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.

Take Our Country Back from the Plantation: 2 Things Republicans Should Stop Saying Immediately

Good politics pertains as much to good policies as it does to good rhetoric. If Republicans learned nothing else from the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, we should have learned that image and rhetoric matters–perhaps more than anything else. Our mission, to increase the number of Republican voters, begins with a careful analysis of our public statements. To that end, we should avoid mindless cliches, and statements so inflammatory that they detract from their own message.

 

I’ve created a long list of things Republicans say (and shouldn’t), along with my rationales.

 

Here are the first two:

 

Take Our Country Back

 

Both Rand Paul and Rick Santorum launched their 2016 presidential bids with these words. Liberals, like ex-Attorney General  Eric Holder, erroneously claim that this phrase contains racial undertones–serves as a dog whistle, a microaggression–when juxtaposed with the presidency of the first non-white to hold the office. Like much of what the left says, this bears little resemblance to the truth. Lesley Clark scoured the annals to produce the ancient origin of this phrase, employed, first, in 2003 by presidential candidate, Howard Dean.

 

Even when employed by a Democrat, the phrase is silly, at best, and insulting at worst.

 

What does it mean to “take the country back?” America belongs to Democrats, Republicans, and everyone in between–even the politically unaffiliated. Besides, if one party “has it,” does that party take it for exclusive use, like a petulant child?

 

For conservative Republicans, this phrase fails for another reason. “Take Our Country Back” can connote a chronological shift–a vow to take America back in time, to an era marked generally by better social morals, but also by egregious civil rights shortcomings. This undermines our assertion that conservatives believe in moving America to a brighter future, even as we do so via time-honored traditions and values.

 

Better phraseology exists (e.g.: “Win back the White House,” “Win back the Congress,” etc.).

 

Republicans should bury this hackneyed trope.

 

Democrat Plantation

 

This one is very problematic.

 

Herman Cain boasted, in 2012, of having “left the Democrat Plantation a long time ago,” echoing similar statements by former Florida Representative, Allen West. Louisiana State Senator Elmer Guillory likened the Democrat Party to a plantation. Republican presidential candidate, Ben Carson, said that liberals hate him because he dared to “come off the plantation.” The list of Republicans equating the Democrat Party to a plantation runs unfortunately long. What you may notice about these speakers is that they are all black–and all wrong.

 

As a black conservative, I empathize with the general frustration that they feel. To them–to us–black allegiance to a party that does little more than pay lip service to a desperately struggling people can be vexing. Just as Frederick Douglas, in his autobiography; decries slaves’ ready willingness to drink, fornicate, fight and waste their precious little money during Christmas celebrations, rather than conspire to break from the shackles of unjust servitude; conservatives (of all colors) detest seeing blacks living in deep privation in Democrat strongholds like Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore and Oakland.

 

Republicans, black Republicans in particular, should make the case that we are the party founded on love for black people. Instead, though, by invoking the Democrat Plantation rhetoric, we insult black Americans (calling them stupid), and our enslaved ancestors (downplaying slavery).

 

Chris Rob explains this nicely in a piece posted on the DailyKos:

 

“I’ve never really understood the argument. Black people trade their votes to Democrats for the ability to sit home and collect government checks or something like that, right? But you know that doesn’t sound like slavery at all, right? I mean, first, you argue that black people just want to be taken care of and do nothing all day, except cast a couple of votes when the time comes. And in exchange, we get free food, housing, and health care. That’s insulting enough. But then you suggest that such an arrangement would be akin to the slavery of our ancestors. As though American chattel slavery consisted of slaves lolling around all day watching t.v. and waiting for the next election. The first claim is infuriating, the second, unforgivable.”

 

 

I note that the greatest offenders of this rule are often, themselves, black. Imagining the firestorm that would engulf a white public figure for claiming that blacks voting Democrat do so out of a plantation mentality suffices to show the daftness of the phrase.

 
Republicans, don’t say it. Leave stupid sayings to the Democrats.

3 Reasons Why Republicans Should Keep an Open Mind about Jeb

After months of Hamlet-like vacillation, John Ellis (Jeb) Bush decides to join the 2016 Presidential race. The leader among all of the declared and undeclared Republican presidential candidates, Bush offers something most of the candidates do not–executive experience running a state that the GOP must win in order to win the 2016 election. Still though, many Republicans remain skeptical of Mr. Bush, some flatly refusing to vote for “another Bush.” Here are 3 reasons why Republicans should keep an open mind about the Jeb Bush candidacy.

