Spotted lily

Spotted lily

Monday, May 16, 2016

Cruz, Ryan, and the Stampede to Trump

With the way things had been developing in the Republican presidential contest in recent weeks, lndiana’s primary on May 3 seemed like it might be the last real chance for those hoping to prevent a Trump nomination to turn things around.  Before the vote, most polls suggested that Trump was in the lead, possibly by a rather wide margin, over Senator Cruz, who really needed to do well to revive his campaign’s hopes, so the situation did not look promising.  By that Tuesday afternoon, I realized that Indiana felt very much like a repeat of Florida to me.  Back then, Marco Rubio, my candidate at the time, desperately needed to win in Florida to maintain any chance in the race, but polling, overall, indicated that Trump would almost certainly prevail.  As a supporter, while I definitely hoped that the polls had been wrong or that something would change voters’ minds at the last minute, I still expected the worst.  Of course, Trump did win easily in Florida, and Senator Rubio left the race that night.  And in Indiana, alas, there was no big, last-minute upset victory for Ted Cruz.  In fact, there were even more similarities to the Florida situation than I would have thought, because Ted Cruz unexpectedly suspended his campaign when the Indiana results came in.  With John Kasich doing the same the next day, Donald Trump was the only candidate left standing and the “presumptive nominee.”  Even though it most likely wouldn’t have affected the eventual outcome, in my view, it would have been preferable if someone had stayed in the race at least until Trump actually earned 1237 delegates.  You never know if something drastic might happen to alter the situation (such as Trump testing out his hypothesis that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue without losing supporters,) but, in any case, people in the remaining states who do not support Trump would have at least had an active candidate for whom they could vote.  I can understand, though, that it would be tough to keep campaigning, dealing with negative media stories, and facing attacks from Trump and his supporters if you don’t really see any chance of success to make it seem worthwhile.  Ted Cruz was a very worthy candidate and went through some tough times during this race, and I wish him well as he continues to serve in the Senate.

It’s unfortunate, but the voters of America keep finding ways to disappoint me this year.  A few weeks ago, after Ted Cruz decisively won the Wisconsin primary, I mentioned that I was concerned about polls showing people really didn’t want to have a contested convention and that a majority of respondents thought the nominee should be the candidate with the most delegates, even if it was not a majority.  Well, it would seem that the views reflected in these polls were held by quite a few people and did indeed harm the anti-Trump movement.  While one would have hoped that Trump’s continued obnoxious behavior and outrageous statements would have motivated more people to seek to stop him and to choose another candidate, it seems that the opposite happened instead.  Voters apparently heard Trump’s whining and complaining about the rules and delegate selection processes and sided with him -- deciding that somehow Ted Cruz’ knowledge of the rules and success at getting friendly delegates elected was somehow a bad thing or even cheating.  As for Trump’s insistence that he was essentially entitled to the nomination, even if he didn’t get the required delegate majority, because he would have the highest number, and his related assertions that Cruz was not a viable candidate once he no longer had a shot at reaching 1237 delegates?  Well, despite the long-standing rules, voters seem to have agreed with Trump’s claims and/or not wanted to deal with the potential trouble he and his spokespeople “suggested” might happen at the convention and elsewhere if Trump were denied the nomination.  They voted for Trump in increasing numbers in the last several states, not only in the Northeastern contests which he was always expected to win, but also in the heartland state of Indiana, which finally snuffed out any hope of a better GOP nominee.  (The “momentum” generated by Trump’s big win in New York -- his liberal home state -- and the media’s heavy promotion of that notion probably contributed quite a bit to this trend.)  Sigh...

Then, of course, as soon as Donald Trump became the presumed nominee, more and more Republicans, including former critics, started announcing their support for Trump, with varying levels of enthusiasm or reluctance.  I will have more to say about this unfortunate development at another time, but for now, I’d like to focus on one prominent party leader who did not  immediately join the stampede to back Trump -- Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan.

(On a side note, I found it interesting that Paul Ryan expressed some surprise that we had arrived at the “presumptive nominee” point of the race so quickly.  He had thought that the competition would have lasted at least through the June primaries, if not all the way to the convention.  Until quite recently, many thought that would be the case, but, alas, some voters were extremely eager to nominate Trump.)

