Fire, Fury, Flailing, and Frustration

David French wrote a piece in National Review that speaks for many Republicans in the post-Trump GOP who find ourselves gobsmacked by President Trump’s remarks following the clashes in Charlottesville over the weekend. Those of us who read the 2012 autopsy report and took heart that the party may finally do what it takes to attract more voters and slough off the smear that the Republican Party offers safe haven for white supremacists and racists, excitedly backed every other 2016 primary candidate–except the one who won. The candidate who won traffics in alt-Right conspiracy theories (prominently, in the Birther Conspiracy Theory), prejudged a judge’s ability to do his job based solely on his ethnic background, and dragged his feet to disavow the support of open racists–namely David Duke. His defenders insist that we ignore these data points, attributing them to the inevitable ugliness of modern presidential campaigns; and to consider as coincidences that his Attorney General is named after Confederate heroes, and the head of his legal team shares the name of the most overtly racist baseball player in American history. Indeed, these may be coincidences. However, given the president’s bizarre inability to assure the country that he resents racism as much as he does Mika Brzezinski, that once-tenuous smear against the party that ended slavery appears more tenable. Responsible Republicans resent this.

 

What the hell do you have to lose,” Trump asked a black audience who he hoped to sway to support him in the general election. What blacks (and other decent Americans) have lost thus far is a head of government with the moral clarity to reflexively denounce our most embarrassing citizens–you might call them “deplorables.” These Nazis, Klanners, and terrorists, attacked and killed counter protesters; and while one may argue that the counter protesters may have started some of the physical altercations, there is proof that a large contingent of them came to protest peacefully. That cannot be said for the racists, who appeared carrying shields, helmets and firearms.

 

Responsible Republicans know that the Trump Administration is the disaster we predicted long before it started. Rather than uplift the party and direct it toward a common goal, it has exacerbated Republican infighting, confirmed the worst stereotypes about conservatives, and marginalized the best members of the Party for those Buckley expelled decades ago.

 

White House personnel sniping, the Russian investigation, dismal poll numbers, and embarrassing responses to world events (think North Korea), fueled a spate of reporting, last week, hinting at a Republican coup against the president in 2020.

 

Add Charlottesville to the fire.

 

Worse than the harm the Trump Administration brings to the GOP is the damage it continues to do to the country: we have no Afghanistan strategy. We have no North Korea strategy. We have no Venezuela strategy. We have no Syria strategy. We have no health care replacement. We have no tax reform plan.

 

We do have Trash TV White House appointments. We do have Twitter wars. We do have an opioid epidemic. We do have an idiotic war against the media. We do have rising suicide rates. We do have a gridlocked Congress. We do have a resurgence of American terrorism–white supremacists–emboldened by what Colin Powell called the “Dark Vein of Intolerance” in the Republican Party.

 

Most depressingly, though, we have a president ill-suited to constructively address these issues.

Trump Proves Me Wrong, Yet Again

Rarely am I happier that I lack a larger audience than when I’m dead wrong about politics. My most recent piece wrongly predicted an easy victory for Hillary Clinton. I did so here, as well. With certainty, I declared Donald Trump “a loser.” In fact, so depressed was I about our nominee, that I rarely wrote articles beyond mid-summer. Personally, I abstained voting for president, as promised. The day after the election, though, America witnessed a political upheaval like no other–Donald Trump overcame the prognostications and won the 2016 election–“bigly.”

Trump needed to outperform Mitt Romney’s 2012 efforts in order to win, and it appears that he did so by calling the Democrats’ bluff on the numbers of Black and Latino voters they expected to rally around Clinton. In battleground states like North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan, fewer Blacks voted this year than in the last presidential election. In 2012, Romney won 59% of the white vote nationally, leading me to argue that Trump needed to do significantly better among whites–an unlikely scenario–or make inroads among Blacks and Latinos in order to offset whatever whites he lost to Clinton. Surprisingly, he did the latter–outpacing Romney among Blacks; winning 8% to Romney’s 7%, and Latinos; winning 29% to Romney’s 27%. Unfortunately, Trump’s victory may further postpone minority outreach efforts.

But now that he’s proven me wrong in the primaries, and general election, what lies ahead?

Republicans control the House, Senate and the White House starting in January 2017. Now in control of the federal government, the GOP must seriously shift from being naysaying spectators to being active problem solvers. Within the first two years of a Trump term, the Republicans could end federal funding of Planned Parenthood; a minor, but symbolic feat. They could nominate and confirm a conservative jurist to replace the late, great, Antonin Scalia. They could repeal Dodd-Frank.

But what could they do to positively connect their leadership with the lives of the average American? How will they prioritize larger, more complicated goals, like repealing and replacing Obamacare, or rewriting the tax code? Americans will be looking for meaningful results, and the Republicans have promised (or perhaps, over-promised) to accomplish a great deal. Can they pursue these items without risking political capital needed to survive the midterm elections in 2018?

