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.

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

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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.

Carly Fiorina is the Right Answer to the Trump Primary Question

Fiorina

Late last week, Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld announced the formation of an exploratory committee to consider challenging Donald Trump in a Republican Primary.  There is some evidence that there is a block of Republican primary voters who might be interested in a Trump alternative.  There is no evidence Bill Weld is the alternative they are looking for.

Nationally, a recent ABC News poll says 32% of Republicans nationally want a nominee other than Trump.  In Iowa, per a CNN/Des Moines Register poll in December, 29% of Republicans would either definitely vote for or consider a Trump alternative, while 63% say they would welcome a contested primary.  Additionally, in New Hampshire, an NHJournal poll has Mitt Romney already pulling 24% against Trump if they went head-to-head.  While it would be difficult, it is plausible that the right candidate could be competitive in a primary and, at a minimum, chart a course for what the GOP should be post-Trump.

There are several candidates who have shown interest in a run, and Weld has officially announced, but it’s unlikely any of them will be able to compete with President Trump.  Bill Weld, Larry Hogan, and John Kasich among others are to the left of the Republican Party as a whole, and are unlikely to unite all of its disparate elements.  Carly Fiorina is one of the few people who would be able to launch a credible challenge to President Trump from the Right and for whom it would make sense to launch a campaign.

First, Fiorina has a positive message she can run on to balance concerns she has about Trump.  In her 2016 campaign and her outside speeches and foundation, she consistently advocated for good leadership focused on creating opportunities for people and unlocking their potential.  That’s a compelling vision of governance that rivals anything seen from any Presidential candidate of either party since President Obama’s 2008 campaign.  Bill Weld doesn’t have a compelling message he can run on.  At the same time, Fiorina has shown a willingness to criticize Trump on issues she finds important and has unique authority to speak on, including Trump’s “horseface” comments and his attacks on the Federal Reserve.  She is in a better position than any potential 2020 candidate to balance a positive vision and platform with criticism of President Trump.

One problem that results from many potential challengers not having a compelling positive message is that when they have to provide a platform, they are tacking from the left.  For example, John Kasich’s main identity as a political figure at this point is being anti-Trump.  Because of this, he has taken up a number of positions, from opposing pro-life legislation to speaking out for gun control, that not only oppose Trump, but oppose the Republican Party platform that predates Trump.  John Kasich, Larry Hogan, and Bill Weld would all be presenting primary challenges from the left, which the Republican Party has no appetite for.

Carly Fiorina would be able to present a credible challenge to President Trump from the right.  She is pro-life, against Common Core, and anti-ACA.  Additionally, she is a political outsider who negates the President’s argument that we need a businessperson and not a politician as President.  Fiorina’s ability to credibly run against the President while running alongside the Republican Party as a whole gives her more plausible paths to victory, while opening up the ability to attack the President for failing to implement Conservative reforms such as defunding Planned Parenthood and repealing Obamacare.

While Fiorina is a Conservative outsider, though, she is capable of appealing to different elements of the Party that few others can.  As David Byler mentions in his recent, excellent Washington Post article, President Trump won the Republican nomination in 2016 with a minority.  A candidate who can unite Rubio, Cruz, Carson, and Kasich voters can present a serious challenge to Trump.  Throughout the 2016 campaign, Fiorina was generally well-liked within all elements of the Republican Party.  She is a Conservative who has credibility with the Right and yet is viewed as a serious person by the more Centrist, Suburban parts of the Party as well.  Bill Weld or any other challenger from the left is not going to win over voters who, in 2016, voted for Cruz, Carson, or Rubio.  Fiorina possesses Name ID and starts with credibility among all groups that would be harder to deflate than a candidate without national Name ID or who ran against the Right.

Because of all of these factors, I believe that Carly Fiorina is the candidate with the highest probability of success if she ran against Trump in a primary.  Furthermore, Carly Fiorina’s best option if she wants to be involved in politics going forward would be to run against Trump.  Being President is a difficult job, and not all political figures want the responsibility.  Because Fiorina has run for the office before and has a compelling message she would like to draw attention for, though, we can presume she would desire to be President.  For many Republican figures who are interested in the Presidency, such as Nicki Haley, Marco Rubio, or Ted Cruz, the best path may be to wait until 2024 or 2028.

