Tag Archives: Presidential Campaigns

You’ve got to pick a side

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Note:  Since I originally posted, this commentary has been published on The Daily Caller.  See http://dailycaller.com/2016/05/30/youve-got-to-pick-a-side/

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As I’ve told my son’s little league squad, you win as a team and you lose as a team.  If your pitcher is missing the strike zone, you don’t take your bat and ball and go home.  That will not get you to the championship.

And yet that is what a lot of conservatives are trying to do these days.

Donald Trump is now the Republican pitcher.  He is the GOP standard bearer.  Whether or not, in Paul Ryan’s words, he lives up to our standards.

It is true that Trump breaks with conservative orthodoxy on a number of issues. He embraces protectionism on trade. He refuses to address entitlement reform.  He does not say mean things about Planned Parenthood.

He also rejects traditional GOP foreign policy tenets even as he advocates for renewed strength abroad.  He disavows the war in Iraq and other neoconservative projects to implant Western democracy in places that have never known it.  He questions the relevance and viability of NATO.  He second-guesses strategic aid to countries that refuse to foot the bill.

Maybe some of Trump’s loose policy pronouncements are ill informed or shortsighted.  If so, and if he makes it to the White House, maybe he will change course.  It would not be the first time he has abandoned positions.  In fact, it is Trump’s lack of adherence to principle (not to mention a mixed history of supporting Democrats and their agenda) that has driven so many of the GOP establishment and pundit class to pledge allegiance to #NeverTrump.

Unwavering conservative principle girded the Ted Cruz campaign.  Consider where that got him.

Some of the fiercest rivals and critics of Donald Trump have been quickest to reverse course.  Last year they took turns deriding Trump as a “narcissist egomaniac” (Bobby Jindal), “like being shot” (Lindsay Graham), and as a “barking carnival act” and “cancer” (Rick Perry).  Now each has climbed aboard the Trump train.

For this, some members of the conservative punditocracy label them pathetic traitors.

What is their alternative plan?  William Kristol pines on about drafting a true conservative third party candidate.  Peter Wehner blithely promises to vote for someone else or abstain.

Mitt Romney and the Bush brothers literally commit to stay home, refusing to pay tribute to the presumptive nominee by attending the nominating convention in Cleveland.

This crowd needs to wise up.  Isn’t anything other than an embrace of Trump de facto a vote for Clinton?

Exactly.  And some implacable critics like Robert Kagan are openly planning to join the other team.

Seriously?  How can anyone who opposes the heavy-handed, growth-depressing, world-destabilizing policies of the Obama era do anything other than work to block a third Obama term with Clinton at the helm?

Many Republicans have personal animus for Clinton.  They detest the way she holds herself above the law and makes blatantly false statements to avoid accountability.  They resent the way her ruthless quest for power and wealth has trampled on helpless civilians, from the women her husband abused to the families of the Benghazi terror victims. They cringe at the sound of her voice.

But Clinton could be the most honest, gracious, and likeable public figure, and she would still usher in another span of liberal governance that undermines liberty, squelches growth, and damages American global interests.

At the end of the day, I think that conservative hold-outs simply cannot countenance the idea of a crass person like Donald Trump headlining the party of the conservatives.  He does not fit their ideals. He does not fit the model. They do not want to settle until they meet Mr. Right.

George Will counsels conservatives to fight Trump in the general election.  Then, after a single Clinton term, the voters will see the error of their ways and come around to a principled conservative that meets Will’s standards.

How bad do things need to get before Will and others recognize that change is needed now?

Trump wasn’t my first choice either. I got over it.  The benefits of a Trump presidency far outweigh the potential flaws.  On the critical issues of Supreme Court nominations, tax and regulatory policy, healthcare reform, and homeland security, Trump is squarely better for conservatives than Clinton could ever be.

Points where I strongly disagree with Trump – trade policy and entitlement reform come to mind – are tough pills to swallow.  But again, I can’t see a Clinton White House doing any better.

Electing Trump will undoubtedly ruffle feathers in the office of diplomatic protocol.  We will see behavior and comments that we would never expect from a commander-in-chief.

Well okay.  But like I said, Trump’s on the mound now.  And I want to go to the World Series.