Also, what will come of the Trumpian initiatives: renegotiating NAFTA, sinking NATO, mass deportations of illegal immigrants, the Wall? All of these items were staples of the Trump campaign. Given the pressure Trump has placed upon himself to immediately pursue these goals, he’ll be expected to deliver–and fast. By my estimation, pursuing these idiosyncratic ends threaten to cost Republicans congressional majorities in 2018, dooming his presidency early on.

Or maybe I’m wrong, again.

Maybe the country cares less about a simpler tax code, and more about a symbolic gesture along the Southern border. Maybe we don’t really care about a nuclear Japan as much as we care about ripping up NAFTA.

In light of the 2016 election, Americans everywhere struggle to predict what comes next. Perhaps Mr. Trump will serve as a simple conduit through which thoughtful Republicans can filter policy. Maybe Republicans will continue their nasty infighting in the most public of venues. At this point, only two certainties exist: First, the Trump victory shines a spotlight on the disconnect between the public at large and the political elites. Second, nobody knows what the hell is going to happen next.

Least of all, me.

The Right to be Victimized

Those of us already concerned about how Donald Trump’s legacy threatens to permanently erode the character of the Republican Party, may be seeing a small glimpse into what lies ahead after November 8th. At this very moment, the FiveThirtyEight “Polls-Plus” forecast shows Donald Trump with a less than 18% chance of winning the election. The RealClearPolitics electoral map shows red meat states like Texas and Utah, which Mitt Romney won in 2012 by 16 and 48 points respectively, colored more like dull-pink, medium-well Trump Steaks (He leads in both states by single digits, with at least one Utah poll showing him tied with Hillary Clinton). In other words, Mr. Trump and the GOP look ahead to an epic repudiation at the polls. And while Republicans should walk away from such a defeat with an appetite for introspection and self-criticism, we likely won’t, because Republicans have increasingly accepted the mantle of victimhood, and Mr. Trump intends to accelerate that trend.

 

Though Trump spent most of the general election reacting allergically to unfavorable polls, that era appears to have ended. Reluctant to take responsibility for his own words and actions, Trump insists that his precipitous decline owes itself to a pernicious conspiracy among the media, the Republican “establishment” and the Clinton campaign. He, and his obsequious toadies, have spent a great deal of time warning of a “stolen election,” with more potential culprits than Oliver Stone’s “JFK.”  Ashley Parker notes as much in the New York Times:

 

“Mr. Trump’s ominous claims of a “stolen election”…are not entirely new. But in recent days, he has been pressing the theme with a fresh intensity, citing everything from the potential for Election Day fraud to news media bias favoring Mrs. Clinton to rigged debates.”

 

Contrast Trump’s preemptive finger-pointing with Mitt Romney’s concession speech in 2012, in which he stood alone, taking the blame for the campaign’s shortcomings; and the troubling difference comes to light.

 

To be sure, decrying left-leaning media bias is nothing new for the GOP. The tone of this criticism, however, has changed from one that recognized the supremacy of conservative ideas–so powerful that Americans choose them in spite of media bias–to a defeatist tone that paints the political right as powerless victims, and American voters as simpletons. Trump’s claims, which unfortunately hit paydirt with too many Republicans, threaten to unnecessarily undermine the integrity of a staple of American democracy–the vote.

 

While many Republicans have spoken out against Trump’s claim, the Republican nominee implicates these GOP critics in his decline as well. When House Speaker, Paul D. Ryan announced that he would turn his attention away from defending Trump, after a video emerged showing the nominee bragging about sexually assaulting women, Trump pounced, reigniting a feud, and implicating Ryan in a conspiracy to elect Hillary Clinton.

 

“There is a whole deal going on there. There is a whole deal going on and we’re going to figure it out. I always figure things out. But there’s a whole sinister deal going on.”

 

Overcoming obstacles, used to form the backbone of conservative ideology. Taking personal responsibility for our actions, and for where those actions placed us, was the message that attracted Americans from every race and class to join the GOP.

But now, we have Trump.

Neither Trump, nor his apologists, appear ready to face the reality that has been staring them in the face since the purported billionaire descended down the escalator to greet a smattering of paid supporters: Donald Trump is a loser. Whether he wins in November or not, Trump will either damage conservatives’ credibility, or so misshape the GOP that what will remain of the two political parties will be competing organizations of aggrieved victims of first-world problems.

 

Rather than carry the mantle of personal responsibility, we’re told that individual choices–like picking fights with a Gold Star family, an American judge of Mexican heritage, and a sympathetic beauty contestant–don’t matter. Instead, we’re sold the liberal message: that the deck is stacked against us, no matter what we do. We are powerless, pathetic, duds, whose only hope lies in government, or in Trump’s case, in an American version of a Latin American strongman.