Unlike them, this is probably not true for Fiorina.  When she was running in a primary against more conventional Republicans in 2016, she faded into the background and tended to be a 2nd or 3rd choice for a significant number of voters who nonetheless preferred her over Trump.  She would be at risk of this same problem occurring in a future election if she chose to run.  If Fiorina ran in 2020, she would have a chance to win among these voters who are more inclined towards conventional Republicans, while also negating Trump’s strengths and competing in the “outsider” lane.  This makes her unique among Republicans with national ambitions in that electorally, her time to run may be now.

Compared to figures such as John Kasich and Larry Hogan, there is little buzz that Fiorina is looking to run for President.  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.

A Republican campaign against Donald Trump will be an uphill battle.  Someone with the right background, though, could run to seriously threaten or defeat the President while also charting a course for the Republican Party into the future.  Bill Weld is not up to the task, and neither are any candidates who would have little to offer other than a token challenge to Trump from the left.  It is Carly Fiorina’s time if she wants to run.  Fiorina only has to decide if it is a challenge she has interest in pursuing.  Her career arc from Secretary to CEO shows she is up for a challenge, and Republicans with reservations concerning the President should hope she is up for one more.

Bill Weld is the Wrong Answer to the Trump Primary Question

I’ve written before on why there should be a Republican Primary opponent to Trump in 2020.  He is unstable, the most likely candidate to lose, and morally unfit for office.  That said, we need a serious person to challenge him.  In my 4-part series on a 2020 Republican Primary earlier this year, I talked some about the selfish incentives a candidate might have to challenge Trump that go against the ultimate cause:

On the individual level, though, there are a number of other definitions of success that may not have anything to do with electoral success.  For example, a candidate may run in order to try and push a particular issue or issue-set into the conversation (Example: Ron Paul 2008 and 2012).  More perversely, a candidate may run in order to generate attention that can monetized as a book deal, a TV contract, or through some other means.  Finally, there are some candidacies that are just completely inexplicable (Jim Gilmore, George Pataki, etc).  All of these are individual definitions of success that often directly contradict with the broader voter group’s definition of success.

Bill Weld, who is reportedly fixing to announce an exploratory committee to look at a Trump challenge, is the case of someone who has no good reason to run other than being an attention-seeker.  He was a mediocre Governor for 6 forgettable years in the 90s who hasn’t been heard from since other than being Gary Johnson’s running mate in 2016.  How is that someone who can defeat Trump or who has any business being President?

I doubt Weld will scare a serious person out of the field.  My biggest worry is that he will make the concept of a Trump challenge look like a joke, thus leading people to dismiss the idea of a challenge out of hand.  We need a serious person with competent experience and an actual vision beyond self-promotion to get in.  Hopefully that will be someone off this list.  The best choice, though, is someone who will run from the Right, unite Rubio/Cruz/Carson voters, and be able to fundraise.  The best possible answer who would also have other incentives to run?

Carly Fiorina

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Donald Trump and the Future of the Pro-Life Movement

These past two weeks have made it clear the Democrats have decided to become Abortion radicals.  New York proceeded to legalize abortions up to full-term, and Virginia is considering legislation to do the same.  Virginia Governor Ralph Northam somehow went further than full-term, arguing that already born children could be aborted, but fortunately for them, in a “comfortable” setting.  Gone are the days of Bob Casey and ‘Safe, Legal, and Rare.”  Either due to fear of Planned Parenthood, or because they have been bought and paid for by Big Abortion, the Democratic Party (with a few brave exceptions such as Congressman Dan Lipinski, Governor John Bel Edwards, and Democrats for Life) has determined to jettison any pro-lifers and anyone who has any hesitancy whatsoever concerning Abortion on demand. The extent of the extremism the Democratic Party is pushing towards cannot be overstated.

