than an affirmative one on her behalf.

Donald Trump instead focused on a single goal: emphasizing the challenges facing the nation and arguing that the election of Hillary Clinton would not address those challenges.  Again and again, he tried to tie Secretary Clinton to the status quo.  He attempted to use Clinton's experience against her by casting her as more of the same.  At least early in the debate, he also tried to present a more restrained persona.  His attack on her over TPP also emphasized a favorite Trump theme (trade) and underlined divides in the Democratic coalition.

A few questions: Will this debate move the needle at all?  What effects will it have on woman voters and voters with college degrees?  Did Trump seem like a plausible alternative to Clinton in a "change" cycle?

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Better than That

At NRO, I look beyond partisan optics to examine some of the deeper--and troubling--presumptions of Hillary Clinton's remarks about Donald Trump's "deplorable" voters:
Secretary Clinton has now expressed “regret” for saying that half of Trump’s supporters are such “deplorables,” but what does it mean when a candidate for president could so glibly say that about a quarter of Americans are essentially trash people who have no claim on the body politic (“not America”)? One of the great political cancers of our time — and one that folks on the left and the right can succumb to — is the impulse to cast out of civic discourse those with whom we disagree. Partisans might denigrate their opponents as coastal “elites” who don’t represent the “real America” or as bigoted haters on the “wrong side of history.”
Such impulses are mistaken. America contains multitudes, and “history” has all too often proven to be an arbitrary idol. Persuasion and sympathy are hallmarks of debate in a healthy republic. If politics is about excommunicating from polite society those with whom we disagree (those “deplorables”), the task of maintaining a diverse republic becomes much harder. Living in a pluralistic society means interacting with those whose opinions might differ from ours not just on trivial matters but also on serious ones. The tradition of religious liberty in the United States is in part premised on the idea that tolerance for intellectual difference is especially important for very difficult (and very personal) issues. This does not mean that we cannot champion firm moral views or even that some people might not subscribe to malicious or mistaken ideas, but we should be very wary about casting those with whom we disagree as essentially bad themselves and beyond redemption.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Conversation--Not Cocoon

As election day draws closer, tensions are increasing on the right about Donald Trump and (a distinct topic) the futures of conservatism and the Republican party.  Following in the tradition of Edmund Burke, I thought it would be worthwhile to outline a few reasons why excessive rancor would be both intellectually and politically counterproductive.

Many of Trump's opponents, especially on the right, have offered numerous scapegoats for the rise of Trump: among them, talk radio, racism, and the American public's supposed lack of virtue.  However, one of the single most important structural forces that allowed Trump to win the Republican nomination was the combination of elite incompetence and extreme cultural cocooning.  Incompetence and cocooning have served as compounding forces; without a rigorous internal debate, technocratic myopia sets in, often leading to political disaster.

The toxic combination of incompetence and cocooning has been problematic for the nation as a whole, but it has been particularly poisonous for both the Republican party and the conservative coalition.  Various efforts to purge dissenters have sapped the intellectual vitality of the right and caused a fixation on certain policy buzzwords.  A facile framing of too many debates as TrueConservatives v. the Establishment has often intensified this policy stasis.  When prudential compromise is made the enemy of intellectual principles, our thinking becomes sloppy and we set ourselves up for a politics of bad faith and rancor.

If intellectual cocooning has been a major problem for our politics, efforts at purges (whether directed by #NeverTrumpers or passengers on the #TrumpTrain) are likely to prove counterproductive.  Spraying vitriol at factional opponents is likely also not to be very helpful.  Intellectual charity usually helps advance a thoughtful discussion much more than does personal venom.  (Efforts to target folks like Laura Ingraham for supposedly being "responsible" for Trump are especially bizarre; if the GOP had listened to Ingraham more on certain issues, Trump would not have had the political opening he did in 2015-2016.)

In addition to the intellectual reason for the importance of charity, there is a partisan reason for conservatives, too.  Trump voters are an important faction of the GOP.  In a crowded primary, he won about 45 percent of the primary vote.  John McCain won 46.7 percent of the primary vote in 2008, and McCain benefited from perhaps his strongest rival (Mitt Romney) dropping out partway through the campaign.  Facing a sustained #NeverMcCain movement, Senator McCain would have likely gotten even less of the primary vote in 2008 than Donald Trump in 2016.  Trump voters are not some fringe of the Republican party, so trying to purge them all would be a dismembering of the political right.

However, the #NeverTrump and #AlmostNeverTrump factions are an important part of the Republican coalition, too.  As recent polls have suggested, the GOP will have a hard time getting to a majority without at least some of those who have been resistant to Trump.  A Trumpian GOP that hopes to purge itself of all current Trump skeptics is one that has more of a future as a rump than a national party.

