Spotted lily

Spotted lily

Monday, March 28, 2016

An Immodest Proposal for the GOP

Spring has arrived (on the calendar, at least), and lots of attention and television time is being given to college basketball.  But I’d have to say that, this year, no spectacle deserves the term, “March Madness” as much as the presidential election season.  Sadly, no matter what developments take place in the race, the Republicans seem unable to restore sanity to their side of the contest.  The course the GOP has been on would have seemed impossible to imagine less than a year ago, but it now seems bound to lead to a very bad outcome for the party, conservatism, and the country.

Despite constantly demonstrating that he lacks the knowledge, preparation, temperament, character, or other qualifications we should expect from someone seeking to become president of the United States, Donald Trump has somehow managed to convince around 40 percent of those participating in Republican primaries and caucuses to loyally vote for him.  Even as the field of other candidates has narrowed, no one else has consistently been able to gain that much support, although Ted Cruz has provided Trump’s closest competition.

I believe that nominating Donald Trump would be a disaster for the Republican party in many ways.  What, if anything, would the party stand for going forward, and what would it mean to throw the party’s support to a man like him as leader?  Plus, with the high percentage of people reporting negative views of Trump, there’s a good chance that not only Trump, but also other Republican candidates, could lose in a convincing fashion with him at the top of the ticket this fall.  And, with one of our two major political parties suffering an enormous crisis, the Democratic Party might essentially then have free reign to pursue its most liberal ideas, which would hardly be good for America.  Therefore, preventing Trump from obtaining the Republican nomination is imperative, but it seems that even many people opposed to Trump, including elected officials, have not approached the matter with the necessary urgency.

With Marco Rubio suspending his campaign, Senator Cruz is closer to the one on one matchup with Trump that he has been wanting for a very long time.  However, with John Kasich remaining in the race, the non-Trump vote is still being divided, making Cruz’ quest to overtake the frontrunner even more difficult.  This circumstance seems unlikely to change at this point, as Governor Kasich is hoping he could receive the nomination at the convention if no candidate accumulates enough delegates to win outright before that.  While it would be nice if Kasich would get on board with the notion that stopping Trump is the most important thing in the race right now and act accordingly, I suppose we can’t blame a politician too much for holding on when he thinks he has a shot at the presidency.  Of course, if voters not supporting Trump agreed that rallying around Cruz is the best course of action, they wouldn’t have to keep voting for Kasich even if he is still officially running.

Obviously, the most desirable way to select a preferable nominee would be for a candidate other than Donald Trump to win at least 1237 delegates during the primary process and thus secure a victory.  While Senator Cruz could still achieve this goal if voters in the remaining states all suddenly came to their senses, that is probably too much to expect, and the chances of an outright pre-convention win get slimmer with every contest in which Trump gains delegates.  The somewhat more likely secondary option is for Trump’s opposition to keep him under 1237 delegates, as well, so that the nomination can be decided at the convention.  Then, we have to hope that the convention delegates will save the day by rejecting Trump and nominating a far better candidate.

While there are already plenty of rules in place to govern the primary, caucus, and convention processes at the state and local levels, I’d like to offer just a few possible tweaks that might be helpful in making sure that the best Republican nominee is eventually selected.  Trump has suggested that there will be problems (maybe even riots) if he does not get the nomination, and I think it’s likely that many of his supporters would not vote for someone else no matter how that other person was nominated.  But, there are also many voters who are extremely opposed to Trump and won’t vote for him if he is the nominee.  So, since Republicans are probably going to lose a sizable chunk of potential voters in any case, and since the party will be accused of “stealing” the nomination from Trump even if another candidate is selected by just following the rules, I propose that the RNC do something very bold as soon as possible to block Trump’s takeover of the party.
  • The current rules require a candidate to earn 1237 delegates (a majority) to win the nomination, even if that takes multiple ballots from delegates voting at the convention.  Yet, calling this just an arbitrary number, Trump has said that he should be named the winner if he simply has the largest total number of delegates after the primaries conclude.  Well, since he obviously has no problem with the idea of altering the rules and sees no particular significance in the target of 1237, maybe a change is in order.  After all, especially in a contentious year like this one, we want to make sure that the nominee is acceptable to most Republicans, so perhaps candidates should be required to reach 1650 delegates (two thirds) to win the nomination outright.  This should greatly increase the chances of a contested convention, where the delegates -- hopefully mostly people with good judgment and an interest in the well-being of the Republican party and its ideals -- would vote to chose the eventual nominee.
  • Actually, if those with power over the rules should be feeling especially fearless, they could take things a step further.  Trump has often shown that he believes in having one set of rules for himself and another for everyone else.  For example, he can hire foreign, or even illegal, workers and have clothing lines manufactured overseas while blasting others for such actions.  While Trump thinks he can say whatever he wants, no matter how outrageous, about other people, he believes anyone saying things he doesn’t like should be fined, sued, or fired.  So, Trump really should have no objection to the idea of a two-tiered delegate requirement for securing the nomination, where a candidate who meets certain qualifications of experience and party commitment by virtue of, say, having served in elected office as a Republican, would only need to meet the current 1237-delegate standard, while someone with no political experience and a history of party-switching would need to clear the higher bar of 1650 delegates.
  • Alternatively, in the spirit of bipartisanship, or perhaps to honor Donald Trump’s long track record of supporting and praising Democrats, the RNC could borrow an idea from the Democrats and add a prominent role for party superdelegates to the convention’s nominee-selection process.
  • Or, the rather appealing notion of a sort of political “morals clause” could be implemented.  There would be a set of basic standards of conduct that candidates would need to meet in order to be considered for the Republican nomination.  Anyone who violated these standards by, for example, encouraging violence at his events, threatening the party with the possibility of riots if it does not do what he wants, advocating the commission of war crimes as part of his foreign policy proposals, etc., would be disqualified.
These are just a few suggestions for the RNC personnel responsible for establishing the convention and nomination rules to consider.  I’m sure they could be quite creative and come up with more of their own.  Fair-minded people may object to the idea of changing the rules late in the game or stacking the deck against a certain candidate, but I wonder if Mr. Trump would have those same scruples if he officially had the power to make the rules more favorable to himself.