This should present Republicans a major opportunity to reach pro-life voters and push for the cause of unborn life.  The GOP has taken pro-life votes for granted for so long, though, that they seem to have no interest in moving the ball on this issue.  In a 2-year span with a Republican White House, Senate, and Congress, Planned Parenthood is still funded by our tax dollars and the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion act is still unpassed.  Even looking at judicial nominations, the President passed on a very strong choice in Amy Coney Barrett to appoint Brett Kavanaugh.  Kavanaugh has little track record on the issue, is a DC elite who doesn’t inspire hope he would fully overturn Roe (certainly as compared to Barrett), and whom David French says appears very timid on the issue.  Overall, it seems likely a President Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, or Jeb Bush would have accomplished more or as much on this issue had they been elected.

Even if Pro-Lifers had every pick of judges they wanted, though, that would still not be enough to justify a full alliance with this President.  As Matthew Lee Anderson wrote with foresight in Mere Orthodoxy back in July 2016:

“Suggesting that the thin hope of conservative justices on the courts justifies accepting such cultural consequences also seems to rest on either naivety or hubris. It is hard to know which. Pro-lifers will not be able to distance themselves from Trump’s shenanigans, though they will try: if he is their candidate, they will be made to own everything he does if he is elected President. Political action has a symbolic character: it sets a narrative, and that narrative matters as much for the long-term future of a particular movement as do the judicial opinions that result from it. In this case, it is a ludicrously easy story to tell: Pro-lifers are willing to accept misogyny, divorce, racism, and so on for their political ends.

Pro-lifers will protest that voting for Donald Trump does not mean endorsing everything Trump does. And they would be right. Yet I say it’s either ‘naivity’ or ‘hubris,’ because the pro-life movement hasn’t exactly been stellar at framing its own identity. The cultural and media headwinds they face go a long ways toward explaining the struggle. But in this case, they add to those the fact that their critics will have a serious and legitimate point. Voting for Trump means treating everything else he does as acceptable *on the condition* that he also promises — merely promises, mind you — conservative justices. The pro-life movement can justify supporting Trump only by viewing his character, his known sexual vices, his unrepentant history of supporting abortion, etc. as acceptable side-effects that, in this case, are the cost of their hope for conservative justices.”

Among the items this President has tied to the Pro-Life movement by association includes a Refugee Ban, Racist Sentiments and Actions, Intentionally Separating kids from their families, and a history of mysogny and credible sexual assault accusations.  While the movement has gotten Conservative judges, it has come at a political cost that may not be collected for a while, but almost surely will on this trajectory.

Pro-Lifers have still chosen to go all in on the Trump movement.  On the one hand, this is somewhat understandable due to the radical shift in the Democratic Party on the issue.  That said, the Pro-Life movement did not need to buy in to Trump nearly to the extent it has.  For as little progress as has been made, was it really necessary to make Mike Pence a center-point of every March for Life since Trump was elected? Did having President Trump keynote the Susan B. Anthony List dinner reward or lead to any meaningful pro-life results?  Has all the support for Trump from very vocal pastors led to anything meaningful? The recent March for Life served as a catalyst for some to start thinking about these questions, and despite the Democrats’ radicalism, a shotgun marriage with Trumpism isn’t the prudent response either.

So, if the Democrats are purging virtually anyone who does not express complete devotion to the Abortion lobby, and Trumpism provides no meaningful reforms while associating completely unacceptable baggage with the Pro-Life movement, where does that leave us?  99% of the Democratic Party is anathema to our views on this issue, and there are only a handful of candidates on that side the movement could ever seek to promote.  On the other hand, a continuing bond with Trump positions the Pro-Life movement poorly for the future.  From an electoral standpoint, most groups of Americans who will determine the direction of the Country are moving from away from Trump.  Minority groups and Millennials are actually not particularly hostile to the pro-life position, but becoming too tied to Trumpism could change their feelings and hurt the movement’s long-term prospects.  The Pro-Life movement gains when we our helping women in crisis, promoting adoption, and caring for life at all stages.  Trumpism in perception is the social Darwinist opposite, and it’s easy to see where in reality the perception comes from.  Even beyond electoral politics, it’s simply inconsistent to reconcile a pro-life ethic with intentional family separation, bragging of sexual assault, and other vices Trump inevitably encompasses.

