Give Victory A Chance - Baseball, War, Politics, Law, and More!
March 1, 2018
PODCAST: NRO Editors 3/1/18
February 19, 2018
POLITICS: Let the Kids Talk - but That's Not the End of Any Debate
January 17, 2018
PODCAST/POLITICS: The Editors: Of Holes and Houses
October 3, 2017
POLITICS: Bobby Jindal for HHS
NRO: Bobby Jindal for HHS
September 30, 2017
POLITICS: Trump Charges Into The Democrats' Trap on Puerto Rico
September 1, 2017
POLITICS: Do Liberal Writers Really Believe In An Obligation To Oppose Everything Trump Does?
August 31, 2017
POLITICS: Editors Podcast on Hurricane Harvey
NRO: The Editors Podcast, on Hurricane Harvey and other topics.
August 10, 2017
POLITICS: WaPo and The Hill Publish 'Troll Poll' about Postponing the 2020 Election
July 31, 2017
POLITICS: The Pocketbook Party
July 30, 2017
POP CULTURE/HISTORY: Dunkirk Is A Horror Movie
July 28, 2017
POLITICS: How Republicans Went Wrong on Health Care
July 26, 2017
WAR/POLITICS: Military Fitness Is A Military Decision
July 20, 2017
WAR: Anti-Radical Muslims Need to Organize and Draw Lines
Also up at Fox Nation.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:00 AM | History | Religion | War 2007-Present | Writings Elsewhere
July 12, 2017
POLITICS: It's Not Treason, But It's Not Defensible, Either
June 26, 2017
LAW/RELIGION/POLITICS: Religious Liberty, Trump Win Important Victories at the Supreme Court
Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:59 PM | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2017 | Religion | Writings Elsewhere
June 20, 2017
POLITICS: In a Bad District for Trump, Karen Handel Persisted
POLITICS/HISTORY: We Should Have Heeded This Warning From Ronald Reagan
June 15, 2017
POLITICS: Who's to Blame for Political Violence?
LA Times: Who's to blame for political violence?
My take on the Steve Scalise shooting.
June 14, 2017
LAW/POLITICS: Yes, The Attorney General Can Have Privileged Conversations With The President
Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:42 AM | History | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2017 | Writings Elsewhere
June 12, 2017
POLITICS/LAW: Trump & Comey Pod
Over at NRO, I'm on a podcast with David French (recorded Friday) talking Trump and Comey.
June 8, 2017
POLITICS/LAW: Comey Wasn't Investigating Trump - But Look Who Said He Was
June 7, 2017
POLITICS/LAW: Jim Comey Backs Up Trump's Story, But It's Not All Good News for Trump
June 4, 2017
HISTORY/POLITICS: A Myopic View Of Robert E. Lee
June 1, 2017
BASEBALL: Fighting Isn't Bryce Harper's Job
May 31, 2017
POLITICS: Trump's Problem Isn't How He Talks but What He Says
May 30, 2017
POLITICS: "Never Trump," Winning, and the Duty to Argue in Good Faith
May 22, 2017
LAW/POLITICS: Supreme Court Strikes Down Majority-Minority Districts for Being Majority-Minority
POLITICS/LAW: Here's How Congress Can Fix the Way We Investigate Presidents
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:45 PM | History | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2017 | Writings Elsewhere
May 16, 2017
LAW/POLITICS: In Hate-Crime Prosecutions, Thoughts Shouldn't Matter
Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:00 AM | In Print | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2017 | War 2007-Present | Writings Elsewhere
May 15, 2017
May 11, 2017
POLITICS/LAW: Acting FBI Director Shoots Down Media, Trump Narratives
May 10, 2017
POLITICS/LAW/WAR: Republicans Should Want The Russia 2016 Story Out In The Open
Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:10 PM | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2017 | War 2007-Present | Writings Elsewhere
April 27, 2017
POLITICS/LAW: Will Slow Staffing Cause Trump and Sessions to Side with Obama against the Little Sisters of the Poor?
April 26, 2017
POLITICS/SPORTS: ESPN Layoffs Should Be a Wake-Up Call about Politicizing Sports
April 24, 2017
POLITICS: Democrats to Pro-Lifers: You Are Unwanted and May Be Discarded
April 21, 2017
POLITICS: Repeal and Piecemeal: A Better Obamacare Strategy
April 11, 2017
POLITICS: Sean Spicer Steps in a Hitler Mess
Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:48 PM | History | Politics 2017 | War 2007-Present | Writings Elsewhere
April 3, 2017
POLITICS/LAW: Gorsuch Opponents Fall Back on the Last Refuge of Scoundrels
March 27, 2017
POLITICS/LAW: Chuck Schumer's Made-Up 60-Vote Standard
March 24, 2017
POLITICS/LAW: No, Trump Isn't Under Criminal Investigation by the FBI
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:40 PM | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2017 | War 2007-Present | Writings Elsewhere
March 23, 2017
POLITICS: Hate Crimes Hoaxes Strike Again, Anti-Semitic Bomb Threats Edition
POLITICS/LAW: It Doesn't Matter That Garland Didn't Get a Hearing
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:01 PM | History | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2017 | Writings Elsewhere
March 20, 2017
POLITICS/LAW: The Garland Precedent Should Not Stop Gorsuch
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:20 PM | History | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2017 | Writings Elsewhere
March 18, 2017
POP CULTURE: RIP Chuck Berry, The Founding Father of Rock
March 14, 2017
POLITICS: Let's Normalize Trump
LA Times: Let's Normalize Trump
March 13, 2017
POLITICS: What The CBO Score Means
March 7, 2017
POLITICS: Republicans Use the Grandfather Option to Fix the Mess Made by Obamacare
March 6, 2017
POLITICS/LAW/HISTORY: Trump and the Emoluments Clause
My latest NR magazine piece: Foreign Entanglements, on Trump and the Constitution's Foreign Emoluments Clause.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | History | In Print | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2017 | Writings Elsewhere
March 1, 2017
POLITICS/LAW: There's No Republican Crackdown on Peaceful Protests
February 28, 2017
POLITICS: The State of Trump Is a Work in Progress
February 25, 2017
POLITICS: New Democratic Party Chair Thomas Perez Was Cited By Congress For Official Misdonduct
February 24, 2017
POLITICS: How Republicans Should Check Trump
POLITICS: Democratic Senators Chicken Out From Town Halls
February 20, 2017
POLITICS: The Gerrymander Myth
My latest NR magazine piece, on gerrymandering: The Gerrymander Myth.
February 18, 2017
POLITICS/LAW: Following Up On The Foreign Emoluments Clause and Gerrymandering
Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:42 PM | History | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2017 | Writings Elsewhere
February 16, 2017
POLITICS: What About Whataboutism? Does It Matter If Obama Did It First?
February 9, 2017
POLITICS/LAW/WAR: Why The Ninth Circuit Ruled Against Trump's Refugee Order
Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:42 PM | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2017 | War 2007-Present | Writings Elsewhere
POLITCS/LAW: The Threat to the Integrity of an Independent Judiciary
February 5, 2017
POLITICS/LAW/WAR: Judge Robart: Not A Republican Judge
At NRO: Judge Robart: Not A Republican Judge.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:23 PM | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2017 | War 2007-Present | Writings Elsewhere
POLITICS/LAW/WAR: Trump vs Judge Robart: What Happened?
