Winners and Losers: The Final Night of the GOP Convention

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

It was the final night of the GOP convention in Cleveland. Let’s look at the winners and the losers of the night:

WINNERS

Donald J. Trump: Mr. Trump accepted the Republican nomination for President of the United States to raucous applause and support. Sure, he gave a loud speech that pointed out a lot of the problems in the nation, but, ask most people in the country right now whether we’re on the right or the wrong track and you’re guaranteed to get a response that people are ready for a real change. Trump hit that note and he hit it hard. This was his night to talk to the American people and he did… for over 76 minutes. Yes, it was a long speech, but we are used to Trump’s long-winded talks. He had a lot of points to cover and he had the audience there.

Ivanka Trump: Mr. Trump’s eldest daughter, Ivanka, introduced her father at the convention. In a speech aimed at cutting the legs out from the criticism of Mr. Trump that he may not respect women and minorities, Ms. Trump slammed critics with cold, hard facts about her father and his business. While each of the Trump children gave winning speeches, Ms. Trump’s was likely the best received. There was also a significant undertone in the speech targeting millennials who are looking for a moderate way forward.

Peter Thiel: The billionaire CEO of Paypal hit a homerun last night. Openly gay and proudly Republican, he let loose with libertarian messaging and was warmly welcomed. Though it may not go down in history as the most rhetorically brilliant speech ever given in the history of conventions, it kicked the door open for the Party on LGBTQ issues and for libertarian foreign policy. Also, he said what so many people are thinking about dog whistle social issues and told the Party, directly, just to move on to the important issues facing the nation.

Republican Unity: Despite Mr. Trump’s best efforts, there wasn’t a lot of unity at this week’s convention to report in the media. Last night was different. Every leg was moving in the right direction towards a better future. The messaging was spot-on.

Reince Priebus: While the Chairman of the Republican Party isn’t exactly someone who gets “fired up,” his speech to the convention was one that bordered on passion. He’s come under a lot of criticism from basically everyone at one time or another during the primaries and the lead up to the convention. As the dust settles, Reince won out and, despite some ruffled feathers, the convention proceeded without incident.

CSPAN: Watching events without commentary is so refreshing.

Teleprompted Trump: I get it, Trump likes to speak from the heart and has railed against the use of teleprompters. However, every time he uses one, his speeches are better. While he will likely not bring them into his stump speeches, all of his major addresses should be done with the screens.

Trump’s Asides: There were two unscripted moments that stood out in Trump’s speech last night that were particularly important. Usually when Trump goes off-script, there is some cause for concern. However, first, when he thanked the audience for their support of his commitment to protect the LGBTQ community from terrorism, and second, when he sheepishly admitted that Evangelicals may have been right to question the strength of his Christianity, he was breaking new ground and seemed totally genuine.

LGBTQ Republicans: Whether it was Peter Thiel’s speech or Trump’s decision to directly thank the audience for its commitment to protect LGBTQ people from terrorism, the Republican Party, by the insistence of Donald Trump, has become more inclusionary. Is it the realization of the “big tent”? Probably not, but it is a direct attempt to combat the narrative that just because someone is a certain race, sexual orientation, gender, or religion that they have to fall in lock-step politically.

Tom Barrack: Former-billionaire Tom Barrack presented himself as one of Trump’s close friends for years. While his stories did seem to be a bit un-relatable to Americans who couldn’t just “take a private helicopter” to a Mike Tyson fight, I found him to be remarkably genuine. Sure, it was a bit of a scattered hodgepodge of anecdotes, but it got behind the curtain to see that Trump’s just a regular guy. Sure, he may have a lot of money, but he legitimately cares about people and has many of the same cares and concerns that most anyone else has. This was the message of the speech, and it reached its goal.

The Biographical Video About Trump: Humanizing and real with great production value.

LOSERS

The Media’s Pre-Convention Narrative: The narrative going into the convention was that there were going to be mass protests and violence. While some demonstrators got arrested over the four-day period, most everything stayed peaceful and small.

The Media, Generally: Exposed as a left-leaning narrative creating machine, Trump and other speakers were harsh and direct critics of the fourth estate. Given that the coverage bias was so blatant in some areas, perhaps this issue will cause additional support to come over to Trump’s message.

