There’s a dangerous misconception brewing that could take the GOP primary to another level. Some want you to believe it will trigger the End Times.
This idea, being pitched by Trump-friendly public figures including Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, and even some left-leaning outfits is that a contested convention would be a subversion of the people’s will and would represent an attempt by the elite to control the outcome of the 2016 GOP primary. These messengers are poking the coals of an obviously angry Trump base and setting the stage for chaos and violence in July. The problem is, those conveying this message either do not understand the process, or they are intentionally misleading their respective audiences.
The mere occurrence of a contested convention is not evidence of an establishment ploy. It is very plainly the necessary consequence of a primary nomination process that fails to identify a candidate with a majority of delegates.
Let’s establish a few fundamental points concerning the primary process:
Both parties seek candidates that will ensure the maximum number of voters turn out in the general election, to defeat the candidate from the opposing party.
With this goal in mind, no prudent party would award the nomination to a candidate who has only proven the support of one third of the party.
This does not mean a plurality is not indicative of support. It clearly is. It simply means it is not sufficient, standing alone, to earn the nomination without a final contest.
The primary objective is to identify a candidate that is able to garner a majority of support of the party members. (1237 out of 2472 delegates).
A contested convention is not some new idea dreamed up by party overlords to defeat Trump. The convention is, by its nature, a contest. It just so happens that the primary process usually narrows down the field early enough that voters rally around a leading candidate. When that candidate achieves the majority of delegates prior to the convention, no further contest is necessary. The convention becomes more of a ceremonial roll call, a celebration and a grand send-off to the nominee.
In a marathon in which runner A drops out at 24 miles, Runner B drops out at 25 miles, and Runner C drops out at 25.8 miles, no one gets a finisher medal. The finish line is measured to be exactly the distance between Marathon and Athens in Greece (26.2 miles). The number is not arbitrary. If runners A, B and C want to establish marathon running dominance, they need to arrange a final contest.
Fact: There is currently no consensus candidate. If the remainder of the primaries do not reveal a candidate who can earn a majority of delegates, The primary process has failed.
A final contest is the only proper response. There will be plenty of time to argue over the rules, who the delegates are and how much deference will be given to the popular vote.
In the meantime, Donald Trump should not be thinking about riots. He should be thinking about reaching the finish line before the convention. There is one prize the party elders cannot take from him, and that is 1237 delegates.
If, on the off chance he does not reach the required number, then he should focus on negotiating one of those great deals he’s been telling us about at the convention. He will have immense leverage with his impressive plurality of delegates. Should be a cinch for the guy who wrote the “Art of the Deal.”
To listen to Trump and his surrogates, if he arrives at the convention with a plurality, he should simply be awarded the nomination. This is pure nonsense. It would require the entire rulebook to be rewritten and would completely fail the primary objective of the process, to amass a majority of support behind the eventual nominee.
But Trump controls the message, and his supporters are hearing: “They are going to screw you over again!”
Before anyone starts stuffing oily rags into glass bottles, do your best to get your candidate past the finish line.
We may be forced to face this question soon. Given the current delegate count, Donald Trump’s impenetrable fortress of 35% of base voters, and the insistence of Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich to split the remainder 30/20/15, Trump has great odds to win the republican nomination. This outcome could either be solidified or further challenged today: The Ides of March, 2016.
I have been open about my opposition to Trump, from the very beginning. After instinctively opposing him shortly after his announcement, and later realizing he wasn’t going away, I honestly considered whether I could get behind him. I listened to him. After one debate I almost caught myself appreciating his style. I kept coming back to the same issues however, and as the campaign went on, more troubling, non-political red flags started popping up.
I have political concerns about Donald Trump. I don’t believe he is a conservative. It is important to know at this point though, that I am not going to expect ideological purity out of any candidate. I haven’t felt 100% behind a candidate since Rand Paul dropped out in early February. John Kasich is too soft on issues of limited government. He is sanctimonious and stubborn. Ted Cruz is in perpetual lawyer mode and often strikes an unnecessarily adversarial tone. He panders shamelessly to evangelicals (whatever the heck those are) and has a reptilian quality I can’t quite put my finger on. Marco Rubio is a slick packaged platitude-machine with massive debt-expanding ideas to solve all the world’s problems, who also dove headfirst into the gutter to trade schoolyard insults with Trump.