 

No. Trump’s is not a conservative message. That’s why he’s losing. If, after November, Republicans fail to recognize that, Trumpism will doom us to perpetual victimhood and political failure.
And, if we’re honest, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.

Why I Oppose the “Wexit”

“I joined [the GOP] because I was a conservative, and I leave it for the same reason: I’m a conservative,” George Will said on Fox News Sunday.

 

Will joins many Republicans, myself included, who refuse to vote for Donald Trump under any circumstances. His exit from the Republican Party, though, is wrong, however understandable.

 

Every day arise new reasons for we members of the #NEVERTRUMP movement to despair that Trump is the Republican presidential nominee: He knows virtually nothing about conservatism, and he cares even less. His most tepid supporters, like Dennis Prager, argue that his potential for choosing conservative Supreme Court nominees serves as reason enough to hold one’s nose and pull the Trump lever. However, we fear that even as Mr. Trump indicated that he would fill the Supreme Court with conservative judges (some of whom whose names he could not properly pronounce), his tendency to renege on promises undermines his credibility. Moreover, the Supreme Court means little if the liberal world order that America created unravels as a result of trade wars and unnecessary rivalries. In November, most voters faced with the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, will recognize that Clinton would make a better president than Trump, and will wisely choose her to lead the nation.

 

Adding to our humiliation, #NEVERTRUMP, suffers routine castigation from many of our fellow Republicans. Presidential candidate, Ben Carson, accuses us of demonstrating an “incomprehensible level of arrogance.” Former House Speaker, Newt Gingrich, argued that we threaten to harm the country. Grant Strinchfield wrote a particularly regrettable piece in The Federalist calling us “anti-American” hypocrites.

 

Then, House Speaker, Paul Ryan, endorsed Trump, opening wide the door for Will to exit the Party. Without a doubt, Ryan’s endorsement dealt a serious blow to the GOP’s credibility. Ryan, who built his career on the moral authority of conservative principles, was a glimmer of hope that the GOP hadn’t completely gone Ann Coulter-Crazy. A dim light having been extinguished, Will left the political party he so honorably shaped.

 

“After Trump went after the ‘Mexican’ judge from northern Indiana then Paul Ryan endorsed him, I decided that in fact this was not my party anymore,” he told an audience at a Federalist Society luncheon.

 

Shared disconsolation notwithstanding, George Will should not have left the Party.

 

For starters, if Republicans finally learn the lessons we should have learned after the 2012 election, and not repeat this mistake again, we can rebuild and bounce back. If those of us who detest Mr. Trump leave the GOP, then only the irresponsible will remain, and the Party will collapse. There will be very little hope of returning it to the timeless conservative principles it needs to rescue America from the postmodern Democrat Party.

 

Secondly, Will should understand that the pressures on Paul Ryan (the highest ranking Republican in America) to endorse Trump differ dramatically from those on him (an unelected commentator) to do the same. Ryan took over the Speakership in a badly divided House, and has been working heroically to keep the focus on policy ideas, messaging and making meaningful progress. In spite of his efforts, there is a cadre of Republicans waiting to undermine him, and they would have their chance if they could blame him for Trump’s impending loss in 2016. Furthermore, given Trump’s propensity to declare war on those who do not endorse him, Ryan needed whatever leverage he could muster to make a semi-respectable candidate of the insecure buffoon that is Donald Trump. His endorsement, therefore, fused some in the responsible wing of the Party with those in the irresponsible wing of the Party in order to keep peace through what will certainly be a calamitous election, and to try to steer Trump, as best he can, toward the Party mainstream.

 

By contrast, Will’s refusal to endorse Trump, a decision lacking in equally consequential implications, bears little gravity.

 

Finally, every Republican has to acknowledge that unity matters most in 2016. While we cannot agree to support our presidential nominee (I, certainly, will not), we should encourage as many people as possible to support Republicans in races further down the ticket. A Clinton presidency with a principled Republican Congress is better than both, a Clinton presidency with a complicit Democrat Congress, and a Trump presidency with a lapdog Republican Congress.  Will said so, himself, at the Federalist Society luncheon. Rather than leave the GOP, Will should have turned his eye from the top of the ticket to the principled Republicans who need support in spite of Mr. Trump.

Of course, I understand Will’s impulse. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve stayed up late nights, and have even wept, lamenting this election and its implications for the conservative movement. But, the GOP and the nation needs principled conservatives right now. That means you, too, Mr. Will. The Cubs are doing great this year. The GOP is still “your party”–our party–and it needs our valuable attention now more than ever.