That One Loud Protester: C’mon. It’s his acceptance speech. Shut up.

The Balloons: They came down eventually, but it wasn’t the balloon tsunami I’d been expecting.

Barron Trump: Trump’s youngest son didn’t get a speaking role at the convention. But, he did get to be the first on stage to greet his dad after the speech.

East Coast Viewers: The 76+ minute speech almost went into Friday morning!

Liberal Commentators: Sloppily trying to shovel everything they can into pre-conceived narratives.

Conservative Commentators: It was a good speech, sure, but it was long. Let’s give it a B+ and move on.

Hillary Clinton: She’s been taking a bruising over the past month and Trump didn’t let up. Her digital team tried pushing quaint snippy tweets out during the speech that just came off as petty.

Social Justice Warriors: The same folks who go after (primarily) Republicans for intolerance went on rampages online attacking Peter Thiel and Ivanka Trump. Rather than embracing a worldview that says people can hold other political views, they tried to enforce the myopic duality of the left-right factional dichotomy. There is a snap-back coming against this kind of “velvet fascism” and the charge is being led by strong, independent voices like Thiel and Ivanka Trump.

Winners and Losers: GOP Convention Night Three

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

Last night was the third night of the GOP Convention in Cleveland. Without further ado, and hoping that we avoid any technical difficulties, let’s dive right in:

WINNERS

Mike Pence: This was his big moment. He accepted the Vice Presidential nomination and effectively laid out his role on the ticket. He was humble, self-deprecating, strong, concise, but firmly resolved. Even Mr. Trump’s greatest supporters will see that there are “rough edges” to Mr. Trump’s persona. Governor Pence made long strides last night in reassuring the Party that he would start to be some insulation between some of Trump’s bombast and the public. While Mr. Trump is an engagingly fun speaker to listen to (c’mon, give him some credit, you never know what’s going to happen at his speeches and it’s kind of exciting), he sometimes goes on tangents and fails to follow through on policy statements and details. Governor Pence effectively conveyed the “Trumpian” message last night with precision and in a way that could be symbiotic with the larger-scale “big tent” Republicanism. In all, he needed a good speech, and he got it.

Newt Gingrich: Earlier in the week, we were critical of the Trump Campaign for failing to have effective “rapid response.” Basically, what this means is having a “spin team” ready to give the Campaign’s take on an issue that would otherwise fester or get a life of its own. Newt Gingrich allayed those concerns last night. After Ted Cruz’s rambling quasi-attack on Trump (we’ll get to that later), Gingrich strayed from prepared remarks at the beginning of his speech to deliver a blisteringly good defense of the Nominee while pulling no punches against Mr. Cruz. The delivery, though, to Gingrich’s credit wasn’t a takedown of Cruz, but rather a building-up of Trump. This is a welcome departure from the oft-chided Trumpian slams on fellow Republicans. The rest of Gingrich’s speech was strong, but, it will be remembered for his coming to Trump’s defense.

Eric Trump: Having to follow Ted Cruz in a hall full of broken jumbotrons and a raucous crowd was no easy task. However, Eric Trump was able to persevere and give a solid defense of his father right after Ted Cruz’s ramblings. While it was not as choreographed as his brother Don Jr.’s speech the night before, Eric Trump showed, again, as this week has been proving, the Trump kids are pretty good on stage. As Governor Pence would point out later in the night: “you can’t fake great kids.”

Ted Cruz’s 2016 Campaign: He reminded you that he existed and that he was angry. After Trump insulted his wife and father, Mr. Cruz got time to deliver an address in prime time. This was, at best, a risky call for the GOP. Mr. Cruz dishonored his pledge to support the nominee and told voters to go with their conscience. Why is his 2016 campaign in the winners’ column? Because people are going to be talking about it. Rather than fade into irrelevance, Mr. Cruz took a stand. For that, the holdout, die hard, Ted Cruz supporters were probably happy.