At NRO: Trump vs Judge Robart: What Happened?
Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:45 AM | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2017 | War 2007-Present | Writings Elsewhere
January 28, 2017
POLITICS/LAW: Two Further Thoughts on Trump's Refugee Order
POLITICS/LAW/WAR: Refugee Madness: Trump Is Wrong, But His Liberal Critics Are Crazy
Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:35 PM | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2017 | War 2007-Present | Writings Elsewhere
January 23, 2017
POLITICS: Do Democrats Really Want Their Own Tea Party? Be Careful What You Wish For
January 21, 2017
POLITICS: Crowd Sizes Matter To The Media Only When The Cause is Liberal
January 20, 2017
POLITICS: Trump: America First
NRO: Trump: America First
POLITICS: Trump Strikes an Anti-Washington Note
January 18, 2017
BASEBALL: Rock The Hall
NRO: Rock The Hall
January 17, 2017
POLITICS: The Real Reason Trump Won: Part 4 of 4
NRO: The Real Reason Trump Won: Part 4 of 4, looking at where Trump underperformed other Republican candidates.
January 16, 2017
POP CULTURE: At The Movies, Technology Isn't Everything
January 12, 2017
POLITICS: The Real Reason Trump Won: Part 3 of 4
NRO: The Real Reason Trump Won: Part 3 of 4, looking at each side's state-by-state turnout as a percentage of the Voting-Eligible Population.
January 11, 2017
POLITICS: The Real Reason Trump Won: Part 2 of 4
NRO: The Real Reason Trump Won: Part 2 of 4, looking at how Trump performed in the battleground states by historical standards for post-incumbent challengers.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:00 AM | History | Politics 2016 | Poll Analysis | Writings Elsewhere
January 10, 2017
POLITICS: The Real Reason Trump Won: Part 1 of 4
NRO: The Real Reason Trump Won: Part 1 of 4, looking at how Trump performed nationally by historical standards for post-incumbent challengers.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:00 AM | History | Politics 2016 | Poll Analysis | Writings Elsewhere
December 21, 2016
POLITICS: Hillary Clinton: President of California
POLITICS: Hillary Clinton: President of California
Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:47 PM | History | Politics 2016 | Poll Analysis | Writings Elsewhere
December 19, 2016
POLITICS: The Media/Liberal Obsession With Conclusions
December 10, 2016
POLITICS/BASEBALL: A Valentine For Japan?
Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:31 PM | Baseball 2012-Present | Politics 2016 | Writings Elsewhere
December 8, 2016
POLITICS: New York's Vote Was A Microcosm of America in 2016
December 3, 2016
POLITICS: The Electoral College Is Not Like Slavery
December 2, 2016
POLITICS: Congress Should Let General Mattis Serve as Secretary of Defense
November 30, 2016
POLITICS: Trump Needs To Take The VA Secretary Job Seriously
November 23, 2016
POLITICS: Mitt Romney, The State Department, and Loyalty
POLITICS: Haley's Comet Streaks Towards Turtle Bay
November 21, 2016
POLITICS: Hillary Voters: The Minority in 37 States
November 16, 2016
POLITICS: Does Donald Trump Have a Mandate?
November 10, 2016
POLITICS: My Cousin Donnie
NRO: My Cousin Donnie
November 9, 2016
POLITICS: A Republican Win, Not Just A Trump Win
POLITICS: Where Does Never Trump Go in a Trump Presidency?
POLITICS: We're Going to Need Each Other, America
November 8, 2016
POLITICS: How Will The Senate Break?
POLITICS: My Final Prediction: Hillary 303, Trump 235
POLITICS: Democrats Aren't Preparing Their Voters For Hillary To Lose
November 7, 2016
POLITICS: In Defense of Trump Voters
November 5, 2016
POLITICS: Where Trump Stands Right Now
November 3, 2016
POLITICS: Republicans Coming Home in The Campaign's Last Days
BASEBALL: Baseball Goes Deep: Extra Innings, Game Seven
November 2, 2016
HISTORY: History is Forgotten If We Don't Keep It Fresh
LAW/POLITICS: The Latest Partisan Hit Job on Clarence Thomas
October 31, 2016
LAW/POLITICS: Cliven Bundy, Jim Comey, and the Problem of Political Prosecutions
October 28, 2016
POLITICS/LAW: What Is the 'Unrelated Case' That Caused the FBI to Reopen the Hillary Investigation?
(As we learned out shortly after I posted this, it was the latest Anthony Weiner sexting case).
October 19, 2016
POLITICS: Trump Holds the Line
NRO: Trump Holds the Line
POLITICS: Trump Opens As Best He Can
POLITICS: Republican Senators Still Swimming against the Trump Tide - for Now
October 18, 2016
HISTORY/POLITICS: The Real Reagan Record on AIDS
October 15, 2016
BASEBALL: The 2016 Cubs: One Of The Best Defensive Teams Since 1900
October 14, 2016
POLITICS: Trump The Transgressive Candidate
October 13, 2016
POP CULTURE: Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize
October 12, 2016
POLITICS: Thinking About Trump and "Locker Room Talk"
October 10, 2016
POLITICS: The Death of Compartmentalization
POLITICS: Bobby Jindal's Fiscal Record
My latest NR magazine piece, on Bobby Jindal's fiscal record in Louisiana.
October 8, 2016
POLITICS: Trump Is Not Part Of The Right's Tribe
October 7, 2016
POLITICS/POP CULTURE: Oh, NOW David Letterman Thinks Trump Should Be Shunned
October 4, 2016
POLITICS: Pence Beats Kaine, Kaine Beats Trump
POLITICS: Tim Kaine, Pro-Abortion Catholic
POLITICS: The Too-Happy Warrior
POLITICS: Pence's and Kaine's Briar Patches
POLITICS: Kaine The Interruptor
September 30, 2016
POLITICS: Democrats Get Trump Envy
August 1, 2016
POLITICS/WAR: Hillary Clinton's Foreign Policy Failures
Most of my NRO content can be found now on my NR author page, although I probably should update the links here more often anyway.
My first article in the magazine (subscription-only, and those aren't linked in the author archive): Hillary Clinton's Foreign Policy Failures
Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:33 PM | In Print | Politics 2016 | War 2007-Present | Writings Elsewhere
July 14, 2016
POLITICS: Should The GOP Adopt A No More Trumps Rule For 2020?
June 29, 2016
POLITICS: In Harlem, Democrats Trade Race Cards and Voter Suppression Charges
June 28, 2016
POLITICS: No, This Is Not How We Got Trump
June 27, 2016
POLITICS: The Crazy People Have Taken Charge of the Democratic Party
POLITICS: Donald Trump's One-Day Fundraising Haul Is Probably Bogus
POLITICS/LAW: 'Borking' Shows Why Senators Matter
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:33 PM | History | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2016 | Writings Elsewhere
June 24, 2016
WAR/POLITICS: What If The Orlando Shooter Wasn't Gay After All?
June 23, 2016
POLITICS: Has Britain Declared Independence?