The Polls are Wrong, and Even if They Aren’t…

Reporters and Donald Trump supporters alike have been touting the results of two new polls showing Trump in a dead heat with his Democrat rival, Hillary Clinton. A Reuters/Ipsos survey finds the two tied with 41 percent of likely voters supporting Clinton to 40 percent supporting Trump. A Quinnipiac University poll has the duo tied in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. Reuters’ Chris Kahn said that, “The results could signal a close fight between the…White House rivals.” Trump, himself, says that he’s “Very happy to see these numbers.” These polls may even goad reluctant Republicans to relax, and embrace the Trump nomination. However, they shouldn’t.

 

For starters, these polls, appearing just shy of 6 months before the election, hold no predictive value. Eight May polls in 2012 predicted a win for Mitt Romney. Three in 2008 called the election for John McCain. Even the polls at that time that predicted an Obama victory broadly missed the margins of victory. In short, those polls were wrong.

 

Furthermore, by simply comparing the 2012 exit poll numbers with Trump’s current polling numbers, one can understand Republicans’ despair.In order for Trump to win in November, he must outperform Romney’s 2012 effort and pick up all three swing states–Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania. If he matches or falls below Romney’s numbers, he loses.

 

Romney won 59% of the white vote, including 56% of the white female vote. Given Trump’s competition (a white woman), his open sexism, and his resulting unfavorability rating among women (70% unfavorable), Trump stands to fall below Romney’s white, female support numbers. If all else remains static, that means Trump loses.

 

Then, again, Trump theoretically could gain ground where Romney was weakest. Romney lost Latinos, for example, 27% to 71%. Unfortunately for Mr. Trump, his taco bowl outreach to Hispanics may not make up for his 77% unfavorability rating among Hispanic voters. Without outperforming Romney with Latinos, Trump loses.

 

Romney won 7% of the African American vote. Trump’s unfavorability among blacks is 68%. If Trump fails to win considerably more than 7% of the black vote, Trump loses.

 

Finally, if Trump optimists insist on accepting the two rosy polls showing a tie between him and Clinton, they must consider some other, more unsettling, polling: Mitt Romney lost each of the swing states he needed to win, but he handily won Republican stronghold states–especially across the South. In contrast, Donald Trump only ties Clinton in Georgia and Mississippi. If these polls are predictive (however doubtful that may be), Clinton could be the first Democrat in decades to win these states. If he loses Georgia or Mississippi, Trump loses.

 

Throughout the Republican primary race, Trump supporters have ignored negative polls while his opponents have ignored polls positive to the bombastic hotelier. Perhaps, in other words, Team Trump has reason to celebrate these outlier polls. Perhaps they see something the rest of us don’t–a glint in the garbage that turns out to be gold. Even that should not lull Republicans into resignation. A Trump victory prevents a dishonest, big-government liberal, in Hillary Clinton, from ascending to the White House. In her stead, a dishonest, big-government liberal, in Donald Trump, will enter the White House and wreak havoc in the name of Republicanism, delegitimizing conservatism along the way.

 

In the (perhaps, apocryphal) words of Henry Kissinger, “It’s a pity they can’t both lose.”

Ingratitude Begets Trump

Whenever possible, one should think about the Republican Party in relation to its first successful leader, Abraham Lincoln. Like many of his quotes that possess a haunting, enduring, quality, one of my favorites so aptly applies to the 2016 Republican nomination race that it deserves repeating:

 

“Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”

 

Oh, how the skin blisters!

 

Hillary Clinton’s inauguration day began no later than when Ted Cruz and John Kasich exited the nomination race. With Donald Trump topping the GOP’s November ticket, Republicans will lose the Senate, if not the whole Congress. We will lose the Supreme Court. We will lose credibility as a Party.

 

And we deserve it.

 

Americans will surely look back at this election, and lay blame at the liberal media’s feet for facilitating Trump’s rise. Blame will make its way to the conservative media for treating the liberal Trump like a conservative while castigating other Republicans for not being pure enough.

 

The lion’s share of the blame, though, belongs to large swaths Republican voters and conservative talk radio show hosts. By fomenting ingratitude for their own personal gain, these people have fueled the intraparty turmoil that has led to its imminent collapse.

 

Conservatives, once known for a sunnier disposition than their liberal counterparts, have complained for years that Republican politicians have “sold them out.” This asinine complaint, simply an echo of desperate talk radio hosts, shares no grounding in reality. Regardless, the storyline formed the basis of the Tea Party movement, became the platitude of self-serving politicians, and lives on in the spirit of the rancorous and dysfunctional House Freedom Caucus.

 

In order to believe the lies that the Republican Establishment “doesn’t listen to the people,” “goes along to get along,” and “sells out the people who elected them,” we must ignore the myriad victories this despised cabal won in the service of conservatism. Former House Speaker John Boehner worked with fellow Republicans to cut the Democrats’ federal spending by three quarters. The House Republicans fought President Obama, and won, to keep two thirds of the Bush Tax Cuts enacted. Republicans in both chambers of Congress stood up to the President’s efforts to violate the 2nd Amendment. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell worked with Republican Senators to deny Justice Antonin Scalia’s vacant seat from being filled by a liberal justice.

