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Choose Wisely Where to Campaign, Sen. Cruz March 10, 2016

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Cruz-TrumpThere is an old saying of “choose your hill to die on”.  The meaning behind the saying is that nobody has unlimited resources/energy.  Therefore, one must pick one’s proverbial battles judiciously if that person has any hope of succeeding in his/her endeavor.

The overall message of the Tuesday, March 8 Republican primaries is that they are anything but settled.  As Michael Barone points out, a Donald Trump delegate majority is anything but inevitable.  The key to ensuring the prevention of Trump ruining the party is, at this immediate point, to vote tactically, not strategically.  Ohio and Florida are both winner-take-all primaries.  With four candidates remaining in the race, that means a win on plurality instead of majority is a foregone conclusion.

Both the aforementioned states off lots of delegates.  The ideal tactical votes right now is for Ohio GOP voters to give the delegates to Gov. John Kasich.  Likewise, the ideal tactical vote in Florida is for Senator Marco Rubio to win.  Both of these candidates are the most viable alternatives to Trump in these respective states.

Enter Cruz, who seems to have no concept of these important tactics.  He has been going after Rubio in Florida and going after Kasich in Ohio.  This is madness.  Undermining both of these candidates in these respective states can only help Trump.  Extra votes to Cruz in both of these states are unlikely to be detracted from The Donald, but are very likely to hurt the respective viable alternatives to Trump.

Cruz has thus become a very frustrating candidate to follow.  His energy is admirable, but he has proven to not have an eye for these important tactics, and that could be potentially hazardous to us all.  For if Trump wins the GOP nomination, the party faithful are essentially doomed to a Bataan Death March of a political campaign, slowly and agonizingly dragging into early November.  Moreover, those of us who care about the Constitutional limits on governmental scope and power shall be particularly scorned, as neither nominee of the two major parties will, in this scenario, have any respect for America’s founding document.

The irony in all of this is that Cruz bills himself as a Constitutional standard-bearer.  Yet his lack of tactical sense in this crucial primary could very well undermine his most cherished selling point by not understanding which states he can credibly win and which states he ought to let other anti-Trump nominees win to make sure The Donald does not gain further strength.

Be wise, Senator Cruz:  leave Florida to Rubio and Ohio to Kasich, and by all means, concentrate your energy in the other states still in play.  Otherwise, you might ruin things for all us, in some way for a generation to come.  Should the unthinkable come to pass, how then will you be of any benefit to those of us who share your ideology?  Sharing our values is all well and good, but if you lack the discipline to effectively advance these values, you become a liability and thus an unaware tool for those who are hostile to that which the Constitution stands.

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Where David Brooks Got it Wrong on Orthodox Republicanism March 9, 2016

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David Brooks, the in-house, right-leaning centrist for the NY Times, has written yet another thought-provoking article (this on March 8, 2016). This is not news.  He usually does this, and does so rather eloquently, though he lacks the true intellectual firepower and vocabulary of George Will.  This is not to be held against him:  who does have such capacity as Will?  Hands, anyone?

Thought-provoking as his most recent article may be, entitled “It’s Not Too Late,” there are some problems with his thesis.  Yes, he did get some things right, but he also got some key things wrong.  But in which respective areas?

Let us start with what the article is all about.  Brooks clearly recognizes the urgency within the Republican primary at the moment.  That is to say, the majority of the GOP electorate recognizes what a disastrous candidate Donald Trump would be in the general election, and his would-be GOP nomination must be thwarted at all costs.  Moreover, Brooks proceeds, further down in the article, to lay out the systemic problems behind Trump’s cult of personality.  He outlines that Trump’s populism is premised on an active, big government that is energized to help the American working class, but doing so in negative, defensive ways.  The blowhard wants to build walls, to close trade, to ban outside groups, and to otherwise smash enemies.  Put all your trust in Trump (half-sarcastically described in source-synonym form as “The Great Leader”), and he’ll take all enemies down.

This dovetails nicely into where Brooks made some very insightful observations, and also some caveats.  Let us look at where he “got it right” and “got it wrong” simultaneously.  He points out that Goldwater and Reagan positioned the Republican Party as that of those who are free-market and anti-government.  He got the first part correctly, the second part, not so much.

Goldwater and Reagan, for example, were trying to tackle the issues to make the marketplace freer after decades of Democrat interference via excessive regulation, excessively high taxes, union-friendly laws and trade-protectionist laws that ended up raising costs for consumers, allowing consumers fewer options, and stymying the economy in so doing.  Reagan helped re-energize America by doing away with most of such hindrances.  Today, the market is freer and taxes are much lower than they were prior to Ronaldus Magnus.