June 22, 2016
POLITICS: Patrick Murphy Is a Fraud
June 21, 2016
LAW/POLITICS: Federal Investigation of Bill De Blasio Fundraising Yields NYPD Indictments
LAW/POLITICS: Is There Anything to a Lawsuit Accusing Donald Trump of Raping a 13-Year-Old Girl with Bill Clinton's Billionaire Sex Buddy?
RELIGION/LAW/POLITICS: The New York Daily News Smears Catholic Bishop with a Bogus Bribe Charge
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:38 PM | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2016 | Religion | Writings Elsewhere
June 15, 2016
BASEBALL: Ichiro Suzuki: A Hit King, But Not The Hit King
POLITICS/HISTORY: Re-Imagining Russell Kirk
LAW/POLITICS: Six Thoughts on Free Speech and the Bankruptcy of Gawker
POLITICS: How Bad Are Trump's National Polls? Some History.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:56 AM | History | Politics 2016 | Poll Analysis | Writings Elsewhere
June 14, 2016
WAR/RELIGION: There Is No Radical Christianity That Compares to Radical Islam
June 10, 2016
POLITICS: Donald Trump Is Down 46-35 To Hillary Clinton In His Favorite Poll
POLITICS: Could The GOP Convention Dump Trump for Scott Walker?
June 9, 2016
POLITICS/LAW: With Obama's Endorsement of Hillary Clinton, He Should Appoint a Special Prosecutor
June 8, 2016
POLITICS/HISTORY: A Few More Words About Zachary Taylor and Donald Trump
POLITICS: Yes, Hillary Clinton's $12,000 Jacket Makes Her a Hypocrite about Income Inequality
POLITICS: With a Little Effort, Donald Trump Could Have Appealed to Conservatives
June 7, 2016
POLITICS: A Farewell To RedState
June 4, 2016
HISTORY/POLITICS: Politico Sells Zachary Taylor Short
June 2, 2016
POLITICS: We Get the Candidates Our Undignified Media Deserve
POLITICS/HISTORY: No, Ronald Reagan Didn't Launch His 1980 Campaign in Philadelphia, MS
One of the wearying things about arguing with liberal/progressives is that they never stop trying to rewrite history; a bogus claim that is debunked only stays debunked if you keep at debunking it year after year after year. So it is with the hardy perennial effort to tar the reputation of Ronald Reagan by claiming that his 1980 presidential campaign and subsequent two-term presidency was tainted from the outset by having kicked off his campaign with a speech about "states' rights" in Philadelphia, Mississippi - Nation editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel was retailing this one on ABC's Sunday show The Week just two weeks ago, trying to compare Reagan to Donald Trump:
There's all this nostalgia about Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan announced his candidacy in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the site for where three civil rights workers were killed by white supremacists.
There are many other sources that assert this as fact - see, for example, this Huffington Post column from April by Nicolaus Mills, Professor of American Studies, Sarah Lawrence College:
[I]n going to Patchogue, Long Island this coming Thursday to speak at a controversial Republican fundraiser, Trump is taking a page out of the Ronald Reagan playbook. He's following the path that Reagan took in 1980 when he began his presidential campaign at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Mississippi.
Long Island? Forget it, he's rolling. More examples from one presidential cycle to the next can be found from David Greenberg at Slate, William Raspberry in the Washington Post, Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert in the New York Times, and so on. Wikipedia even has a page for "Reagan's Neshoba County Fair "states' rights" speech".
Where to begin? This particular canard has so many things wrong with it, I feel obligated to set them all down in sequence. Hopefully, doing so here should - at least for a little while - collect the context in one place.
Read More »
1. Reagan did not kick off his 1980 campaign in Mississippi. Unlike today, candidates in Reagan's time tended to jump into the presidential race with a formal announcement of their candidacy. Reagan, befitting his skill with television, made his formal announcement with a tape recorded 24-minute speech from a study in New York City on November 13, 1979:
The speech touched on a number of Reagan's campaign themes, ranging from taxes to gas lines to spiritual revival to calls for an early form of NAFTA, and included a passage that would become a regular Reagan staple, discussing the excesses of federal bureaucracy and the need to send more power back to the states:
We must put an end to the arrogance of a federal establishment which accepts no blame for our condition, cannot be relied upon to give us a fair estimate of our situation and utterly refuses to live within its means. I will not accept the supposed "wisdom" which has it that the federal bureaucracy has become so powerful that it can no longer be changed or controlled by any administration. As President I would use every power at my command to make the federal establishment respond to the will and the collective wishes of the people.
Reagan's speech at the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi would not come for another nine months, long into the campaign and well after Reagan had secured the GOP nomination.
2. The speech was not in Philadelphia. Contrary to the mythology that liberals have built around the speech, it was not "the site for where three civil rights workers were killed by white supremacists" in 1964, but at a county fair some 7 miles away. The Neshoba County Fair was not some kind of crypto-Klan event commemorating the murders; in 1980 it was celebrating its 89th year, drew tens of thousands of people annually, and was a sufficiently large popular event that it was profiled in a National Geographic article in June 1980, which is where Reagan's staff got the idea to have him speak there:
Team Reagan found this particular event attractive after reading a June 1980 National Geographic magazine article titled "Mississippi's Grand Reunion at the Neshoba County Fair."
It seems unlikely that the National Geographic article was part of some sort of conspiracy to deliver racially coded messages through the Reagan campaign. The more logical conclusion is that Reagan's campaign saw an opportunity to reach an enormous crowd (accounts of the event said that Reagan spoke to between 20-30,000 people) in a hotly contested swing state as he moved from the GOP Convention into the fall campaign.
3. Mississippi was a battleground state in 1980. It's easy to forget in today's era of red/blue maps - in which Mississippi is one of the reddest spots on the map - but the state was a potentially key battleground in 1980. A reliable "Solid South" state from 1876-1944 after Reconstruction ended and the Klan conducted, essentially, a terrorist campaign to suppress the Republican Party in the state, it had swung wildly with the racial politics of 1948-72, voting overwhelmingly for the Dixiecrat campaigns of Thurmond in 1948 and Wallace in 1968, the Republican campaigns of Goldwater in 1964 and Nixon in 1972, and solidly for the Democratic campaigns of Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956, and breaking in a 3-way race for an uncommitted slate of electors against JFK and Nixon in 1960. But Jimmy Carter, a Georgian, had narrowly brought Mississippi back to the Democratic fold in 1976, beating Ford 49.6% to 47.7%; the state was decided by just 14,000 votes, providing 7 of Carter's 57 electoral vote margin of victory (Ford would have been re-elected with just 25,000 more votes in Mississippi and Ohio).
The state was still heavily Democratic in 1980: Thad Cochran was elected to the Senate in 1978 as the first Republican to win a statewide election in Mississippi since Reconstruction; the Governor's mansion would not be occupied by a Republican until 1992; and entrenched Dixiecrat Senator John Stennis would fend off a challenge from a young Republican named Haley Barbour in 1982.