Still, while my proposals may be just wishful thinking or political fantasy, that only underscores the need for Republicans who are not enthralled by Donald Trump to seriously commit -- now!! -- to the existing possibilities for stopping him from getting the nomination. Senator Cruz still has a mathematical chance to win a majority of delegates, and every effort should be made to persuade voters in the remaining states to support his candidacy in the hope of making this happen or at least securing him enough delegates to keep Trump from reaching the required total.  In the latter case, Republicans need to be strong in defending the legitimacy of the rules for deciding a nomination at the convention when no candidate has acquired a majority.  We must be willing to counter the loud voices of Trump’s backers in the media and the public and explain the many, many reasons that Trump should not be the person designated as the standard-bearer for all Republicans, and the convention delegates should make the wise choice to select a better-qualified candidate whose views are much more in keeping with the party’s traditions.  Yes, almost anyone might fit that description, but the choice should be someone actually running for president this time, and, based on the state of the campaign to this point, the candidate most deserving of the nomination this year is Senator Ted Cruz.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A Fond Farewell to Senator Marco Rubio

As I feared, Tuesday was an especially disheartening night in the presidential primary saga.  While it’s good that John Kasich won in Ohio and Ted Cruz remained competitive in several states, Donald Trump still keeps winning primaries, and the chances of preventing him from becoming the Republican nominee seem to keep dwindling.  While there is plenty to say about the race as a whole, for now I want to focus on Marco Rubio, who suspended his campaign after Trump won the Florida primary.

Even though most recent polling had shown Trump to have a big lead in Florida, I was hoping that people would turn in a different direction when actually voting and that, somehow, the results would be different.  Alas, that did not happen.  In terms of the election, it’s not helpful that Trump was able to add Florida’s 99 delegates to his total.  On a more human level, though, I really wished for a better exit for Senator Rubio.  I can’t imagine how painful it must be to have the voters in your home state, which you have served in office for years, prefer someone with the “qualifications” and temperament of Donald Trump by a large margin.  My heart goes out to Senator Rubio, and I’m glad that his family was close by for support during what must have been a very tough time.

Despite the difficult circumstances, Rubio left the race with one last emotional speech.  In it, he gave thanks to his family, his supporters, and God.  He once again shared part of his immigrant family’s story of American success and eloquently reminded listeners ot the message of hope and optimism for our future around which he’d based his campaign.  Rubio encouraged Americans to embrace a positive approach to solving our problems rather than giving in to fear and anger, and he concluded by asking God to strengthen the nation and its people, the conservative movement, the Republican party, and the eventual nominee and to bless the United States.  The address was an example of the type of inspirational conservatism and patriotism that many consider to be particular strengths of Senator Rubio.  Supporters envisioned that these qualities could potentially be very effective at winning people over in a general election, but, obviously, much of the public would rather hear far less lofty talk right now.

Senator Ted Cruz said some very nice things about Senator Rubio in his post-election remarks on Tuesday, and I appreciated his comments.  While I find it sad for Marco Rubio’s campaign to end this way, the senator also has plenty of detractors who will be happy to see him go.  I’m sure there will be no shortage of articles and commentary discussing the real or perceived flaws of the candidate and his campaign, some more objective than others.  In fact, the not-so-subtly hostile columns already started weeks ago.  For my part, I’ll just say that, considering the extent to which liberal leanings and institutions pervade our society, having any significant number of conservatives in positions of influence should not be taken for granted.  So, while no political figure is perfect and we can certainly prefer different presidential candidates, I find it very disappointing that some conservatives would take pleasure in the misfortunes of one of their own. 

Since the events of this presidential race have been increasingly stressful, perhaps stepping aside could prove to be a bit of a relief, at least for the moment, for Senator Rubio, who seemed quite distressed this past weekend while discussing the growing tensions in the political discourse of our country and the outbreaks of violence that have taken place at recent Trump rallies.  He also seemed to be struggling to determine the right course of action going forward on matters such as the ubiquitous question from the media as to whether he would still support Donald Trump as the Republican nominee.  (What should take precedence -- party loyalty and an ill-conceived pledge of support or one’s own judgment of a troubling candidate?)  Most of the time, we see the public personas that candidates want to present, but sometimes there are other glimpses that may tell us more about a person running for office.  The interviews that Rubio did last weekend, for example, certainly seemed to show that he is genuinely concerned about some of the things happening in our political and broader culture, and that’s good to know.  I also think that the regret Senator Rubio has expressed over his decision to briefly answer Donald Trump’s insulting rhetoric with some insults of his own speaks well of him.  (For the record, I think much of the media discussion of the episode makes it seem worse than it was, but it always did seem rather out of place in Rubio’s campaign.)