The correct direction combines the political and non-political sides of the Pro-Life movement.  Outside politics, we should continue to provide assistance to expectant mothers, help our local Crisis Pregnancy Centers, support adoption and families that adopt, and speak out for justice at all stages of life.  That is how we most tangibly show our communities that we care about the unborn, and that they should as well.  Politically, except for those who are called to support the few pro-life Democrats there are and to push the party away from radicalism, the best option is to support pro-active, pro-life Republicans who do not antagonize the pro-life ethic on other issues outside Abortion.

We need Republicans, of whom there are far too few right now, who will fight and expend political capital for a 20-week abortion ban, defunding Planned Parenthood, passing the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion act, and nominating the Amy Coney Barrett’s of the world to the high court.  These same Republicans should be people of character who believe in united families, racial justice, and a respect for the equality of women.  If the Pro-Life movement can pull away from Trumpism and support candidates who espouse these virtues at all levels of government, we can save our long-term political prospects of success and not compromise the soul of the movement in the process.

Analyzing a 2020 Republican Primary, Part 3

Last time, we looked at what a 2020 Republican challenger to Donald Trump should look like in order to experience the best chance of success.  Today, I’m going to take a quick rundown of what a challenger would look like who would have the incentives to run in this race.  There may be some potential candidates who meet all the criteria I went over in Part 1 who may nonetheless pass because the Individual Incentives of running don’t make sense for the candidate.  Running for President is a grueling, often thankless task.  For voters who would prefer an alternative to President Trump to get a chance to vote for such a candidate, it’s important to consider who has the incentives to take on this task.  This is a topic I’m sure I will revisit frequently over the next year, so feel free to chime in if you think of any I missed.

Briefly though, I’m going to revisit the “success” definition I touched on last time.  On the broader level of analysis, there are really two ways one can “succeed” in a challenge to Trump: Outright winning the nomination, or performing competitively enough to preserve a value system apart from Trump for the party post-Trump (much like Reagan did running against Ford in 1976).  On the individual level, though, there are a number of other definitions of success that may not have anything to do with electoral success.  For example, a candidate may run in order to try and push a particular issue or issue-set into the conversation (Example: Ron Paul 2008 and 2012).  More perversely, a candidate may run in order to generate attention that can monetized as a book deal, a TV contract, or through some other means.  Finally, there are some candidacies that are just completely inexplicable (Jim Gilmore, George Pataki, etc).  All of these are individual definitions of success that often directly contradict with the broader voter group’s definition of success.  Here are some of the incentives, though, that a potential Trump challenger who would want to take on this significant task might have that doesn’t impede the Trump-skeptical’s electorate desire for a candidate who can win/compete with Trump:

  1. The potential challenger wants to be President.

This may sound obvious, but it’s worth considering.  In our current environment, if you become President, a significant number of people will dedicate themselves to tearing you and your family, friends, and colleagues down every possible opportunity.  Your lifestyle will change entirely, and privacy will basically be non-existent.  You will be tasked with making some of the most consequential decisions of any person on Earth.  Many good people have passed on running for office, including the Presidency, for some combination of these and more reasons.  Even if a candidate would be good for the job, he or she has to decide there is a significant desire to take on the job.

  1. The potential challenger with incentive to run would not benefit from waiting until a different election cycle.

There are a number of good Republicans who have interest in being President someday.  For many of them, running in 2020 against a sitting Republican president carries significant risk that, if they lost, may very well impede those chances.  For all his faults, there are a number of Republicans who would not support anyone who primaried Trump if they lost and ran again in, say, 2024.  If you’re, for example, Nicki Haley, would you rather run in 2020 and alienate a large number of Trump’s core supporters, or would you rather wait until 2024 or 2028 and run as a candidate who still has the potential of appealing to all factions of the Republican Party?  That exact same calculation applies to Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Tim Scott, Mike Pence, Tom Cotton, and a number of other Republicans with national ambitions.  That said, there will be some candidate who will have a better chance of success by running against Trump one-on-one in 2020 than they will in a crowded field of Republicans in 2024 or 2028.  They might be a hair to the middle of the GOP base, or they may just not stand out in a crowded race like happened to many candidates in 2016. Those candidates are the ones to keep an eye on.