Strong Women for Trump: There were several female executives who gave speeches in prime time to support Mr. Trump. They weren’t all the most memorable speeches, but they conveyed the right optics: the Trump Organization, and Trump himself, promotes women equally to men. The issue of Mr. Trump’s relationship with women has, and will continue to be, no small part of the criticism leveled against him. However, taking steps to show, concretely, that, in business Mr. Trump has advanced women to executive levels, will help his perception on the issue.

The Guy Who Got the Power Back On Before Pence Made His Speech: The control room was probably freaking out for the better part of an hour trying to get power restored. Whoever got it working again deserves combat pay.

Scott Walker: The Wisconsin Governor spoke to the crowd without a podium. For a campaign where “high energy” was an issue, Governor Walker showed more pep that we’ve seen out of him for years. He also, officially, came around to supporting Trump wholeheartedly. Yes, the speech fell a little flat, but Walker continued to draw a national audience and showed unity on a night where that wound up being a major concern.

Donald Trump: CSPAN cut away twice during Ted Cruz’s speech to focus on Trump arriving at the convention and then coming into the hall. Both times, it was clear Mr. Trump expected this coverage and expected it to detract from Cruz. It was a WWE-style moment and classically Trump. His Vice President officially accepted nomination, so, it was a good night for him.

Checklists: Some of the pre-prime speeches seemed like the speakers had been given checklists of buzzwords to repeat. Keeping score at home of what buzzwords were checked-off was entertaining.

LOSERS

Ted Cruz’s 2020 Campaign: Sometimes you want to do what feels good and tell people off. You usually don’t do it because you realize you will have to keep those bridges for the future. Well, Ted Cruz, in prime time, torched those bridges. He’s betting Trump loses and that he can ride in in 2020 and propose an arch-conservative message to redeem America. However, Mr. Cruz will need the wide majority of Mr. Trump’s supporters from 2016 to come to his side if he has any hope for a presidential run. This now seems very unlikely. Ted Cruz’s surrogates lost all of their battles in the rules committee and on the floor of the convention as they tried to emulate Reagan’s 1976 convention strategy. But, let’s remember, Reagan didn’t get booed off the stage in 1976.

The Jumbotron Contractor: You had one job! Maybe they got hacked or maybe they were trying to cut Ted Cruz off. Whatever it was, it was national prime time and embarrassing.

The New York Delegation: I get it, you wanted Cruz to endorse Trump. He maybe should have. However, you’re on national television and created a spectacle. This probably wasn’t the way Donald Trump wanted it to go down.

Marco Rubio: A two-minute ho-hum pre-recorded video endorsement of Trump and Party principles was forgettable.

The RNC: Why on Earth did you let Ted Cruz speak in Prime Time? This isn’t meant as a slam on Cruz, but rather on, what must have been a whole room full of terrible judgment.

Circus Performers: I didn’t follow that speech and I defy anyone else to tell me what it was really all about.

Winners and Losers: Day Two of the GOP Convention

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

It was the second night of the GOP Convention in Cleveland. Donald Trump became the official nominee of the Republican Party and received over 1,700 delegates on the convention floor. There were no disruptions or walkouts (probably to the chagrin of the media). Monday was “Make America Safe Again.” Last night was “Make America Work Again.”

WINNERS

Donald J. Trump: He got the nomination. Ask almost anyone whether Trump would have been the nominee (including your humble writer) last June, and you’d have gotten responses anywhere from “no” to just a fit of laughter. From a descending escalator at Trump tower to yesterday afternoon, the Donald charged forward to the nomination. Realistically, looking at the numbers, it was really never that close once the primary voting got underway. Trump subverted decades of political maxims and theories. Love him or hate him, he’s the Party’s nominee.

Donald J. Trump, Jr.: Some folks have problems with Donald Trump (the elder)’s messaging, delivery, bombast, and tone. In his son, Don Jr., there’s a concise, engaging, and dynamic surrogate. Sure, it was a speech crafted for that response, but it was also one of the best speeches at the convention and delivered in a way that was perfect for prime time and delivering the Trump message.

Tiffany Trump: Donald Trump’s youngest adult daughter, fresh out of college, gave insight into “Trump, the Dad.” The delivery was very real, in that Ms. Trump, as she willingly admitted, was more used to talking in college classrooms and not in front of a national audience. However, she conveyed the human side of her father in a way that was meant to get under the “angry” Trump national image to see the dad underneath.