And Mississippi had proven a tough state for Reagan personally to crack: in 1976, while Reagan swept every Southern state's primary except Florida (which voted before Reagan's first victory, in North Carolina), Mississippi held no popular vote and its delegation went for Ford at the convention, put off in part by Reagan's selection of moderate Richard Schweiker. The loss of Mississippi sealed Reagan's fate at the 1976 convention - but its preference for Ford is consistent with the pro-party-establishment tilt of the state GOP in every presidential season before 2016. Reagan claimed the state uncontested in the 1980 primaries, when it voted after George H.W. Bush had dropped out. It would go on to be a close race that fall, with Reagan beating Carter 49.4 to 48.1, winning the state by a little under 12,000 votes (i.e., around half the size of the crowd Reagan spoke to that day). Although the 1980 election was a 44-state landslide, Mississippi was one of eight states decided by less than 2 points, seven of which went to Reagan - the only closer states were Massachusetts, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Alabama, and it was one of just five states (plus D.C.) where Carter cleared 48% of the vote (the others being Georgia, Hawaii, West Virginia, Tennessee, and South Carolina).
Meanwhile, President Carter opened his general election campaign in Tuscumbia, Alabama, then the national headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan (there was a Klan rally the day Carter came to Tuscumbia). Reagan actually got in a lot of trouble for blasting Carter for that choice of location, inaccurately describing Tuscumbia as the location of the Klan's founding, prompting Carter to accuse Reagan of stereotyping white Southerners and the Democratic Governor of Mississippi to predict that Reagan would lose votes in the state because "voters thought it showed a lack of understanding about the South."
In other words, especially with polling being a much less precise art than it is today, it would have been very unusual for Reagan not to visit Mississippi in the fall campaign in 1980. It was a major potential swing state, and the Neshoba County Fair was the year's best opportunity to meet a large crowd. That's why it was a common stop for Mississippi politicians, and why Michael Dukakis went there in 1988; Dukakis managed to mention at his appearance that the Fair was near the birthplace of Oil Can Boyd, but not mention the slain civil rights workers. Liberals who argue today that Reagan should have simply ceded a swing state that Carter was vigorously chasing cannot be serious.
4. Reagan deliberately balanced the one-day Neshoba appearance with a week-long pitch to urban black voters in the North. Much of the "symbolism" invoked by critics of the Neshoba speech is focused on the fact that this was Reagan's first appearance of the general election campaign. As noted above, that's rather artificial: Reagan had been running officially since November and unofficially since 1975, and he formally locked up the nomination when Bush dropped out at the end of May. And while Neshoba was his first stop on the trail after the GOP Convention in Detroit two weeks earlier, the decision to put it first was actually a deliberate choice to not look like Reagan was pandering to racists, because it was immediately followed by a full week dedicated to making a (futile, in retrospect) pitch to black voters:
Reagan strategists decided to spend the week following the 1980 Republican convention courting African-American votes. Reagan delivered a major address at the Urban League, visited Vernon Jordan in the hospital where he was recovering from gunshot wounds, toured the South Bronx and traveled to Chicago to meet with the editorial boards of Ebony and Jet magazines.
Cannon's report at the time quoted a campaign source making explicit that the order of the appearances was staged so the Neshoba appearance wouldn't send the wrong message:
Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan today used rural Mississippi to launch a three-day swing that reflects the diversity and the difficulties of his approach to the campaign.
"I am committed to the protection of the civil rights of black Americans," Reagan told the Urban League. "That commitment is interwoven into every phase of the programs I will propose."
The Christian Science Monitor noted of the Urban League appearance and its stress on the economy that "Mr. Reagan also seeks to bring back into the Republican Party the black voters who followed Franklin D. Roosevelt into the New Deal in another economic crisis."
A little over a decade removed from the end of the political movement to defend segregation, and in an era when forced busing to integrate schools was still a hot-button issue, it's not at all remarkable that Reagan (or any candidate) would want to present himself as a candidate who could appeal both to white Wallace voters and to black voters in the North. It's silly to look at the careful effort to send that message, with much more of the candidate's time devoted to the latter, and charge Reagan with running a coded segregationist campaign.
5. "States' rights" was not even an applause line in the speech. Aside from arguing with the location and timing of Reagan's speech, critics have lambasted him for using the phrase "states' rights" in the speech, to the point where it is often portrayed as the centerpiece of the speech. As noted above, devolving power from the federal government to the states was a regular theme of Reagan's, and had been addressed in his announcement speech and many addresses since then. And as Reagan biographer Steven Hayward has observed:
[A]s a westerner Reagan had fully associated himself with the "Sagebrush Rebellion," for whom "states' rights" had no racial content, but rather meant wresting control of land from Washington. This was far from an outlandish or minority view. The same day Reagan made his "states' rights" remark in Mississippi, the National Governors Association issued what the Associated Press described as "a militant call for reduced federal involvement in state and local affairs." Arizona's liberal Democratic Governor Bruce Babbitt wrote in a New York Times op-ed article that "It is time to take hard look at 'states' rights' - and responsibilities - and to sort out the respective functions of the federal government and the states."
But the speech was hardly focused on the issue. Reagan spoke for 15 minutes. You can listen to the whole speech yourself on YouTube, and read it here.
The introductions included Dick Molpus, a representative from the state's Democratic governor, William Winter (in fact, Molpus was Winter's Executive Director of the Governor's Office of Federal-State Programs, in charge of overseeing the state's vast and dysfunctional dependence on Washington aid), who noted Reagan's presence as the first presidential nominee to speak at the fair, and used that to echo Winter's statement in his inauguration that January that Mississippi "is now entering the mainstream of American life." Gov. Winter was a racial moderate, in the parlance of the Southern politics of the day, which meant - like Carter - a Democrat who supported segregation when it was popular but was trying to move beyond it in the 1970s. He supported Carter, not Reagan, and told the Washington Post the following month that "we're seeing a determination, in the South, to stay with a man who understands our own special problems." But his spokesman's choice of words is also telling: white Mississippians in that era felt acutely their isolation from an American mainstream that had (rightly) spent most of the previous two decades scorning the state's oppressive racial policies and attitudes. Reagan's presence in Neshoba, like Carter's presence in the White House, was seen as a valued sign of legitimacy.
Another of the introductions, which included several gifts, stressed that Philadelphia was the headquarters of the Choctaw Nation in Mississippi.
Reagan acknowledged that he was deep in long-held Democratic territory:
I know that in speaking to this crowd, that I'm speaking to what has to be about 90 percent Democrat. [A loud chorus of "No" from the crowd.] I just meant by party affiliation. I didn't mean how you feel now. I was a Democrat most of my life myself, but then decided that there were things that needed to be changed.
About halfway into the speech, Reagan rolled into his discussion of federalism and welfare:
[Y]ou'll never know how rewarding this is, this institution that has existed for so long-and as I said in the beginning, I know there is nothing-I have read all about it in the National Geographic. [Laughs] But, how did you ever accomplish this without a federal program? [Applause]
If you listen to the recording, you can clearly hear that there was a lot of applause at multiple points in this section, but nearly no audible reaction to the reference to "states' rights" or even at the end of that or the following sentence. Nothing in this passage, or anywhere else in the speech, hits anything like a note of racial divisiveness - indeed, this very section of the speech is built around Reagan's defense of the work ethic of welfare recipients, an issue usually portrayed by liberals as a coded racial appeal.