 

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Why I’m rooting for Carly

Carly-Fiorina-Republican-Debate-GOP In the rough and tumble Republican nomination battle, a key dynamic has emerged.  The primary electorate, particularly the activist base, is hungry for a political outsider, someone it hopes can shake up the status quo in Washington.  It attaches momentum to unconventional candidates who can make their cases most effectively under the glare of the media spotlight.  This dynamic will persist until the last man (or woman) is standing.

And for this reason, Carly Fiorina is the Great GOP Hope.

Like current front-runners Donald Trump and Ben Carson, Fiorina has never been elected to office or otherwise served in a government job.  Similarly, she has found a way to stir the base with crisp, memorable sound-bites on the stump.  Unlike the other two outsider candidates, however, Fiorina has demonstrated policy depth and has confidently articulated her positions with intelligence and clarity.  She works hard and has thought seriously about the issues.  Her preparation shows.

Fiorina’s performance during and after the first two candidate debates has catapulted her from relative obscurity to the top tier of contenders.  The RealClearPolitics average of national polls over the last two weeks now has her ranked third, just after Trump and Carson.

Begrudging commentators have dismissed Fiorina’s rise as another infatuation with the latest shiny object, predicting her lack of political experience and campaign resources will cause her to collapse like 2012 flavors-of-the-month (such as Herman Cain).

Here’s why Fiorina is different.

First of all, she packs a rhetorical punch.  She doesn’t just parrot the requisite talking points for a receptive audience.  She brings the house down with razor-sharp attack lines which address the point at hand even as they paint a broader vision for conservative governance.

For example, here’s how Fiorina tackled the thorny issue of Iran during the CNN debate:

You haven’t heard a plan about Iran from any politician up here.  Here is my plan. On day one I will make two phone calls, the first to my good friend to Bibi Netanyahu to reassure him that we will stand with the state of Israel. The second to the Supreme Leader to tell him that unless and until he opens every military and every nuclear facility to real anytime, anywhere inspections by our people, not his, we the United States of America will make it as difficult as possible to move money around the global financial system.  We can do that.  We don’t need anyone’s cooperation to do it. And every ally and adversary we have in the world will know that the United States of America is back in the leadership business, which is how we must stand with allies.

And then on the funding of Planned Parenthood:

I dare, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain. This is about the character of our nation, and if we will not stand up and force President Obama to veto this bill, shame on us.

Even liberals — especially liberal women, who feel compelled to confront her policy positions, are at great pains to resist the appeal of her powerful stage presence.

Secondly, Fiorina promotes conservative principles with more than empty platitudes.  Whether it’s reasserting American strength abroad, defending the sanctity of life, or embracing a pro-growth economic policy, she makes her point and backs it up with specific ideas.  A critic might not agree with her conclusions but he would be hard pressed to refute her arguments on the spot, while millions of viewers were tuning in.

At the same time, Fiorina doesn’t throw out base-pleasing proclamations that would paint her into a corner.  Ted Cruz might also be a good debater, but unlike Fiorina, he has alienated the majority of the electorate, burning bridges with personal attacks and futile parliamentary maneuvers, which do little other than burnish his image with the hard-right.

Lastly, Fiorina readily dodges the bean-balls that typically trip up GOP candidates.  As an accomplished female executive, wife, stepmother, and breast cancer survivor, she gives no quarter the tiresome “war on women” diatribes coming from the politically correct feminist left.  As a wealthy person, she makes no apologies for her success, which she earned through individual labor and merit, something Democratic front-runner Hilary Clinton can scarcely claim.

As could be expected, the projectiles of critics have flown with Fiorina’s ascent in the polls.  Her controversial tenure as the CEO of Hewlett-Packard featured deal-making and boardroom drama, but little definitive success.  She outsourced jobs and cut thousands of employees from the payroll.  And when the board finally took her job away, she exited with a rich pay package.  She hasn’t been hired by another big company since.

Fiorina has her counterpoints to all of these knocks, and she seems well-prepared to push back against the kind of attacks which doomed her 2010 campaign for Senate in California.  Given the well-calibrated but fearless response to shots fired by Donald Trump, it’s easy to imagine her dispensing with Democratic critiques of her business record and pivoting quickly to the substance of the 2016 campaign.

Compared to Clinton, Fiorina is an icon of personal accountability and achievement.  She may have ruffled feathers climbing the corporate ladder, but she did it on her own.  Compared to most of her Republican rivals (excepting possibly Cruz and Marco Rubio), she speaks more clearly, more confidently, and more consistently on the stump and on the screen.  Compared to the other front-runners, she is the most presidential.

