Which Candidates will Downsize Government?

I spent a few hours this morning reviewing the specific policy proposals on the candidate websites of Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, John Kasich and Ted Cruz. It was a valuable experience and I would recommend it to anyone. Even if you have been following closely, as I have, you might be surprised at what some candidates have in their plans. You might be more surprised at what is missing.

As a liberty-minded conservative, my primary issue is the promotion of individual liberty, which can only be brought about by drastic reductions in not only the size (headcount and dollars spent), but in the scope (breadth of issues upon which control is asserted), of the federal government.

Every single remaining candidate has specific plans to secure the border, reduce taxes, and streamline regulations and entitlements. Additionally, every remaining candidate with the exception of Donald Trump, vows in writing to repeal Obamacare. These issues are not the focus of this review.

I operate under the assumption here that if a candidate has put serious thought into an issue, and is willing to stand by their commitments, they will put those issues onto paper with some specifics. In other words, I am not going to search You Tube to learn where these folks stand. All of the positions below were pulled from written policies and positions from respective candidates’ official websites.

Only Ted Cruz and John Kasich have specific proposals in their plans to reduce the size and scope of government. See the summary of each candidates’ plans to shrink (and grow) government below.

This analysis will be limited to specific proposals to reduce the size and scope of government. Efforts to “streamline” current regulatory structure such as imposing caps on the costs regulations may impose on the economy (Rubio, Cruz and Kasich) and entitlement reform (Rubio) are important, but for this limited purpose they just muddy the waters. It is not clear whether these are simply efforts to “tame the beast” rather than effect real change in Washington.

kasich

JOHN KASICH

Reduce the size and scope of government:

Downsize the Department of Transportation. Return operations functions to the state. Keep “a sliver” for research and safety support.

Shrink the Department of Education by consolidating over 100 programs into four key block grants, limit DoE to a support and research function for states.

ELIMINATE the 40,000 employee, $12B annual Department of Commerce. Return economic power to states.

Grow Government:

Rebuild the military from the ground up. increase defense spending by $102B.

Cruz

TED CRUZ

Reduce the size and scope of government:

‘Five for Freedom’ Plan – a plan to wind down and ultimately eliminate the IRS, the Department of Education, the Department of Energy, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Grow Government:

Triple the number of Border Patrol Agents.

Increase military spending to 4% of GDP.

 

 trump

DONALD TRUMP

Reduce the size and scope of government:

No specific proposals other than a reference to “vigorously eliminating waste, fraud and abuse in the Federal government, ending redundant government programs”.

Grow Government:

Triple the number of ICE officers.

Increase funding for the VA though no specific numbers are stated.

Rubio

MARCO RUBIO

Reduce the size and scope of government:

Loose reference to “reducing federal workforce” in Washington.

Grow Government:

Loose reference to “Higher Education Reform”, which implies an increased federal role in a state matter.

Return to Secretary Gates’ FY 2012 baseline military budget.

 

Thoughts:

Yes, I excluded Ben Carson while including John Kasich. This is based on the very simple fact that Ben Carson is not in a top two position in polls in any state, and has not earned a top two finish in actual voting in any state. John Kasich satisfies both of those criteria.  If John Kasich fails to win 2nd in some Midwest states, and 1st in Ohio, then I will acknowledge that his campaign might need to wind down, but I think it is silly to do that after three tiny states and the results he has had for very little money. I concede that Ben Carson most likely would have proposals to reduce the federal government. I just don’t have time to review websites all day!

Notice, all candidates want to increase Military/VA spending. I am a Rand Paul supporter, and I firmly believe if we limited defense spending to Defense activities, we would have the most powerful military in the world without increasing spending at all, and probably could reduce spending. Unfortunately, with Rand out of the campaign, that idea has died on the vine for this year. We have to deal with what is left, and I find at least some consolation in the fact that military spending was envisioned by the founding fathers, and is constitutionally appropriate, even if excessive.

I am voting next Tuesday and I am currently undecided. This exercise has helped me to put ‘conservatism’ into perspective.

I have narrowed my search to two very different, and very imperfect candidates. 

 

What is a Conservative?

One question has become popular in this raucous and rowdy 2016 GOP primary: What is a Conservative? With too many candidates running for president in the party that lays claim to the ideology, attacking one’s ‘conservative’ credentials has become a common tactic.