Especially considering Paul Ryan’s previous attempts to avoid weighing in much on the primary race and his prominent roles as House Speaker and chairman of the upcoming convention, I was a little surprised when I first learned that Ryan had taken the stance that he was not currently on board with announcing support for Donald Trump.  I was glad to hear it, though, because it was important for someone to make the point that Trump has not been representing conservative or Republican ideas and principles and that the party’s nominee should be expected to do so.  Ryan did say, though, that he wants to support the nominee but isn’t there yet, indicating that he most likely will eventually back Trump.  Still, the predictable response from Trump and some of his fans was to overreact and attack Ryan, with Sarah Palin even suggesting that this would end Ryan’s career as she vowed to help his challenger win this year’s primary race for his House seat.  Many people seem to believe that Paul Ryan (and presumably every Republican) owes blind, unquestioning, immediate allegiance to the new supposed “leader” or standard-bearer -- isn’t that really the sort of principle-ignoring action the so-called “anti-establishment” folks were supposed to be angry about??  I would think that the criticism directed at Ryan, along with some comments from Trump and his camp asserting that he doesn’t need (or even want) all Republicans to unify behind him in order to win, might actually make it more difficult for Ryan to shift his position on Trump while giving a rational explanation.  Trump so far doesn’t seem interested in running, as Ryan hoped, a “campaign Republicans can be proud of” -- unless shifting more positions to the left, belittling anyone who doesn’t bow down to him, and suggesting that the entire nation should follow his financial example by failing to honor our debts makes GOP hearts swell with pride these days.  Paul Ryan is in a tough situation, but I applaud him for at least temporarily stepping back from the wave of misguided “party loyalty” sweeping so many Republicans into the Trump camp.  Not that he asked, of course, but it would be fine with this constituent if Ryan did not “come around” to expressing support for Trump.  I’m sure that Ryan has plenty of Congressional business and elections to work on and discuss should he choose to avoid further comment about the presidential contest.

Of course, there’s not much chance of that happening, and efforts to try to bridge the gap between Trump and Ryan have already begun.  From what I’ve read and heard about the meeting the two men had this past week, I’m a little concerned about the way this discussion process may play out and the effects that it might have.  One account said that Ryan had explained basic principles of conservatism and their importance and that Trump was receptive to listening.  Once again, I was struck by the absurdity of the predicament we are now in.  Donald Trump is set to be the presidential nominee of the Republican party and has been running for the office for almost a year.  Yet, he still  needs elementary lessons in conservative beliefs like limited government, separation of powers, the right to life, etc.?  Heaven help us all...

That notion is bad enough, but other matters related to the conversation seem to come from an alternate reality.  The joint statement issued by Trump and Ryan afterward is one example.  It sounded more Trumpy than Ryan-like, containing generalities that minimized divisions within the party rather than presenting any evidence of resolutions regarding matters of substance.  When the statement and RNC chairman Reince Priebus referred to the “few differences” between Trump and Ryan, I’d expect that many of us simply didn’t believe the phrase was accurate.  But, if people did believe it were true, I think it would more likely make them think less of Ryan than reassure them about Trump!  To hear the Speaker himself talking about how positive it is that Trump has brought in so many new voters to the party, claiming that Trump had a “good personality” in their meeting, and saying that he believes he and Trump share some core conservative principles (concerning the Constitution, executive overreach, etc.) around which the party can unify this fall was rather painful.  The “new voters” issue is a common Trump talking point and may not necessarily be a good thing if it means people who’ve tended to vote for Democrats are opting this time for someone who’s running as a Republican because his views are really more those of a liberal Democrat.  And, while Trump may have managed to be nice to Ryan for a short time (when he wanted something from him), we’ve seen plenty of evidence over the years to show us the truly unpleasant nature of Trump’s insulting, bullying, and self-centered personality.  As for the matters of principle listed, the statements that Trump has made during the campaign about things he would intend to do have made it clear that he is not particularly concerned about the Constitution and the limits it places on executive powers.  He might complain about some things Obama has done, but he seems to envision an extremely powerful role for himself should he become President.  Ryan has stated that the party needs to have real, not fake, unity, so I’m concerned that he seems to be saying things about Trump that are not true, no matter how much Ryan would like them to be.  I certainly don’t think we need the ultimate result of Ryan’s substance-related reservations about Trump to be a final stamp of approval “verifying” to the public that Trump adheres to conservative ideals that he in truth does not.  If Paul Ryan wants to give his support to Trump, he can and should find reasons for doing so that do not mislead the voters and further increase the likelihood of Trump’s nomination distorting or destroying the conservative movement and its reputation, results I am confident the Speaker wishes to avoid.