 

Reason One: Jeb Bush Joins the Race Enjoying Advantages the Other Candidates Envy


Martin O’Malley, Carly Fiorina, and Ben Carson share a common first hurdle to a successful White House bid–earning widespread name recognition. For some candidates, their relative obscurity serves them well: Senator Marco Rubio, for example, can define himself on his own terms. Martin O’Malley, on the other hand, struggles to get any attention at all. For Jeb Bush, name recognition cuts both ways: on the one hand, Bush enjoys the benefits of belonging to a respected political family that Americans feel as if they know. After all, the only Republicans to win the White House since Ronald Reagan were Bushes. Still, though,Jeb must make the case that he is his own man, worthy of the job on his own merits, not just because of his last name. That task represents an opportunity similar to Senator Rubio’s.

 

Being from such a successful political family brings with it two more important advantages–networking and money. Leading up to his announcement, Bush has been cobbling together an enviable campaign team of big names like Danny Diaz, Heather Larrison, and Alex Lundry. Many of these people worked on Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign and worked for George W. Bush as well.

 

Heather Larrison leads Bush’s dynamic fundraising team that has been greatly outpacing his rivals’. Mr. Rubio, also from Florida, has been struggling to build his fundraising base upon Florida donors, because Bush’s influence in the state is deeper and wider-reaching. In fact, whichever candidate performs worse in Florida’s winner take all primary will likely end his White House bid immediately thereafter.

 

Name recognition, deep political networks and strong fundraising abilities are important aspects to running a winning campaign.

 

Reason Two: America Values Individual Accomplishment More than Bloodlines


By far, the most braindead “argument” against a Jeb Bush presidential run (and in fairness, against Hillary Clinton as well) is “Not Another Bush.” This reticence to support Mr. Bush purely based on his last name indicates immaturity and irrational thinking. For those of us who have siblings, would it be fair to say that knowing one of you is the same as knowing the other? Do you think the same as your siblings on all matters? Do you think the same as your father on all matters? Most matters?

 

Most bothersome about the “Not Another Bush” line, is that it runs contrary to America’s greatest ideal, that which sets us apart from our European kin: America values the individual more than the bloodline. And we should continue to do so. Betraying that idea betrays the notion that anyone can “make it” in America if he or she just works hard and plays by the rules.

 

By this standard, Jeb Bush has earned his right to be taken seriously along with the other candidates because he governed Florida successfully and conservatively. At present, he appears to be an upstanding man with a good family (all families face challenges, of course). He holds his own policy positions that may vary from his brother and father, and still fall within the conservative spectrum. On these elements should he be judged, not on his family lineage.

 

Reason Three: Jeb Bush Falls within the GOP Mainstream


The 2016 GOP candidate will surely need the support from the broadest coalitions of the conservative movement. He or she will need to speak most of all to social conservatives, economic conservatives, and defense-minded conservatives. On the issues most important to these constituencies, Jeb Bush falls within the mainstream. Unlike George Pataki, Bush holds a consistent record opposing abortion. Unlike Mike Huckabee, Bush does not need to defend himself against allegations of reliance on federal funds during his governorship. Unlike Rand Paul, Bush speaks clearly about reinstating a forward-leaning foreign policy.

 

Furthermore, for Bush’s conservative bona fides, he strikes a moderate tone–an important ingredient for any GOP candidate to win the general election.

 

Without a doubt, Mr. Bush faces a list of challenges and formidable candidates in his 2016 bid. While he leads the pack in most polls, his lead wanes–most notably, in Florida. Still, though, Bush represents a serious candidate in whom Republicans can take pride. A welcome addition to the large field of candidates, Jeb Bush deserves serious consideration in his own right.

The Free Exchange (15-010)

The Free Exchange is a series dedicated solely to answering comments from you. I appreciate your reading and always enjoy hearing from you, even when you disagree. Thank you for your participation.


 

Rand’s Gambit

BJ writes:

I don’t know what to say about this guy. He’s got such mix of confusing values. As you listed, he seems and sounds libertarian just like his father. But he has many non-libertarian views as you articulated. We have discussed what we think of libertarianism in the past, especially involving that awful Brink Lindsey.

 

One observation that I would love to hear your comment on: it seems like many non-religious conservatives like to call themselves as libertarians. But when confronted with specific issues such as drug legalization, many fall on the traditional conservative side rather than the libertarian side. And so I have always thought of the so-called libertarians as frustrated conservatives who oppose the Iraq War and is OK with same-sex marriage. In other words, moderate Republicans. (Especially those who did not like President Bush the younger.) Most of us have a mix of view on issues. However I don’t think these people truly understand libertarianism as it is classically defined.