Some critics have argued (see here and here) over whether Reagan had previously used the term "states' rights" in a speech, but this is grasping at straws given how the speech is customarily presented by liberal-progressives as some kind of racist smoking gun.
Listening to the speech itself, the context is impossible to misunderstand, and the reaction of the crowd tells the tale. The people of Neshoba liked what they heard from candidate Reagan, but the passing use of the phrase "states' rights" was clearly not what their minds were on.
« Close It
May 30, 2016
HISTORY: Remember Joseph Warren This Memorial Day
May 25, 2016
POLITICS: The Dog That Didn't Bark: Trump Voters in Down-Ballot Primaries
May 23, 2016
POLITICS: You Won't Believe Why Hillary Bagman Terry McAuliffe Is Under Federal Investigation
May 18, 2016
POLITICS/LAW: Three Thoughts on Donald Trump's Supreme Court List
May 17, 2016
POLITICS: The Never Trump Movement Is Neither Anti-American Nor Hypocritical
May 11, 2016
POLITICS: A Very Different Republican Coalition: Can It Fly?
There's been a lot of attention paid to Donald Trump's appeal to a particular type of voter: white working class, no college degree, not that religious or socially conservative but anti-immigration. Let's look at a few exit poll numbers to contemplate how a Trump coalition might be shaped very differently from Mitt Romney's coalition, which drew together a respectable but insufficient 47% of the general electorate.
I did some simple algebra combining the share of each group in the electorate and the share won by each candidate, to consider what chunk of their voters fell in each group. For example, college graduates were 45% of the 2012 general electorate and Romney won 48% of them, so whereas non-college-grads were 53% and Romney won 47% of them - thus college-educated Romney voters were 23% of all voters, non-college-educated Romney voters were 25% of all voters, and accordingly college-educated voters made up 48% of the Romney vote. For purposes of this exercise I looked back at the Trump coalition in three states that were decisive (Indiana, Florida and South Carolina). While primary and general election coalitions are different animals, this is the data we have to work with so far, and it gives us a clue as to some of Trump's challenges ahead, as well as how a candidate with Trump's appeal to such groups could be an electoral force if that candidate wasn't also as off-putting as Trump is to other core elements of the Romney coalition.
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As noted above, almost half of the Romney voters in 2012 (48%) had college degrees. Trump matched that figure in Florida,, but in both Indiana and South Carolina, just 42% of his voters had college degrees. The Romney-Obama race actually did not feature a big educational divide, at least around the college/non-college fissure. The GOP primary has featured a larger one. Trump's ability to win educated voters is one of the major question marks for his fall campaign.
49% of the Romney voters in 2012 were women, despite the partisan gender gap and reflecting the fact that Romney did better with white women than any candidate since Reagan in 1984. Trump's primary coalition has been very male even by GOP primary standards - 41% of his voters in Indiana were women, 44% in Florida, 44% in South Carolina.
We don't have applies-to-apples comparisons for all three states, but 52% of the Romney voters in 2012 were at least weekly churchgoers, compared to 45% of Trump's voters in Indiana. 74% of Trump's South Carolina voters said shared religious convictions were important to them. 60% of Romney's voters said abortion should be illegal, a large contingent Trump will have a lot of trouble replacing if he continues to manifest signs of being a lifelong supporter of legal abortion.
71% of Romney's voters were married.
Exit polls often ask a binary yes/no question about whether illegal immigrants should be deported or allowed to stay in the country, a useful question for isolating the true hard-liners on the issue but a more fraught one for capturing the nuances of people who would be willing to entertain "amnesty" but only under fairly stringent conditions. And admittedly, attitudes may have hardened a good deal on the issue since 2012. Anyway, despite running mostly as an immigration hardliner in 2008 and 2012, 54% of Romney's voters in 2012 were on the amnesty side of the amnesty/deportation question, compared to 45% of Trump's voters in Indiana and Florida and just 36% in South Carolina.
Size of government
Do Trump's voters agree with his pro-big-government stances? A whopping 84% of Romney's 2012 voters told exit pollsters that government does too much, when offered the alternative of "it should do more." We haven't seen that question in a lot of primary polling, but it suggests another warning sign. Interestingly, 35% of Trump's Florida voters said that we need to cut Social Security benefits - even though Trump is running on a platform of dissent from the GOP on that issue, he actually did better with those voters than with those who want the status quo.
Lack of education may be a hallmark of Trump's coalition, but lack of money is not as much one as you might have guessed. 67% of Romney's voters made over $50,000 a year, compared to 74% of Trump's voters in Indiana, 66% in Florida, and 71% in South Carolina. 32% of Romney's voters made over $100,000 a year, matched by 32% of Trump's South Carolina voters and exceeded by Trump in Indiana and Florida (36% each). (85% of Romney's voters were not part of a union household; 62% worked full time).
Of course, we've covered previously Trump's issues with self-identified "Very Conservative" voters, the heartland of the Ted Cruz primary vote. But demographically, Trump's primary coalition does look less educated, less churchgoing and more male than the Romney 2012 coalition. Obviously, the optimist's theory (for Trump, and for down-ticket Republicans to the extent that Trump voters might also vote for actual Republicans for the House, Senate and Governorships) is that Trump's coalition looks different because he is adding new groups. But the danger sign is that just to pull even with what Romney did, he may still need more educated, religious, conservative voters and women than he has thus far been interested in appealing to.
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May 6, 2016
POLITICS: Is #NeverTrump Doomed To Fold?
May 5, 2016
POLITICS: Dear Republican Politician: Let's Talk about Donald Trump
May 4, 2016
POLITICS: Politics Is Still Downstream of Culture
POLITICS: Trump's Next Victim: Pollsters
Donald Trump has proven adept at corrupting everyone and everything that comes into his orbit. He has constructed a kind of cargo-cult imitation of a real political campaign, with press flacks and pundits and elected officials and "policy advisors" and even now speechwriters all acting as if Trump was a real candidate rather than a bad joke told too long. But the one thing Trump has not really needed so far was thoroughly bogus general election polls. Oh, his strength has been overstated in some national primary polls, and the online Reuters poll has been a particular favorite. But Trump in the primaries has mostly been content to tell bald-face lies about his polling against Hillary Clinton, content that any rebuttal could be shouted down with "BUT I AM BEATING YOU IN THE PRIMARY SO YOU MUST BE WORSE."
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Trump can no longer hide behind that, so he will need to find some pollsters willing to be...flexible...in their methodology in order to show that this is a real contest. Trump's millions of supporters, and his enablers in talk radio and on Fox News and Drudge and Breitbart, will provide a willing market for this. And so will the mainstream media, which as much as it wants Hillary to win, is also addicted to Trump-driven ratings and can't afford to just admit that the election is effectively over in May.
Enter "Rasmussen Reports". Now, if you have followed polling controversies over the years, you know that Rasmussen has been a lightning rod. A minor pollster before 2000, Rasmussen was reinvented by Scott Rasmussen in the mid-2000s into one of the giants of the polling business, with ubiquitous high-volume polling that included one of the most influential daily tracking polls, while Rasmussen himself became a prominent pundit. For the most part, during the Bush years, Rasmussen had a solid record as a pollster, and while it had some embarrassing misses in 2010 (usually due to over-projecting Republican candidates), it was still a reputable pollster. In 2012, I still relied on Rasmussen's national party-ID survey, which had a strong predictive track record over the prior decade. But it failed spectacularly, as did many of Rasmussen's polls, in 2012: the party ID tracker was projecting the most Republican general electorate since the Coolidge years, and we got precisely the opposite. So far as I can tell, the party ID poll was discontinued immediately after the 2012 election.
