Spotted lily

Spotted lily

Monday, August 31, 2015

At Large Campaign Advice

I know that no one is likely to offer me a career as a political consultant anytime soon, nor would I actually want that stressful job.  Yet, as I’ve been following the Republican presidential primary race, I’ve found myself wishing that I could try to persuade the field as a whole to adopt a couple of general approaches to the campaign process.  Of course, there’s no reason they should give any weight to my opinions, but I’ll share them anyway.

First, as I’m sure many others have done, I’d stress that it is important for the candidates to be themselves.  They should not try to adopt a radically new and different persona in an attempt to get attention, to better fit some mold that they think (or are told, by the media or others) is what the voters currently want, or, especially, to seem more like another candidate who might be ahead of them in the polls.  To the candidates:  Of course you can talk more about issues that you didn’t really discuss before, and, by all means present your ideas more clearly, confidently, and passionately to the national audience.  But, please don’t just talk more loudly or act aggressively toward people to appear stronger or tougher or more “interesting.”  Trying to play what you think may be the role of “Public’s Desired Candidate #1” is probably not going to work for you.  For one thing, if the way you try to do and say things is not natural for you, you may well come across as fake to the public, and that will not help you to win support.  Also, although it may be tempting to try to adopt some qualities associated with those leading in the race, I’m not sure that there is actually that much to be gained, as voters who are looking for someone with those characteristics already have a candidate.  Your goal might best be to persuade these and other voters that you, with your particular record, ideas, and personality are really their best option instead.  To that end, you should strive to be the best version of yourself at the top of your game.  After all, you’ve all been quite successful in your careers up to this point presenting yourselves one way -- is a presidential run really the time to change that?

Next, at the risk of sounding like a wimpy peacenik, I’d strongly encourage those seeking the Republican nomination to avoid, to whatever extent they can, directing negativity towards their fellow Republican candidates.  People often bring up Ronald Reagan’s reference to the “commandment” that “thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican,” and I believe it would be best if the candidates could follow this rule whenever possible.**  I worry that, otherwise, the long primary process, with so many people vying for the prized nomination, could turn into a hostile battle that would have very serious undesirable consequences.  From a practical standpoint, it can’t help the cause of electing the eventual nominee if the Democrats and their allies are able to add a lot of critical quotes about him or her from other prominent Republicans to the many attacks they’ll come up with on their own.  Also, if things get particularly heated amongst the primary candidates, it might be more difficult to persuade voters whose candidates leave the race to support someone who remains, either in the later primaries or in the general election.

Now, I may just not be particular enough, but I believe that the Republicans have a very strong field of candidates right now, and I think that there is a lot to like and admire about many of them.  I would really hate to see them all knocked down into an image-tarnished scrap heap of failed, unsatisfactory candidates by a bunch of inter-party criticism dwelling on every little perceived flaw or awkward comment or slight deviation in a particular area from what most people would consider the conservative position.  The way I see it, Republican vs. Republican negativity can hurt both the target, who is being shown in a poor light, and the originator, who may come across as mean-spirited or desperate and may turn off potential voters.  Republicans and conservatism as a whole may also be damaged, as it may be tough to avoid having a negative image in the eyes of members of the public if the majority of the things they hear about your party or movement from both opponents and members is critical.

Certain types of negative comments, such as those that criticize Republican candidates from the left, can be especially problematic.  In the 2012 campaign, there were occasions when some of Mitt Romney’s rivals for the nomination leveled remarks toward him that basically seemed to echo the liberal view that being wealthy and successful in business are themselves bad things.  I found this troubling and disappointing, especially when it came from a candidate who has always been a favorite of mine. Whether these candidates actually felt this anti-”rich guy” sentiment themselves or were bringing it up because they believed a lot of voters held that view, for me it was a particular low-light of the campaign for conservative candidates to contribute to the spread of the liberal/socialist notion that those with wealth and success are to be disliked because they must have attained those things by taking from or harming others.

So, to wrap up my short stint as a pretend campaign advisor, here are a few more suggestions I’d address to the candidates:

  • The best approach to making your case to the public should be pretty basic.  Tell people the things about your record, experience, and views that you think would make you a good president, and present your ideas, plans, and proposals about various issues (such as health care, immigration, Social Security, national defense, terrorism, etc.)