Since “Dutch” left office, most folks in the GOP have been searching for “the next Reagan”.  Here’s the problem, though:  since Reagan, new challenges have emerged.  Today, the economy has become much more unforgiving (“crueler” is Brooks’ adjective of choice).  Technology – particularly automation – has displaced workers and globalization has dampened wages.  Also, the social structure is far more atomized and frayed than it was 30 years ago, especially among the less-educated.  If that is not enough, demographics have also shifted, though to my mind, the previous item is part of this last item mentioned.

So far, Brooks is spot-on in listing some of the major domestic challenges that Americans face today.  Each one deserves lengthy, multi-installment analysis.  But where Brooks gets things wrong is by saying that “Orthodox Republicans” (embodied by Ted Cruz – Brooks describes him as the “extreme embodiment”, emphasis mine) are out of date.  Indeed, allowing free people to freely transact with one-another, abiding by sensible regulations and sensible laws, is never out of date.  Those were Reagan’s principles, and they still work today:  indeed, they work in any era, because human nature has not changed since the dawn of Man.

The other part of Brooks’ erroneous assertion is that Orthodox Republicans see no positive role for government.  Orthodox Republicans / doctrinaire conservatives do indeed see a positive role for government, but only in areas where they rightly recognize the things for which government is built to do effectively.  The Federal Government, for example, is built to defend our country, which is why conservatives call for a strong military.  Conservatives/Orthodox Republicans also recognize that the Federal Government is there to deliver the mail.  It can also help out with the national infrastructure (i.e., interstate highways, bridges, etc.), and is also there to regulate interstate commerce (see:  Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution), though vigilance must be maintained to keep said regulation sensible and thus to keep it from getting out of hand, as it is apt to do if we elect too many big-government liberals to Congress.  Beyond that, you leave it up to the States to decide, as it is written in the Tenth Amendment.

What Brooks has also overlooked is that, yes, while new challenges have emerged for America since Reagan’s time, some of these challenges can be addressed by Orthodox Republicans.  For example, lots of jobs have been killed by excess regulation.  It paralyzes innovation, it stymies companies trying to expand, and thus kills job growth.  Many of us want more manufacturing jobs in this country, but that will not happen with the EPA being allowed to run amok under the Obama Administration, for example.  An Orthodox Republican like Cruz would put a stop to that.  Same thing goes for the amazing potential to create jobs for the educated and under-educated alike in, say, the energy sector.

Another aspect of Orthodox Republicanism that could help meet the challenges of today would be to allow for more local control over education, so that educational reformers have more flexibility to be more innovative.  The idea behind this is that doing so could help us improve our human capital.  The part of American society that has atomized could improve themselves through fundamental improvements in education, but that will not happen under a top-down approach from the Federal Government, where innovation is stifled through bureaucracy.

Granted, Cruz has his own problems, but they’re more about him than the ideology.  He managed to alienate just about everyone in the Senate in both parties since he was elected in 2012.  These are the same people with whom he must build coalitions if he wants to accomplish anything through Congress so he could sign it into law as President.  His rigid, immoderate tone could alienate too many moderate voters as well.  Goldwater was way too rigid as a candidate, and that is why he lost as badly as he did in 1964.  Reagan, conversely, was just as conservative as Goldwater, but he was much more moderate in his tone.  This in turn allowed for the Gipper to successfully position himself as a pragmatic problem-solver, allowing him to win over enough moderates, who joined the conservative voters in allowing him to win comfortably in 1980, and even more so four years later.

Cruz likes to think that he is Reagan’s ideological heir, but to truly find his inner Gipper, he too must moderate his tone.  It remains to be seen whether or not he can.  At least Brooks, to his credit, was on to something when he pointed out that both Marco Rubio and John Kasich are viable alternatives to the rigid (at the moment) Cruz and to the authoritarian Trump.  He even proceeds to hint at the potential of both Rubio and Kasich as potential candidates to successfully position the Republicans as a party of reform, which is desperately needed at the Federal Government level for America to continue to be a viable power both at home and abroad.  I personally would, at this time, favor either over Cruz, to say nothing of Trump, who, just to remind everyone, must be stopped at all costs, lest the efforts to roll back big government be set back for a generation.

Nevertheless, Brooks conveniently overlooks some important tenants of the conservative ideology, and how they would still work today.  If he meant to say that Cruz’s tone was out of date, he was partly right:  it never has been palatable to the national electorate.  But Orthodox Republican/conservative principles are timeless because they recognize that the nature of mankind is permanent.  No doubt these convenient dismissals on Brooks’ part are ongoing symptoms of his Stockholm Syndrome to which he has succumbed after all those years with the New York Times.