Rasmussen has stayed in the political polling business since then, but greatly diminished, as Scott Rasmussen himself left the company in mid-2013, and it has refocused more on making money from non-political polls. His departure also ended the firm's GOP tilt, or at least induced an overcorrection; for much of 2014, for example, Rasmussen's job-approval poll showed President Obama to be a lot more popular than any other pollster, a finding totally inconsistent with the 2014 election results. On the whole, my postmortem of the 2014 Senate polls found Rasmussen's polling to be a mixed bag.
But now, in the past few weeks, Rasmussen has emerged as the lone pollster showing Trump competitive nationally with Hillary Clinton:
You will notice that Trump's standing in the Rasmussen polls is no better than in others - he's at 38% in the April 25-26 poll, and 41% in the April 27-28 poll. Every poll in the RCP average since the start of March has Trump between 35% and 43%, with a current average a shade below 41, but most have Hillary in the upper 40s or the 50s. So what gives? Obviously, Rasmussen didn't push soft "undecideds" who are likely to vote Hillary to make a choice, so it shows a lot fewer Clinton voters in the April 25-26 poll:
Nearly one-in-four voters say they will stay home or vote third party if Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the major party presidential candidates.
The April 27-28 poll, with Trump up 3, is even fishier because it assumed everybody is forced to vote:
Trump edges slightly ahead if the stay-at-home option is removed. Trump also now does twice as well among Democrats as Clinton does among Republicans.
Well, yeah, you can get different polling results if you pretend turnout will be mandatory. Unfortunately for Trump, that's not how elections actually work.
But don't be surprised if we see more polling organizations, especially in the media, fiddle with their methodologies to prop up a horse race at least into the fall. And watch people who desperately want to believe them fall for it.
That's how things work in Donald Trump's America.
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May 1, 2016
POLITICS: Yes, Donald Trump Would Be Worse Than Any Prior Republican Nominee
Why now? Why Trump?
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Haven’t We Voted For Some Terrible Republicans Before?
Many – if not most – #NeverTrump voters have pulled the lever for some or all of Mitt Romney, John McCain, George W. Bush, and Bob Dole as well as lots of other less-than-pure Republicans for lesser offices. I personally voted for all of them, plus backing some fairly heterodox presidential primary candidates like Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich. In the years since I became old enough to vote in 1989, the only two semi-serious GOP presidential contenders before Trump that I’d have seriously considered not voting for were Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan, both mainly for national security reasons, but at least Paul and Buchanan were dyed-in-the-wool pro-lifers, in Paul’s case grounded in his life experience as an OB/GYN.
I also voted for some terrible down-ticket Republicans here in New York (Mike Bloomberg, Carl Paladino, Rick Lazio, George Pataki…heck, I even voted for a City Councilman who was the blood-drinking leader of a local pagan sect and was recently sentenced to a decade in prison for selling Democrats access to the Republican primary for Mayor.) It’s an easier answer for the local officials: I live in deep-blue territory, and local electeds may have fewer powers and less important roles in party leadership. Indeed, I’d probably vote for Trump if he ran for Mayor of New York, since he really is not that different from Bloomberg, and the Mayor’s race is almost entirely a single-issue referendum on policing (for similar reasons, I might even vote for Bill Clinton if he ran for Mayor).
We know, from his deeds, words, and even his pronouncements in this campaign, that Trump offers nothing to conservatives – worse than nothing, he would evict us from any position within our own party. He gets his foreign policy ideas from Michael Moore and Code Pink (or worse yet, from Vladimir Putin); his abortion views are grounded in his sympathy with Planned Parenthood; he supports socialized medicine in the form of single-payer healthcare, higher taxes, more government spending, and Herbert Hoover's trade policy. He’s never met a bailout or a crony-capitalist deal he didn't like, or a Democrat he wouldn’t donate to. He’s astonishingly ignorant, emotionally unstable, and wholly incapable of saying no to Democrats. Trump is a spoiled, entitled rich kid who shows not the slightest understanding of the American way of up-by-the booststraps striving to better yourself; in Trump’s world, the rich get richer by having the right friends, and everybody else is a serf who needs the government to protect them from foreign competition.
Let’s compare Trump to some of the prior Republican presidential losers, and I’ll throw in Rudy and Newt for good measure since I’ve written on this site in their defense before:
Mitt Romney: Romney’s flip-flopping on pushed me pretty far, since I wrote tens of thousands of words attacking him in the 2008 and 2012 primaries, predicted that he’d be a bad general election candidates, and basically spent the 2012 campaign carefully avoiding making any affirmative statements about Romney’s commitment to his own stated agenda. I once characterized Romney’s record of standing with conservatives as “a sheet of thin ice as far as the eye can see“.
But even so, Romney was no Trump. Romney, unlike Trump, had an actual record in office, albeit only a single term as Governor, and he did pursue some fiscally and socially conservative positions in office, on taxes, spending and same-sex marriage. Romney was also more loyal to the GOP as an institution and a team than Trump – he’d been a Republican Governor, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, had run against Ted Kennedy for Senate, had built a network of loyalists in the party through endorsements, donations and campaign stops, and was the son of a father who was a Republican Governor, Republican presidential candidate and Republican Cabinet Secretary and a mother who also ran for Senate as a Republican. Romney in 2012 was also on his second run for the White House, which required him to stay consistent and committed to his 2008 platform; he was neither quite as inexperienced nor quite as new to his “severely conservative” platform by 2012 as he had been four years earlier.
And perhaps most important and most unlike Trump, Romney demonstrated by 2012 that he had the capability, the intelligence, the base of knowledge, and the personal character to be Commander-in-Chief. His foreign policy pronouncements in 2012 were not terribly exciting (President Obama memorably mocked them as a throwback to the 80s), but over and over since then he has been proven right by events. And while Romney’s political identity was always questionable, he was and is a man of outstanding personal character – faithful family man, pillar of his church, unfailingly loyal to his business partners and employees, generous with not just his money but his time to charity, personally modest and decent. In every one of these ways, Romney stood as the opposite of Trump, a thrice-married serial adulterer who has left a long trail of wreckage through both his family life and his business career and has become a byword for crassness. As much as I worried about Romney’s ideological commitments and political courage, I came to admire the man personally and trust that he would be a steady hand leading the nation, a leader we could be proud of. Trump is the opposite of all those things.