Whatever happens in November, both sides will have to be able to work together to help either gain or defend a governing majority.  If the personal divisions become too hardened, that cooperation will be extremely difficult to achieve.  Keeping the current squabble from turning into an undying blood-feud is, then, another reason why those who support, oppose, and are skeptical about Trump should emphasize the virtues of courtesy and intellectual charity (and, yes, those still are virtues).  Keeping divisions from becoming too rancorous also provides a reason why there's a place for some on the right to claim a neutral ground in intrafactional debates (Switzerland, as Hugh Hewitt has termed it).

If the right wants to renew itself, it will need to be able to handle broad debates, which in turn demand intellectual diversity and a tolerance for disagreement.  The right can have a place for both Mona Charen and Michelle Malkin, for both reformocons and the Wall Street Journal editorial board, and for both RedState and (The Journal of) American Greatness.  (I would add that National Review and The Weekly Standard also have a place at the conservative table, but that should be obvious!)*

*See sidebar.

(Crossposted at Praxis)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Really Over?

It's a truism among some in the Beltway that the presidential race is already over; that the GOP had best stop supporting Donald Trump* and go about saving the downballot candidates stat.

However, it would certainly be historically unprecedented for any party to do this with such a comparatively close race.  It's true that Clinton had led Trump in the RCP average for most of 2016 (aside from a brief blimp after the RNC in Cleveland), which suggests that she has an advantage.  However, as of this writing, her advantage is only 2.4 points in a four-way race, and that advantage has been shrinking.  That's not an inconsiderable lead, but rarely before has a 2.4-point gap on Labor Day weekend been taken as a sure sign of presidential doom.

According to Gallup records of the 2000 election, George W. Bush led Al Gore by over 10 points as late as October 2000, but the Democratic party didn't immediately throw in the towel on Gore, who ended up winning the popular vote in 2000.  After Mitt Romney's convention bounce wore off, President Obama led him by between 3 and 4 points in the RCP average throughout much of September 2012.  Yet plenty of observers did not then believe that Governor Romney was fated for defeat.

Conversely, in 1996, the year many 2016-is-over proponents cite, Bill Clinton was absolutely hammering Bob Dole in Gallup polling.  Throughout most of the fall of 1996, Dole usually was at least 10 points behind Clinton in Gallup polls.  Often he was down between 15 and 20 points.  Gallup is not an outlier here; Pew also showed Clinton with a huge lead in the fall.  Senator Dole ended up closing the gap in the last week or so of the election (he eventually lost to President Clinton by 9 percent of the popular vote), but polling throughout much of the fall was far more brutal for Dole than it has been for Trump so far.  Senator Dole couldn't even break 40 percent in most Gallup and Pew polling.

Now, political dynamics have changed over the past twenty years, and it's possible that a 2-point lead is the new 15-point lead.  Donald Trump is also a somewhat unprecedented candidate.  And none of this means that Trump will win; the debates and how the third-party vote shakes out in particular could change the trajectory of the race.  Nevertheless, in recent political history, no party has given up on its presidential candidate over an almost margin-of-error shortfall in the national polls.  There might be other reasons to not support Donald Trump, but the assumption that the presidential race is already over isn't one of them.

*Not by replacing him on the ballot by someone else; instead, he would stay on the top of the ticket and the party would distance itself from him and cut off financial and logistical support.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Beyond Cronyism

Over at The Weekly Standard, I outline the Democratic alliance of corporatism of identity politics, the threat this alliance poses to the GOP, and what conservatives can do to respond:
Currently, corporatism and identity politics stand as two pillars of the Democratic presidential coalition. Corporate titans in Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and elsewhere—what demographer Joel Kotkin has termed the new "oligarch" caste—support the Democratic party in exchange for government subsidies and other privileges. The Affordable Care Act's passage relied upon an alliance of Democratic lawmakers and major health-care interests, Dodd-Frank has often ended up strengthening the hands of the nation's largest financial institutions, and many progressive "green" initiatives function as de facto corporate subsidies. When the Obama administration pursued financial penalties against major financial institutions in the aftermath of the 2008 meltdown, it gave them the option of lessening these penalties by donating to left-leaning activist groups such as La Raza. Moreover, many of those in big business are quite willing to promote left-wing social causes (on identity politics, sexual ethics, and so forth). As the past two elections have suggested, identity politics plus corporate cronyism can be a powerful coalition—at least on the presidential level...
Assuming the right wants to be more than a performance-art faction, it will need to think critically about rebuilding itself. Pandering to business interests is likely not one of the ways do to that. In the long term, America's corporations would be better off defending the principles of the free market rather than hoping to benefit from crony capitalism. Public-private corruption often delegitimizes the market in the public's eyes, and policies that allow the unscrupulous funneling of public wealth to major corporate stakeholders will also allow for the taking of wealth from these stakeholders. Thus, it would be best for business and the Republican party for the GOP to continue to defend the free market. Republicans have further electoral incentive to resist the corporate pander. Many acts of business pandering (such as increasing guest-worker programs) will divide the GOP and compromise its ability to reach out to the middle, and efforts to take social issues "off the table" by capitulating to the left will only alienate many social conservatives, who hold beliefs that are often more popular than another round of capital-gains tax cuts.
If the Democratic party is going to become the faction of corporatism, Republicans have every incentive to emphasize the anti-cronyist tendencies of conservatism. Rather than pandering to big business, the GOP could strengthen local communities and call for a diffusion of power. This does not mean attacking business, but it does require placing one's obligations to the American people above the demands of corporate lobbyists. The GOP would also have to address with forward-thinking policies the parts of the country where opportunity has stagnated, whether in former mill towns or inner cities. It would spend more time addressing the forces that drive populist energies.
Confronting these challenges might mean thinking beyond hoary verities. The business-oriented fiscal agenda of trade deals, entitlement reform, deregulation, and tax cuts—which some in the Beltway take to be the heart of conservatism—cannot by itself constitute an electoral core for the GOP. This agenda will have to evolve to confront the realities of the 21st century, and it will need to be part of a much broader narrative of politics, one that speaks to Americans as neighbors and parents, as flesh-and-blood human beings embedded in a broader culture—not just abstracted economic actors. Instead of the calculated divisions of identity politics, Republicans could champion a common public square.
Read the rest here.