  1. The potential challenger has at least somewhat serious concerns about Trump.

Because of the two reasons above and more, an individual who doesn’t have a significant problem with the President isn’t going to run.  I’ll use Ben Carson as an example here: He checks some of the boxes you would want to see in a Trump challenger, he’s ran for President before, and he would probably have a hard time standing out in another GOP primary that looked like 2016.  That said, he seems to have no serious issues with the President.  Not every potential challenger may have been as vocal about their issues with the President to this point as John Kasich, Jeff Flake, or someone else, but they at least need to have a “fire in their belly” to give their candidacy a sense of purpose.  If a candidate felt particularly strongly about this point, and viewed their candidacy as a “calling” or public service, it might be enough to override any concerns the candidate had about ruining any future election prospects.

  1. The potential challenger doesn’t have a reelection to worry about.

Any candidate who ran against Trump who would stand for reelection if they lost would instantly have a target on their back in a primary.  Look no further than what happened to Jeff Flake in Arizona (though to be fair, he wasn’t particularly popular before Trump).  Let’s say you’re Tim Scott, and you actually have some issues with the President, national ambitions, and a sterling profile among many different parts of the Party.  If you run against President Trump and lose, and then immediately stand for reelection in South Carolina in 2022, you all of a sudden have created a difficult race for yourself.  On the other hand, if you’re Larry Hogan, you’re term-limited as Governor, have limited prospects in Maryland, and may not have another step up on the political ladder (aside from Vice President or Cabinet Member).  That is a large reason why Hogan has expressed so much interest recently in the idea of a potential Primary.

Analyzing a 2020 Republican Primary, Part 2

Last time, I looked at the lay of the land concerning the possibility of a 2020 Republican primary.  The idea has started to pick up a lot of traction in the media.  It’s not without merit, as polling is starting to show that even before an actual campaign, a strong number of Republicans are open to the idea of a challenger.

One of the most important questions to start with in assessing this topic is “What qualities/traits is the ideal challenger going to have in order to have the best chance of success?”  While the ultimate success would be defeating Trump, that may or may not be possible depending on the environment, so you can also reasonably say that winning some primaries and taking a significant proportion of the votes in order to lay a marker for what the National GOP should be post-2020 would be a success (See: Reagan ’76).  There are a number of different ideas I could mention here, and a candidate may not need to meet all these characteristics to succeed by either definition.  Nonetheless, here are 4 key ideas to consider in what a Republican challenger to Trump should look like to have the best chance of success:

  1. The successful challenger should come from (or at least run from) the Right, not the Center

Like it or not, Republican Primary voters are not looking for John Kasich.  They want someone who will govern as a Conservative.  Tim Miller, who worked for Jeb Bush in 2016, makes this point on a recent Bulwark podcast, saying that, for example, a “Where is the Wall” type approach is probably going to be what has the best chance of gaining traction.  You could supplement this with a wide variety of issue points, from “Why is Planned Parenthood still funded” to “Why do we still have Obamacare” to “Why is the deficit ballooning” to “Why do we have an administration full of war hawks arguing we need to go into Venezuela after Trump said he wouldn’t get us into conflicts”.  Depending on how the candidate and his or her team wants to run, there is lots of material to attack Trump from the Right with that doesn’t even require going full Ted Cruz/Tea Party to do it, much less Stephen Miller/Ann Coulter.  You can’t abandon all Conservative orthodoxy either though, like John Kasich.  This ties very closely to point 2, which is ….

  1. The successful challenger appeals to your 2016 Rubio/Cruz/Carson voters

A lot of people forget Donald Trump won the 2016 nomination with a plurality of the votes ( ~ 45%).  If a candidate can unite the coalition of non-Trump voters from 2016, and then maybe activate some number of new voters who oppose Trump, the math works.  We can talk about what the ideal combination looks like (Rubio’s Charisma and Optimism, Cruz’s animosity to DC and appeal to Evangelicals, Carson’s background and outsider status, etc.), but a successful campaign needs to start with the question “How do I hold together Trump-skeptical Republicans?” and go from there.

  1. The successful challenger should be from outside DC (Businessman, Governor, etc) or should have a record in DC of standing up for Conservative values and against “the Swamp”.