Moving Forward, Remember to not Out-think the Room November 17, 2012

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MetLife Stadium in the winter: does this look like ideal Super Bowl weather? It is a vital reminder to avoid “out-thinking the room!”

One of my favorite bits of advice to give to students and to friends alike is, “don’t out-think the room.”  Trying to come up with something you think nobody else is going to think up might show that you are more creative, but it could lead to an overall worse idea or product in the end.  Moreover, this bit of advice can apply to more basic scenarios, too.  If you go to a restaurant and you are not sure what you want to eat, it is usually wise to order up what the place is known for, not to order up some obscure menu item that is rarely served.  If the place is known for crab cakes, get the crab cakes.  If it is known for its pizza, get the pizza.  Don’t out-think the room.

The NFL was in danger of doing that his past Super Bowl when the 45th “Big Game” was awarded to — Indianapolis?  Traditionally, the Super Bowl is hosted in a warm-weather city that is built to handle big crowds.  Every time the Super Bowl is hosted in Miami, New Orleans, Phoenix or San Diego, things always turn out well.  Jacksonville may have relatively warm weather, but it’s not built to handle the big crowds that come in for the big game.  Late January in Indianapolis is hardly the ideal spot, either.  As it was, the city and the fans were very lucky in that the weather for the game was unseasonably mild.  The NFL dodged the bullet in trying to out-think the room, and should have learned their lesson.  Alas, they did not.  They awarded the hosting of the 2014 Super Bowl to…MetLife Stadium, as in, New Jersey, as in, across the Hudson River from New York City, as in, upper Twenties at nighttime in late January or early February.  Brrr!  The Super Bowl was never meant to be played in freezing weather, and yet the NFL foolishly overlooked this basic rule in awarding the hosting of the Big Game to the Meadowlands.  The Super Bowl always works in Miami, New Orleans, Phoenix, and San Diego, NFL:  do not out-think the room!

The reason I say all this is because, in light of the disappointing outcome for the Republican Party in the recent election (namely, we’ll have to put up with four more years of the incompetent B. Hussein Obama), many luminaries in the party have been calling for this change or that change to quickly occur so that the GOP does not gradually shrink to permanent minor party status.  Given what is at stake for the country, some of these ideas have been offered with considerable urgency, hence with start warnings about the future.  Some, such as veteran Republican strategist and Romney campaign adviser Ron Kaufman offered his thought at the Republican Governors Association Meeting in Las Vegas:

“We need to make sure that we’re not perceived as intolerant,” he said. “The bottom line is we were perceived to be intolerant on some issues. And tone-deaf on others.”  This is fine advice when it comes to philosophically complex and deeply emotional issues such as abortion.  But what about others that are less complex, more straightforward, and more salient, such as fiscal issues?

“Republicans have to start understanding that small business and entrepreneurs are important, but the people who work for them are also important,” said Rep. Charles Bass, R-N.H., who lost his seat to Democrat Ann Kuster. “We’ve got to be compassionate conservatives.”

The first part of Bass’ idea sounds fine:  connect with the average Joe.  But the second part raises a few eyebrows.  Did we already not try this “compassionate conservatism” before?  Under George W. Bush, government spending went up, and that overall action trashed the GOP’s reputation as the grown-ups in the room when it came to fiscal prudence, a reputation the GOP faithful have been laboring ever-so diligently to repair over the past four years.

And of course, there were the calls one has been hearing so often these past ten days of appealing to more minority voters, namely Hispanics.  As I have mentioned before, this is an important issue, and one that must be delved into seriously and with the right ideas in place so that we can broaden our electoral base.

The point in all of this is, many of these issues can be solved in a single, large action by nominating a candidate whom more people believe in from the get-go.  It sounds simplified, sure, but it worked for Obama.  Byron York makes the compelling case that whatever facets of the overall problem party members are bringing up these days, many of them can be effectively addressed all at once with the right candidate in place, somebody whom people want to get around and support.

That is not to say that Gov. Romney was without his die-hard supporters.  The business-oriented among us, yours truly included, recognized that he has just the skill set that we need for a leader in these troubled times.  But sadly, the vast majority of the electorate has no concept of executive skill sets in leaders, hence it was a non-issue to them.  Mitt appealed to his supporters minds in a very big way, but not enough to the overall electorate’s hearts.