With Rubio and Kasich, much like with John McCain in 2008, I have a basic idea of what I would get. Although it is watered down, it is at least in the ballpark of what I’m looking for. I know that there are some core conservative principles within them I can count on. I can watch them speak, and even if I think they are soft or wrong on an issue, I believe they are respectable servant leaders that fit into my picture of what I hope America is. With Ted Cruz, I get even closer to my ideal candidate, notwithstanding some troubling issues with warmth and authenticity.
My primary objections to Donald Trump are not political matters of degree. They are personal. They come from my gut. In the end, I have to at least KINDA like the guy. Before I answer the title question of this blog post, I’ll document just a few of my non-policy related observations of Trump that set him apart from the other candidates, making me less willing to compromise my support.
1. Trump stole the media with shock humor.
Simple strategy. Drop a bomb. If people laugh, pretend it was a joke. If people cheer, pretend you meant it. If people are shocked and outraged, back off the statement quietly on morning show interviews, but double down and play the victim in front of your supporters and blame ‘political correctness’ and social justice warriors.
Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee had to raise five dollars at a time and shell out a million dollars for a 30 second commercial in Iowa. Trump only needed to say “Ban Muslims” and he ran away with 60 minutes of free live television coverage on multiple networks.
Many of his opponents were flabbergasted. How to respond! All they could manage was to essentially shout “He’s cheating! You Can’t just SAY STUFF!”
To illustrate this point, I am reminded of one of my favorite lines from the movie Napoleon Dynamite. Pedro is running for student body president against much a much more popular and polished Summer Wheatley. He is nervous about his upcoming election speech and he confides in Napoleon: “I don’t know what to say.” Napoleon responds: “Just tell them… if they vote for you, you’ll make all of their wildest dreams come true.” Pedro got in front of the school and promised just that. How could Summer Wheatley’s promise to “get a glitter Bonne Bell dispenser for all the girls’ bathrooms” possibly compete with that!
Sure enough, Pedro won the election despite Wheatley’s promise that ” with me, it will be summer all year long.”
And so has gone the primary. A detailed flat tax and a complex plan to send federal government functions back to the states simply cannot compete against a promise to “treat veterans better than they have ever been treated before, believe me!”
2. Trump cast doubt on conservatism. While attempting to destroy the establishment, Trump has weakened the conservative movement in a year in which it had unbelievable potential to make a comeback. He has given momentum to this idea that conservatism has somehow failed, asking “What has conservatism done for you lately?”
When Trump plants a seed, he has millions of followers and an army of personal media willing to give it water and sunlight. This idea has now taken full bloom. Consistent conservatives are in danger of losing a voice that they barely had in the republican party to begin with. Trump has convinced many that conservatism is not a worthy aim. The fact is that we have had no legitimate conservative movement candidates for years, but that trend has reversed in the past six years with people like Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Justin Amash, Thomas Massie and more. The Trump phenomenon has overshadowed the significant gains in this movement of principles.
3. He has ruined the war on political correctness. Trump blames the ‘PC culture’ at every instance of revulsion to his outrageous behavior. Lifelong conservatives don’t even know what the term means anymore. If it means being generally respectful and polite to people, then most of us want more of it. The real threat of political correctness was the cowardly avoidance of important topics, usually by making up cute new invented terms.
Instead of focusing on the PC epidemic being thrust upon college students (ideas of cultural appropriation, genderless pronouns and mandatory ‘fairness’), Trump wants us to believe we are being wimpy and PC because we want some basic civility from our public figures; say, for instance, to refrain from repeated references to physical appearance in a presidential campaign, or to scale back the alienation of an entire religion.
If our leaders must humiliate their critics with vulgar personal attacks in order to defeat political correctness, many of us are willing to bring PC back.
4. He will betray even his supporters.
Trump has taken to repeating the line: “Politicians: All talk, no action.” Meanwhile, he has privately backed off every single stance he has taken to date, while publicly adopting the anti-principle that everything is negotiable. If elected, he could never be held to any campaign promise, because he has not made any measurable promises, with the exception of building a wall. Somehow he has been given a complete pass on 180 degree policy reversals, including astonishing denouncements (or ‘softenings’) of his signature issue: Immigration.
