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.

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.

Can Marco Do the Job?

In the CNBC debate, Governor Jeb Bush damaged his campaign by attacking Senator Marco Rubio’s missed votes. In part, Bush harmed himself by taking a picayune line of attack. After all, would you notice if one of your U.S. Senators was missing 30% of his or her votes? We live in political gridlock that renders pointless much of Congress’ activities. The second reason his attack harmed his campaign lies in the characteristically deft manner in which Rubio answered the charge. Like a man punching at the air after sustaining a staggering uppercut, Bush parroted the criticism of Rubio’s missed votes for days afterward, even as his poll numbers fell inversely to Rubio’s. Now, with a more solid footing, the bloody-nosed Bush insists upon taking down his protege with attacks on his youth and inexperience. This new line of attack reveals an unbecoming characteristic Jeb shares with his brother, George–mulishness in the face of failure. Attacking Rubio’s inexperience can only work if Republicans demonstrate that we have similarly failed to learn from Barack Obama’s presidency that experience has very little bearing on political success.

 

To be sure, judging a senator’s tangible accomplishments proves a difficult task. Senators’ primary responsibilities include participating in committees, crafting legislation, analyzing policy and voting. To that end, Rubio served on the Senate Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee; the Committee on Foreign Relations; the Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship; and the Select Committee on Intelligence. He worked with Mike Lee to craft a tax plan and worked with seven other senators to create a comprehensive immigration plan. In short, he’s been hard at work.

 

Furthermore, Governor Bush cannot be allowed to escape his own words in 2012, when he urged Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, to consider Senator Rubio for the vice president position.

 

“Marco Rubio is my favorite [choice],” Bush told Charlie Rose in a PBS interview. “He has more experience than Barack Obama had when he ran, and…he’s certainly got the intelligent acumen and fortitude to be a good president.”

 

Bush made these remarks when Rubio had even less experience than he has now. But, regardless of whether one believes that Mr. Rubio possesses enough governmental experience to be president, the very nature of the question neglects one of the most important lessons of the Obama presidency: governmental experience doesn’t matter.

 

Barack Obama ascended to the presidency after voting “present” throughout his short stint as Illinois’ junior senator. In office, Obama passed sweeping health insurance reform, redefined marriage, named two Supreme Court justices and filled the federal judiciaries with liberal judges. His lack of experience, in other words, did nothing to prevent him from serving the leftist agenda. Similarly, whatever experience Mr. Rubio has (or lacks) in 2016 will be irrelevant as he stares down 31 of 50 Republican governors, 68 of 98 Republican controlled state legislative houses, and a Republican House and Senate.

 

What should matter most to Republicans, and to Mr. Bush in particular, are the nominee’s values. More important than an incoming president knowing where the payroll department is located, is a president who knows that an expansive federal government shrinks individual freedom, that American retreat invites anti-American advances, and that expanding opportunity for all Americans will help us grow our way out of our economic stagnation and general malaise.

 

Again, Rubio meets these criteria.

 

As the campaign goes forth, I hope that Mr. Bush abandons his inane attacks on Rubio. At least, if Bush refrains from doing so in the upcoming debates, he can avoid suffering further embarrassing  tongue-lashings from a man he named “the most articulate conservative elected official on the scene today.”

 

We shall see.

How Real RINOs Threaten to Ruin the Party

However much we tell ourselves that voting in the Republican primary is light years away, the polling remains stubbornly depressing. Month after month, Donald Trump sits high atop “the best candidates the GOP has ever fielded.” Trump’s most ardent supporters argue that he enjoys this success because he is a “true conservative”–tough, decisive, honest. By contrast, Trump’s opponents are RINOs (Republicans in Name Only)–the “go along to get along” gang. Real Republicans, according to this group, are conservative to their core, people like Mitt Romney (in 2008, not 2012) and Rick Santorum (in 2012, not 2016). The only other “true conservative” running for the 2016 GOP nomination is Senator Ted Cruz, the firebrand who stood up to the John Boehner-Mitch McConnell “establishment wing” of the Republican Party by petulantly leading charges to shut down the federal government whenever he didn’t get his way.

Talk radio host, Hugh Hewitt, notes that “Frank Luntz…says he believes that the Trump voters are as solid as voters can be and that those committed to Cruz are just a touch less devoted.” These supporters, Hewitt calls “True Believers.”