One could always choose to be cynical and question how much of what politicians say is truly what they believe rather than an attempt to sway voters, but, whatever the motivation behind Marco Rubio’s statements the last few weeks, I’ve been glad to hear a lot of the things he’s said coming from one (or more, in some cases) of the presidential candidates.  Since I’ve been agitatedly writing about the situation for months, it’s no surprise that I agreed with his comments about the importance of preventing Donald Trump from hijacking the conservative movement and the Republican party.  More recently, I found his descriptions of the way Trump is trying to manipulate people’s frustration and anger to gain power for himself to sound quite accurate.  Also, while we’ve heard often that people respond to some of the controversial things Donald Trump says because he is supposedly standing up against the dreaded phenomenon of “political correctness,” it seems that those who say this have expanded the meaning of the phrase far too much.  I thought that Rubio put it very well the other day when he said that: “Politically correct is one thing.  It shouldn’t keep you from saying truth.  But another thing is to be rude, and obnoxious, and offensive.”

Throughout Marco Rubio’s campaign, he offered the voters policy proposals, a constructive vision for the country, experience in the work of government, and a positive outlook.  The fact that the public hasn’t seemed to value those things, from him or from many other serious candidates, during this presidential cycle is highly unfortunate, but I think that Rubio should still feel good about running for president as a candidate of substance in a race that somehow became a reality show.  I don’t know to what extent we may continue to hear from Senator Rubio in some capacity as the campaign goes on, or what career path he will choose starting next year.  I do believe that he has the ability to be an important voice for conservatism, and I hope that we haven’t heard the last of that voice in the public square.

Monday, March 14, 2016

So Much Evidence for Voters: Will They Keep Ignoring It?

As the primary season goes on, things seem to grow ever more discouraging, as thousands of voters in state after state cast their “Republican” presidential ballots for a party-switching, flip-flopping, self-centered billionaire with no serious qualifications for the office he seeks.  It seems that those supporting Donald Trump do not care what he says or does, what positions or policies he expresses or lacks, or what type of character he has.  For whatever reason, they have decided that he is their guy, and they will not be dissuaded.  We can desperately hope that this tendency will change and that there are enough other persuadable voters out there to turn the tide and allow another candidate to win the nomination, but I’m not at all confident.

For any members of the public who are actually paying attention and open to logic and reason in selecting a presidential candidate, the events and news of just the past week should have presented enough evidence to disqualify Donald Trump from consideration for the presidency.  After he won (sigh...) still more primaries on Tuesday he held a long press conference during which he once again boasted about himself and tried to give a falsely positive impression of the fate of several of his prior failed endeavors (steaks, a magazine, etc.)  A reporter has filed a criminal complaint alleging that, at the end of this event, she was handled roughly by Trump’s campaign manager, leaving her with bruises on her arm.  The response of the Trump campaign was to criticize the reporter and accuse her of making things up, but corroborating  evidence seems to support her story.

Thursday night’s debate was a much more subdued and serious affair than the last couple in the series, with the questions and answers focussing mainly on the policy ideas of the various candidates.  If Donald Trump were any other candidate, his performance should have been devastating to his electoral hopes, but I’m afraid that the bar is set so low for him that, because he even attempted to speak about issues, mainly refrained from insulting his opponents, and talked in a calmer tone than he often does, the debate may instead be seen as a demonstration that he can be “presidential” and therefore may actually help him with some viewers.  I can only hope that more people will have seen that his answers showed a lack of knowledge, principles, and honesty, and that they will reject him as a presidential candidate, because the debate made these deficiencies abundantly clear.

When Trump’s suggestions that he would impose or threaten to impose large tariffs on foreign goods was discussed, Ted Cruz explained that the result of such tariffs would be increases in prices for Americans, and Trump’s rather puzzling response was that then “we” would build factories in America to make the products instead.  (Who would be building them?  The government?)  Trump also said that he does not want to make changes to entitlement programs such as Social Security and that he would deal with the cost by cutting “waste, fraud, and abuse” and foreign aid.  When it was pointed out that those measures could only add up to a fraction of the amount needed to address the entitlement and debt crises, he made some vague comments about the country needing to make better deals.  This, of course, is Trump’s “solution” to a wide variety of issues, including foreign policy matters.  Regarding the Obama administration’s changes in our relationship with Cuba, Trump said that it was time for something different after so many years but that we should have gotten a good deal.  With Iran, too, he’d have negotiated a better deal.  Why does he say he’d be neutral between our allies in Israel and the Palestinians?  To try to facilitate a deal, if possible.  (And, no one should question his pro-Israel qualifications, because he has family members and friends who are Jewish.)  On issue after issue, Donald Trump showed no knowledge of or interest in the details, and rather than any lofty principle such as promotion of human rights, his policy suggestions, such as they are, are motivated by “the art of the deal.”

