What Does a Better Populism Look Like?: A Response to “Against the Dead Consensus”

One of the more interesting debates in politics right now is what is the future of the Republican Party and, to some extent, the Conservative movement.  In the Republican Party right now, there are a wide variety of different viewpoints trying to exert influence on the party.  This includes everyone from the Ted Cruz-aligned Religious Right, to the Rand Paul-aligned Libertarians, to the traditional, more moderate Republican establishment, to mainstream Reagan-style Conservatism.  With the Trump presidency, an avenue has opened up for other ideological variants of the Right to enter the fray.   Much of it has involved the rising of a new class of attention seekers and grifters.  While hacks such as Charlie Kirk, Candace Owens, and other Republicans of the “Own the Libs” variety existed before Trump, the Trump presidency and continued Reality-Telivification of our politics has given them prominence and profit of a degree not seen before.  Not as prominent has been a more ideological populism, focused more on what ideas and policies might fit the New Republican Party best in the Trump era.

To that extent, the First Things manifesto “Against the Dead Consensus” is a welcome addition to the competition of ideas.   In this relatively short and welcomely accessible open letter, several different writers and thinkers such as Sohrab Ahmari, Patrick Dennen, and Rod Dreher offer a few guiding principles for what the new GOP should look like.  The politically diverse group effectively identifies current problems in both society broadly and Conservatism specifically.  As someone who identifies as #NeverTrump and who supports some mainstream Republican policy proposals that at least some signing members of this statement are against, I found it a very helpful guide for understanding what a mature populism in our political sphere might look like.

One of the best elements of the statement is simply that it does focus on actual principles.  Much of what is called populism in our political discourse today is little more than saying whatever will move books and generate Fox News hits.  While political gimmickry is particularly pronounced in populism, it is not only populism that it has infected.  On the eccentric horseshoe that exists between some parts of the “Resistance” Left and the “Never Trump” Right, there is currently a competition to determine whether a Twitter account called “Devin Nunes’ Cow” can gain a certain number of followers.  A lack of seriousness and an anathema to anything resembling ideas, policies, or principles is a part of the political discourse in all ideologies and tribes today, and it is to the credit of the drafters of this statement that they seek to inject populism with general ideals.

Another high point of the statement is that it correctly identifies the problems in our society today and fairly critiques past iterations of Conservatism for failing to combat them.  The authors correctly point out the importance of healthy communities, families, and workplaces as some of the keys to the healthy society, and how the atomization of the individual and the resulting consequences from it destroy these building blocks.  They also fairly point out how Conservatism broadly failed to combat these issues.  For all of their flaws (and there are many), think about how the “Moral Majority” of the 1980s infused the Republican Party with an emphasis on issues such as combating pornography and fighting back against gambling.  As the Republican Party drifted towards Social Libertarianism and focused more on issues such as government spending and aggressive foreign policy, both issues which reasonable people can have disagreements about, issues of traditional values and healthy communities fell out of the Republican mainstream.  Tim Alberta documented this recently in Politico, in an article with supplements this First Things statement nicely.  The Party, in fact, reached a point where an individual who posed in Playboy and who owned casinos could be its standard-bearer.  Looking at society today, it’s hard to say our communities are better places because of our broad acceptance of (including the GOP’s acquiesance to) hyper-individualism and social libertinism.  The authors of the First Things statement are right to call out these failures.

Finally, the authors deserve credit for specifically affirming the importance of human dignity as a guiding principle for the common society.  A large number of our societal issues today, from hyper-partisanship to economic destruction and vulturism to the growing number of deaths of despair can be directly or indirectly attributed to our collective failing to view our fellow humans as worthy of respect and value.  It is particularly right for a Christian publication to make this emphasis.  As Christians, our faith teaches us that we are created in God’s image and that one of our ultimate callings is to love our neighbors as ourselves.  This includes the importance of the protection of unborn life, as the authors rightly include.  I am glad the statement rejects attempts to compromise on human dignity, and I believe that regathering a fuller societal understanding of human dignity is one of the necessary ways to remedy the problems described in this statement.