Now, Paul Ryan did say that this meeting was only the first step in a process to work towards true party unity, and he doesn’t seem at this point to be in any rush to say that all of his concerns have been alleviated so that he can fully support Trump.  I appreciate that, as it helps to -- for now -- maintain at least a little distance between Trump and the Republican party as a whole, so that members, particularly conservatives, can still reasonably point out that they do not agree with all of Trump’s comments and positions.  Again, I don’t think it would be a bad thing if Speaker Ryan’s unification process remained ongoing all the way through the election.  However, I suppose that, all too soon, most remaining resistance among Republican officials to the not-so-charming reality show host will fade away, and the Trumpian takeover of the party will be complete.  At least until then, I’d like to offer my support and encouragement to Speaker Ryan for his efforts to keep reminding everyone about the things for which the Republican party and conservatism have traditionally stood -- ideas and beliefs that are far more important than big rallies, good poll numbers, or high TV ratings.

Monday, May 2, 2016

It's Apparently Easy to Upset People When You're a U.S. Senator

Exhibit A:  Marco Rubio

Since leaving the presidential race, Marco Rubio has basically been out of the national limelight.  He’s been busy working on a number of issues in the Senate and hasn’t said too much about the ongoing primary process.  Recently, though, Rubio has done a few interviews in which he was asked some questions about the presidential contest, and some of his answers have now attracted some less than positive attention from conservatives who (wisely, in my opinion) are opposed to Donald Trump.  Last weekend, when I listened to two interviews Senator Rubio did with radio hosts in Florida, I will admit that a couple of things set off minor alarms in my mind.  Overall, though, I think that Rubio’s comments may be being taken somewhat out of context, so, for what it’s worth, I’d like to offer my interpretation of the matter.

In the last couple of days, I have seen people taking particular exception to a quote from the conversation Rubio had on April 20 with Jimmy Cefalo of WIOD.  In discussing the possibility of a contested convention, Rubio said that people suggesting that the nomination should not be kept from a candidate who had won lots of votes because this would be ignoring the will of the voters and might make many people upset would be making a valid argument, and that delegates might decide for those reasons to vote for the frontrunner.  Concerned conservatives have pointed out that the type of mindset Rubio described is the sort of thing those still hoping Trump can be stopped are trying to fight against and keep from becoming widely accepted, especially with Trump and many in the media already basically declaring victory.

I can understand the concern, especially when that remark is distributed on its own.  I would note, though, that Rubio did not say that he thought the aforementioned argument should prevail, and he did say that it would not be at all illegitimate for delegates to choose someone other than the candidate with the pre-convention lead.  My take on the whole exchange is that the senator was actually arguing against all of the claims that Trump and others have been making of a rigged and unfair nomination process.  Rubio pointed out that the rules have been around for a long time and were known to everyone, and that they include delegates becoming able to vote more and more freely for an eventual nominee if no candidate has a majority on the first ballots.  To me, he was calling the argument that the person with the most support should get the nomination “valid” (containing actual circumstances that can reasonably be considered) in contrast to the invalid  and false argument that the whole system is rigged and that cheating has been taking place to steal the nomination from Trump.

These impressions were reinforced by another conversation that Rubio had the next day with Drew Steele (beginning at the 10:18 mark), in which he made similar points but also specifically mentioned that other arguments for delegates to consider would involve selecting a nominee who can win and who represents foundational Republican values.  He again stated that political parties are private organizations that can use any method they wish to choose their nominees and said that it would be up to the delegates to make the final decision if no one has won a delegate majority going into the convention.  Now, as a longtime dedicated anti-Trumper, I would always prefer anyone discussing a contested convention to say that any such event should absolutely jump at the first opportunity to reject the unqualified billionaire, but serious public officials aren’t particularly likely to stray beyond just listing the possible outcomes that might take place this summer.  In any case, I don’t think that it would be accurate or fair to assume Rubio is in the “Trump should be the nominee even without a majority” camp based just on these recent interviews.  While he didn’t tell us which arguments he personally would find most persuasive or what choice he’d hope for the delegates to make, I would mention that the senator has a tendency to refer to counter-arguments even when he is advocating for a strongly held position.  When discussing abortion-related issues, for example, he usually begins by mentioning that he sees competing “rights” (of women to control their bodies and those of the unborn to live) involved in the matter, before moving on to say that he comes down on the side of life and making whatever specific point addresses the matter at hand.  I don’t know that this is always the best approach to making one’s case, especially as it could open the door to misinterpretation through selective quotation or other instances where others hear or read only part of what is said.  However, I do think this willingness to acknowledge multiple views of a situation may be one of the reasons so many people have seen Rubio as a conservative who has the potential to have broader appeal than others to the general public, so it probably doesn’t make sense to hold it against him now.