John McCain and Bob Dole: I actually voted for McCain three times, although in retrospect I regretted supporting him against Bush in 2000, the reasons for which I explained at the time (I do not regret preferring McCain to Romney and Huckabee in 2008). McCain was in many ways a more open moderate than Romney, more consistent in his stances on a lot of issues but also consistently a problem for conservatives. That said, it was not actually that hard to see McCain as a guy who was broadly on the side of conservatives part of the way on a lot of issues, and more to the point, a guy who proved himself fully capable of digging in and fighting for our side on some tough calls. He voted to put Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court – the Thomas vote was a tough one, as he was confirmed by two votes. He voted to remove Bill Clinton from office in the 1998 impeachment. He was a faithful vote for the Reagan agenda in the 1980s, a consistent pro-lifer and a supporter of entitlement reform, free trade, and nuclear power. He backed Phil Gramm in the 1996 primaries. He built his whole 2008 campaign around courageously standing up for finishing the job in Iraq when the war was at the nadir of its popularity. And McCain was and is a vigorous voice on national security issues for decades.
None of that is to whitewash McCain’s problems for conservatives, nor to deny that McCain has his own issues of character (e.g., cheating on and abandoning his first wife, or the Keating Five scandal). But between his political career and his famously heroic POW record, McCain had demonstrated some important attributes of presidential character: seriousness of purpose, deep and abiding patriotism sealed in blood, the ability to take a stand and stick with it come Hell or high water. I knew McCain was a compromise in a bad political environment in 2008, but I also trusted him as Commander in Chief and as a guy who would follow through when the going got tough.
The case for Dole – aside from the fact that I was 25 and more of a knee-jerk straight-ticket voter at the time – is more or less similar to the case for McCain, although Dole’s legislative record was distinctly less conservative than McCain’s. Dole was doomed, of course, as everyone knew at the time, but at least he was a war hero, the sort of man you could trust as Commander-in-Chief, and was nothing if not a party man through and through, with 35 years as an elected Republican and leader of a GOP caucus in the Senate.
Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich: I suppose I need to defend Rudy (my first choice in 2008) and Newt (my final choice and vote in 2012 after Perry and Pawlenty dropped out), although the latter was mostly a desperation protest vote. Rudy was the first candidate I supported for President who was not even nominally pro-life, and will probably be the last. In part that was an effort to square the circle of finding workable common ground on judges, which by the end of his campaign, Rudy had never been able to do, and that’s a story for another day, but also one that drove home the impossibility of making a Republican presidential candidacy work without a clear and explicit commitment to the pro-life cause.
But fundamentally, despite flaws in their personal character (flaws on display again this year as both have disappointingly gravitated towards Trump), what I liked more than anything about Rudy and Newt is that they had actually accomplished an enormous amount for conservatives, both in policy and politics, as well as helping a whole lot of other Republicans get elected over the years. They fought the battles and earned their scars.
Despite his social liberalism, Rudy’s tenure as Mayor of New York was the most consequential real-world domestic policy achievement for conservative ideas since Reagan; he single-handedly changed the trajectory and living conditions in New York City, and sustained a colossal amount of incoming political fire to do so, plus providing tremendous leadership in crisis after 9/11.
Newt’s tenure as Speaker featured its share of missed opportunities and misjudgments, but name me a more consequential and effective Republican House or Senate leader in the last half century; in 1995-96, he got more done for conservative policy priorities in two years with a Democratic President than Denny Hastert did in six with a Republican. And for all their policy deviations, Rudy and Newt are both guys who are well-versed in conservative ideas and expert at defending them in the public square. None of these things – not the accomplishments, not the fights for policy and the political team, not the ability to sell our ideas and solutions – is true of Trump. (Polls show that virtually every position Trump has taken during the campaign is less popular with the general public now than before he ran).
In short: yes, you can find an example of many of Trump’s flaws in prior Republican presidential candidates. But not one of those candidates combined the total package of Trump: the unfitness to be Commander-in-Chief; the total lack of accomplishments, sacrifices or even efforts over his lifetime for any cause we believe in, combined with repeated efforts to assist the other team; the manifest lack of political principle, personal character or demonstrated political character; the ignorance; the catnip for white supremacists; the toxic effect on the brand of both the party and its ideas.
A vote for Trump, even in the general election, is a suicide note for the Republican Party and the conservative movement. I will never vote for Hillary Clinton, but I cannot in good conscience ever give aid and comfort to Donald Trump and the poison he represents. The only cost to abandoning Trump in the general election is the specter of a defeat to Hillary – but Trump’s nomination ensures that anyway. If he wants to sink the GOP at sea against Hillary Clinton, I see no reason to waste a life preserver on him.
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April 27, 2016
POLITICS: Trump Supporters Already Pre-Spinning November Trump Loss
POLITICS: The Fiorina Pick
NRO: The Fiorina Pick
April 26, 2016
POLITICS: Ten Reasons Moderates Should Vote for Ted Cruz
April 25, 2016
POLITICS/FOOTBALL: Donald Trump Hearts Tom Brady; Does Indiana?
April 20, 2016
HISTORY/POLITICS: Do Not Weep for Andrew Jackson
April 19, 2016
POLITICS: What To Watch For In Tonight's NY Republican Primary
POLITICS: When Will Democrats Return Trump's Donations?
April 8, 2016
POLITICS: After Wisconsin, By The Numbers
April 5, 2016
POLITICS: No, Donald Trump Can't "Burn It Down." Washington Would Go On The Same.
Of all the arguments made in favor of a vote for Donald Trump to be President of the United States, or at any rate the Republican nominee, probably the most seductive is the argument that Trump will “burn it down”: replace the business-as-usual Washington political establishment with a bull-in-a-china-shop outsider who will do something different. A great many Americans across the political spectrum are deeply frustrated with our system, for many reasons – some of them very good reasons, others understandable ones. Trump speaks to their frustrations, which is a major reason why he has won 37.1% of the popular vote so far in the Republican primaries; so does Bernie Sanders, which is a major reason why Sanders has won 41.1% of the popular vote so far in the Democratic primaries. But even setting aside the many reasons why Trump is highly unlikely to win a general election, anyone who understands the problems with how Washington works also knows that Trump is almost uniquely unsuited to actually change them.
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The Sources of Anger
There are a lot of different currents of anger running through our politics right now, some of which are contradictory (people on different sides of an issue want opposite things), and some of which are impractical (people are angry at things government is powerless to change, except for the worse). At the roots of the anger is a stagnant economy, which exacerbates every problem that exists in better times. As Jay Cost noted back in December, economic growth or its absence has historically been linked to public trust or distrust of American government, and we’ve been in a period of very weak growth ever since the end of the tech-and-trade boom of the 1990s:
As the Wall Street Journal added in January, 2015 finished as “the tenth straight year that the U.S. economy has grown by less than 3%. Such a long underperformance hasn’t happened since the 1930s.”
That’s the backdrop for the economic snake oil of Trump’s trade-war rhetoric and Sanders’ socialism. But anger at the political system has some common political themes as well. People increasingly feel like the government doesn’t listen and doesn’t change – or that when it does change (the biggest changes of the past decade being same-sex marriage and Obamacare) it either does so without consulting the voters (in the case of SSM) or while completely ignoring their loud protests (in the case of Obamacare). And the system rolls on: everybody who goes to DC gets richer, and few go home when they’re done; nobody gets held accountable for disasters like the 2008 credit crisis; political leaders like Bill and Hillary Clinton walk away from things that would get ordinary citizens fired or jailed; people get elected promising Republican voters that they’ll cut government and stop abortion (or even stop financing it), and promising Democratic voters that they’ll punish the banks and close Gitmo, restrain the surveillance state and stop killing people with drones, and somehow none of it happens, yet well-financed interests and liberal legal activists always get what they want, and the budget never stops growing. The system seems impervious to the voters who elect it. Every decent American must be struck now and then with the urge to grab a torch and a pitchfork, burn the whole edifice to the ground, and start over. Lots of “burn it down” voters have flocked to Trump. But Trump is simply the wrong man for the job.