 

All of this is to agree with your point; I don’t see Rand Paul as any kind of serious candidate. A few questions for you though: do you see Rand Paul as just another younger version of his father Ron Paul? I find it funny that Ron Paul is not running although he’s been running for decades. Do you know if they disagree on anything?

 

Also what do you think of Rand Paul being aggressive with the liberal media but it backfiring when he’s labeled as sexist against women reporters since for whatever reason, he’s only been interviewed by women reporters since his announcement?

 

J Hunter:

 

Thank you for commenting BJ!

As usual, I think you’re spot on about libertarian frustration.

 

I highlight Nate Cohn’s piece in this article because I think that it best illustrates the state of libertarianism in the Republican Party today–small, insignificant, and only marginally interesting. Cohn explains that the swath of people who call themselves libertarian don’t truly hold libertarian views, and that the term has become a catchall for liberals and conservatives who want to have their cake and eat it too: fiscally responsible and pro-gay marriage, for example. In short, it’s becoming a shorthand for moderate–as you suggest.

 

That’s really a shame, in my opinion, because I think classical liberalism–libertarianism–has its place in political debate. There are instances in which I’d like to see a more Millian sense of liberty enacted, but Millian liberty offends liberals and conservatives alike. And that’s where I see libertarianism’s greatest shortcoming: liberalism and conservatism advocate for a sense of fairness and morality, whereas libertarianism does not.

 

Failed policies thrive because their defenders are motivated by their morals. People want to raise the minimum wage, for example, because they believe that it’s immoral for a company to make a profit while some workers live paycheck to paycheck. Arguments about the negative impact of raising the minimum wage don’t persuade these people. It sounds like white noise to them because they weren’t motivated by cold arguments in the first place. Moral pitches against raising the minimum wage would be more appropriate.

 

I say this because libertarians, to their detriment, market themselves as cold, policy wonks–economists concerned with auditing the Federal Reserve, returning to the gold standard and championing an abstract concept of liberty. Abstractions don’t resonate with people, and neither, therefore, does libertarianism. You and I know that liberty and morality sit on opposite ends of a spectrum: a theocracy obsesses over morality at the expense of liberty. Likewise, liberty can work against morality. So, libertarian obsession over liberty offends liberal and conservative notions of morality, and libertarians’ unwillingness (or inability) to make the moral case for their positions keeps them small, insignificant and only marginally interesting.

 

As it happens, I don’t see Rand Paul as a mirror of Ron Paul, but I think that Rand should do more to distance himself from his father. The biggest differences I see between the two is that Ron Paul is anti-American. Ron Paul pedals dangerous conspiracy theories and racist theories. To the best of my knowledge, Rand does not follow suit.

 

As for Rand’s treatment of female interviewers, I agree that Mr. Paul has behaved obnoxiously. Even if Republicans weren’t trying to change their fortunes with women, Paul’s “shushing” reporters should never have happened. It’s something I suspect his advisers have warned him to stop. I hope he listens.


Rubio in the Running

BJ writes:

Ah Rubio. This is my current man-crush of all the GOP candidates running right now. Like you, I vote based on ideas and party rather than the candidate. And so I am not wedded to Chris Christie or any one person. But of all the people running, Rubio is the man for me. In terms of values as well as excitement and charisma, I don’t see anyone better. Fiorina would be my second favorite.

 

I understand you take a more cautious approach which is fair enough. His inexperience and some financial potential mini-scandals that I’ve heard about back in Florida are concerning. The fact that he’s not been a governor is a minus but nothing fatal. Everyone talks about his flip on illegal immigration and Prager worries about his tax plan. Nonetheless, he seems to be the best out of all of them so far. But it is early and I am cautiously excited.

I would love to hear what specific reservations you have about him; not for me to refute but to see if there’s something about him that I’m not seeing. In terms of the various writers you quoted, none of what those people say concerns me. In fact, they sound more like bad sports broadcasters. What Bouie says about only 5.6% saying he is their top choice now is exactly that: now. Just because Rubio isn’t the clear front runner like Hillary, doesn’t mean he’s going to fail. That’s a lame criticism of Rubio or anyone. Any her continued criticism of oh-there-is-some-candidate-for-every-demographic is also ridiculous. Bush will not succeed since when it comes down to it, GOP voters won’t think that he can win due to his name. And so that won’t be a factor in taking away Rubio’s specialness of him being a Latino, as she is pathetically saying.