Trump and Cruz “True Believers” support their respective candidates out of a sense that conservatism is under attack as much from liberals outside the party as from liberals inside the GOP–RINOs. Ironically, though, both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz fit the original definition of RINOs. For this reason, chief among others, most Republican voters do not trust them.

Phil Edwards writes a fascinating article for Vox describing a brief history of the term RINO as a pejorative. In it, he notes that its roots refer to the classical definition of republican (small “r”). Originally, the term referred to people and “governments that claimed to be representative, but were actually autocratic.”

In this sense, Cruz and Trump fit the bill perfectly. Senator Cruz, for example, crafted his image by leading the charge to shut down the federal government to protest Obamacare. Even though funds for Obamacare had already been appropriated, and the legislation came into being because the American people elected Democrats to represent them, Cruz used the Senate (futilely, but in an autocratic manner) to derail legislation that he opposed.

If not for Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell’s clever strategizing; and the Senate’s bipartisan exasperation with the obstreperous Cruz; Cruz would have shut the government down again to protest Planned Parenthood funding, and the Iran Nuclear Deal. Using what essentially amounts to one-sixth of the federal government, to override the will of the people as expressed through elections, to impose the will of a minority, represents an autocratic impulse–not a republican one.

Circumstances protect Mr. Cruz from being the biggest RINO running for president this cycle. He likely would have been the most despised Republican running for president if not for Donald Trump–a blathering, uncouth, empty-headed, showboat. Examining Trump’s anti-republican impulses requires a survey of his statements rather than his political actions, as Trump has never held political office.

In his announcement speech, Trump promised to use the power of the federal government to coerce businesses to do his bidding, much like Republicans decry Democrats for doing.

“I would call up the head of Ford, who I know. If I was president, I’d say, ‘Congratulations. I understand that you’re building a nice $2.5 billion car factory in Mexico and that you’re going to take your cars and sell them to the United States…’ So I would say, ‘Congratulations. That’s the good news. Let me give you the bad news. Every car and every truck and every part manufactured in this plant that comes across the border, we’re going to charge you a 35-percent tax, and that tax is going to be paid simultaneously with the transaction, and that’s it.”

When National Review editor, Rich Lowry, castigated Donald Trump, Trump called on the federal government to punish him.

“He should not be allowed on TV and the FCC should fine him,” Trump tweeted.

If a Democrat prescribed the federal government to fine a journalist who voiced a political disagreement, conservatives would rightfully cry ‘foul.’

On the subject of the Syrian refugees, Mr. Trump promised to autocratically forego immigration laws and rules regarding asylum seekers.

“I’m putting the people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration, that if I win, if I win, they’re going back.”

Don’t Republicans detest President Obama’s executive action on immigration, precisely because it is autocratic?
Today, the term RINO refers to what used to be known as “Me too Republicans.” In this regard, RINO is a silly term that serves to stifle debate more than to accurately describe living, breathing Republicans. The GOP enjoys more solidarity on issues than it ever has, and the only real differences we face concern tactics and priorities. In the meantime, though, there are those who wish to divide the party with this scurrilous slur–RINO. Ironically, they, and their “True Believers,” best fit the description of a RINO, and their autocratic impulses threaten the legitimacy of republican philosophy.

GOP Nomination Debate 1: My Ranking from Best to Worst (First Place)

For the first GOP presidential nomination debate, I tweeted my assessment of the candidates’ performance from strongest to weakest. I came to this conclusion by judging which candidates best helped themselves. Because each candidate faces different challenges, what each must do to raise his profile varies. My assessment of the best performers and my rationale follows, beginning with the strongest:

1st Place: Senator Marco Rubio

Rubio entered the race with one of the strongest announcements of candidacy of any of the Republican contenders. In it, Rubio speaks passionately about his love of America, his duty to serve her, and his commitment to moving the country forward by tackling some of the trenchant political problems the nation faces.

Since his announcement, he has weathered scurrilous attacks from the New York Times about his wife’s speeding tickets and about his modest home. Besides these simplistic criticisms, though, Rubio has run a very effective and substantive campaign, avoiding gaffes and has maintaining an optimistic, energetic and thoughtful stance thus far. In an address before the Council of Foreign Relations, Rubio impressed attendees and pundits with his encyclopedic knowledge of foreign affairs, and with his clear-eyed prescriptions for future American foreign policy objectives.