Donald Trump constantly changes his positions and either ignores or denies the things he’s said or done in the past.  In addition, he is the epitome of the “crony capitalism” and corruption that many of his own supporters say is such an egregious problem.  Just last week, for example, he said at the debate that different types of visa programs for foreign workers were needed, both because America needs to bring in highly skilled workers and because people in businesses like his can’t find American workers to fill their available positions.  This week, Trump’s newest take on the subject is that the visa programs are terrible and harmful to American workers and shouldn’t be available for people like him to use, but that, since they are available, of course he has to use them.  I really can’t understand why anyone takes this man seriously or why, when he reverses himself so many times, some people are willing to accept whichever version of his comments on an issue are closest to their own beliefs as the definitive one.  This example, though, is also another illustration of Donald Trump’s focus on himself.  Hiring illegal immigrants or foreign workers and having his clothing lines made overseas is fine for him, but if anyone else does these things, they’re ruining our country.  (So much so that Trump even made the supreme sacrifice of giving up Oreos because Nabisco moved some production to Mexico.)  Similarly, Trump says that politicians are bought and paid for by donors and claims that he knows this because of his own experiences donating to people in both parties to help himself and his business career.  On these issues of undue political influence and of importing foreign workers, Trump claimed on Thursday night that he was the one who could fix these systems because he knows them so well.  I suppose some might see this as making some sense, but I strongly disagree and think it really takes a lot of nerve for a candidate to try to turn participation in what he himself is deeming destructive behavior into a job qualification for the presidency.

Since Donald Trump has said that it is important to be flexible in order to get things done, he was asked in the debate about the issues to which he might apply such flexibility, and his answer was that it “depends what comes up.”  I don’t think this is particularly surprising, and, since he has changed his tune multiple times on most issues, not just over the years, but also during this campaign, I never would expect Trump to stick to any consistent policy position.  One wonders, though, why voters who do support him aren’t bothered by this.  Do they just ignore all of the evidence, including his own vows to be flexible, compromise, and make deals with people in Washington, to convince themselves that he’ll do the things they want him to do?  Are they as “flexible” on everything as he is?  Are they just inexplicably trusting that the great and powerful Trump’s eventual decisions will be the right ones, whatever they may be??

Trump clearly has a habit of saying whatever he thinks is necessary for advantage at a given moment, without regard for the truth or his prior statements.  At the debate, he was asked about past remarks he has made regarding the “strong” leadership of people like Vladimir Putin and those in the Chinese government who crushed the protest in Tiananmen Square, and he claimed that his use of the term “strong” didn’t mean that he was saying something good about these figures.  While I won’t suggest that Trump’s earlier comments actually expressed approval of all of the actions of Putin or the Chinese government, I think that everything we’ve seen and heard from him makes it clear that calling someone “strong” is indeed a positive appraisal from him.  And since, even in this context, Trump contrasted the strength of these foreign leaders with the lack of it he sees in our country, I don’t see how his answers on Thursday would do anything to diminish the concerns people have about his views of authoritarian figures in government.

Donald Trump was also asked about some violent incidents that have taken place at his campaign events recently and whether he thought he’d done anything to foster a climate that would make such things more likely.  Trump said that he hoped he hadn’t, but the moderator then read just a selection of quotes in which Trump had said he’d like to punch a protester in the face, suggested that the crowd should rough someone up and that he’d pay their legal fees if they did, and so on.  At that point, Trump briefly said something about some really “bad dudes” causing trouble at his rallies and then changed the subject to praising the police for providing security at his events and elsewhere -- an obvious attempt at distraction which still got some approval from the audience.   The comments that Trump has been making at his rallies may have been intended as just “tough guy” schtick, but he didn’t stop after physical altercations actually started taking place.  In any case, violence isn’t something to joke about, and voters shouldn’t reward a candidate who talks this way.

I must comment on the theme of Trump’s opening and closing statements.  He urged Republicans to embrace his candidacy and the dedicated support he has, claiming that he is bringing in many new voters to Republican primaries and caucuses.  Personally, I’m not  convinced of the wonderfulness of this alleged phenomenon, but that’s a topic for another time.  I did think it was amazingly bizarre, though, to hear Trump say that all of these newcomers love the Republican Party.  Huh?  One of the predominant characteristics of the movement to support Trump is distrust of and even hostility toward the Republican party, with many people even thinking that it would be a good thing if this campaign causes the destruction of the party as we’ve known it!  Anyone who really does love the party or the conservative movement should absolutely not  fall in line and meekly accept Trump as the Republican standard-bearer.

It seems that there is always more to say about the reasons Donald Trump should not be president, but I’ll move on for now to the other candidates for just a bit.  In Thursday’s debate, I’d say that all three of Trump’s opponents demonstrated that they are far more qualified than he is.  Senator Cruz had a good night, although I do think that he should not have just ignored Trump’s blunt assertions that Cruz had changed his position on ethanol and supported amnesty.  Cruz kept making the point that Trump does not offer real solutions for the problems the country faces, and in contrast, listed many of the things he would intend to do as president.   Cruz also took issue with Trump asking voters to pledge their support to him, saying that the candidates should instead be making commitments to support the people, which I thought was an effective point.  As for Marco Rubio, I thought that he did a great job in his hometown debate.  (Actually, I think that he did quite well in all of the debates, with just a few unfortunate minutes in New Hampshire and perhaps a bit too much cross-talk in Detroit when he was ill.)  Rubio pointed out problems with Trump’s approach to various matters, including Social Security and generalized statements about Islam, and offered his own plans and vision for America’s future.  Rubio also shared some personal stories and showed that he, unlike Trump, has detailed knowledge of issues, such as the history and status of the U.S. relationship with Cuba.  In response to a comment from Donald Trump, he also memorably stated that he is not interested in being “politically correct,” but he does want to be “correct.”  Senator Rubio has been in a very tough stretch lately (prompting me to share a defense of him last week,) so I was glad to see him shine under pressure on Thursday.