Money can’t buy these qualities and it won’t.  Just look at the middling Jeb Bush campaign.  But money will help a candidate compete if she otherwise has the right stuff.  That’s why I’m hoping big dollars start to flow her way.

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Hyphenation Nation

In 2000 I was enamored with the “insurgent” candidacy of John McCain for President.  Although his image took a beating in later years, back then his maverick reputation had earned him accolades in the press and in popular culture.  So I went online and made a donation.  The campaign also sold me what it must have thought would secure my commitment:  a bumper sticker reading “Jewish Americans for McCain” and featuring a martial five-point star in tribute to Sen. McCain’s distinguished military service.

Upon closer inspection, the sticker felt a bit creepy.  While a Star of David would have made more sense, it wasn’t the star that seemed misguided.  Rather, the well-intentioned “swag” rubbed me the wrong way because I had never called myself a “Jewish American.”  The designation awkwardly lined me up with all the other hyphenated ethnic and racial designations bandied about by professional liberal activists.  To be sure, I am a proud Jew and a proud American, and I belong to countless American Jewish organizations.  What drew me to Sen. McCain, however, was his extraordinary biography and commitment to American leadership in the world.  Then as now, his principles stood for shared American values that transcend special interests.  For this reason, I eagerly lined up behind the senator, albeit as a nondescript “McCainiac” rather than a “Jewish American for McCain.”

McCain’s clumsy appeal to ethnicity was a sign of the times and seemed to augur the rise of the so-called Emerging Democratic Majority (EDM).  Originally coined by Ruy Teixeira and John Judis in their 2002 book by the same name, the EDM thesis postulates that the Democratic Party will come to dominate national elections because of the changing demographic landscape.  Specifically, whites are declining as a percentage of the electorate as racial minorities are rising.  This fact, together with the relative strength of Democrats among minorities and other demographic “voting blocs,” apparently spells doom for Republican prospects.  Just last week, however, Judis himself pulled a 180 with a piece in National Journal, where he explains how Republicans are set to dominate elections after all, due especially to their rising hold on middle-class voters.  Politicos of all stripes have been breaking down the arguments, often to suit their own agendas.

Lost in all the beltway chatter is the sad premise that U.S. elections turn on capturing the disconnected hearts and minds of this segment or that one, be it Hispanics, blue-collar workers, senior citizens, millennials, gays, soccer moms, veterans, unmarried women, urban professionals, or — dare I say — Jewish Americans.  True, it was the machinations of Karl Rove which introduced the power of micro-targeting to the campaigns of George W. Bush.  But President Obama’s second Presidential campaign took identity campaign politics to an unprecedented level.  From the beginning Obama for America was really a conflation of building blocks — Obama for blacks, Obama for Hispanics, Obama for gays, Obama for labor unions, Obama for pro-choice activists, Obama for gun-control activists, Obama for trial lawyers.  Stack ’em all up and they totaled more than the would-be coalition for Romney.  Gone was even the lip service to the 2008 rallying cry of “not a collection of red states and blue states… the United States!”

I wasn’t too politically aware when Reagan held the White House, but one thing I remember clearly was his sunny demeanor and his message of bringing freedom and prosperity to Americans from every walk of life.  Likewise Bill Clinton worked hard to weave a thread of shared purpose in “a bridge to the 21st century.”  Appealing to our common American values should be the centerpiece of a Presidential campaign.  The motto of our nation’s Great Seal is e pluribus unum.  That means “one from many” not “many from one.” Instead of littering their speeches with trite anecdotes illustrating one interest group or the other and instead of manufacturing soothing but shallow catch phrases like “middle-class economics,” our leaders should be delving deeply into what makes America truly special and rallying the population around it.  They may be surprised how many [insert label here]-Americans break out of the molds predetermined by cynical political strategists.

As the 2016 campaign begins to take shape, I hope we see a fresh approach from the Republican field and the presumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.  For her part, Clinton is working hard to articulate a substantive rationale for her prospective candidacy.  A good place to start would be to enunciate principles for boosting the economy and countering our nation’s enemies abroad.  Democrats and Republicans may not agree on policy, but we should be able to agree on the end goals.

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