 

If you listen to conservative demagogues, though, these Republican heroes are “capitulators,” “traitors,” “RINOs,” and worse.

 

Just ask Ted Cruz.

 

To his great detriment, Senator Cruz embraced and peddled the mindless pablum–billing his government shutdown as a stand on principle, and intoning that those of us skeptical of his naked fundraising ploy were enemies–“weak,” RINOs,” and “unprincipled.” With this momentum, created by sliming his colleagues, Cruz launched his presidential bid, often naming himself the only principled Republican of the vast field of options. He lied, saying that the more than half of all Republicans who support comprehensive immigration reform actually favor “amnesty.” He lied about the 2012 election, saying that Mitt Romney lost because he wasn’t sufficiently conservative.

 

Needing Republican support to overcome Donald Trump, Cruz unsurprisingly struggled to find support among the people he built his career castigating.

 

Donald Trump, too, furthered this narrative. He and Cruz shared the same support base–a base they created by fabricating vague, mythological slights to fuel unrighteous indignation. As a result, Republican voters in 2016 have been described as “angry,” and their anger was respected, when it should have been challenged.
If we could be honest with ourselves–the way we were briefly after the 2012 loss–we’d admit that those of us who care about issues have no right to be angry with the “Republican Establishment” (whoever that is). Instead, we’ve given a great deal of undeserved grief to decent, hard-working, principled, allies. And for our ingratitude in light of all of their successes–our successes–we have reaped the bitter fruits of our spoiled-brat temper tantrum–namely, The Donald.

Our Vain Toils

Julian Castro dropped his copy of “Paso a Paso” and staggered, like a punch-drunk boxer, catching himself with one arm against a wall. It was as if he felt Hillary Clinton cross his name from her list of potential vice presidential candidates to flank her this summer. She doesn’t need him anymore: Republican voters turned their back on the Democrats’ greatest threat by choosing Donald Trump over the young, Spanish-speaking, Marco Rubio–a man bludgeoned with a one-word caricature of his reasonable approach to immigration reform– “amnesty.” With John Kasich facing practically no chance at winning the nomination, the GOP advances two candidates whose immigration proposals will drive Hispanics into the warm, welcoming arms of the Democrat Party. They were ours to lose, and we gave them away.

 

Corey Booker, too, stamped his foot. Clinton need not contact him to consolidate the black vote. Ted Cruz demonstrates no interest in courting black voters, and the remaining alternatives are two, old white men–the most popular of whom encourages violence against Black Lives Matter protesters, while perfunctorily denouncing his white supremacist support. The Democrats can relax a bit now. The Christian conservative blacks who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 can tap the screen one more time, and make history again. Our efforts to attract these voters, in light of the GOP postmortem–vanity.

 

Barack Obama scoffs smugly as he looks at the election results. He shakes his head and puffs out his chest as he prepares to publicly shame Senate Republicans for refusing to hold any confirmation hearings on Antonin Scalia’s replacement.Mitch McConnell’s brave declaration of defiance presupposed much better odds of a Republican winning the White House in November. That presupposition vaporized with Rubio’s exit from the nomination race. Obama gleefully spent much of his presidency winding up the impotent Republican mob, only to see them embarrass themselves, cannibalize themselves, and show themselves for what they really are–disorganized reactionaries draped in the thin, tattered, wisps of an intellectualism long past. From Edmund Burke to Russell Kirk, from Brent Bozell to Bill Buckley; all roads lead to “The Donald” now, or to his minion, Ted Cruz. Now, Obama may nominate a Supreme Court justice as liberal as he pleases. Senate recalcitrance only  postpones the inevitable: a liberal will replace Nino whether chosen by Obama or Clinton. Even better, Mitch McConnell suffers another crushing  public humiliation. His bravery–vanity.

 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg chases her nighttime cocktail of colorful pills with a rich, blood-red table wine. She lies on her back, staring at the ceiling waiting to be overcome by sleep, either of the temporary or metaphorical variety. Warmed by the wine, she smiles as she watches the Republican vultures leave their perch above her bed. They will starve after all. “Go find carrion elsewhere! Feast upon the rotting elephant flesh, from the bodies senselessly trampled in the stampede.”

 

“I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun…”

 

Consider the sacrifice of millions of patriots who formed this conservative movement which has; together with its political vehicle, the Republican Party; freed millions of unfortunate black slaves from bondage, lead the fight for women’s suffrage, reduced the number of babies murdered in the womb, created the Americans with Disabilities Act, saved countless lives by supporting strong and just law enforcement tactics.

 

“…seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool?”

We leave our toil to a man who sided with the Democrats while we weathered attacks in the name of conservative principles. We leave our toil to a man who does not know what conservatism actually means.