Commentary about these debates tends to be very contradictory and must be quite confusing for the candidates.  Many people said that the debate in Detroit was an embarrassment and lamented the negative tone of the campaign and the conflicts taking place among the candidates on stage, so, in Miami, there was an obvious effort to have more order and civility in the debate.  As a result, not only did many seem to find that things were rather boring, but some conservative commentators were frustrated that those pursuing Trump did not challenge him more often and directly.  So, one week the message is, “Oh, it’s so terrible that candidates are attacking each other during the debates!” and the next week it is, “Why didn’t those candidates attack the frontrunner?  They’re just letting him coast to victory!”  I’m all for the challengers taking on Trump, and I didn’t think the previous debates were as problematic as many others did, but what did anyone expect the candidates to do after receiving so much criticism last week?  Trump’s  opponents did challenge him about policy issues and statements that came up in the debate, which is probably all they really could do under the circumstances.  That really should be enough to show voters interested in substance that Trump should not be their choice, but I fear more forceful criticism of Trump and his record may have been necessary to even have a chance of overcoming the advantages he has in delegates, polling, and media coverage in this race.

Events that took place over the weekend, particularly the Chicago Trump rally canceled due to large numbers of protesters and the discussions this precipitated, may have a serious impact on the rest of the primary campaign.  I’d like to discuss some of these another time, but I hope that they don’t overcome thoughtful consideration of issues and qualifications (to whatever extent that is actually taking place) and tip things even more toward Donald Trump as we head into an extremely important election day on Tuesday.  What happens in Florida, Ohio, and the other states voting this week will play a huge part in determining the direction of the race going forward.  Starting Wednesday, I expect there may be plenty of reasons to reassess the situation, and I’ll share some more thoughts about different candidates and possible outcomes after that time.  For now, I can only hope and pray that the people in the upcoming primary states will suddenly realize that they should not vote for an unqualified, inconsistent, deceitful candidate whose primary concern is himself, and that they will instead help bring about the nomination of one of the superior remaining conservative candidates.  In all honesty, though, I’m afraid that it feels like we are just biding our time until the next round of depressing election results.  Please prove me wrong, America -- you still have the chance!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

In Defense of Marco Rubio

While the past week was a pretty good one for Ted Cruz and (unfortunately) Donald Trump, this was quite a rough stretch for Marco Rubio.  Among other difficulties, during this time, he was seen to have a less than successful Super Tuesday, was blamed for contributing to the deterioration in the level of discourse in the race, was thought not to have performed strongly enough in the latest debate, and was encouraged by his opponents to leave the race after receiving very disappointing vote totals in all four of the contests on Saturday.  Ouch!  While things obviously could have gone better for Rubio, I think that some of the media coverage and some of the negative conclusions being drawn about him and the way his campaign is going might not be fully straightforward or accurate. 

Although Senator Rubio is my preferred candidate, I may have been a little tough on him here over the last couple of weeks, as I shared some constructive criticism.  So, I think I owe it to him to offer a little defense and encouragement now, and I’d like to start by taking a look at some of the events and topics that were important over the last week.

Super Tuesday

The week before Super Tuesday, polls did not look good for Senator Rubio.  In the last few days ahead of those contests, Rubio launched his aggressive new campaign to “unmask” Trump as a “con man.”  On Tuesday, Rubio’s results in the elections were considerably better than would have been predicted from the polls.  He was able to win Minnesota, come very close in Virginia, and be more competitive in other places as well.  Even though, going into Tuesday, Rubio had not been saying that he would win a bunch of states, but only that he expected to do well and pick up a sizable number of delegates, which he did, the focus of media coverage was on his lack of victories, especially because the contest he did win was decided later in the evening.  It’s understandable for the media to focus on the winners of the elections, but it seems that doing so didn’t necessarily reflect the progress that Rubio had made in gaining momentum and securing delegates, especially in a collection of states thought to be generally more favorable to other candidates.

