Right Noise ShortCut [Imaging & Analysis]

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Show Credits:

Right Noise ShortCut [Afghanistan…Again]

Right Noise ShortCut [Monuments & Memorials]

 

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.

Dirty Hands

In Jean Paul Sartre’s “Dirty Hands,” two Communist revolutionaries argue about politics. Hoederer, the leader of the faction, believes that rhetoric and principles serve as vehicles to deliver a political reality that comes as close as possible to an ideal. He is a tough pragmatist who understands short term trade offs can serve long term ends. Hugo; his secretary who, unbeknownst to him has been sent to kill him; believes passionately in the Communist rhetoric and principles. He believes that compromising those principles with rank politics so undermines the movement that it loses its right to exist.

As a Republican in the “Era of Trump,” I ask myself: “Who, in this analogy, am I?”

For years, I railed against “RINO Hunters,” arguing Hoederer’s point, that imperfect messengers who delivered incremental victories were worth more than political losses delivered by principled grandstanders. Besides, I argued, the America that the so-called RINOs want closely resembles that which the conservative zealots envision. It was the naive ideologues who cheered on Senator Ted Cruz’ “Green Eggs and Ham” filibuster, or Ron Paul’s half-baked immutability. These ideologues rejected Senator John McCain and Governor Mitt Romney–both men more conservative than their Democrat opponents, but deemed not sufficiently pure. For nearly a decade I wrote Black and Red, touted the supremacy of conservative principles, and supported “the most conservative candidate who could win,” even when the candidate was less conservative than my ideal.

Then, came 2016.

The GOP primary, and election of Donald Trump as President, caused me to reconsider my place in the GOP; and to rethink the Party’s desired goals. For years, I defended my tribe against liberal attacks that Republicans’ advocacy of principles like a smaller federal government, supply-side economics, and federalism, were nothing more than a Trojan Horse designed to deliver on darker, more sinister ends. I found these critiques the lowest of political demagoguery. Then, Trump wooed Republican voters, appealing directly to these dark impulses; while paying only cursory lip service to the grander principles the Party ostensibly supported. Clare Malone writes an incisive piece for Five Thirty Eight that reads in part,

“Many have assumed that adherence to a certain conservative purity was the engine of the GOP, and given the party’s demographic homogeneity, this made sense. But re-evaluating recent history in light of Trump, and looking a bit closer at this year’s numbers, something else seems to be the primary motivator of GOP voters, something closer to the neighborhood of cultural conservatism and racial and economic grievance rather than a passion for small government.”

One of Five Thirty Eight’s findings, which took into account multiple polls that gauged immediate feedback, found that among Republicans, candidate Trump’s approval ratings increased whenever he said the most outrageous things (e.g.–Judge Curiel couldn’t be impartial because of his Mexican heritage). Quite notably, his approval rating among Republicans has not dipped below 81%, in spite of his heretical views on conservatism.

So, who am I now?

Am I Hoederer, the pragmatist, who (if he weren’t a communist) would see Trump as a political means to an end?

Or am I Hugo, the idealist, convinced that this political concession threatens to entirely obliterate our shared ends?

That depends on who the GOP is–who we have become. Are we bigger than one man? What are our long term goals? How do we propose to improve Americans’ lives? What vision do we have for the country? Currently; between a White House perpetually embroiled in self-inflicted damage control, and a Balkanized Republican Congress; it appears that the conservative agenda (whatever it really is) has stalled.

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 New American Threat to World Order

Gideon Rose wrote an impassioned, yet wrongheaded, defense of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, arguing that his policies keep America, and the world, on a positive track.

 

“The key to Obama’s success has been his grasp of the big picture: his appreciation of the liberal international order that the United States has nurtured over the last seven decades, together with his recognition that the core of that order needed to be salvaged by pulling back from misguided adventures and feuds in the global periphery.”

 

Rose, then proceeds to absolve Obama’s failures by relegating them to “feuds in the global periphery,” while elevating Obama’s obscure successes to the pinnacle of foreign policy genius–all in the name of maintaining the liberal international order.

 

As problematic as Rose’s evaluation is, his argument continues to fail on its own merit, especially in light of our changed approaches to rogue and dictatorial regimes. The liberal international order that the United States created after World War 2, enticed illiberal states to change their ways in order to enjoy the spoils of cooperation. Participation in the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, G20, and other intergovernmental organizations required member states to pursue liberal institutions that secure peace. Free press, free elections, representative governments and open societies make for peaceful, predictable partnerships–the kinds of partnerships that have led to the relative peace of the post World War 2 era, and the worldwide rise in economic prosperity. Failure to insist upon the adoption of liberal institutions rewards despotism, and can even enrich tyrants.

 

Yet, that’s exactly what Obama’s foreign policy has done.

 

In 2008, Senator John McCain criticized Obama’s desire to legitimize rogue states by opening diplomatic ties with them. Obama called McCain’s charge an appeal to the politics of fear. He went further, saying, “we need to…use all elements of American power – including tough, principled, and direct diplomacy — to pressure countries like Iran and Syria.” This rejoinder sounds consistent with what Rose, and others concerned with preserving the liberal international order, would welcome. However, even if Rose considers the Iran Nuclear Deal, the normalization of relations with communist Cuba, and the lifting of the weapons embargo with communist Vietnam, peripheral items, these Obama policies do not support the liberal international order. They do, in fact, quite the opposite.

 

Rose argues, for example, that Obama exercised sound judgement by responding tepidly to Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2013, in part, because Ukraine (not a NATO member) didn’t deserve our protection.

 

“This policy seems eminently sensible,” Rose writes. “NATO members have an ironclad security guarantee of American protection, which Washington will unquestionably enforce if necessary…Ukraine will probably join the liberal order eventually, when circumstances permit. But it is not the United States’ job to fight to bring it in before then.”

 

Contrast this with our new stance with Vietnam. Vietnam persists as a communist nation, replete with political prisoners and basic injustices. Hours before Obama landed in Hanoi, the Vietnamese people held an election in which more than 98% of Vietnamese citizens voted to legitimate the illegitimate and oppressive regime. Still, Obama strengthened this regime–promising to sell it F-16s, drones, surveillance equipment and electronic warfare capabilities so that “Vietnam [can] fully link its kill chain between ‘see-ers’ and ‘shooters.’”

 

If this effort were meant to “pressure” Vietnam into liberalizing, then Obama would be serving the liberal international order. However, as Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere notes, “neither the Americans or [sic] the Vietnamese spent any time pretending the change had anything to do with actual democratic reform. Obama didn’t make a show of calling for it. President Tran Dai Quang didn’t make a show of pretending he was for it. They both knew it would have been a joke.”
What incentivizes nations to pursue liberalism–often reducing the power of the ruling class–when the benefits of the liberal global order fall upon illiberal states as well? Doesn’t Obama’s approach to these hostile states undermine the liberal international order? Or do a stronger Iran, Cuba, and Vietnam exist only in the periphery?

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.”