  • You can certainly contrast your plans with those of others and explain why you think yours are better, but, hopefully, that can be done without throwing out accusations against your opponents.  For example: “I believe that my highway improvement plan is preferable because it should cost taxpayers 5% less than Candidate X’s proposal,” rather than, “Candidate X says that he wants to reduce government spending, but the highway plan he proposes would be more costly to taxpayers, which shows that he’s really a big-spending liberal!”

  • You don’t have to start all of your sentences at a multi-candidate gathering with references such as, “my esteemed colleague, the Senator from...,” but being civil or even cordial amongst yourselves would be nice.  After all, you’re all (hopefully) on the same larger team in the long run and in many cases will need to work with each other in the future.  I’m sure that you all face more than enough opposition and animosity from those on the other side of the aisle, so wouldn’t it be nice to maintain friendly relationships with those who should be your allies?

  • You can go ahead and practice your criticism skills on political opponents like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and on dangerous outsiders like ISIS and Iran.  There should be no shortage of material with those targets!

In a perfect world, those who pay attention to debates, campaign speeches and advertising, and other events would get the information that they need about the various candidates to enable them to make good decisions about whom they’d like to support without being exposed to so many attacks on everyone that they just conclude none of the candidates are worthy of their votes.

For the record, I’m not suggesting that each primary debate should end with a group sing-along of “Kumbaya.”  As long as everyone aims for a tone suited more for a collegial discussion than a professional wrestling match, things should be OK.  Of course, bursting into communal song might be good for TV ratings and some interesting news coverage, so maybe someone could come up with a party fight song for these occasions...

**   I realize that there are times that remaining positive will not be possible, and, unfortunately, some current circumstances may already warrant exceptions.  As this post is rather lengthy as it stands, more on this topic will have to follow later.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Poll Respondents Say the Darndest Things

The news these days is full of polling data related to the 2016 presidential campaign. Because it is so early in the process, with well over a year before the election, I don’t know how much any of these surveys really mean at this point. Still, it would seem that the current polls should at least tell us something about what people are thinking now and how they approach determining which candidates they might support. I don’t generally follow polls too closely, but I am rather unsettled by what some of the things I have seen might indicate.

In general, I have some concerns about the overall poll numbers for many of the Republican presidential candidates. As I discussed in my previous post, the continuing lead of Donald Trump is particularly vexing, but I’m also disappointed that other contenders have lost ground and that some fairly well known and solid candidates have almost no support in the polls.

For one thing, it seems that, for now at least, a considerable portion of the public is passing over the more traditional candidates in the race and is favoring those without government experience instead. I realize that there is much dissatisfaction with things happening (or not happening) in Washington and with politicians more generally, and that is understandable. However, I’d be hesitant to give someone one of the most important and powerful jobs in the world as his or her first role in public office. This is not to say that some of these “outsider” candidates don’t have good qualities. Dr. Ben Carson seems very smart and accomplished, and Carly Fiorina was very well-prepared and commanding in the recent debate. It’s unfortunate that the voters of California did not choose to send her to the U.S. Senate instead of re-electing Barbara Boxer, and either of these Republican presidential hopefuls would be vastly preferable to another liberal Democrat.

Still, I confess to personally thinking of current or former officeholders as more qualified and “legitimate” presidential candidates. I also generally share the inclination towards seeing those who have been governors as perhaps the first group to consider when seeking a nominee, because, having been the political executive in charge of running a sizable government, they seem to have the most relevant experience. However, I do not discount those who have served as Senators or members of the House of Representatives, as they have already been involved in the activities of the federal government and have worked with the national issues the future president will need to address. Since the Republican field has no shortage of candidates from either of these categories, I would find it reassuring to see more support for experienced politicians and less for nontraditional candidates in the polls, but obviously many people do not feel the same way.

Turning to a particular poll, about a week ago I saw an article at the Fox News website regarding some of the polling done after the debate they hosted. From what I read, it seemed that the candidates who were graded highest on specific questions concerning being qualified, being likable, and/or having performed well in the debate were not the ones ranking highest in the polls showing the preferred/supported candidates of the respondents. I can understand that a viewer/listener might think one candidate had done the best job in the debate but still prefer someone else overall (based on previous record, positions on the issues, or many other factors.) I would probably be in that camp myself, but the numbers and the article do make me wonder about the factors people are considering in making their choices about favored candidates. It seems rather disheartening if actually being perceived to have positive characteristics such as qualification, likability, and good debating/speaking skills is still not enough to elevate good candidates in the polls. They instead show no improved standing or even drop further behind, while the public rewards being less qualified and failing to give good answers in the debate, and I hope that this trend will change as the nomination selection process continues.