The history of the term pre-1950 is too long and arduously detailed to fully explain here. The modern conservative movement was born in the 1950’s and was championed by several influential thought leaders. Over the years some of these movement leaders explained conservatism extensively in writing. Others, mostly politicians, have defined the ‘conservative’ ideology through their platform.

Consider this brief recap of those views, followed by a summary of what the word means as of today.

RUSSELL KIRK – Author of the Conservative Mind (1950) 

Kirk’s contribution is dense and philosophical. As time goes on and new characters contribute to the ideology the ideas become more specific and practical.

Kirk’s Six Truisms:

  1. A Transcendant Moral order. Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems.
  2. Reject uniformity, logicalism, and the utilitarian and egalitarian aims of most radical systems.
  3. Classes are necessary for an orderly society. Strive for equality in judgment before God and in courts of law, but equality in condition  means equality in servitude and boredom.
  4. Freedom and private property are closely linked.
  5. Distrust of ‘sophisters, calculators and economists (planned economy).
  6. Do not change just for change’s sake. Maintain traditions.

WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, JR. – Founder of National Review in the inaugural issue, 1955

  1. It is the job of centralized government to protect the lives, liberty and property of its citizens. The growth of government must be fought relentlessly. This is the libertarian angle.
  2. There exists a social conflict between engineers who seek to adjust mankind to conform with scientific utopias, and the disciples of truth, who defend the organic moral order. This is the social conservative angle.
  3. The centuries most blatant force of satanic utopianism is communism, to which we find ourselves irrevocably at war and shall oppose any substitute for victory. This is the National Defense angle.
  4. The competitive price system is indispensable to liberty and material progress, threatened by Big Brother government and union monopolies. This is the Free market capitalism angle.

BARRY GOLDWATER– Arizona Senator and Presidential Candidate in 1964 

Barry_Goldwater_photo1962

“Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

Signature issues: States’ rights, labor union reform, anti-communism, free-market principles and staunch fiscal conservatism. Libertarian on social issues (abortion and civil rights) which alienated him from the republican elite. In an interesting twist, he was a strong supporter of the environment, supporting legislation regulation corporations’ pollution of the air and water.

IRVING KRISTOL – Founder of the Neoconservative Movement

“The political purpose of neoconservatism would seem to be this: to convert the Republican party, and American conservatism in general, against their respective wills, into a new kind of conservative politics suitable to governing a modern democracy.” His own words

Signature issues: Cutting taxes to stimulate economic growth (but very little focus on reduction in spending). In neoconservatism, republicans join democrats in their embrace of big government. “The growth of the state is natural, indeed inevitable”.

Neocons share some common ground with traditional conservatives on issues of morality.

Perhaps chief among the neoconservative ideas is the infiltration of the concept that our ‘national interest’ extends beyond our borders. The might and power of our military backed up by our strong sense of American exceptionalism places upon us the duty to defend any democratic nation from attack by nondemocratic forces.

In something less than coincidence, the popularity of this brand of foreign policy would coincide with the creation of Israel and the ensuing wars between the Jewish state and their Arab neighbors.

George W. Bush would later greatly expanded on neoconservative foreign policy, and broaden the goal from defense of democratic nations, to actively spreading democracy throughout the world.

REAGAN ERA CONSERVATISM – Platform of President Ronald Reagan 1980-1988

Tax cuts, greatly increased military budget (in contrast to Carter-era spending), deregulation, a policy of the rollback of communism, and appeals to family values and conservative morality.

reagan_flags

So-called Reagan conservatism emphasized the libertarian angle less, and incorporated the neoconservative trend of heavy military spending, while introducing the term “family values” to encompass judeo-christian influence on the moral order concept.

TEA PARTY (No official leader)

The Tea Party, due to its informal nature and scattered organization, brought both positive and arguably negative developments to the conservative movement.

First the positive. The tea party reintroduced the constitution as the standard by which all brands of conservatism should be measured. The party ‘platform’ indicates a strong belief that judeo-christian values were embedded in, and inseparable from, our founding documents. Refreshingly the party re-emphasized the need to limit not only the size, but the scope of the federal government, arguing persuasively that a large central government is necessarily an oppressive one. The party emphasized the bill of rights including the second amendment right to bear arms and religious liberty, while conveying the sometimes exaggerated view that both of these liberties are under attack.

