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…”

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.