The point in all of this is, many party members and operatives seem to try to position themselves as the smartest person in the room in trying to come up with one unique solution to a particular facet of the overall electoral problem the party faced in the past election.  But if one focuses on a few small things among many and fail with their ideas on those fronts, then where will we be?  What York reminds us is that, overall, the solution is much simpler, and much more straightforward.  Find someone who can effectively connect with large swaths of the electorate early on (someone who can win hearts and minds), and much of the problem is solved.  We have less than four years to find that person.

The Opinion Index, 11-17-12 November 17, 2012

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Let us be as blunt as we can:  Obama may have won re-election, but he certainly did not win a mandate.  Not with lower voter turnout overall than in 2008, and even less so with winning fewer votes 10 days ago than he won 4 years ago.  What many should ask is, how did he win?  Well, leave it to Michael Medved to expose the dirty little secret of Obama’s campaign victory:  going negative early and often.

Think about it:  negative campaigning does not succeed by turning off either side of the base against you.  It wins by turning off independents from even showing up at the voting booth.  Medved is not the only fellow to figure this out, either.  The ever-astute Michael Barone came to the same conclusion in his piece published this past Monday.  Obama was very good at turning out his base, and repelled enough independents (whom Romney carried by six points) from even voting.  Such behavior certainly does nothing at all to reassure so many people jaded about politics in general.

Does this mean that all you have to do is go negative early and often, and in so doing, you will be bulletproof?  Not necessarily.  For the longest time in the campaign, Romney was unable to counter all the negativity in key swing states because campaign finance laws prohibited him from using key funds to do just that until after he was officially nominated.  That did not happen until the convention — in August.  By then, in hindsight, the die was cast, or so it seems.  Karl Rove has reportedly offered an obvious solution:  have the national convention earlier in the campaign season so one can access the funds earlier and more effectively counter the negativity.  Makes sense to me!

Oh, and we forgot to tell you, Obama supporters:  it does not matter who the president is, or how great (or not) he turned out to be.  One ironclad rule of American politics is that a president’s second term is ALWAYS worse than his first.  Always.  That rule even applied to George Washington, arguably the greatest of all the presidents, as well as the first, who set the standard for all to follow.  Victor Davis Hanson reminds us of this very pertinent rule.

Something else that is quite curious is the coattail effect of Obama’s campaign, or in this case, the lack thereof.  For the president himself, his re-election mirrored the 2004 presidential campaign in which the incumbent triumphed in a close, hard-fought race.  But Michael Barone has noticed that the further one goes down the ticket, the more this election mirrors, oddly the enough, the 2010 election — in favor of the GOP, no less!  Basically, Obama excels at winning elections, but he does so without helping anybody else win theirs.

Meanwhile, this cannot be reiterated enough:  one thing the Republicans have going for them is a super-talented bench that is very, very deep.  One member of that bench is Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.  He has sounded a clarion call for the party to start expanding its base.  It can start, so he says, by “stop being the stupid party.”  This and other insights will make Jindal someone to observe in the coming months and years.

The Opinion Index, 11-12-12 November 12, 2012

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Ted Cruz, the junior senator-elect from the Great State of Texas: of Latino ancestry, he is a new, rising star in the Republican Party.

As conservatives are trying to sort through the wreckage (moderate though it was) of Tuesday’s election, certain recriminations are bound to be exchanged within Party and ideological ranks.  Credit Charles Krauthammer for being the coolest head in the room.  He offers simple, straightforward solutions to the problems that the GOP faces – the problems that were made abundantly clear thanks to the hindsight of the election and of exit polling.

Was this election an overall rejection of conservatism and a full-throated endorsement of European-style social democracy?  Hardly.  Krauthammer reminds us that the demographic issue of Hispanics supporting Obama can be solved by taking the forefront on immigration policy reform.  He also reminds us that the GOP becoming a more moderate party is not the answer, but just becoming more effective in advancing good arguments.  This is no time to lose our philosophical anchor, according to the esteemed psychiatrist.  He hit the nail on the head by pointing out what some people have tried to say and need to keep saying over and over again:

“In a world where European social democracy is imploding before our eyes, the party of smaller, more modernized government owns the ideological future.”

If we succeed in persuading more Hispanics to come to our side – not an insurmountable task – then we can win more elections and thus succeed in implementing smaller, more modernized government.

But how does one expand the demographic base?  Derek Hunter points out how we can bring in more Hispanics and other people, and does so from a different angle.  Yes, leading the clarion call for meaningful, simple immigration reform will surely help.  But Hunter reminds something I found to be somewhat reassuring.  Hispanics voting for Obama was not so much that demographic rejecting conservatism as it was a reflection on insufficient efforts to offer conservatism to them.  This naturally must change as we move, ahem, forward.