Trumps: They are taking center stage every night and hitting home runs. Sure, Melania came under some criticism for cribbing less than 7% of her word order from Michelle Obama. But, you can’t plagiarize emotional impact. Both nights so far have headlined Trumps who haven’t backed down from the call.

Chris Christie: He had a tough week last week. Passed over for Vice President, folks were (and some still are) writing his political obituary. However, that didn’t seem to faze the boisterous, no-nonsense New Jersey Governor’s “prosecution” of Hillary Clinton. A great “call and response” with an audience already chanting “lock her up” with respect to the former Secretary of State. Christie went through some of the most egregious foreign policy blunders of Clinton’s recent tenure with the Obama Administration in a concise, blistering that only a former federal prosecutor could do.

Trump Wines: The Trump campaign has come under scrutiny for some of Donald Trump’s previous business ventures. A more docile campaign would have held back on bringing Trump’s former ventures to the fore. However, docile is not a word for this convention. The female president of Trump wines detailed how the Trump family saved the vineyard and turned it into the largest producer of wine in Virginia. The more important message of the speech: Trump listens to advice from people who know an issue or industry. This is one of the big concerns that apprehensive Republicans have about a Trump presidency.

Mitch McConnell: Ok, he’s on the bubble. The reason why he comes down on the “winner” side is because he gave a speech that generally threaded the needle of tacit support for Trump while outlining how Trump, even if he’s not the greatest president, would at least not be as bad as Barack Obama. More importantly, McConnell, the Senate Majority leader, appeared with many of the freshman US Senators in supporting Trump.

Avocados: They made it into prime time coverage while most networks skipped Chris Christie.

The Sikh Prayer to Open the Voting: Culturally sensitive, explanatory, and moving to see.

Dana White: Like Marcus Luttrell on Monday night, White was a surprise winner and a dose of masculinity into the otherwise tame political speeches. Mr. White’s Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) organization probably shares a vast majority of its fan base with Trump supporters. No nonsense, red-blooded, Americans. White was a strong speaker and made the “fight” for America a relatable call.

Sen. Jeff Sessions: Gave the nominating speech for Trump. Like we noted yesterday, he was out ahead of Trumpism and has seen his own visions come to pass. That’s got to be a good feeling for him (regardless of how it’s being received by others).

CSPAN: Coverage without commentary. So refreshing.

LOSERS

Anti-Trumpism: While it continues to stamp its feet online, it’s over. For better or worse, Trump’s the nominee. Deal with it as you see fit.

Paul Ryan: He didn’t want to be up there. He didn’t want Trump. He didn’t want any of this. Yet, he had to, officially, nominate Trump. While he gave a good rendition of his 2020 presidential campaign speech, his messages are all overshadowed by the fact that, on his principal, globalist, messaging, the Party base flatly handed him a stinging rebuke.

The Half-Empty Auditorium After Don Jr’s Speech: Two nights in a row, delegates have hustled out after the Trump Family keynote. This is terrible optics.

The People Talking Through Speeches: It happens at every convention, but, the microphones picking up the din of people not paying attention to speakers trying their hardest to engage with the crowd is embarrassing.

Sen. Capito: Sen Shelley More Capito from West Virginia is another borderline winner/loser on the night. She’s from West Virginia and had the opportunity to hammer Hillary’s “we’re going to put miners out of business line.” Unfortunately, like Gen. Flynn on Monday, she had to follow a Trump while burying the lede on the attack against Hillary Clinton’s poor economic judgment. It was a good speech, sure, but, it needed to be fiery and didn’t really connect.

People Booing Muslims for Trump: Really? C’mon delegates. Grow up.

The Alaska Delegation: They were wrong about their own state’s rules. They blamed the RNC for trying to force delegates to Trump while it was actually their own state that had adopted the provision that, when someone officially drops out, the delegates are divided among the remaining candidates. Not an RNC rule, an Alaska rule. They were wrong.

Reince: Stop saying “um” in your speeches.