Having affirmed the statement, of which there is much to affirm, there are some critiques that need to be made as well.  One of those critiques is that the statement, like much of the rest of populism, seems unnecessarily hostile to immigration.  In the words of the statement:

In recent years, some have argued for immigration by saying that working-class Americans are less hard-working, less fertile, in some sense less worthy than potential immigrants. We oppose attempts to displace American citizens. Advancing the common good requires standing with, rather than abandoning, our countrymen. They are our fellow citizens, not interchangeable economic units. And as Americans we owe each other a distinct allegiance and must put each other first.

This is partly true.  We shouldn’t view our fellow Americans as inferior beings who, for one reason or another, are inevitably bound to suffer economically.  At the same time, all of the best data shows that immigration does not hurt our fellow Americans.  Immigrants improve our economy, by virtue of being both creators and consumers, and benefit the country broadly.  The anti-immigrant hysteria so broadly espoused in populism today simply isn’t grounded in reality.  We should want to see the economic success of our fellow Americans, but there is no reason to believe that opposing or limiting Immigration accomplishes this.

Another weakness of the statement is that it seems to portray Trumpism as superior to Reaganism.  From the very end of the statement:

Whatever else might be said about it, the Trump phenomenon has opened up space in which to pose these questions anew. We will guard that space jealously. And we respectfully decline to join with those who would resurrect warmed-over Reaganism and foreclose honest debate.

It’s true that “warmed-over Reaganism” is probably not a viable course for the future of Conservatism, and that it had problems which the writers did a good job of analyzing.  A blind spot in the statement, however, is that Trumpism in practice fares even worse than Reaganism when it comes to the ultimate problems recognized.  When we think about the atomization of the individual and the “pornographization of daily life”, those are the very attributes at the heart of Trumpism.  Donald Trump specifically has lived his life according to the social Darwinism and sexual libertinism to which nearly every legitimate problem highlighted in the statement can be traced.  If Reaganism failed to adequately pump the breaks on these issues, Trumpism pushes down on the accelerator.  Reaganism, at a minimum, sought in theory to promote traditional values and national unity.  It’s very difficult to see how Trumpism in practice does even that.  It would have been a welcome addition to this statement if the authors could have accurately recognized that while a populism based in ideas has its advantage over stale Conservatism from yesteryear, Trumpism in practice should be a greater threat to the ideals espoused here.  That would be unless closed borders and immigration restrictionism are more important than the other ideals espoused here, which gets to the first critique.

Finally, one last critique is that while the authors rightly advocate for human dignity, it can ring as inconsistent when some of them fail to uphold a general respect and value of fellow people in their lives.  One of the major human dignity problems in our society today is that in our politics, we fail to treat other groups and political tribes as human beings made in the image of God.  Sadly, some of the authors here exhibit some of these worst tendencies.  One of the authors, like President Trump, mockingly referred to Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” and later defended it.  Another habitually crosses the line from rightly defending the religious liberty of Christians to mocking LGBT individuals.  To defend human dignity should be to defend human dignity for everyone, including Racial Minorities, LGBT people, and our political opponents.  The fact that some of these authors have not lived up to their message of human dignity in this statement may lead it to ring hollow to some who read it, which is unfortunate in that it is one of the most important parts of the statement.

This statement has a lot of good in it, and is worth reading regardless of political orientation.  It is a helpful attempt to highlight an ideology that is far too often represented by its worst caricatures, including the President, in the public square.  While it has much too offer, though, it nonetheless falls into some of the same traps as grafter, Trumpist populism though in that it is unnecessarily includes anti-immigration sentiments and exaggerates the extent to which the Establishment is its enemy.  These unfortunate elements keep the letter from having its maximum impact and winning others outside its camp to its view.  A better and more politically potent populism, in the future, will hopefully jettison the anti-immigration hysteria, recognize and identify Trumpism as at least as much a driver of hyper-individualism and social libertinism as the worst of mainstream Conservatism, and inspire us all towards a personal ethic of human dignity that brings out the best of us in all parts of our lives.