Decorum (or lack thereof) in the Campaign

For a few days following the Texas debate, in addition to directing serious criticisms at Donald Trump, Senator Rubio also tossed a few comic insults into his remarks in answer to the way Trump tends to treat those with whom he interacts, and these drew significant media coverage.  Since then, it seems that most interviewers have wanted to ask Rubio why he chose to engage with Trump in insults and immature comments and whether he regrets doing so.  Some in the general and the conservative media have attributed responsibility to him along with Trump for the level of unseemliness to which this presidential campaign has sunk.  Now, I said last week that I thought Rubio needed to be careful about the personal insults to Trump and that he really shouldn’t have said a few of the things he did, but I think it is incredibly unfair to lump him in with Trump, as some seem to be doing, in terms of crude discourse and insults, etc.  The handful of jokes Rubio made over a few days hardly compare to Trump’s frequent attacks against opponents and many others throughout his entire campaign.  Also, some people seem to categorize every criticism of Trump as a personal attack, and I don’t think that is correct either.  For example, Rubio’s contention that Trump is attempting to con people into voting for him by presenting himself as something he is not is actually a real attempt to explain to voters why they should not trust Donald Trump or reward him with their votes.  In the past, conservatives have had an unfortunate tendency to quickly abandon like-minded politicians over the slightest perceived misstep, and I’m afraid there may be a bit of that happening in this situation, as well.

Detroit Debate 

At Thursday’s debate, Rubio had the misfortune of a hoarse voice (and an illness), which limited his ability to participate and be heard in exchanges with Donald Trump.  To me, while he was more serious and low key than on some other occasions, he still did a good job overall in the debate, challenging Trump once again about Trump University, a lack of interest in substantive policy, and so on, while also giving his own views about the dangers facing the world, the importance of the second amendment, etc.  Plus, his yoga jokes in response to a Trump/Cruz “conversation” were genuinely funny.  Some commenters thought that his performance wasn’t strong enough, though, and that perception can’t be helpful to him.

Related to the previous topic, it rather seems that Senator Rubio can’t win with his observers and critics.  In the past, when he has largely refrained from confronting other candidates on stage, this was noted as a weakness and deficiency in trying to win the primary, as he didn’t have a “killer instinct.”  When he recently took on Trump more forcefully and with a few humorous jabs, he was accused of helping bring the campaign’s tone down to an unacceptable level.  Now, when I would say he returned to a more restrained manner during the Detroit debate, he was described as flat or lackluster by some.  What is a candidate to do?  I guess this once again goes to show it would be best just to be yourself because you really can’t please all of the others offering their often fickle or contradictory commentary on your choices.  Of course, I may have been watching a completely different debate than others saw, because I was thoroughly confused when I read a piece that said Rubio had “climbed down into the mud pit to fight with Trump.”  I didn’t see that in this debate at all.  In fact, I thought Rubio seemed to be making a specific effort to keep things substantive most of the night.  If a few instances of trying to talk over Trump (a not uncommon occurrence in any of the debates), discussing things unfavorable to Trump (such as Trump University, making clothes outside the US, hiring foreign workers, etc.), and calling him “Big Don” in response to yet another “Little Marco” wisecrack constitute a dirty fight, I think we either need a new rule book or we may as well just tell the other candidates they need to just keep quiet and salute Donald Trump’s unimpeded march to the nomination.

Super Saturday (When did they start calling it that, by the way?)

Ted Cruz and Donald Trump each won two of the elections held on Saturday, and Donald Trump, for some reason, felt the need to call for Marco Rubio to exit the race.  I don’t know why Trump cares who else is still running, since, as he constantly reminds us, he is winning.  While Saturday’s states weren’t really expected to be strong ones for Rubio, it was rather surprising and disappointing to see that he didn’t even come close in any of them, receiving vote totals well below twenty percent and even finishing in fourth place in Maine.  Some commentary, including at National Review Online, included speculation about what it might be that had happened to hurt him so much at the voting booth:  the tone he’d taken toward Trump, his last debate performance, Trump belittling him, or something else.  There is no way to know what might influence voters, especially with the choices many have been making these days, but it seems to me that some of the suggested factors shouldn’t have led lots of voters to abandon Marco Rubio.  As I said earlier, I don’t think Rubio actually had a bad debate, although Ted Cruz probably had a better one, but some poor reviews can shape the public’s perceptions.  As for the “tone” issue, would the problem be a delayed negative reaction to the heckling from the previous week or a feeling that the rough treatment of Trump should have continued?  After a little more thought, I suppose that it is possible the (exaggerated, in my view) criticism and questions being directed in the media at Rubio for his brief foray into insulting rhetoric could have negatively impacted some people’s opinions of him, even if they didn’t have a problem with his actions before, but I hope this is not true for many and is not a long-lasting effect.  (On a side-note, I will admit that I sometimes wonder if the mainstream media may be more anxious to promote negative storylines about Rubio than objectivity and perspective might warrant.  He may not be a favorite to win the Republican nomination right now, but Democrats and their allies may well see him as a tough opponent to face in a general election.  As a result, I think they’d be all too happy if a few extra stories about his trouble with Chris Christie in the New Hampshire debate or people’s concerns about the tenor of campaign rhetoric could help to make sure that never happens.)