 

Wright’s comments reek of time-filler for these pundits who are biased and are trying to say something profound but comes off as someone who is looking at politics as some kind of sports game. You dismantled her words much better than I. It is too early and I am not wedded to Rubio. But I loved him when he ran for the Senate in 2010. And I am a little surprised that he’s running now. I thought he may wait since he is so young. But I’m glad he’s running since I do believe that he’s the best so far of all the people that’s running. As you said, we shall see.

 

J Hunter:

Well, BJ, I am leaning hard in the Rubio direction. I even donated to his campaign. I’ve been a big fan of Mr. Rubio’s for years for many of the reasons that people are discovering about him right now: he’s an excellent communicator and a problem solver. He’s a political man-crush of mine as well.

 

As for my piece, I agree that the arguments against Rubio are pretty flaccid. I only added them to keep from writing a gushing piece. The truth of the matter is, if he continues to be as nimble, positive and substantive throughout the campaign as he has been so far, I think we could nominate him and make history.

 

Rubio is mainstream; he appeals to the many different factions of the Republican Party; he’s young, energetic, Spanish-speaking, and inspiring. I ask myself when choosing a candidate for the nomination race: “What does this candidate bring that’s lacking?” When I ask that question, I rule out people like Ben Carson, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham. What they bring, we either don’t need or another candidate does it better. For this reason, I hope that Jeb Bush does not enter the race (though I suspect that he will). While I like and respect Mr. Bush, I don’t think he adds much to the field.
On the other hand, I think Mr. Rubio would make a fine president, and he’s at the top of my list of 2016 GOP candidates.

Thanks for reading and commenting, BJ!


 

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To What Degree Does College Matter?

Usually, presidential candidates hail from an incestuous web of elite universities–Yale and Harvard, predominant among them. Wisconsin Governor, Scott Walker, however, wishes to become president of the United States without that distinction. In fact, Walker dropped out of college, never earning a bachelor’s degree (So did Rand Paul, by the way). For some, Walker’s missing sheepskin disqualifies him for serious consideration in the presidential race. That view is wrong.

Susan Milligan writes a piece in U.S. News and World Report that reflects some of the apprehension felt about potentially nominating, and even electing, the degree-less Governor Walker. Chidike Okeem, a conservative blogger, more vehemently rejects Walker’s candidacy in light of his academic deficiency. He calls the notion “beyond absurdity,” and writes that conservatives who dismiss Walker’s degree-critics as elitists “show the embarrassing way in which anti-intellectualism is treated as a sought-after virtue within mainstream conservatism.”

In truth, Milligan, Okeem; and others who believe that Walker does not deserve serious consideration as a presidential candidate without a college degree; make an erroneous assumption based on a misunderstanding of what a college degree communicates. (Hint: college degrees make no claims upon a graduate’s intelligence or ability to perform work outside of the classroom.)

Milligan argues that the baccalaureate degree serves as evidence that one is qualified to work.

“Would we choose long-distance runners for the U.S. Olympic team who couldn’t run faster than an 11-minute mile, just to show that the team is reflective of the American populace as a whole,” she writes.

Clearly, the answer to her question is “no.” But her analogy fails because there is little (if any) correlation between finishing college and running the free world. A more appropriate formulation of Milligan’s question would be: “Would we choose long-distance runners for the U.S. Olympic team who run as fast as everyone else on the team, but do so barefoot?” I’d imagine that the answer to that question is, “Maybe.” So, too, should be the appropriate approach to Walker’s (hypothetical) candidacy.

Okeem’s argument particularly resonates with me because I worry about anti-intellectualism infecting the conservative movement.

Okeem asks, “Are those who suggest that college dropouts should be routinely considered for the office of President…arguing that the presidency is less tasking or important than the plurality of jobs listed on Craigslist that specify only holders of a baccalaureate degree should apply?”

Again, the answer is no. But Okeem’s question demonstrates a lack of understanding about why many employers require degrees of their applicants. Clarifying that distinction requires me to lean on the work of Dr. William Irons, a leading social anthropologist, and one of the professors I studied under at Northwestern University (where I did graduate, by the way).

Irons categorizes weddings, military boot camps, and college degrees as Hard to Fake Signals of Commitment (HFSC). HFSC demonstrate a dedication “to behave in a particular way even if it is contrary to self-interest.” In other words, employers do not know what level of commitment an applicant will display toward an organization, but they do know that an applicant’s commitment to an organization is easy to fake, as one may simply state that he is committed to show up and perform his assigned duties satisfactorily. Talk is cheap. A word can be easily broken. But a college degree signals to an employer that an applicant was willing to spend time, money, and mental energy–often foregoing immediate gratification–in order to attain a certificate that may prove beneficial in the future. A college degree, in the amount of energy required to attain it, proves a much better indicator of the level of an applicant’s commitment.