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Democrats Seem Intent on Losing the Texas US Senate Race in 2020

A few weeks ago, I wrote about why MJ Hegar would be a much better candidate than Wendy Davis for the Texas US Senate race in 2020.  Since then, things have shaken up a little bit.  Hegar is becoming a little more interested in challenging Congressman John Carter, who she nearly beat in 2018, a second time.  This largely corresponded with Congressman Joaquin Castro (Former HHS Secretary and current Presidential Candidate Julian Castro’s twin brother) showing more interest in the Senate race.  At the same time, Wendy Davis has still shown an openness to entering the race.

If the Democrats’ main goal is to win the race, Joaquin Castro would be a strong choice.  He is similar to Beto O’Rourke in that while he is progressive, he maintains a willingness to reach out to moderates and voters who aren’t hyper-partisan.  Castro also has an advantage over O’Rourke in that while O’Rourke struggled with Latino voters in his run against Ted Cruz, Castro has done well with that demographic.

EMILY’s List, the Democratic Pro-Choice organization, was not happy with this.  Today, they came out in favor of a Democratic woman representing the Party in this race.  This presumably refers specifically to former Texas State Legislator Wendy Davis, famous for being a pro-choice extremist and for getting trounced by Gov. Greg Abbott in the 2014 Gubernatorial Campaign.

Texas Democrats have a major opportunity in front of them right now.  They just put up their best performance in Statewide elections in several election cycles.  It is very possible that one of their own will be on the Democrats’ Presidential Ticket in 2020.  While Senator Cornyn isn’t as polarizing as Senator Cruz, he is certainly vulnerable under the right circumstances.  Running a candidate most notable for being an abortion extremist and losing by a large margin before is not the right circumstance.  I’m not a Democrat, so it’s not necessarily my skin on the line.  At the same time, though, Texas Democrats (like National Democrats) will have to decide if they want an ideological extremist or a progressive who can win.  In Texas, though, Democrats have a much smaller margin of error, and will have to tread carefully.

Carly Fiorina Had Some Interesting Thoughts When Asked If She Would Run for Office This Week

Image result for carly fiorina

I have been a major proponent of Carly Fiorina running a primary campaign against Donald Trump for the 2020 GOP Nomination.  I believe she has the most credibility, has the best chance of uniting Moderates, Mainstream Conservatives, and Anti-Establishment types, and has the most to gain from a Trump challenge.  What has been difficult to gauge has been if she would have interest in a run.  As I wrote last month:

At the same time, some of her recent moves seem to be moves that someone looking to keep the option of a Presidential run alive might make.  Just as many political candidates do when running for President, she has a new book coming out in April on the topic of leadership.  She also has retained staff for her personal ventures and foundation that are veterans of her 2016 Presidential campaign, or who have political experience elsewhere.  Finally, while she hasn’t popped up on Fox News Primetime, she has nonetheless done some cable TV appearances, including on Fox News where one would expect a Republican candidate for President to try and attract eyeballs.  These could simply be the moves of any public figure looking to maintain a brand, but an optimistic observer could also see them as the moves of someone at least interested in a run for office.

This week, in an episode of her podcast, Carly was asked directly what future political aspirations she might have.  It’s important to caveat that the question was general, and didn’t mention the Presidency or 2020, but it still gives us insight into whether Fiorina would consider a 2020 run.  The question starts around the 26:30 mark:

Host: What is your political future, will you run for office again?

Fiorina: Well, the short answer, and then I’ll explain, is I don’t know. And the reason my answer is I don’t know, is because that’s the way I’ve always lived my life. If you think about what I said on how I entered the Presidential race last time around, I didn’t have a plan, I didn’t have a plan to become a CEO. The way I’ve lived my life is to be true to those disciplines and behaviors that I think define leadership and problem solving that we talked about.  Courage and character and the humility and empathy to collaborate with others and imagination to see the possibilities in front of us, and particularly the possibilities in other people.  I try to live my life that way every day, and I’ve learned over time that if I will focus on those things, solve the problems in front of me, that opportunities will knock, and then I’ll make the right choice when the opportunity is in front of me.  And so, that’s how I’m going to continue to live my life.  You know, I had a, not to get too heavy here, but when I battled cancer; Most of my young adult life, I was afraid of dying, and you’ll read about that in “Find Your Way”.  I don’t know exactly why, perhaps because both of my parents lost their parents at a young age, but I was always afraid of dying.  And when I was diagnosed with cancer, of course, all of a sudden, now the threat of death is near and present.  And what I learned going through that is that life isn’t measured in time, life isn’t measured in title or wealth or fame, all though those things can be very important.  Life is measured in love, in moments of grace, and in positive contribution.  And so those are the things that I hope I have in my life every single day, and when opportunity knocks along the way, I usually have the courage to walk through the door.