In contrast to these firmly grounded constitutional principles, the Tea Party muddied the waters by taking the ‘exceptionalism’ idea of neoconservatism, and molding it into a new form of nationalism hostile to all forms of immigration, free trade and diversity. As a result, rallies of constitutional conservatives were overshadowed by bigoted symbols and chants from those with no political views other than hatred for President Obama.

ugly tea party sign

CONFLICTS IN THE VARIETIES OF CONSERVATISM

Foreign Policy/National Defense – Early anti-communism conservatives and later neoconservatives translated ‘strong national defense’ into a policy of intervention and spreading the cause of freedom through nation building. Liberty-minded conservatives believe intervention and skyrocketing military spending are incompatible with fiscal conservatism, as well as ineffective and immoral, making the nation less safe.

Social Issues/Family Values – “Traditional” or “Moral Order” conservatives are willing to use the power of the state to enforce a judeo-christian view of morality, while liberty-minded and millenial conservatives leave morality to God and argue the state should distance itself from all judgments of virtue.

Size/Scope of Government – Neoconservatives and the most recent modern conservatives  propose liberal tax cuts with moderate or nonexistent reductions in spending. Liberty-minded conservatives prioritize reductions in government spending over tax cuts framing the issue as more than just a fiscal matter, but as consistent with reduction in the scope of the federal government’s role.

Nationalism – This conflict has only recently taken shape, and is illustrated perfectly by divisions in the current GOP primary race. The dividing lines are still being drawn. This is a topic all its own, which I will be writing about within the next week (What is Nationalism, and is it Compatible with Conservatism?). For now, I’ll just conclude that this is a hot topic of conflict among those calling themselves conservatives.

All of the forks in ideology described above follow a similar pattern: Virtue vs. Liberty.

What is a Conservative today? 

The movement has taken a long and windy road. As can be seen by the thorny conflicts described above, there are not only shades of conservatism, but incompatible factions. This may be how the republican party has ended up in the civil-war-like predicament in which it is currently mired.

Kirk and Buckley might be called the philosophical conservatives. Goldwater might have set the stage for the liberty-minded conservatives. Irving Kristol clearly drew up the vision for the neoconservatives, and arguably Ronald Reagan may have formed his own blend by walking the line between Goldwater and Kristol’s world view. Under the banner of ‘compassionate conservatism‘ George W.Bush ceded complete ideological sway over the conservative movement to the neocons, in what might be referred to as Neocon Turbo, which resulted in eight years of transformational liberalism through President Barack Obama, and finally, the Tea Party.

Now the many tribes of conservatism want their movement back, but they can’t agree on what it is. I believe there is a prevailing majority view that was explained quite well by Senator Marco Rubio in a recent debate.To be clear, this is not my view of what conservatism should be, nor do I believe Senator Rubio is as good at walking as he is at talking. However, he summed up very well what a conservative is widely accepted to mean in 2016:

635568354123993728-marco-rubio

  1. Limited government. If it’s not in the constitution, it doesn’t belong at the federal level.

  2. Free enterprise. The only system that can make poor people richer without making rich people poorer.

  3. A Strong National Defense. The world is safest when America is the strongest nation in the world.

2016 Mainstream Definition of ‘Conservative’ as told by Senator Marco Rubio

Personally, I identify most with the Goldwater libertarian brand of conservatism. I don’t object to Marco’s modern definition of the movement, with the possible exception of the third prong. If it were my movement to define I would stop the statement in the third prong immediately after “Strong National Defense.” The emphasis on World Safety and the US responsibility for the same smacks of the global neoconservatism which has dragged the party away from the fundamental principle of limited government.

In my view, ALL definitions of conservatism must contain the following basic elements:

Limited government is a both a financial and a moral imperative. Limited Government means holding to the powers granted to the federal government by the constitution. It MUST involve drastic reductions in SIZE (headcount and dollars) and SCOPE (the breadth of issues the federal government controls). Standing alone, tax cuts are meaningless

Free markets create jobs. Risk takers and producers build things, not presidents or senators.

We are created (or born if you prefer) with individual rights. These rights are not granted by government. The government has no role in ensuring fairness or equal outcomes, only equality under the law. Individuals do not owe their labor or property to any greater good or cause.

We must have the strongest National Defense in the world, but we must put the capital D back in defense. The only objective should be to protect the mainland and overseas interests from imminent threat of harm.