Unfortunately, none of this has translated into bumper campaign funds. The Rubio campaign has been lost in the shuffle among strong contenders better connected to substantial donors. To make matters worse, Florida law precludes a candidate from appearing twice on a ballot, so Mr. Rubio forfeits his Senate seat by running for president. For Rubio, as for the other candidates, the nomination debates represent the greatest opportunity to attract positive attention, money and momentum.

In such a talented field of candidates, Rubio needed to do three things to win the debates: First, he needed to remain substantive, positive and passionate. Second, Rubio needed to stand out from field as offering something unique that will lead the party to success in the general election. Third, Rubio needed to appear less robotic–more human. To the third point, his smooth style puts Republicans, like me, at ease. I don’t worry that he will say something regretful. On the other hand, I have heard him criticized as being too smooth–too savvy–unrelatable.

By my assessment, Rubio won the debate by achieving each of these goals, however, to varying degrees of success. Rubio handled each question directed to him with impeccable poise and with optimism. He demonstrated his usual command of issues, and his refreshing willingness to answer questions directly, even before he’d pivot. When prompted to break with his political mentor, Governor Jeb Bush, Rubio wisely refused the bait. Bush, who offers much of what Rubio does, except in regards to age and executive experience, provided a less commanding performance (which I will discuss later), allowing Rubio the ability to stand apart from his most similar contender. Finally, Rubio’s wit, particularly his jab at the Democrat Party’s difficulty fielding a single good candidate, served to humanize him.

He easily achieved the first objective, but only moderately achieved the other two because the distraction of Donald Trump, and the plethora of candidates, muted Rubio’s chances to outshine some of his other competitors. Still, though, Rubio’s thoughtful campaign continued to impress on the debate stage. For the first debate, avoiding a meltdown can be as advantageous as achieving campaign goals. By my estimation, Mr. Rubio served his cause well.

Opposing Political Correctness without being a $#@*!

To be sure, Trump’s candidacy tarnishes the Republican brand by playing into a caricature of us: dumb, boorish, mean, wealthy, white and misogynistic. Trump doesn’t act alone, though. He graced the debate stage because more Republicans prefer him to Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum, or George Pataki.

 

What’s wrong with us?

 

Frank Luntz’ debate focus group highlighted how many Republicans walked into the debate viewing him positively, but were disgusted with him by the night’s end.

 

“I was repulsed by it,” one respondent said.

“He was mean, he was angry, he had no specifics, he was bombastic,” said another.

 

Most Republicans are surprised that they were surprised. Of course, Trump lacks substance. Of course, Trump is bombastic. This is why we detest him.

 

When asked about his abrasive, offensive style, Trump offers the red meat his supporters gobble up in droves.

 

“Mr. Trump,” Megyn Kelly asked at the debate, “one of the things people like about you is that you speak your mind and you don’t use a politician’s filter…You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals.’…Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments on women’s looks. You once told a woman on the Celebrity Apprentice that it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees…How will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who is likely to be the nominee, that you are part of the war on women?”

 

To this question, the crowd roars in amusement. Trump pouts and delivers:

 

“I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct…What I say is what I say.”

 

In spite of Trump’s ugly rhetoric, the crowd cheered. Luntz’ focus group ticked positive. And 24 million people saw the Republican frontrunner defend vile comments against women. Luntz, himself, says that conservatives were not responding to Trump’s sentiments about women as much as to his negative feelings about Rosie O’Donnell, but his point is largely irrelevant.

 

This moment in the debate highlights a problem we have on the right. Political correctness represents a legitimate problem sometimes. The problem with political correctness is that the essence of what is described gets lost in euphemism. Islamic terrorism becomes “workplace violence.” Baby becomes “fetus.” Retreat becomes “redeploy,” etc. To Trump supporters, and too many other Republicans, though, opposing political correctness offers cover to say offensive things without reproach.