The “Deep State”
Our Constitutional system of government, as originally designed, wasn’t supposed to be like this. America is a republic, not a pure democracy, so we’re supposed to have checks and balances that operate as sobriety checkpoints that make jarring, far-reaching changes slow at the national level. But this was supposed to be balanced out by keeping most power in the hands of the states and ensuring that the federal government always ultimately answered to “We The People.”
Somewhere along the way, step by step, we’ve been losing that – losing the sense that either our state and local governments or our elected representatives in Washington are actually in charge, let alone have the incentive to change things. The courts have erected ever-growing edifices of constitutional law, taking more and more decisions out of the hands of elected officials even on issues never mentioned when the people were asked to add things to the Constitution, leaving massive, unreviewable power in the hands of 5 unelected judges. The power of the purse used to be a great source of influence for the House, which could simply decline to fund things the voters who elected it didn’t like; now, massive amounts of the federal budget – around three-quarters of federal spending, by some estimates – are already committed to entitlements and debt service before Congress even appropriates a penny, and the budget process is rigged so that the only options presented are shutting down the entire government or funding every last horrible thing that the President or a majority of the House or 40 Senators wants. The federal government draws the states into an ever-growing web of funded and unfunded mandates and joint partnerships, which again roll along unless both parties unite to stop them, and for which nobody can be held solely accountable to the voters. Vast economic powers are delegated to the Federal Reserve, which is unelected and only vaguely guided by written rules, and huge powers are devolved on the bureaucracy, including permanent civil servants and a menagerie of agencies not directly accountable to the President – or to anyone else.
Writers on the Left and the paleocon and libertarianish Right often refer to this complex – sometimes including the big donors, federal contractors and military brass – as the “Deep State,” a permanent political establishment that reacts slowly, if at all, to the elected branches and is expert at capturing them.
If we are going to re-impose any sort of popular control over our government and not simply work within the system as it exists today, the most important element of all is a willingness and ability to tame the “Deep State” by attacking its powers at the roots.
Running The Traps
This is one area in which a President Donald Trump would be such a conspicuous failure. Yes, sure, Trump is a guy who dislikes letting the Beltway Establishment set rules for him. He’d say whatever he wants, and at least try to do whatever he wants. I have no doubt that Trump, in office, would produce a whirlwind of executive orders and other unilateral acts. I have no doubt as well that he would attempt to negotiate deals he likes with Congress and foreign governments. I’m not so sure we would see his famous “you’re fired” as much as we might like – Trump’s campaign has been awfully hesitant to fire people that Trump hired, unlike the contestants on his TV shows, as that would reflect an admission of error by Trump. But it’s one thing to try to do your own thing without paying attention to the rest of the system; it’s quite another to go after the system’s ability to keep doing its own thing, ignoring you and undermining you at every turn.
What in Trump’s background suggests he has either the knowledge of the Deep State system or the personality needed to challenge or dismantle parts of it? The essential characteristic of the whole apparatus is precisely that it doesn’t ask the President’s permission to keep going. You can ignore Supreme Court decisions, but they will keep issuing them, and when you’re gone, they’ll still be on the books and obeyed by lower courts. You can yell at the bureaucracy, but you can’t fire it. This is not a new problem – it’s precisely why ‘outsider’ governors like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura have gotten steamrolled in office. One is reminded of Harry Truman’s observation about handing over power to Dwight Eisenhower, our last President who had never been an elected official: “Poor Ike. It won’t be a bit like the Army. He’ll sit here and he’ll say, ‘Do this, do that,’ and nothing will happen.” Eisenhower, as befit his vast military and diplomatic experience, proved a highly skilled and savvy Commander-in-Chief and a determined, hands-on enforcer of the laws, but he never even attempted to reverse the trends of how DC had swollen under the New Deal. And his Supreme Court appointments would go on to massively expand the power of the judiciary. Ike ran the government very, very well – but he never even tried to tame it.
Trump has no intention – he has made this clear – of altering entitlements, so right off the bat, most of the budget is off the table, and his obvious ignorance of the budget process means he would never be able to get far enough into the weeds to actually reform how the system works. He has proposed no reforms that would actually change anything about the bureaucracy or the judiciary or even the Pentagon, nor given any indication of having studied the question. As I noted back in November, in arguing for Bobby Jindal:
Would Trump burn down the system? I’m not even sure he’d know where to set the matches.
Even working within the system, if you haven’t done the homework to understand how the Deep State puts one over on its transient elected masters, you stand little chance of piercing its smoke screens. I’ve made a similar point before about why Trump would ultimately be a bonanza for the GOP’s consultant class – his nomination would actually encourage more of the kinds of candidates most likely to lavish resources on consultants and depend on them, rather than knowing enough (as Ted Cruz does) to impose some supervision and discipline on them and require them to produce results.
Trump’s whole background in real estate development is that of a guy who plays by the rules and within system (hence, his many donations to liberal politicians), not one who tries to change the game, as this shrewd review of his book “Art of the Deal” explains:
Read the whole thing; there’s a lot more where that came from, and a lot to think about even in a review that is broadly sympathetic to Trump’s book.
Think about it: when has Trump shown any interest in changing the rules for anything? When has he shown he even knows or cares what the rules are? As Leon noted yesterday, Trump keeps getting schooled by Ted Cruz just on how to understand and operate within the rules of the Republican delegate system – unsurprisingly, since Cruz is a brilliant Constitutional lawyer whose whole life has been dedicated to rules, but Trump’s failure to plan ahead for how to beat the party establishment at its own game bodes very poorly for his ability to do the same to the Deep State.
And of course, the fact that Trump has no fixed political principles means he is bound to take the paths of least resistance to any end he desires – why dig in for a long, bloody fight to reform how the rules work, when someone with a vested interest in the rules is willing to offer you a short term reward? In 1876, Republicans took a bargain that gave Rutherford B. Hayes a single term in the White House, and gave Democrats the end of Reconstruction and effective control of the South for the next 75 years. That’s the kind of deal the “GOPe” has been making ever since, and yet it’s exactly the kind of deal you and I know Trump would take and declare a “win” because he’s always more interested in being a winner than in the long game.
If we stand any chance of making real change in how the country works over the next four years, we won’t get it from Trump (any more than we would from Hillary Clinton, who is practically the living embodiment of the Beltway Establishment). Fortunately, there happens to be one guy left in this race who actually cares very deeply about the rules of the game and how to change them: Ted Cruz. Maybe Cruz won’t succeed either in burning the whole system down, and maybe he shouldn’t try to bite off such an ambitious goal, but at least he will try and has a track record of being precisely the kind of person who will hold out to get some real results.
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April 4, 2016
LAW/POLITICS: BREAKING: SCOTUS Rejects "One Man One Vote" Challenge