In response to accusations of ‘not being a conservative’, I have heard some respond “what good have conservatives done for us?” Based on my definition, I would simply respond: “We haven’t tried one yet.”

Maybe the term is changing as we speak. I just want to be notified once it all shakes out.  If ‘Conservative’ comes to mean anything other than the my simple definition above, then I am eager to align myself with another word.

 

Rand is Out. Now What?

Rand Paul has ended his presidential campaign to the great dismay of this writer and many like-minded libertarian leaning conservatives. For the first 72 hours or so afterward, I have observed many different reactions ranging from “Life is empty, nothing matters” (me), to “I’m voting 3rd party” and even “I guess it’s Bernie now!” (To the last person, you obviously have not been paying attention.)

It is difficult to make the transition. When you have been so convinced that you are supporting the right guy, it is easy to fall into a pattern of believing that everyone else is garbage. I am nowhere near as inspired by, or confident in, any of the remaining GOP candidates as I was Rand Paul.

cool rand
“I’ll defend the entire bill of rights.”

It is worth noting that Rand Paul intentionally decided not to endorse anyone and according to his campaign he will not do so during the primary. I’m not sure if this is a political move, or if he legitimately doesn’t believe in any of them. Realistically, a Rand Paul endorsement would likely be taken very seriously by his loyal followers.

Life must go on. In the following paragraphs I’ll lay out a few considerations for the Rand Paul supporter. I won’t suggest that there is a “right choice” for any of us, because as it stands I am truly disaffected. I am officially undecided at this point.

Let’s start with the Third Party idea. Jim Webb has been toying with the idea of an independent  bid, but most agree the time for ‘pondering’ has passed and that Jim Webb is highly unlikely to be able to raise even the $8M it would take just to gain 50-state ballot access. This leaves us with the Libertarian Party  featuring Gary Johnson as the probable nominee.  Ideologically, the Johnson option fits well with most libertarian leaning conservatives. Johnson is a republican leaning libertarian, mostly in line with Rand Paul on all major issues, with the exception of immigration.

The problem here is that it is difficult to inspire a large number of voters to back a candidate who candidly acknowledges he will not be elected. A vote for the Libertarian Party is a wish for the future. The party as it is currently positioned is not a serious player in the national political landscape. A visit to the party’s website reveals a solid platform built on the constitution and individual liberty. Truth and sincerity abounds. But why do all the candidate profile pictures look like selfies taken in the back of a comic book store?

There is something noble about voting in line with your principles, and being a part of the solution, and the dream of a better America. This must be balanced with the immediate reality: Either a republican or a democrat will be elected president this year. Is it more important to work towards meaningful long-term (very long-term) change by bringing the Libertarian Party mainstream, or to pick the already mainstream option likely to do the least amount of damage, or maybe even some good, in the short-term?

Ted CruzMany argue this is a clear choice for a Rand Paul supporter. Rand supported Ted Cruz in his 2012 campaign for senate, and the two, along with Mike Lee, have worked together many times on conservative initiatives including surveillance legislation and a successful filibuster which neutered the post-Sandy Hook gun control hysteria. But many Paul supporters are violently opposed to Cruz, attacking him viciously with allegations of being bought and paid for by banks, and missing the Audit the Fed vote.

Where Ted Cruz falls drastically short of Rand Paul, is in authenticity. Ted Cruz is every bit as smart and knowledgeable about the constitution, but he shifts shapes effortlessly  to conform to his environment, depending on the group to which he is currently pandering. This can be very unattractive. Ted has calculated precisely which buttons he needs to push in order to bring the right people to the polls. As a result, we have watched in horror as he channels Benny Hinn in front of the evangelicals, and emulates Dick Cheney to those who are convinced “the terrorists are coming!” and want more war. He is shameless in his analytics approach to capture the electorate.

To consider Cruz, one must be able to disregard what appears as dishonesty, and chalk it up to political gamesmanship. In reality, Ted Cruz’ conservative bona fides are legitimate and proven. There is a reason he is so deeply hated by the leadership of the party, who have actually warmed up to Trump out of sheer terror at the prospect of President Cruz. The Goldman Sachs canard is futile. A loan is not a donation. Ted Cruz owes Goldman Sachs interest payments, but there is no proof he owes them favors.