If that is not enough, Hunter also points out that ceding the culture to the left will doom conservatism as well.  He points out a few successful examples where small archipelagos of conservatism thrive in a vase ocean of liberalism (Adam Carolla being a good example), and how they succeed.  If conservatism is to succeed, we must emulate these models, and scale them into continents.
Speaking of the recent election, it was really a triumph of negative campaigning in key target states on the part of Obama’s team, according to Michael Barone.  Combine that with a diminished margin of victory in the popular vote compared to Obama’s numbers in 2008, and he hardly has a mandate to make government even more intrusive in our lives as we move forward.  Oddly enough, though, Barone hints that House Speaker John Boehner might have a slight mandate of his own.

Another thought:  Texas just elected a new junior senator in Ted Cruz.  He and Marco Rubio could effectively team up to lead the GOP in being proactive in immigration reform (a modified DREAM Act, perhaps?).  But even more importantly, Cruz’ election, one could make the case, could portend of positive things to come.  Hugh Hewitt points out that Senator-elect Cruz is, oddly and ironically enough, in the same position that Barack Obama was in 2004.  Both Cruz and Obama are/were rising stars in their respective parties in 2012 and 2004, respectively.  Both hail from states key to their respective parties.  Both were elected to Congress the same year that their parties lost an agonizingly close election.  What’s more, in both 2004 and 2012, a candidate from Massachusetts headed a losing presidential ticket. If that’s not enough, both men’s fathers were not born in America. Oh, and Cruz is said to be both a brilliant lawyer and orator.  Hmmm….

More Questions Raised than Answered November 7, 2012

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When media outlets called for  Ohio narrowly going for Obama within the 11:00 hour Tuesday night, it became quite clear that Obama was to win re-election.  But the electoral results overall seem, at this point to hardly settle anything.  On the contrary:  the results of this election raise more questions than those that are answered.

For one:  given that, on the surface of things, the status quo regarding who controls the presidency and the Congress has not changed (Dems keep the presidency and Senate, Republicans the House), how are major issues facing this country to be effectively resolved, moving, ahem, “Forward?”

Given than Barack Obama won re-election with fewer states than in 2008, how can he consider this re-election is any sort of mandate going, ahem, “Forward?”  (North Carolina and Indiana are back in the red column, while ballots in Virginia and Florida are still being counted).
Credit Mitt Romney for recognizing that the economy was the chief concern among most voters this election cycle.  Indeed, news reports indicated that the exit polling among swing voters revealed that very thing.  Yet those very swing voters that were exit polled still blamed George W. Bush for the economic malaise.  Question:  at what point will Obama own this malaise?

Will stagflation come?  Given the “status quo” result of this election, it seems to be almost a foregone conclusion.  Will Obama then own the ensuing recession-within-a-recession?

What is to be done about the “tax bomb” that is about to come our way?  Once that “bomb” explodes, who is likely to take the political hit?

While it might be a tad too early for a postmortem on the Romney campaign, could it have been that the “October surprise” that many on the right side of the ideological spectrum feared was in fact a freak act of mother nature?  Hurricane Sandy did, after all, allow for Obama to act a bit presidential for once.
In historical perspective, not since Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe has America elected presidents to two consecutive terms three times in a row.  I shall leave a competent Psephologist (paging Michael Barone!) to more effectively discern the deep meaning of this development.

These and other questions shall surely be answered as time unfolds.  In the meantime, pray for our great nation, for its duly elected leaders, and especially for the health of the justices on the Supreme Court.

A Time for Choosing November 3, 2012

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For weeks, I was trying to think up the almost-perfect editorial essay explaining why Obama must go and why Mitt Romney is the best guy we have to turn our government and our nation around.  I could have given a whole litany of problems America has experienced under Obama, and just as big a litany of positives in favor of Romney as the real man for the job (as opposed to the narcissistic man-child with which we have saddled ourselves for [almost] the last four years).  And I may yet write such a piece between now and Tuesday.  But as the old saying goes, in the brevity lies the spice, and there is hardly a ‘spicier’ editorial out there in Romney’s favor (and Obama’s consequent disfavor) than Charles Krauthammer’s latest piece.  What makes this particular column so “spicy” is that it gets to the very crux of the matter regarding this upcoming election.  Are we to remain freeborn citizens of unlimited individual potential, or are we to degenerate into serfs, able to do little more than serve an increasingly Leviathan state?  So read that article, then watch Ronald Reagan’s historic speech that he gave 48 years ago.  While you watch it, forget about Goldwater vs. Johnson and imagine Romney vs. Obama, and the speech will seem even more timely today than it was almost five decades ago.