Many of us fear what will happen if Trump were somehow elected and keeps his promises. Supporters will feel betrayed when he does not. No one wins.
5. Dangerous Red Flags.
The hysterical reaction to Trump is overblown by some. He is not a Nazi or a Fascist, but he is willing to allow people to think he is if it keeps him on camera during primetime.
And while Trump himself is not directly as dangerous as some make him out to be, he has exploited raw anger, and stoked the fires of hatred in a significant chunk of his following. Trump is a rich kid from New York. It is hard to imagine how he could personally understand or relate to the partially legitimate anger of his followers. If elected, he would discover that he cannot control it.
Leaders that I admire diffuse explosive situations. They calm the angry and point them in a productive direction. Perhaps the most frightening aspect of this Trump phenomenon to me has been the instigation and provocation of anger. Trump’s schtick does not work with a calm and happy audience. He needs them fired up and whipped into a frenzy. They return the favor with the most shocking display of idol worship of a public figure that I have ever witnessed in my lifetime.
Combine zealous supporters willing to physically fight for their leader with an authoritarian leaning Trump who promises to protect them when they do, and we have a real problem.
6. My aversion to aggressively Type A Leaders.
I have had the opportunity over the years to work with and observe many different types of leaders. I have witnessed a very familiar pattern in Type-A, ass-kickin’, blustery, head honcho-type leaders. Those who use fear and disorientation (shock and awe) to motivate people often achieve impressive short term results, at a recognizable human cost. This is fine when you are running a business, especially if the business is in trouble and tough decisions must be made to turn it around, because you can just keep cycling through humans. You are accountable only to your shareholders who are concerned solely with the bottom line. This type of leadership is also effective in a military battlefield environment, because every order could be the difference between life and death. There is no room for collaboration or servant leadership.
The federal government is not compatible with a business or a military combat unit. The liberty of individuals is THE objective of our government. US citizens are not employees accountable to achieve the aims of the nation. Our leaders serve us, and those most effective are able to do this while also inspiring us and making us proud. There are many leadership styles which are strong, effective and dignified without belligerence.
So I’m on record. This post is not designed to persuade anyone. This is basically my last gasp before this thing is essentially over and I have to find a new hobby. I oppose the nomination of Donald Trump for the presidency of the United States, without equivocation, because I don’t share any identifiable principles with him and he is not the type of leader I admire.
Vote for Trump?
Prepare yourselves. If you have made your opposition to Trump public, you could soon be bombarded with “It’s either him or Hillary!” and “Time to unite for the good of the country!”
To acquiesce and cast a “Beat Hillary” vote for Donald Trump in the general election is to submit to the very principle Donald Trump’s candidacy has so effectively overcome, that one must simply accept the inevitability of the candidate the party produces, no matter how offensive and contradictory to one’s own principles.
This is an establishment idea. The republican ‘establishment’ has been deposed. Why then, should we be expected to rally to the call of this collective? What ‘party’ are we rallying around?
Despite its awful reputation, the establishment legitimately served one purpose. It dominated the media and talked down to us, all in the effort of convincing us that we needed to stand behind the leading candidate for the sake of THE PARTY.
The establishment was a flag that we all begrudgingly waved when our ideal candidates had been rejected. Donald Trump deserves credit for marginalizing, if not obliterating this venerable institution. Now though, having torched the flag, Trump cannot reasonably expect conservatives to coalesce around the charred remains based solely on the age-old establishment rationale of UNITY.
Mr. Trump has aptly pointed out that I am part of a statistically irrelevant minority of the republican party. I suppose he won’t need me in his coalition. I won’t stay home on election day though. I will vote for limited government principles, wherever they may be found.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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 ‘compassionateconservatism‘ 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:
Limited government. If it’s not in the constitution, it doesn’t belong at the federal level.
Free enterprise. The only system that can make poor people richer without making rich people poorer.
A Strong National Defense. The world is safest when America is the strongest nation in the world.
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.