Therefore, any criticism about Walker’s lack of a college degree can only be useful if it questions Walker’s sense of commitment. Arguing, as some have, that Walker’s quitting college with so few credits needed to graduate indicates a lack of commitment, is a point worthy of debate–a point to which I counter by saying that while the education gained in college can be enriching and lead to a more complete understanding of a range of topics, what a graduate learns in college–even if he or she takes certain classes and earns good grades–cannot be presumed. We all know political science majors who do not understand Hobbes’ Leviathan, Plato’s Republic, or Rousseau’s Social Contract; whether they read these pieces or not.

That said, a college degree serves to communicate a HFSC. Through his work as a governor, his clear understanding of policymaking and politics, and his many successful years of public service, Walker has demonstrated his commitment to performing dutifully the role of an executive. His record makes up for his missing degree.

Rand’s Gambit

Another Dash of Salt?


Rand Paul’s campaign announcement, while not a surprise, has appropriately electrified the media and the Republican Party. This Paul campaign promises real change for American politics and for the GOP, in part, because Rand, unlike his father, stands a chance to win Republican delegates. Pegged as a libertarian, Paul fancies himself a different kind of Republican–one who aims to broaden the Party by moving it toward classical liberalism and one focused on welcoming newcomers. This hope relies on two assumptions: one–a large libertarian political block lies dormant, awaiting a candidate who speaks to their values. Two–Mr. Paul epitomizes the libertarian savior.

Libertarians argue that the reason conservative and liberal claims of an untapped electorate favorable to their views never seems to materialize, indicates that the unmotivated voters actually hold libertarian views. David Boaz, the Executive Vice President of the Cato Institute, makes the case:

“Events of the past few years have pushed voters in a libertarian direction, causing some observers to talk about a ‘libertarian moment’ in American politics…A 2006 Zogby poll for the Cato Institute asked respondents, ‘Would you describe yourself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal?’ Fully 59 percent said yes…That’s a huge untapped market for a candidate who can cut across red-blue barriers.”

This rosy assessment belies too many other indicators to hold water. For example, Gary Johnson and Ron Paul ran libertarian campaigns that never gained traction. Johnson failed to attract enough support to participate in most of the GOP nomination debates. Furthermore, if the Zogby poll supports Mr. Boaz’ assertion, then with 59% of all voters holding libertarian views, some of them would be in the Democrat Party pushing it rightward on economic matters.One may ask, then, where are those libertarians in the Democrat Party calling for more conservative fiscal policy–like a balanced budget amendment?

To be gracious, let us assume that 58% of those libertarian voters find their home in the GOP, while the remaining 1% struggles to get a word in edgewise in the DNC. That could argue that a sizeable number of Republican voters are libertarians. New York Times writer, Nate Cohn, offers the best refutation of that myth by way of empirical evidence:

“In one sense, you could argue that the libertarian wing of the Republican Party barely exists at all. According to a large Pew Research survey in 2014 of 10,000 respondents, 11 percent of Americans and 12 percent of self-identified Republicans considered themselves libertarian…If we take a different tack and use issue positions, rather than self-identification, to identify libertarian voters, we still find only a small number of Republicans who consistently agree with Mr. Paul’s libertarian views. Only 8 percent of self-identified Republican-leaners in the Pew data take the libertarian position on four issues that [Rand Paul] emphasizes: disapproval of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program; support for a more restrained American role in the world; skepticism of the efficacy of military intervention; and a relaxation on drug sentencing.”

As for the second assumption of the Paul campaign, that he personifies the libertarian savior (for the small number of libertarians existing in peril)–perhaps a second look is warranted.

For starters, Paul never referred to himself as a libertarian, but rather as libertarian-ish. Boaz points out that Paul breaks from libertarians on gay marriage (he opposes it), abortion (he opposes it), and drone strikes against ISIS (he supports them). These positions Boaz believes work to “nudge the GOP in a libertarian direction” and make libertarianism more palatable.

On the topic of palate, the best analogy I know regarding libertarianism comes from a Northwestern professor of mine, Jeffrey Rice. Rice said to me, “libertarianism is like salt: a little bit can be good. Too much can spoil the meal.”
It’s impossible to say how well Rand Paul will fare in the GOP primary. Paul’s intelligence, passion, and courage should go a long way to endear him to many voters inside and outside of the Republican Party. Of the many challenges he faces, though, he must reconcile his appeal and his philosophy. A move to the Party’s mainstream represents a safe bet at the risk of altering his rogue image. A gamble for a large libertarian contingent, that may not exist, could ultimately spell humiliating defeat.