I have definitely been discouraged by the increasing signs that we’ve seen lately that more and more Republican officials are getting used to and accepting the idea that Donald Trump is likely to be the party’s presidential nominee.  In light of that, I did take note of a couple of other things Marco Rubio said in his interviews, wondering if they were further evidence of this trend.  At one point, he mentioned wrapping up his campaign when he thought continuing would be “divisive” for the party.  This is probably a minor thing, but (claimed) concern about dividing the party is often used these days by those urging dissenters to rally around the frontrunner, so the word did get my attention.  Most notable was Rubio’s response to the media’s favorite question regarding whether he would support Trump should he get the nomination.  He quickly and calmly stated that he’s always said he’d support the Republican nominee and added a list of reasons he believes Hillary Clinton would be a disaster as president.  At a press conference in Florida on Friday (video is available on the Senator’s official Facebook page), he said that he wouldn’t be endorsing anyone in the primaries and again easily affirmed that he would support the Republican nominee, including in a contest between Trump and Clinton.  These recent responses offer quite a contrast with the tone of the answers Senator Rubio gave to the nominee-supporting question in the last couple of weeks before he suspended his campaign.  Back then, while he never actually said he wouldn’t support Trump as nominee, he seemed quite distressed by the prospect and said it was getting more and more difficult.  At that time, he was also making the case that Trump was a “con man” attempting to gain Republican votes under false pretenses who posed a huge threat to the Party and the conservative movement -- themes Trump opponents like me were happy to (finally) hear from a candidate, but which seem to have largely faded into the background as the race has proceeded.

So... what has changed for Senator Rubio in the last few weeks?  Has a little distance from the center of the contest given him the ability to look at things with less emotional intensity, and was that necessary to keep him from being driven crazy like some of us?  Did some powerful Trump-neutral or Trump-friendly atmosphere permeate his thinking once he started spending more time on Capitol Hill?  Were the arguments he made against Trump in March things he truly believed were important or just a campaign tactic, and, either way, did Trump’s continuing popularity make him (and others) conclude that they shouldn’t be pursued because they weren’t effective in influencing voters?  Rubio has been trying to keep as many of his earned delegates as possible bound to him for the convention’s first ballot (which could help to keep the frontrunner under the majority level and make future ballots possible), and it has been reported that endorsing another candidate might cause him to lose control of those delegates.  We can’t know how much this is affecting Rubio’s current actions and statements.  Would he endorse someone otherwise?  Does he think that, to be on the safe side, he can’t be against anyone either and should try to be as neutral as possible in his public comments?  I certainly don’t know the answers to any of these questions, but I don’t think viewing every remark (or lack thereof) in a negative light is warranted at this point.  After all, just a couple of weeks ago, Rubio told Mark Levin that he hoped a conservative would become the nominee and that, of those still actively running, only Ted Cruz fit that description, and he also said that he was pleased Donald Trump had not won in Wisconsin.  By the way, I’ve also seen headlines suggesting that Rubio is “more impressed” with Trump now based on a comment the senator made at Friday’s press conference that Trump’s performance had improved lately.  I thought that Rubio was merely referring to the larger percentages of the vote Trump received in the last few primaries rather than to an increase in Trump’s presidential skills, but I suppose there is room for interpretation.  As someone who came to support Rubio’s campaign, I may be biased, but I’d still like to give him the benefit of the doubt and hope that he’s resisting the pull of the Trump bandwagon as much as possible.

That being said, when one of the reporters asked Rubio on Friday if there was a chance he’d appear on a ticket, he said, “I don’t think so.”  When he’s been asked this question before, to my knowledge he’s always definitively said that he wasn’t interested in being/ would not be Vice President, so I was a little surprised by this new response, especially since Ted Cruz has now already announced a potential running mate.  Was Rubio just giving a more low-key denial where “don’t think so” really translates to “definitely not,” or was he leaving an allowance for some remote possibility of deadlocked convention delegates at some point asking him to serve at the top of the ticket?  If he is giving even the slightest consideration to throwing in his lot with the uninformed New York loudmouth, I hope he dismisses the idea as soon as possible, because I can’t see any way that could possibly work out well for him.  As for Republican politicians, etc. in general “supporting” Trump should he, horrifyingly, become the nominee, I can understand it if this will just mean that they decide Trump is preferable to Hillary Clinton and possibly share that belief (of which I’m not personally convinced) with the public.  If, however, party support involves actually praising Trump and his “policies,” such as they are, especially if House and Senate candidates also will be expected to support them, how can the Trumpian takeover of the Republican party and the destruction of the things it has stood for lead to any kind of positive future for traditional Republicans?