Trump's Immigration Speech

Here's the text of Donald Trump's immigration speech.  I won't begin to calculate the political fall-out from Trump's remarks.

However, a few other points.  Trump shifted the focus of the speech from THE WALL and what to do with current illegal immigrants to look instead at broader issues, including what can be done to improve interior enforcement and how the legal immigration system should be reformed.

Whatever one thinks of Donald Trump, it's clear that our public discussion of immigration needs to get out of a fixation on a debate over "amnesty" into a multidimensional consideration of national immigration policy.  "What should we do with illegal immigrants?" cannot be the only point of discussion for immigration.  We also need to address important questions such as,

  • How can we help recent immigrants achieve upward mobility and integrate into American society?
  • How can our immigration system encourage opportunity for both natives and the foreign-born?
  • How can we reform our legal immigration system so that it strengthens families, communities, and the economy?

For too long, media narratives of immigration (as with other issues) have been held captive by hazy nostalgia and identity politics.  We need to break those chains in order to face the challenges of the present and better secure the blessings of liberty and justice.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The "Amnesty" Trap

As his campaign paves the way for some statement on immigration policy, Donald Trump appears on the verge of falling into a conventional trap on immigration: making the fate of current illegal immigrants the centerpiece of any immigration discussion.  The Democratic party and its media allies prefer to focus on what to do with the "undocumented" because this issue splits conservatives and obscures other areas of immigration policy that badly need reform.

As I've long argued, immigration policy is about much more than what to do with illegal immigrants, just as tax reform is about much more than what to do with people who owe back taxes.  It's also about much more than building THE WALL or whether or not we should have a so-called DEPORTATION FORCE.  The Trump campaign has a tendency to grope toward hot-button issues (and the status of illegal immigrants is certainly one of those), but its interests would be better served by focusing on other oft-ignored--but very important--policy issues, including:

  • The size and structure of our legal immigration system (by the way, the current legal immigration system makes the legalization of illegal immigrants much harder)
  • The size and structure of guest-worker programs
  • How to improve various mechanisms of interior enforcement, such as E-Verify
  • Efforts to encourage upward mobility and integration for recent immigrants

On many of these issues, the agenda of the far Left (and Hillary Clinton) is radically out of step with the American people, so the Trump campaign would benefit from framing the discussion about immigration on these terms.

The editors of National Review and others have suggested that Trump would be far better off arguing that the question of the status of long-term illegal immigrants would be better addressed once a reformed enforcement regime is up and running.

Of course, in order to make that alternative argument, the Trump campaign (including the candidate himself) will have to be willing to discuss policy details in depth.  The shiny bright-red button of media polarization will have to give way to sober deliberation, which might be less explosive but is also often more politically beneficial.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Leaving the Cocoon