I’m still not sure how much weight to give the theories above, though.  After all, the same day these contests took place, Senator Rubio received a very warm and enthusiastic reception during his appearance at the CPAC convention.  Would that crowd still have embraced him that way if something had made many people in different parts of the country suddenly decide he was unworthy of their votes?  I’m certainly no expert political analyst, but I’ve wondered if some other forces might be at work.  Last week saw much discussion about the urgent need to stop Donald Trump from getting the nomination.  As many have said, by this point in most primary seasons, voters would be flocking to the frontrunner, but this isn’t happening this year because so many are opposed to Donald Trump.  Isn’t it possible that some voters have decided it’s time to rally around the acceptable, conservative, sane candidate with the most delegates at this point, and therefore voted for Ted Cruz?  This obviously would be terrible news for Rubio’s campaign prospects, but it would not reflect any glaring shortcoming on his part or indicate that voters are rejecting him personally or on merit.  Similarly, couldn’t a good number of voters also have decided to follow the suggestion offered by Mitt Romney and others to vote for whichever non-Trump candidate had the best chance to win a particular state, in these cases leading some who might otherwise have chosen Rubio to back Cruz instead?  I did read an article that touched on this latter possibility, but some of what it said concerned me quite a bit, as it mentioned some voters in the hugely important winner-take all state of Florida who, after seeing Rubio’s low vote totals this weekend, were thinking his chances of winning were not good and were considering shifting their votes to Cruz.  Since Cruz has been well behind Rubio in polling in Florida, decisions such as this from a group of voters would likely just make it far easier for Donald Trump to beat both Senators and scoop up Florida’s 99 delegates, which would certainly not be good for the anti-Trump effort.  I would say that, if any significant number of people are going to engage in strategic state-by-state voting to secure wins by non-Trump candidates, which might best be used in the winner-take-all states, those who can disseminate information definitely need to make sure that voters have relevant news about candidates most likely to succeed in each state.  Voters also need to be aware that such a strategy means that candidates who do not win a particular state will wind up losing by larger margins than they otherwise would.  So, observers of a day’s primary results won’t be able to make the types of judgments that might usually be formed about candidates gaining or losing momentum or their prospects in future contests with much accuracy.  With all of these things considered, I hope that voters inclined to support Marco Rubio will not give up on him yet, especially in his home state of Florida, where I’m sure a win would be particularly meaningful to him while also keeping a large number of delegates away from Donald Trump. 

Some Bright Spots

Even during a tough week, there were still some bright spots for Senator Rubio.  On Sunday, he won the Puerto Rico primary, securing all of the available delegates.  Also, as mentioned earlier, Rubio’s presentation at CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference) on Saturday was very well received, and deservedly so.  Watching the video of his speech reminded me once again of the reasons I liked him in the first place, and I would encourage those of you who haven’t already seen it to watch it here.

The current political climate and the unusual way the primary race has developed this year make it a steep uphill climb for Marco Rubio as he continues his quest for the nomination.  This may turn out to be someone else’s year, and, in that case, if he should be asked to serve the country in another capacity, such as Vice President or a Cabinet position, I hope that he will give it serious consideration, as I think he could be a very valuable member of an administration (not headed by Donald Trump, of course!)  Whatever happens, I would encourage the American public to look past the day to day sensational details of the campaign to see Marco Rubio’s good qualities, serious proposals, and optimistic outlook.  At his best, Senator Rubio has the ability to share inspiring messages about conservatism and America in a very personable and positive way, and that’s one of the reasons his supporters believe he would be such a good choice to be the Republican nominee for President of the United States.

Note:  This is the second of two posts about the campaign this week.  The first may be found here.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Approaching the Precipice

Well, it’s been another all too interesting week in the bizarre world of Republican presidential primary politics.  Much has happened, with the Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses, yet another debate, and still more elections on Saturday, and I’ve had mixed reactions to many of these things.  Overall, I think that we have moved ever closer to crowning Donald J. Trump as king (oh, sorry, I meant nominee) of the Republican party, something which should fill reasonable people with dread.  I do see a couple of glimmers of hope that might indicate there is a chance, however slim, of a different result, but that may be wishful thinking.  Beyond that, though, I’ve found some of the week’s events and the reactions to them terribly discouraging in thinking about our society as a whole.

I may return to this point, but I think it’s important to look at some of these things in the proper perspective.  For example, looked at on their own, the Super Tuesday results were pretty bad for those of us opposed to Trump, since he won 7 of 11 states.  However, not that long ago, there was speculation that he might actually sweep all of the contests in dominating fashion.  Instead, Ted Cruz won his home state of Texas by a comfortable margin and also gained victories in Oklahoma and Alaska.  Marco Rubio was able to win in Minnesota, and the results in some other states were quite close.  (Sigh... If only Trump could have been defeated in those, as well...)  As a result, while Trump obviously got good press for so many wins, his challengers picked up a lot of delegates, too, and he is not in as commanding a position in the race as he might have been.  So, there is some reason to think the recently increased efforts to combat Trump may have made a difference and to hope it is still possible for someone else to wind up winning the nomination, but it is still a long shot.

During the week, there was increasing talk about possible scenarios that could defeat Donald Trump and about the growing number of Republicans saying they could never support him, even if he is the party’s nominee.  It’s terrible that we are even facing this prospect, and it would be nice if more people had fought to prevent Trump’s success long ago, but I’m still glad that many people are not just accepting and rallying around the frontrunner.  On Thursday, Mitt Romney gave a speech listing many of the reasons Donald Trump should not be president and expressing hope that Republicans will yet choose another nominee.  I need no convincing on these matters, of course, but I think Romney made many good points.  Unfortunately, I don’t know how many people would be persuaded by his remarks, since the people disposed to support Trump are also likely to dismiss Romney as just part of the “establishment” and, as Trump does, as a “loser.”  As a side note, I’d just like to say that I think Romney has been treated rather unfairly by many on the right, and it’s my opinion that one of the reasons he lost to Obama was the failure of Republicans and conservatives to have his back at different points during the campaign.  It’s interesting, as well, that many of those who found Romney to be an unsuitable Republican nominee because of an insufficiently conservative past record, changes of position, etc. or who didn’t like him because he was an unrelatable rich businessman are now perfectly happy to support Donald Trump, even though all of these factors apply to Trump to a much greater degree.  Of course, Romney, who was seen as too boring and polite, is also a good person, while Trump, the supposedly entertaining “fighter,” is not, and I think it’s a shame that so many people seem to prefer the current candidate to the former.