Finally, closer to home, some additional unpleasant news came from a recent Wisconsin poll. In part, it showed that Scott Walker trailed the oh-so-trustworthy Hillary Clinton in a hypothetical presidential election match-up here in his own home state. I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised, since I’ve thought for some time that my state’s voters must have pretty strange views or a sort of “split personality” when it comes to politics. They are sometimes willing to give Republicans and conservative policies a chance at the state level in the legislature and the governor’s office, but when it comes to presidential elections,they insist on choosing liberal Democrats. The elections in 2000 and 2004 were close here, but that seems to have been an anomaly. I found it especially odd in 2012 that, shortly after convincingly re-electing the conservative Governor Walker in the recall election, Wisconsin’s voters opted for the left-wing Barack Obama by a comfortable margin, even with all of his many flaws and weaknesses and even though our own Congressman Paul Ryan was on the Republican ticket as Mitt Romney’s running mate. Sigh...

All of these opinion polls serve to show me once again that I really can’t understand the thinking of many of my fellow Americans. Perhaps it might be best to just ignore the polls from now on -- or at least for a while, but that will be difficult to do with all that is going on. Maybe there will be survey results that make more sense to me somewhere down the road, but I’m not “counting” on it.

Monday, August 17, 2015

A Conservative Identity Crisis

Politics and news can be fascinating and consequential stuff, but I’m afraid that, for my own peace of mind, I tend to step back somewhat from following it when liberal Democratic administrations are in power doing all sorts of disturbing things. Of course, even during these times, I’m still aware of some things that are happening, and, inevitably, the approach of each new presidential campaign draws me back in to the realm of public policy and political candidates. Unfortunately, it seems like just about every time I do turn my attention to government and politics again, I find more and more things to perplex and disturb me. Whether considering the decisions of the American people in the last few years to elect and then re-elect a president who is (to me) such a clearly terrible choice for the position, the latest outrageous domestic or foreign policy initiatives of that president’s administration, court rulings that don’t seem to have any connection to interpreting actual laws or the Constitution, or the unwillingness of Congress to stand up for itself or the things its members claim to believe or to even try to stop the president from carrying out his “transformation of America,” the news of the day can tempt a person to throw up her hands in despair, head off to hide somewhere, and watch only safe old TV show reruns for the rest of her life instead.

These external issues are troublesome enough, but some of the coverage surrounding the current Republican presidential campaign landscape has just about pushed me over the edge of an internal political identity crisis that has been developing for a while now. To step back for a moment, the time I most intently followed current events roughly covered the span between the 2000 and 2008 elections. It doesn’t seem all that long ago, but I guess 15 years have flown by pretty quickly and are plenty of time for some serious changes to take place. Still, even though things didn’t all shift at once, I almost feel like I’d imagine a disoriented Rip van Winkle must have upon finding himself in a world that had changed substantially while he slept.

Back in 2008, I recall Mitt Romney being seen by conservatives as a preferable option to try to stop the moderate John McCain from getting the Republican nomination. By the run-up to the 2012 election, it seemed he’d turned into an awful “establishment” candidate with a seemingly endless list of negatives in the eyes of many on the right. When I watched the debates after hearing months of heavy criticism of Governor Romney, I found myself feeling almost guilty as I thought, “Heaven help me, I still like the guy.” And, while there may have been another candidate with a more consistently conservative record who won my vote in the primary, I had no qualms about supporting Romney as the nominee.

A couple of years later, attention turned (even earlier than usual, it seemed) to possible candidates for the 2016 presidential election, and Jeb Bush’s name kept coming up. In the old days, I remember him as a successful conservative governor, but he had now apparently become an enemy of those hoping to stop the leftward trajectory of our country. Although I’ve disagreed with Governor Bush’s views on immigration and been disappointed by some irksome comments he’s made on various occasions, I just don’t see him that way, and the prospect of him being the next nominee doesn’t upset me.

There also seems to be an increasingly common tendency to turn back and dwell on the perceived shortcomings of President George W. Bush. Of course he made some choices I’d rather he hadn’t, but, after spending so much time and mental energy supporting him during his time in office, I have no enthusiasm for retroactively abandoning him now, especially considering the actions of his successor in the White House.