 

“…Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair…”

The Krazy Konservative Kleavage

Seventy-two percent of the voters in 2012 identified as white. Thirty-five percent of the electorate self-identified as conservative. Mitt Romney won these groups 59% and 82% respectively. Still, though, Romney lost. He lost because President Barack Obama won three quarters of the non-white vote, including a staggering 71% of Latinos. This led to the Republican “post mortem” report, an exhaustive examination of the many challenges that face the party, especially in Presidential Elections. The report named many areas of improvement, but the most controversial prescription called on the Party to increase its minority outreach.

 

“If we want ethnic minority voters to support Republicans, we have to engage them and show our sincerity.” Furthermore, “we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only.”

 

Many Republicans–Big Tent Republicans–agree with these findings. Romney’s vow to make life for illegal immigrants so difficult that they would “self-deport;” failed to comfort the millions of immigrants and their families, and sent the message to Latinos that Republicans don’t “care about people like me.”  Moreover, Romney’s approach failed to address the complexity of the illegal immigration problem.

 

On the other hand, many other Republicans reviled this conclusion. They argue, instead, that Romney lost the 2012 election because he wasn’t–like them–a “true conservative,” ignoring that he represented the “true conservative” choice in 2008, when he ran against John McCain. “True conservatives” say that they believe in absolute ideological purity, but that does not appear to be so. Instead, “true conservatives” are singly concerned about Mexican immigration. These Republicans believe that across the nation, white conservatives simply refuse to come to the polls to vote for Republican candidates who are not conservative enough, and until a “true conservative” becomes the nominee, Republicans will continue to lose elections.

 

The numbers, however, belie this conclusion.

 

By “true conservative’s” estimates, for example, George W. Bush is more conservative than both McCain and Romney. In 2000, 29% of voters self-identified as conservative, 34% in 2008, and 35% in 2012. Bush earned 82% of the conservative vote in 2000, McCain earned 78% in 2008, and Romney won 82% in 2012. In other words, Romney won more conservative votes than each of these recent predecessors, McCain earned more conservative votes than Bush, and fewer self-identified conservatives came out for Bush than did for both McCain and Romney.

 

Was George W. Bush not conservative enough to attract these phantom “true conservatives?” Why did so many more conservatives come out to support a “less conservative” Mitt Romney? Impervious to evidence, “true conservatives” dig in their heels.

 

As candidates entered the 2016 Presidential Race, the dichotomy couldn’t be clearer: Among others; senators Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Governors Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and John Kasich; conspicuously represented the Big Tent Republicans–the Republicans who got the memo in 2012. Senator Ted Cruz, and hotelier Donald Trump represented the “true conservative” wing of the Party.

 

In an appeal to his Republican constituents, Trump attacked Jeb Bush for speaking Spanish. Cruz did the same to Marco Rubio. This line of attack meant to elicit visceral concerns about Mexican immigration, also suggested that the Big Tent candidates shared a secret agenda to serve the interests of Hispanics over American (white) interests, and implied that neither Bush nor Rubio can be trusted. In fact, Cruz openly accused Rubio of saying one thing on Univision–in Spanish–and another to the American public–most of whom do not speak Spanish and cannot fact check Cruz’ claim with certainty or ease. Interestingly, in 2012, Newt Gingrich argued that he was the “real conservative,” as opposed to Romney, and he employed this very same kind of attack, arguing that Romney’s bilingualism (French, in his case) raised questions about his fealty to America.

 

Big Tent Republicans, on the other hand, make the case, as did Rubio, that speaking Spanish helps deliver the conservative message to more people. In keeping with the Big Tent goal of expanding the Party, Bush and Rubio argued that bilingualism was a tool to welcome new people into the GOP.

 

“True conservatives’” favorite attack against Big Tent Republicans regards immigration policy. Rubio faced intense castigation for working with a bipartisan team of Senators to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill. The bill would have penalized, with a fine and repayment of back taxes, any of the 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States who chose to accept this punishment. Then, this group could earn legal status–even citizenship. The bill strengthened the E-verify program, and mandated businesses to participate. It passed the Senate with 68 votes, but died in the House.

 

“True conservatives” cheer the bill’s failure, calling it “amnesty,” as if the word has no definition. Rubio bears the scars for participating in The Gang of 8 (not to be confused with the Gang of 14 that “true conservatives” hung around John McCain’s neck in 2008). “True conservatives” believe that law enforcement officers should hunt illegal immigrants, take them from their houses and places of employment, send them to immigration courts, detain and deport them. Both Trump and Cruz say that they will do all of this and build a 50 foot wall along the Southern border.

 

At this point in the 2016 election, half of the 4 remaining candidates are “true conservatives,” while the other half are Big Tent Republicans. Unfortunately, the “true conservatives” are winning.