The entire episode is interesting, but it at least shows that (a) there are a number of people who are interested in the question of if Fiorina will run for office again, and (b) that she hasn’t closed the door to the possibility.  Hopefully she will seriously consider the possibility of seeking the Republican Presidential Nomination in 2020.

Justin Amash Opens the Door to a 2020 Presidential Run

When I listed out some potential options for 2020 primary challengers for Trump early last month, I listed Michigan Congressman Justin Amash as a possibility.  Here’s what I had to say about why he should or should not run:

Why – Justin Amash is about as “Anti-Swamp” as anyone in the United States Congress.  He consistently rails against both parties, and is often on the fringe minority of votes.  He is probably the Republican member of Congress most willing to criticize Trump as well, and has made it clear he is not a fan.  Finally, while he’s not the person to want to climb the political ladder for the sake of it, he doesn’t have many other options at this point to advance.  He has slim chances of winning statewide office in Michigan, and his willingness to rail and vote against his party gives him no chance of advancing in House Leadership or Committee Status.  If he wants to make as big a mark as possible on the national dialogue, this might be his best chance.

Why Not – While Name ID isn’t everything, Amash’s may be too low to even attract earned media and give him a chance to grow recognition.  Additionally, his more Libertarian views may place him outside the party mainstream that, if anything, is shifting towards a larger role of government.  While he may attract small-dollar donors from the same people who Ron Paul enthused in his Presidential runs, his ability to fundraise enough to seriously compete is in question.

Today, he became one of the few Republicans to acknowledge a run against Trump is a possibility.  While he was asked specifically about a Libertarian bid, here are his full thoughts, per Politico:

“I would never rule anything out,” the Michigander said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“That’s not on my radar right now, but I think that it is important that we have someone in there who is presenting a vision for America that is different from what these two parties are presenting,” he said. Amash is the chairman of the House Liberty Caucus, which represents libertarian-minded lawmakers.

…..

“Right now, we have a wild amount of partisan rhetoric on both sides and Congress is totally broken,” Amash said Sunday. “We can’t debate things in a clear way anymore. Everything has become, ‘Do you like President Trump or do you not like President Trump?'”

“I think that we need to return to basic American principles, talk about what we have in common as a people because I believe we have a lot in common as Americans,” he added. “And try to move forward together, rather than fighting each other all the time.”

I don’t know whether he would have a better chance as a Libertarian or a Republican, but he would be a strong addition to the field either way.  He is one of the few Republicans to stand for Refugees and Asylum seekers, fight back against the surveillance state, and to work to get us out of questionable wars.  While I’m definitely not as Libertarian as he is, I would certainly choose him over Trump.  I’m hopeful a more mainstream Conservative enters the race, but Amash would certainly be an improvement over the President, any of the Democrats, or a pro-choice Republican such as Larry Hogan or Bill Weld.

Larry Hogan Came Out as Pro-Choice. That’s a Non-Starter for a Republican Primary.

Larry Hogan

As discussion continues concerning a potential Republican Primary challenge to Donald Trump, the name that continues to be mentioned is Larry Hogan.  It isn’t without reason: He’s one of the most popular Governors in the country and doesn’t have anywhere else on the political ladder to land.  His largest issue, as David Byler recently examined in the Washington Post, is whether he would appeal to Conservative Republican voters nationwide after governing as a Centrist in Maryland.

A smart candidate in this situation would begin to examine how best to appeal to the Right. As Byler’s data analysis clearly shows, a candidate will not be competitive with Trump simply running from the Center without winning over some Conservatives in the process.  Hogan evidently ignored this memo.  In a sit-down with the New York Times this weekend, he was asked his views on Abortion.  This is how the Times describes it:

And asked whether he believed Roe v. Wade, which made abortion legal nationwide, had been correctly decided by the court, Mr. Hogan replied in the affirmative: “I think so.”