The overall distaste for “The Establishment” or “The Swamp” by your typical Republican Primary voter has not changed since 2016.  That said, there is still a base of people who aren’t happy with DC but who aren’t happy with Trump either because of his character and haphazard approach to governing, or because they feel he has sold out his base and become “The Establishment.”  The successful Candidate is going to be able to appeal to these voters by railing against corruption in DC.  The very savvy campaign will be able to show why Trump is “The Swamp” due to all his self-dealing with the Trump Organization, Trump Hotel, etc.  The average voter may not care about Roger Stone and Russia, but they may be made to care about Trump telling them he was going to drain the swamp, and then getting rich off it himself.

  1. The successful challenger will be able to fundraise very successfully.

Going up against a prepared Trump-RNC apparatus is not going to be a task for the faint of heart.  Running a serious challenge to any serious incumbent is a difficult manner.  A very savvy campaign may be able to run an effective challenge in a cost-effective manner.  In a 24/7 news environment, doing more Earned Media as opposed to massive TV ad buys should be doable, as long as the dollars saved are going to building field staff, top-notch digital, competent data operations, etc.  That said, it’s a Presidential campaign, and a top-notch operation will require serious dollars.  There’s multiple ways you can do this.  Maybe the candidate is charismatic and a good debater, so that there may be room for a strong small-dollar donor apparatus.  If the candidate is well-connected, or perhaps comes from a business background, you could possibly run a more Super PAC driven campaign.  Regardless, though, it’s going to take someone who is serious about fundraising one way or another to build the groundwork to launch a serious challenge against an incumbent.

 

Call this 4b or 5, but I’m going to throw out one more quality that may not be essential, but could be helpful.  Name ID would help a candidate get a fast start out of the gate and have instant credibility.  I put it as non-essential because most Republicans with some type of notable experience will immediately receive significant earned media and exposure.

Analyzing a 2020 Republican Primary, Part 1

Today, I’m kicking off a 4-part series offering a broad analysis of the 2020 Republican Presidential Primary.  I am a Republican who is a strong supporter of the idea, but I will try to analyze it from a somewhat detached perspective for this series.  I’m sure this is a topic I will return to over the coming year, but I’m going to go ahead and kick off a quick series looking at this in broad strokes.

In this first part, I’m just going to go over the lay of the land as far as a primary challenge to Trump goes.  I think that there is a hard but low floor of around 10-15% virtually any challenger could pull against Trump.  I also think there are some candidates for whom the ceiling is not much more than that.  The good news, though, is that the number of Republicans interested in a primary is going up.  I suspect this is a result of massive Democratic gains in November, the government shutdown and negative reactions associated with it, and the Democratic primary gaining steam and igniting reflection on Trump’s electability and a Republican primary.  That said, Trump is still broadly popular among Republicans, and would win in a landslide over virtually candidate were the election today.

That said, recent polls have started to show interest in the idea of a Primary challenge.  Nationally, the most recent ABC News poll says 32% of Republicans nationally want a nominee other than Trump.  To my knowledge, that is the best National number to date.  In Iowa, per a CNN/Des Moines Register poll in December, 29% of Republicans would either definitely vote for or consider a Trump alternative, while 63% say they would welcome a contested primary.  Additionally, in New Hampshire, an NHJournal poll has Romney already pulling 24% against Trump if they went head-to-head.  It’s not a majority by any stretch, but if a generic candidate without a campaign is already polling in the 20s and 30s, then it is very possible to compete with Trump in a primary.

Finally, the media is beginning to take the idea of a primary more seriously at this point.  While some Trump-skeptical outlets have been pushing the idea before these last couple of months (I specifically remember Charlie Sykes in the Weekly Standard), it has spread since then.  The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, National Review, the Bulwark, and other outlets have either reported concerns in the Trump camp over a primary, ran opinion/analysis pieces on the prospects of a primary, or covered Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s recent moves that led some to believe he may run.  Media isn’t everything, but it is a sign of weakness that we didn’t see for most of the past two years.

So what are the prospects for someone running against Trump?  As an optimist, I think things are improving and shaping up so that someone will step into the ring.  What the end result is, I don’t know.  That said, the fact that it may even be worthwhile from an electoral perspective to have a primary challenge, based on poll results and momentum, is an encouraging development, and I expect that at least someone will decide at some point this year that it’s time to take the plunge.