So, although I’ve always considered myself to be a pretty conservative person, with all of this mounting evidence of a conflict between my perceptions and those of the conservative media members I was hearing, I had to reluctantly consider the possibility that I might actually be more like a member of that unfortunate species -- the mushy “moderate” -- than I’d like to think. Perhaps that’s the case (although I still don’t think most of my Democratic acquaintances would see it that way,) but I’m still not completely ready to concede the point.

In any case, as the presidential campaign season started to gear up, it was clear that many of those on the right felt that recent candidates have been too moderate, and they wanted future nominees to be more solidly conservative. Those points are reasonable enough, and I can certainly get behind the quest for a conservative nominee, so maybe I wouldn’t have to turn in my imaginary membership card in the “vast right-wing conspiracy” just yet. Alas, the next unexpected development that came along completely defied logic and has left me baffled ever since.

When I heard that Donald Trump was again talking about running for president, I just rolled my eyes. After all, hadn’t we already figured out the last time he toyed with the idea that, in addition to being basically a celebrity candidate without the kind of experience needed for the job, he has a past filled with support for liberal positions and politicians? I couldn’t imagine why “that guy” would think he’d have any chance in the ever-growing field of Republican candidates. After his campaign announcement, I was stunned to find that he was being taken seriously by people in conservative media and supported by so many potential voters in the polls, and I remain flabbergasted by his continuing “frontrunner” status.

Once again, it distresses me to be so at odds with things I hear on the radio or read in columns from people I’ve liked, respected, and admired for a long time, but I find myself completely incapable of understanding how people who passionately proclaim the importance of electing a conservative to the presidency can find Donald Trump to be an acceptable choice for the nomination or how it could be true that Trump’s lead is due to conservative voters asserting themselves in the polls. Thinking about these notions drives me to mutter in disbelief to myself or talk back to my computer screen because they just don’t compute. My poor, feeble brain reacts like a computer given incompatible data, and it doesn’t know what to do when people who insist that they want a conservative candidate support and defend someone who doesn’t even remotely fit that category.

So, “RINOs” and “crony capitalism” are big problems and a true conservative is needed, but a man who didn’t even adopt the Republican name until a few years ago, basically claims to have made a regular practice of buying favors from politicians on both sides of the aisle, and has taken liberal positions on just about everything in the past (and even into the present) is a suitable standard-bearer for the cause? How is that possible? Because at the moment he says he wants to build a wall along the southern border and is not afraid to speak his mind even if it might upset some people? Keeping in mind that many of the things he chooses to say are indeed disagreeable, wrong, and/or nonsensical, is this really supposed to be enough?? Maybe the problem lies with me and my powers of comprehension, but I just can’t see it. Something is very wrong with that scenario -- as it would be if a person turned down a couple of pancakes with a little syrup because she only wanted to have a healthy, low-calorie breakfast,then ignored the fruit plate, a bowl of Cheerios, and an egg white omelet before polishing off an entire box of jelly donuts instead!

This whole turn of events seems even more bizarre considering the size of the Republican field this time around. I’m aware that many people feel strongly that Jeb Bush is unacceptable, but he’s certainly not the only alternative to Donald Trump. At this point, I obviously can’t speculate with any confidence about who might qualify as a “real” conservative, but surely, with the vast array of declared candidates, those seeking one should be able to find someone to support to whom the term “conservative” might reasonably be applied without twisting its meaning almost beyond recognition. No one is perfect, but I would think that at least a Ted Cruz or Rick Santorum might fit the bill, if not (my Governor) Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal or one of the others.

If only those supporting the current frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination would pick one of these solid options instead, or choose several of them to watch as the contest unfolds, maybe I wouldn’t have to worry about feeling like the figure in Munch’s famous artwork, “The Scream,” every time I encounter political coverage. As it stands now, though, perhaps I’d best start looking for a nice, comfortable couch somewhere. It would at least give me a place to rest from my news-induced headaches while hiding from reality and focusing on old sitcom reruns. Better yet, if the couch happened to come with its own psychologist, maybe I could also get some help for my ideological identity crisis. We’ve all heard of fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, and national security conservatives, but I’m afraid that I now also belong to another category: the Confused Conservative. Judging by the current state of the primary landscape, it seems I’m far from the only one. I wonder if anybody offers a really good rate for mass group therapy...