 

What Trump said about Rosie O’Donnell is cruel, disrespectful and unnecessary. What Trump said about the woman appearing on Celebrity Apprentice is deplorable. When he says these things, and gets a high-five from his Amen-choir at the Church against Political Correctness, it puts him in the position of defending ugliness. When we cheer him on, condone his antics and make him our frontrunner, we endorse the “crass frat boy” behavior, when all we really wanted to do was defend truthful language.
Republicans must be more mindful about our perception. Yes, we need to fight for our principles. Yes, we must be brave enough to deliver unpopular news. Yes, we must stand against political correctness. But the opposite of political correctness isn’t hate speech–it’s truth.

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.

What Buckley Left Undone

William F. Buckley Jr. stares down at me from a giant poster I made to add a little conservative life to the bone white walls of my office. Beside him, in the poster, reads a quote from “The Conscience of a Conservative,” the book that he ghostwrote with L. Brent Bozell Jr. in 1960. When co-workers and visitors confront the 3 by 5 foot image; they crane their necks back, read the quote, look at Buckley’s wrinkled face and ask, “Who is that?”

“That’s Bill Buckley,” I say. “My hero.”

Intrigued that I profess to having a hero in a time when deconstruction insists that everyone is “complicated” at best and monsters generally, I’m often asked one of my favorite questions: why I so revere Mr. Buckley. With ease, I rattle off the short list of Buckley’s impressive works:

In 1955, when conservative media did not exist, Buckley started National Review magazine, a publication that still exists as one of, if not the, most influential among conservatives. Eleven years later, Buckley started “Firing Line,” the longest running public affairs television program with a single host in American history. Both endeavors codified conservative ideology and brought it into the mainstream political conversation. During this time, too, Buckley courted libertarians and fused them with traditional conservatives, hinging the union on a shared commitment to free market economics and a mutual disdain for communism. An excellent debater, and prolific author, Buckley’s polysyllabic writings intellectualized a movement largely defined by its populist appeal–a populism that made space for conspiracy theorists and white nationalists. In effect, Buckley made space for intellectuals within political conservatism, so that affirming conservative ideology did not negatively affect one’s respectability.

This became important when Buckley worked to marginalize the John Birch Society and anti-Semites, expelling them from conservatism, and welcoming Jewish conservatives into the fold. After this purge, one could not be a respected conservative and either hate Jews or traffic in wild communist conspiracy theories. Today, the conservative movement benefits from the many Jewish voices that Buckley’s efforts welcomed. Jennifer Rubin, Michael Medved, Charles Krauthammer and many others enrich political debate and make conservatism stronger.

Understanding that these accomplishments make up only part of Buckley’s short list of accomplishments makes it easier to believe his tongue in cheek claim that his singular lacuna was baseball. Indeed, however, there was another, much more important, blind spot in Buckley’s construction of the conservative movement. What he had done for Jews, Buckley did not for blacks.

President Harry Truman, integrating the military, cracked the door for blacks to leave the Republican Party and begin trickling left. Still, though, many blacks voted for Republicans and stood for conservative causes. When Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, blacks believed that the GOP had abandoned them at a crucial moment in the civil rights struggle. Though more Democrats voted against the Civil Rights Act (117) than did Republicans (40), the Republican standard bearer joined the dissenters. This move sent a message to blacks and to enemies of civil rights.

This pivotal moment changed American politics dramatically. Whether or not Mr. Buckley, himself closely tied to Goldwater, recognized or cared about this trend remains unclear. Regardless, though, he did nothing to address it. In fact, his own tone deaf comments on segregation, South African apartheid, and the federal government’s proper role in addressing civil rights for blacks further alienated the GOP’s first constituents. Before his death in 2008, Buckley expressed regret and admitted short-sightedness on these issues. The damage to the conservative movement, though, had been done and some of the effects of Buckley’s oversight still haunt the GOP by way of some odd associations.

In 2014, news broke that Republican House majority whip, Steve Scalise addressed a white supremacist group founded by David Duke. Duke is the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan who started the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO). Scalise denounced EURO and claimed that he only attended the event by accident:

“I didn’t know who all of these groups were…I had one person that was working for me. When someone called and asked me to speak, I would go.”

Last month, after Dylann Roof killed 9 black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, an investigation uncovered that he found motivation from a white supremacist organization called the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC). Earl Holt III, the council president, donated to many Republicans including 4 presidential candidates. Among the CCC’s statement of principles are vows to help the American people and government “remain European in…composition and character,” to “oppose all efforts to mix the races,” and to protect “the European-American heritage, including the heritage of the Southern people” from “the integration of the races.” In the 1990s, Senators Trent Lott and Haley Barbour addressed the CCC, as did Governor Mike Huckabee.