I gather that many people found Thursday night’s debate to be a particular lowlight for the entire Republican party, but I just saw it as yet another occasion on which Donald Trump showed once again why he is so obviously unfit to be president.  In addition to bringing his vulgarity to a new low, he also put on a dizzying display of inconsistency, egotism, shallowness, and dishonesty.  Regarding temporary visas for high-skilled foreign workers, he declared that he was changing his position from the opposition stated on his campaign website because “we need highly skilled people in this country,” a view he’d also expressed in one of the early debates last year.  Later that night, his campaign put out another statement retracting the earlier position reversal and taking a tough line about visas and their abuse.  (It must be difficult for his staff and advisors to keep track of Mr. Trump’s ever-shifting positions on various issues and to try to clean up after he makes so many problematic statements, but I can’t say that I have any sympathy for those choosing to work for his campaign.)  When asked about an off the record interview he did with the New York Times editorial board, rumored to contain material that might call his tough campaign immigration pronouncements into question, he said that he wouldn’t ask the paper to release the tape of the session, but he did express, more than once, the need for flexibility on different positions, including his supposedly signature issue of immigration, in order to get things done.  Trump’s answers continued to be nearly free of policy and knowledge.  When he was asked to discuss important things like foreign policy or the Supreme Court, his main response was to call his opponents names like “Little Marco” or “Lying Ted.”  The only things he seemed to want to discuss in detail were his numbers in various polls -- but, naturally, not the ones showing him losing to Hillary Clinton in the general election.  In addition to trying to explain away contradictory statements made during the campaign and shown in video clips by the moderators, Trump continued to lie outright about multiple topics from the poor Better Business Bureau rating received by Trump University to denying he’d said positive things about Vladimir Putin.  His arrogance knows no bounds, as he claimed that he deserved sole credit for increasing participation in Republican primaries and declared that the military would not refuse to follow orders he would give, even those related to his stated (illegal) intention to kill family members of suspected terrorists.  (Once again, the day after the debate, we heard a different tune in a release from Trump’s campaign, saying that he wouldn’t issue orders that would violate international law, etc., but, since he’s been sticking to the opposite position for months, I see no reason to accept a reversal now as resolving the issue and making everything OK.)  In summary, Trump presented anyone paying the least bit of attention overwhelming evidence that should disqualify him from consideration for their vote, but the really sad thing is the (probably true) assumption many of us have that, for a very large group of people who support him, none of this will make any difference whatsoever, and he will remain the overwhelming frontrunner in the race.  What does that say about American society today?  Nothing good.

I wouldn’t criticize the overall debate performances of the other candidates, and I appreciated that Senators Cruz and Rubio once again challenged Trump and avoided attacking each other.  It was definitely not pleasing to hear all of Trump’s opponents say that, in the end, they would support him if he does become the nominee, but it wasn’t unexpected.  After all, as Cruz said, they all pledged months ago to support the eventual nominee.  I thought this was unwise at the time, and I think there has to be some point at which such a promise is not the highest consideration, but I won’t hold it against Trump’s challengers now.

Four more states held their caucuses or primaries on Saturday, and the results held both good and bad news.  I consider it a positive any time Donald Trump does not win a state, so I was glad to see that Ted Cruz won in Kansas and Maine.  On the negative side, though, Trump still did win in Louisiana and Kentucky, giving him more things to brag about.  Also, while it’s encouraging that Trump won his states by a margin of only a few points, it is also troubling that he did receive over 40 percent of the vote.  (I guess anti-Trumpers may need to adjust the claim that 65% or more of Republican voters don’t want him as the nominee...)  His level of support seems to actually be increasing, at least in some places, and he is still winning states even as he continues to say and do outrageous things that would not have been accepted from any other candidates in the past, and despite accelerated attempts to make the case against him to the voters.  Again, I’m afraid this does not speak well of the public right now.

Each upcoming primary will play an important part in either bringing us ever closer to the dangerous brink of a Donald Trump nomination or keeping the possibility of a far better outcome alive.  There are a few more contests this week, before the stakes get even higher on March 15 with large states each awarding all of their delegates to the winners.  As long as there is still a chance that Trump can be stopped, I’ll hold out hope that his opponents will work as hard as they can to defeat him and that voters will realize he is not the person who should be president.  The situation does look bad now, but if things had gone more as predicted this past week, it could have been even worse.  I don’t think anyone knows what will happen next, but it does seem clear that those of us distressed by the Trump phenomenon won’t be able to rest easy any time soon.

Note:  I’m splitting my comments this week into two separate, but somewhat related, posts.  The second post is now  available here.