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This schism suggests that Republicans have learned nothing from their 2012 defeat. “True conservatives’” appeals to xenophobia have unsurprisingly attracted support from the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, and other white supremacist groups. Trump’s reticence to denounce this wing of his supporters further validates the fears minorities have about the GOP. If ever one would wonder whether or not Republicans “care about people like me,” one only need remember that rather than trying to appeal to minorities, the Republican Party prefers to court nonexistent white people.

 

Most of the candidates who worked to expand the Party have dropped from the race for lack of support. While some conservative commentators may argue that a majority of Republican voters do not agree with Donald Trump, the fact remains that Ted Cruz represents the same wing of the divided Republican Party. Neither candidate works to welcome new members to the GOP rolls. In fact, they both push minorities away. As a result, millions of potential Republican voters will vote Democrat, and the Democrats will win another Presidential election.

 

Voting for Marco Rubio, on the other hand, presents the Democrats with a true challenge: no longer can they take minority votes for granted, because Rubio actively courts them. For every Democrat surrogate sent to speak in Spanish on behalf of their white candidate, Rubio, himself, can answer on his own behalf. The image of Rubio sharing a stage with Governor Nikki Haley, Senator Tim Scott and Congressman Trey Gowdy will be a galvanizing image for the Republican Party.

 
As it happens, though, “true conservatives” continue to win more Republican votes. So when Republicans lose in November, prepare for another hand wringing report about the lack of minority outreach. Prepare for the accusations that the GOP nominee was ideologically tainted. For had he been a “true conservative,” millions upon millions of whites would have shown up to vote Republican.

Ryan’s Reformicons Lead the Way

In an election year, politicians tend to be light on policy specifics (closer to Donald Trump’s platitudes than to Mitt Romney’s 59-point jobs plan). That’s because revealing too much too soon creates a target that opponents can attack for a longer period of time. Paul Ryan recognized this in 2012 when Romney approached him about joining the presidential ticket.

 

“When he [Romney] asked me, I said, ‘you do realize that I’m the guy with all the budget cuts. If you put me on the ticket, you own this budget.'”

 

Romney accepted Ryan, budget cuts and all, but lost the 2012 election anyway.

 

This time around, Speaker Ryan looks to push a congressional reform agenda he describes as “propositional” not “oppositional.” His goal is to have a tangible plan laid out this spring–before the 2016 general election. In other words, whoever becomes the Republican nominee will own Ryan’s congressional agenda.

 

I want our party to be the party of opportunity, upward mobility and the party with better ideas for fighting poverty…[and] since I want our party to be that, it goes without saying I want the House Republicans to do that, as well.”

 

Inspired by the late Jack Kemp, Ryan addresses poverty, an issue on which Republicans have traditionally led from behind. Preliminary insights suggest that the Speaker wants to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and to consolidate the sprawling federal funding for various poverty initiatives into “opportunity grants” that can be managed by the states. In addition to the poverty proposals, Ryan’s reform priorities include erecting a sturdier firewall to prevent an overactive executive from usurping Congress’ legislative duties.

 

But will Paul Ryan’s reform agenda burden the Republican presidential nominee? That depends on who wins the nomination, of course.

 

Ryan’s tone competes with the angry voices vowing to buck “establishment RINOs” who “don’t fight back” against “amnesty.” On the presidential campaign trail, this tonal divide is clear: Governors Jeb Bush and John Kasich join Senator Marco Rubio in Ryan’s eagerness to transform the GOP from loyal opposition party into a forward leaning majority party. In fact, when Ryan held a three day retreat in Baltimore to discuss the 2016 agenda, each of these gentlemen attended. Notably absent from the retreat, the two candidates most identified by anger, Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz.

 

Let’s be frank about it: Paul does not want Donald Trump or Ted Cruz speaking for the party,” says one Republican leadership source, who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

 

Herein lies the problem. Many Republicans believe that Democrats benefit by framing their policies in an affirmative fashion. Democrats want to “give” people health insurance. They want to “give” people free college education. They want to “give” women the right to choose an abortion. Republicans, on the other hand, appear to be “against” healthcare, free college and reproductive choice. Most voters want more of everything, not less. This puts Republicans at a disadvantage, unless we learn to reframe the conversation.

 

Marco Rubio, John Kasich, and Jeb Bush, appeal to the Republican mainstream because they speak in terms of aspiration and optimism. They speak with the very tone Paul Ryan would like to advance. By contrast, Ted Cruz regularly uses verbs like “annihilate,” “destroy,” and “dismantle.” Donald Trump’s ban on Muslim visitors and immigrants, his staunch desire to erect a physical barrier to immigration, and his promise to punish businesses who choose to operate in a friendlier climate, all use threatening language that does not advance a positive view of conservatism.