Had Buckley’s efforts in the formative years of the political conservative movement focused more squarely on attracting and retaining blacks, Scalise’s campaign manager may never have had ties to EURO in the first place. Neither would CCC have thought it advantageous to its cause to support Republican candidates (note: some of the candidates CCC supported are non-white). Racists would have been politically isolated, relegated to the backroom with anti-Semites and Birchers.

So where does that leave us now?

Buckley is still my hero in spite of his flaws. Besides, to lay the conservative movement’s race problems squarely at his feet would be unjust. That said, what we learn from his oversight should help us move forward with improving our relationship with blacks. Republicans should not be satisfied in our own proclamations that we are not racist when our party serves as a refuge for racists. My hero, were he able to rectify his mistakes, would focus on tone. He would promote black conservative writers and thinkers. He would align the conservative cause with black advancement. He would do all of this with the joy and brilliance and flair that he did whenever he did anything at all.
The conservative movement indeed has a lacuna. The man who helped create it can also help us rectify it.

Look Away! Dixieland

The Party of Lincoln Should Not Defend the Symbol of the Confederacy


Last week, disturbed, racist, Dylann Roof, shot 9 black Christians in South Carolina. The attack has led to Republicans facing myriad questions about gun control, racism and the tangential issues that arise when complex crimes like this occur. One of the foci of the tragedy is the Confederate Battle Flag that flies on the grounds of  South Carolina’s Capitol building in a Civil War memorial, and adorned Mr. Roof in many photos he took before the massacre. The Confederate Flag has long been a point of contention between Northerners and Southerners, liberals and conservatives, blacks and whites. That said, Republicans should take a firm stance against the Confederate Flag not just as a sign that we welcome blacks into our ranks, but because the flag symbolizes everything our Party is against.

In 2008, presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee addressed an audience in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina saying:

“You don’t like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag. In fact, if somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we’d tell ’em what to do with the pole; that’s what we’d do.”

Michael Cooper of the New York Times reports that an independent conservative group used Huckabee’s comments to attack Senator John McCain (then, running for president; and an opponent of the flag flying over the state capitol), and praise Huckabee. The group ran an ad saying:

“John McCain assaults our values…Mike Huckabee understands the value of heritage.”

Using states’ rights to dodge questions of the flag’s morality, Huckabee said in 2008 that the decision to fly the flag over the capitol is one best left to the state and not to any president. He reiterated his position this year as he runs for president again, and the flag controversy resurfaces. Governor Scott Walker, expected to run for president, refused to answer what should be done with the flag. So far, only Mitt Romney (not running for president in 2016) and Jeb Bush say that the flag should be removed.

Are Republicans so clueless to the negative symbolism the Confederate Flag portrays–especially to blacks?

A moderate understanding of history acknowledges that the Confederacy wanted not just to enslave people, but to expand that enslavement throughout the new territories. Slavery runs contrary to our American ideals, yet Southerners at that time were so willing to enslave blacks that they killed whites in order to do so. The late Christopher Hitchens encapsulates the ugly symbolism of the flag thusly:

“Under this fiery cross of St. Andrew, the state of Pennsylvania was invaded and free Americans were rounded up and re-enslaved. Under this same cross, it was announced that any Union officer commanding freed-slave soldiers, or any of his men, would be executed if captured. (In other words, war crimes were boasted of in advance.) The 13 stars of the same flag include stars for two states—Kentucky and Missouri—that never did secede, and they thus express a clear ambition to conquer free and independent states.”

The ugly heritage of the Confederate flag continued even after the fall of the Confederacy. Various white supremacist groups and terrorist groups like the Ku Klux Klan flew the flag proudly. Even Dylann Roof understood the implications of the controversial banner.

So what is the “heritage” that Southerners want to preserve with the Confederate Battle Flag? Why do Republicans honor that “heritage?” South Carolina (and the GOP) should abandon the Confederate Battle Flag because it represents anti-Americanism and appropriately alienates blacks.
Republicans representing the Party of Lincoln should understand that better than anyone.