Running as a pro-Roe candidate in a Republican Presidential primary is a quick path to irrelevancy.  Rudy Giuliani was the last candidate to attempt this, and he was never able to gain traction while dropping out very early in the race.  Past candidates without strong convictions on the issue, such as Donald Trump, Mitt Romney, John McCain were nonetheless prudent enough to move Right on the issue before running for President.

Besides Trump, the most successful candidates in recent memory to do well in Republican Presidential Primaries while often challenging the anointed front-runner (as Hogan would be doing) did so from a strong pro-life base of support.  This would include Ted Cruz in 2016, Rick Santorum in 2012, and Mike Huckabee in 2008.  Even Ronald Reagan, who Hogan would be seeking to follow the example of in challenging a sitting President, was pro-life by the 1976 election and used the issue to distinguish himself from the pro-choice Gerald Ford.  Nobody is going to mistake Hogan for Reagan, Cruz, Huckabee, or Santorum, but he at a minimum needed to start making inroads with the Conservative portion of the party.

What is more baffling about Hogan’s statement is that as the Times mentions, he has previously said he is personally pro-life.  He very easily could have decided to tell the Times that he is personally pro-life, has been forced to work with a Democratic majority in the Maryland legislature, and that on the National level would appoint Constitutionalist judges while working to defund Planned Parenthood and reduce Abortions.  That would have been a first step towards appealing to Republican primary voters without outright flip-flopping.

Hogan, for whatever reason, actually decided to move left on the issue by affirming Roe v. Wade.  This position is no different from that of Democrats, most notably 2016 Vice Presidential Nominee Tim Kaine, who claim to be personally pro-life and yet continue to defend Abortion-on-demand.  Who Hogan received this advice from is unknown, but it is a colossal misstep that will be revisited frequently if the Governor decides to enter the race.

Making the decision to shift left on Abortion even worse is that pro-life Republican voters who view overturning Roe as a high priority are not inevitable Donald Trump voters in a contested primary.  Looking at the numbers, these are voters broke for Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Ben Carson at rates higher than the Republican primary electorate at large during the 2016 primary.  While Evangelicals may have supported Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016, that doesn’t mean all Evangelicals have forgotten about Trump’s decidedly immoral lifestyle, or that some wouldn’t consider voting against him in a primary again under the right circumstances.

Furthermore, since getting elected, Trump has done little to push the Republican congress towards defunding Planned Parenthood or passing a pain-capable Abortion ban.  Both of these issues are pro-life priorities that went nowhere during a 2-year period in which Republicans controlled the White House and Congress.  There is room to attack Donald Trump from the pro-life position that virtually all Republican primary voters hold, and it is completely illogical that the current most-likely challenger to Trump has no desire to take this opportunity.

There is a very narrow path towards competing with Donald Trump in a Republican Primary.  It involves winning over many different groups of voters, and is a delicate balancing act.  Pro-choice Republican voters are nowhere near the forefront of these groups.  If pro-choice Republican primary voters are a major portion of a candidate’s base, then like it or not, that candidate will not receive enough of the vote to be remotely competitive.

By coming out in favor of Roe v. Wade, Larry Hogan has predestined that he will immediately be met by fire from Social Conservative groups and pro-life figures who may have been willing to hold back, listen, or work with him otherwise.  If that happens and he finds himself unable to get traction if he enters the race, he will have no one to blame but himself for needlessly and haphazardly running against one of the Republican Party’s most important constituencies.

Marco Rubio Has Gone Too Far

Marco Rubio has been at the forefront of the movement pushing the United States to intervene in Venezuela to remove Nicolas Maduro. While there is growing consensus that Maduro needs to leave office, what that looks like and what role, if any, the United States and International community has in encouraging that result is debatable.

What Marco Rubio did today goes far beyond that debate. I would rather not link to it because of its distasteful image, but the Senator tweeted a picture of Maduro followed by a picture of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi when he was captured by Libyan forces opposed to his government.