Exhibit B:  Ted Cruz

Meanwhile, turning back to the primary race itself, Senator Ted Cruz is in an extremely tough battle to try to attain the Republican nomination.  Throughout his campaign, we’ve kept  hearing various people say, either jokingly or in all seriousness, that “no one” likes Cruz or especially that he can’t get along with his colleagues in the Senate.  Not surprisingly, then, there are also plenty of stories speculating that he is having or will have trouble winning over more voters because he isn’t likable, which I would imagine only serves to give this impression to more of the public before they even give Cruz much of a chance.  Really, when we are talking about choosing someone to be the leader of our country and play an extremely important role in the world, should we be giving a whole lot of weight in our decision to who would win a popularity contest at the office or who has the most TV-friendly personality?  Besides that, I think that the “unlikable” label is overdone and rather unfair in Ted Cruz’ case, and I’d like to say just a few things to voters and to Republican officials, past and present.

The latest egregious example of unhelpful comments from the GOP ranks came a few days ago when former Speaker of the House John Boehner referred to Ted Cruz (not for the first time) as “Lucifer in the flesh” and basically said that he was the worst person with whom Boehner had ever worked.  Donald Trump, on the other hand, was a “texting buddy,” and Boehner would vote for him, but not Cruz, in a general election.  I’ve thought in the past that Boehner has sometimes been treated unfairly by conservative commentators and activists, but his comments about Cruz are terrible and, to me, they should serve to make Boehner, not Cruz, look bad.  And, in case anyone is actually entertaining the notion that Boehner’s description of Cruz could be correct, I’m sure that Lucifer would have had plenty of power to arrange many more primary wins for himself to easily secure the nomination.

More generally speaking, there may well have been reasons for some conflicts or hard feelings between Senator Cruz and other lawmakers, mainly based on disagreements about tactics and rhetoric to employ in legislative fights and battles with the White House, and perhaps Cruz would have been wise to have avoided upsetting his colleagues to the degree he apparently did.  Any less-than perfect personal relationships, however, pale in importance in comparison with having a nominee or even a president who shares basic goals with most Republicans and is qualified for the office.  It would be one thing for politicians to side with Cruz’ opponent on congeniality grounds if the frontrunner he was desperately trying to stop were another solid, prepared Republican.  But it is highly irresponsible and petty for them to withhold support for Cruz or even give support to Donald Trump, who has demonstrated over and over again that he is not at all fit for the presidency.  I find it especially bizarre that officeholders will maintain their grudges against Cruz while seemingly ignoring the fact that Trump has spent plenty of time in his campaign branding everyone in charge of the government (that includes you, Congress) as incompetent, stupid, and/or corrupt.  To do the right thing, any serious Republican official should put aside any lack of warm and fuzzy feelings they may have toward Cruz and support him in the remaining primaries, because success for him there is the only hope left of avoiding a situation where the nominees of both major parties are essentially liberal Democrats.

As for the public, I would encourage each voter not to take all of the comments about Cruz’ lack of friends and likability at face value and to instead at least watch and listen to him a few times to form an independent opinion.  First off, rest assured that the Senator does indeed have friends -- you won’t have to search too much to find testimonials from his colleague, Senator Mike Lee, or from Jay Nordlinger, who writes at National Review and other places.  Cruz’ style of presenting speeches or debate answers might not be the most appealing to everyone, and he will not have been everyone’s first choice out of this year’s large field of candidates.  I certainly don’t think, though, that there is anything about him that should prompt reasonable voters to disregard his superior qualifications as a presidential candidate and reject him on personality grounds, especially when his chief opponent is a rude, obnoxious, offensive bully.  I think that voters who do take the time to watch Ted Cruz in some different settings, such as the extended televised “town halls” in which he has participated (in, for example, Wisconsin or New York) or even appearances on late-night talk shows, will have a more favorable view of Cruz than they would get from brief news clips and stories.  Besides being an intelligent and accomplished lawyer and politician, Cruz is also a movie buff who has a sense of humor and is obviously wrapped around the little fingers of his two young daughters, and I think that Americans can feel just fine about voting to send a man like him to the White House.