In The Weekly Standard, I dig into what we can learn from Burke's "Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol," a sustained reflection on the importance of intellectual charity:
Identity politics cultivates "blindness of heart" by locking us in narrow categories, but it is not the only entity that might blind us to political realities and our deeper moral obligations. Burke retains skepticism about an ideological approach to politics. Government, he writes, is a "practical thing, made for the happiness of mankind, and not to furnish out a spectacle of uniformity to gratify the schemes of visionary politicians." Recent years have seen increasing public tensions in part because of a divergence of the "schemes of visionary politicians" and the actual desires of the people themselves. For instance, proponents of the European Union thought that their schemes of integration could go forward without a buy-in from the broader body politic. The success of Brexit, the increasing tensions of refugee politics throughout the continent, and the broader nationalist surge are in part due to the divergence of ideology and public will.
And looking forward, whatever the results here in the U.S. in November, conservatives and others would do well to remember these words by Burke: "to criminate and recriminate never yet was the road to reconciliation, in any difference amongst men." If it hopes to avoid an irreparable schism, the right will need to focus on diagnosis rather than castigation.
This loss of faith goes far beyond the electoral interests of the right, however. For those interested in warding off the risk of authoritarianism, re-establishing public trust in democratic institutions is a necessary enterprise. This trust does not mean uncritical obedience, but it does entail an essential faith in the pillars of our republic. Remove that faith, and you open the door to tyranny or at least turmoil. Much could be done to restore that faith, but a key part of this restoration involves the act of having a mutual exchange, of those in power rising to the challenges of the time and collaborating with—rather than looking down on—those they govern. The citizenry of a republic are not simply to be managed, nor are they to be viewed as mere vehicles for the realization of ideological imperatives. Instead, they are agents with their own wants, desires, and beliefs. A serious republican politics recognizes this fact.
In this piece, I build on arguments advanced by Peggy Noonan, Rod Dreher, and others that part of what afflicts our civic conversation is a cocooned leadership class that blindly places its faith in a rigid ideology and unleashes scorn on those who dare to dissent from it.  The knee-jerk response to call those who disagree with current policies bigots, whiners, takers, or some other slam is not healthy for those who hope to maintain a robust civic culture, which is a perquisite for a republic.

Burke says that one of the great tasks of government is listening.  Neither "you'll get nothing--and like it" nor "you rubes never had it so good" exemplify an open ear.  Instead, those in power and those who seek to counsel those in power need to listen to their fellow citizens, inquire into the facts, and advance in a spirit of charity and humility.

For the right, charity and humility will be especially important in the months and years ahead.  Whatever happens in November, there are clearly substantial differences of opinion on the right, and purges--whether pro- or anti-Trump--will likely only worsen the problems facing the right.  As Pete Spiliakos has noted, "purge the voters and prosper" is not a strategy for success in a democratic republic.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Disruption Ahead?

In NRO today, I dig into a new report by McKinsey that explores the consequences of economic disruption for Western political systems:
A recent report from the McKinsey Global Institute – “Poorer than Their Parents?” – suggests that greater instability may be on the horizon for the First World. The report outlines a broad stagnation in incomes across the industrialized world, which has strained government finances and could unsettle existing political consensuses. By raising doubts about the fiscal and political sustainability of current policies, it augurs increasing disruption in political systems across the world. 
The good news is that conservatives can meet the challenges of this economic sclerosis – and help secure themselves a governing coalition in the process.
McKinsey finds that, in much of the industrialized world, between 65 percent and 70 percent of households saw their market incomes (earnings from labor and capital) decline or stay flat between 2005 and 2014. Increased government transfers counteracted much of the decline, but about a quarter of all households still saw no income growth during this period – a marked departure from previous decades, when most households across the income spectrum saw at least some market-income growth.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Breaking the Media Narrative

In his speech in Charlotte, North Carolina today, Donald Trump continued to try to shift the media narrative of his candidacy.  In remarks in Wisconsin earlier this week, Trump emphasized reconciliation and national unity:
I will fight to ensure that every American is treated equally, protected equally, and honored equally. We will reject bigotry and hatred and oppression in all of its forms, and seek a new future of security, prosperity and opportunity – a future built on our common culture and values as one American people.
I am asking for your vote so I can be your champion in the White House. We will once again be a country of law and order, and a country of great success.
To every parent who dreams for their children, and to every child who dreams for their future, I say these words to you tonight: I’m with you, I will fight for you, and I will win for you.
Charlotte continued this theme.  He also apologized for some of his past remarks.  As Byron York noted, Charlotte represented a considerable break with many of Trump's past speeches.  This might represent a strategy on Trump's part to cast his candidacy as more inclusive, disciplined, and cooperative.

One can argue about whether this branding will be effective and whether it is too late to be effective.  But, if it's to have any hope of success, it will require incredible discipline in the coming days.  The branding of Trump as an angry bomb-thrower is set fairly deep.  The only way to reset this branding is to not give the media anything that could be construed as part of his old brand.    The media likes covering the circus and it likes Trump as the ringmaster.  It will do everything it can to keep him in the circus (and thereby help Hillary Clinton into the Oval Office).

With one crude off-the-cuff comment by Trump, the media will flood the zone.  A dismissive remark about another Republican--wall-to-wall "GOP in civil war" coverage.  With any slip, the media will be cackling over a failed "pivot."  If it wants this rebrand to be successful--from "I alone" to "we together"--Trump's campaign will have to be hyper-vigilant.