First, let’s state the somewhat obvious: Both Maduro and Gaddafi are bad people who inflicted cruelties on their citizens. That’s a problem, and it’s not wrong to want to see better leadership in those countries. What Rubio is insinuating by trying to draw a line between these two cases, though, is morally and pragmatically wrong.

As a Country, one of our founding principles is due process. Our constitution enshrines the right to a fair trial and certain protections under our legal system, even if someone has committed heinous wrongs. You will never see me standing up for our intervention in Iraq, but look at what happened to Saddam Hussein once he was captured by U.S. forces. He was granted a trial in Iraq, and was only executed after being rightly found guilty of crimes that, in the judgment of the court, warranted the death penalty. Extrajudicial vigilantism without due process, such as happened to Gaddafi, is never something we should encourage. This is especially true when the act is happening by the side of a conflict that, rightly or wrongly, the United States is perceived to be supporting. We should never want to lose our moral standing, even when launched into the middle of conflicts against despots.

It’s not just our moral standing that makes this a horrible statement from the Senator, though. For Rubio, this decision makes it very harder to encourage the United States and the International community to make decisions to attempt to force Maduro’s hand. I personally don’t think we should intervene in Venezuela beyond economic means and diplomacy. If you’re Rubio, though, and you are attempting to persuade decision makers, the worst message you can send is that Venezuelan intervention would be the 2nd Libya, only in the Western Hemisphere. Libya has largely gotten worse since Gaddafi was removed from office. Lawless radicals control the country, and no respect for human rights exists. If you’re a Republican in the United States trying to increase pressure on the Venezuelan government, your worst message is that Venezuela will fall into unmanageable chaos, quality of life will decrease, and instability will trigger an even greater migratory crisis at our Southern border. By comparing this case to Libya, that is essentially the message being sent.

Beyond the impact on decision-makers, though, Rubio’s recklessness also harms the situation inside Venezuela. His tweet essentially sends the message that the United States government wishes to see Maduro executed in the worst way possible. This dissuades his government from being potentially receptive to a diplomatic solution, and sends the message that war is inevitable. This will lead the government to purse greater harms against civilians and anyone perceived to be with the opposition in order to attempt to strengthen their situation. Life will become worse for the people of Venezuela, all because of one hothead Senator.

Nicolas Maduro is not a good leader, and all of us should be hoping for a peaceful transfer of power to new leadership in Venezuela. Rubio’s message today, though, makes that significantly less likely. We must not let anti-democratic forces elsewhere cause to lose our democratic values, and we must do our best to avoid a 2nd Libya happening in Venezuela. Hopefully more responsible leaders of all political stripes in our government will take heed and implement responsible policy and messaging to attempt to bring the best possible result in a bad situation.

Ole Miss Basketball is getting Unnecessary Criticism

While kneeling has become somewhat prominent in Professional leagues, it has mostly stayed out of College Sports. One notable exception occurred today. Several members of Ole Miss’ Men’s Basketball team kneeled during the anthem.

https://mobile.twitter.com/overtime/status/1099419946742890498

A lot of people have been ignoring the context. Basically, the KKK and several neo-Confederate groups scheduled a protest for today. Part of this occurred on the campus of Ole Miss. Administration at Ole Miss had little in the way of the response. It essentially amounted to “avoid them”. Telling African-American students that they shouldn’t move freely on their own campus that they are paying to attend is not a comprehensive response.

In general, I think kneeling as a response to injustice is perfectly appropriate, whether it’s in regards to police brutality or neo-Confederate rallys in Mississippi. But specifically examining the response to today’s incident, the contrast between the response to the Neo-Confederates and the response to Ole Miss Basketball is stark. Lots of the response was that people were going to boycott Ole Miss. I don’t remember the response being that sharp to the NFL following its lax penalties for Domestic Violence. Clay Travis (aka Walmart Skip Bayless) said that the SEC has a big problem now. Did the SEC not have a big problem with a Neo-Confederate rally taking place on the campus of one of its member institutions?

What people choose to deem problematic or react to is extremely revealing. Even if you have problems with kneeling in general, it’s easy to understand why these young men at Ole Miss would choose to respond to these specific circumstances. We should have empathy for them and seek to create an environment free of White Supremacy, not melt down whenever African-Americans choose to make a statement about the world as it is today.