 

Speaker Ryan understands that he and Mitt Romney won the 2012 election on issues, but lost on empathy. He understands Jack Kemp’s axiom: “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” That is why Ryan is working tirelessly to unite the Republican Party and grow it, by showing the country what positive politics looks like.
If we nominate the wrong candidate, though, we may do more than lose the election–we may significantly damage the conservative movement.

Marco’s Meltdown. Republican Rancor. And the Futility of Negativity.

Without a doubt, Senator Marco Rubio performed poorly in the first part of the New Hampshire debate. Even he admits it. Governors Chris Christie and Jeb Bush spent the days after the Iowa Caucus openly declaring war on Rubio’s ascendant campaign–questioning Rubio’s conservative convictions and casting him as a stereotypical politician meticulously crafted by Frank Luntz focus groups. In the Saturday debate, the only debate between the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire primary, Christie led the way in battering Rubio–sending the young senator into a Howard Hughes loop of repetition that earned him well-deserved booing.

 

The Granite State cast its votes. No candidate came close to Donald Trump’s decisive victory; least of all, Marco Rubio, who fell from second to a fifth place finish. In spite of Rubio’s impressively broad collection of endorsements, his supporters must consider whether New Hampshire represents a minor setback, or if the wax on Rubio’s wings have melted. As Republicans consider this and reevaluate the landscape, looking forward to South Carolina, a nagging question still remains: Who benefited from the debate attacks?

 

Governor Christie fueled the attacks on Rubio, arguing that America’s electing a smooth-talking, first-term senator in 2008 led to the dire straits the country finds itself in now. Therefore, he argues, a vote for Rubio would be a vote for a similar outcome.

 

Forget, for now, the superficiality of the argument (which I address in the “On Rubio’s Experience” section of a prior article). Even had Christie not dropped out of the race after the primary, would the attack have helped him at all? His attacks on Rand Paul didn’t help him. Nor did he gain from his routine, categorical attacks on senators, which always led him into his own “memorized 25-second speech” about the difference between being a senator and being a governor–a speech that always ended with a dark and disturbing promise about not letting Hillary Clinton within 15 feet of the White House.

 

Governor Bush turned on his protegee during the New Hampshire debate when asked why he’s flip-flopping on his view of Rubio’s qualifications to be president.

 

“Marco Rubio is a gifted, gifted politician,” Bush said, “and he may have the skills to be a President of the United States, but we’ve tried it the old way with Barack Obama, with soaring eloquence and…we didn’t get a leader we got someone who wants to divide the country up.”

 

Let’s examine Bush’s causation-correlation fallacy: Barack Obama used soaring rhetoric and eloquence to win his party’s nomination, and then proceeded to divide the country as president. Therefore, because Marco Rubio speaks eloquently, we should not vote for him to win our party’s nomination for fear that if he wins the presidency, he will do the same.

 

Bush’s absurdities didn’t end there. The former governor, brother of the last Republican president and son of the Republican president prior, went on to attack Rubio in an interview with Glenn Thrush arguing that the son of a maid and a bartender had “never been challenged in his life.”

 

Despite this, Bush only earned about 1,200 more votes than Rubio–amounting to his campaign spending more than $1,200 per vote.

 

So did the attacks work? Sure, if the goal was to harm Rubio’s ascendancy. But did how did they serve the attackers? The Party? The voters?

 

Of course, none of these people benefited from the scurrilous attacks, except maybe Rubio, himself. Perhaps his debate performance will make him more self-aware. Maybe he will learn how to better take heat and recover. Maybe–but only if he learned some important lessons from the event.

 

Clearly, for example, Rubio does not handle attacks well. He responds to petty slights in kind: calling Rand Paul an isolationist, criticizing Christie for New Jersey’s credit downgrades and for not returning fast enough to his state after a snowstorm, etc. Only once did he successfully parry an attack, and that was from Jeb Bush in a much earlier Iowa debate. Perhaps, Rubio simply does not like going after other Republicans. Whether or not that is the case, he can benefit from this weakness by remembering that he bested Bush by taking the high road. Going forward, he can expect to sustain more friendly fire. If Rubio learns that he does best when he stays above the fray, he will have benefited from this experience.

 

Similarly, Rubio must become more self-aware. He hopefully understands that his response to Christie’s charges was self-defeating. Not only did he play into Christie’s narrative, but he also focused on Barack Obama–someone who will not be on the ballot in 2016. This went against the inspirational tenor of his campaign. If, instead, Rubio learns to stay focused on the challenges of tomorrow, rather than the politicians of yesterday, he will have benefited from this experience.
As the Republican race stands now, negativity reigns supreme: Trump insults everyone, Cruz does as well, and Bush does no better. Only Governor Kasich, Ben Carson and Marco Rubio have focused their campaigns on defeating the Democrats and improving the country. If Rubio can remain optimistic and positive, he will solidify himself as the most electable Republican, and the party and American voters will have benefited from this experience.