It has been harder and harder for me to admire Ted Cruz . . . to really’like’ him. He would probably be the most qualified in the field at filling SCOTUS slots, and he is likely to take steps toward reducing the size of federal government. On the other hand, he will not be able to address the issue of polarization, and would very likely be one of the most disliked presidents of all time. Isn’t there a better way?

Ben Carson – Ben is an admirable and respectable man. He is a conservative. He has shown a tendency to trip over his own feet when pressed on a question, or asked to elaborate on his position. In general, he does not display a lot of toughness, or sharpness. This is a problem. On foreign policy he has developed into a rather hawkish figure, and this does not play perfectly with a Rand supporter. There is nothing wrong with being a nice guy, but in the month long Donald Trump tirade where Ben was the butt of every joke, he failed to stand up for himself in any significant way. He never regained his momentum.

It was for these reasons that I called for Ben to drop out the day after Iowa, before I knew my own candidate would bow out first.

Conservative pickings are slim at this point, however. If our main concerns are the size and scope of government and the national debt, and the role of the executive in furthering those aims, Ben Carson is at least in the neighborhood, if not in the ballpark.

What we won’t get out of any of the remaining candidates

We can probably completely forget about dovish foreign policy, criminal justice reform, and bringing in new young liberty-minded conservatives to the party, with any of the candidates left running. These prospects died with the campaign of our good friend, the Senator from Kentucky I’m afraid.

So what if we can’t get comfortable with one of those three options?

 

If the three options above don’t pan out, I believe we have lost. I don’t mean ‘we the republicans have lost the election’. Republicans may very well win this year, up against the terrible, horrible, no good very bad democratic slate of candidates the political gods have bless us with. But as we have learned, putting a republican in the white house does not advance our cause. When I say ‘we have lost’,  I mean ‘we the libertarian-minded conservatives have failed to advance our cause.’

I don’t suggest abstaining from voting. I don’t suggest vowing “Never to vote” for any one candidate. In the end, there is some value in being pragmatic. Both Hillary and Rubio would expand the federal government and expand foreign involvement in conflicts. Is there a chance that Rubio picks better supreme court justices? I don’t know.

I plan on watching the New Hampshire debate this Saturday as a free agent. I expect it will be the last debate for at least 3 candidates, probably 4. Since I have seen them all before, I’ll be watching for different things this time. The intangibles. I know all of their positions. I’m looking for optimism now, and true leadership. I’m looking for the man or woman who I can proudly point to and tell my children, “that’s our President.

 

After Iowa

In my view, only two candidates should drop out based on the results of the Iowa caucuses: Ben Carson and Rick Santorum.

Why Ben Carson who landed in 4th place, ahead of my candidate of choice Rand Paul, you ask? It’s simple. Ben Carson has no room for growth. He is a faith-based conservative (as is Santorum), and if Iowa does anything, it decides the King of the faith-based conservatives. Cruz has taken this crown. (See past winners Huckabee and Santorum, both unsuccessful in seeking the nomination, but undoubtedly the evangelical leaders in their respective fields).

A strong argument could be made that Bush, Kasich, Fiorina, and Christie should also drop, because Marco Rubio is running away with the establishment. The reason I am not so confident in this idea is because I am not certain that it is only establishment republicans flocking to Marco Rubio.

There seems to be something very unique about New Hampshire. Kasich is in second place in many polls there, which is very odd considering he is a pariah anywhere else. I think it is fair to give Christie, Kasich, Bush and Fiorina their last chance to appeal to some random groups of undecided voters on February 9th in New Hampshire before officially calling it quits, which I assume at least three of them will do immediately thereafter.

Many are calling it a three person race now, because that is what they desperately want. It makes the story more fun to tell, and better for media not to have so many faces on the screen at once.

I see it differently.  Carson’s voters are likely to branch out in a number of directions. Cruz and Rubio would likely take the lion’s share, with everyone else in the field maybe making small gains. A 10% swing would have an impact on Trump’s seemingly insurmountable national momentum, and could benefit any number of candidates. Personally, and without contempt, I would like to see Rand Paul capture back some of the disaffected who have flocked to Donald Trump. This could happen.

carson

I have nothing negative to say about Ben Carson, or his followers. He is a true conservative, and a good man. His quiet, loving, thoughtful and compassionate demeanor does not work for him against the louder, bolder, sharp and confident man who has captured the attention of voters who place faith above all other criteria. I wish him the very best, and I don’t think this will be the last we see of him. But it is time to bow out.