“Lock Her Up”: I get it, it’s a cathartic chant. But, I’m not sure how that’s going to win over people who are sitting on the fence. Though, maybe I’m just a stick in the mud and over-analyzing.

FoxNews, CNN, Networks: Seriously, stop cutting away from speeches for over-paid political hacks who have been wrong throughout the entire primary campaign season. I was at the gym and got so frustrated I was able to lift more than I thought.

Ben Carson: He started off well “I’m not politically correct.” It then turned into a “fruit salad” of a speech that seemed to imply that Hillary Clinton would, literally, lead the nation to Hell. No, not a metaphor. Yeah, it was jarring. Sure, Carson deserved a speaking slot, and sure, no problem with him making faith a part of it. But, it went off the rails pretty quickly.

The Speakers I Don’t Remember: If they’re not memorable, they probably weren’t hitting the marks they needed.

Night One of the GOP Convention: Winners and Losers

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Let’s take a look at who the big winners and losers were from the first day and night of the GOP Convention.

WINNERS

Donald Trump: It’s his show and his time to shine. Whether it was the final crushing of the petulance of “Never Trump” or his futuristic WWE-style arrival at the convention, this is the time for Mr. Trump to put his mark on the Party. The first day, though the media loves the “chaos” on the floor of the convention, there was nothing that was standing in the way of the multi-million dollar, choreographed, prime time Trump Train.

Melania Trump: The supermodel, multi-lingual, entrepreneur wife of Donald Trump took center stage last night after being introduced by her husband. She hit a home run. Her detractors (who were never voting for Mr. Trump anyway) have stormed social media critiquing about 5% of Mrs. Trump’s speech that appeared to be similar to Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democrat Convention in 2008. The passage? Saying that she hopes the values of hard work and dedication can reach the next generation. If Melania is “plagiarizing”  Michelle Obama, then Michelle was plagiarizing every Mom and Dad in America who want to pass on a better country to their kids. Mrs. Trump was poised, cool, and seemed to be the only speaker who wasn’t shouting to be heard.

Rudy Giuliani: “America’s Mayor” got the crowd fired up last night. Mr. Giuliani condemned the biased media for their criticism of Mr. Trump and gave a rousing address about how police need to be respected. He also gave a favorable shout out to LGBT Americans who have, inexcusably, been shut out of the Republican Party in the run-up to the 2016 Convention. Though he did seem like he was shouting to be heard by planes flying overhead, he came off genuine and passionate.

Genuineness and Passion: There was a feeling of visceral “realness” on the first night of the Convention (Make America Safe Again). Whether it was Patricia Smith, the still-grieving mother of Sean Smith who was murdered in the terrorist attack in Benghazi, the parents of children killed by illegal aliens, or the family of a border patrol agent murdered on the Mexican border, the feelings were raw and unfiltered. Many took to social media to condemn MSNBC and liberal commentators (I was watching in CSPAN, so I can’t point to any commentary that was offensive) who openly mocked the grief of these loved ones of people who were killed. Perhaps it was because these speeches seemed so heartfelt and passionate that they resonated so clearly with the viewer.

Marcus Lutrell: The “lone survivor” Navy Seal decided to abandon his teleprompter and spoke straight from the heart. While moments like this could give Convention organizers heartburn, Lutrell showed a deep love of his country and reinforced the need to advocate for America’s veterans.

Sen.Tom Cotton: The first-term Arkansas Senator and veteran was looking for his “Obama in 2004” convention breakout. While he didn’t knock the ball out of the park, he put forward a strong showing. Note that Arkansas changed its law prohibiting a run for President and Senate at the same time (which Cotton is rumored to be considering in 2020). Definitely a career to watch.

Sen. Jeff Sessions: The Alabama Republican was the first Senator to get on board the “Trump Train.” During the “Gang or Eight” immigration negotiations, Sessions was a hardliner outside of the policy negotiations. Now, he is writing the mainstream immigration policy for the GOP. A big reversal of fortune for the Senator and his ideas.

Diversity in Speakers: A pretty good cross-section of America.

LOSERS

Ted Cruz: No, you didn’t miss a speech from the Texas Senator (he’s scheduled for later in the convention), but you did see his path to the nomination in 2020 (if Mr. Trump is not elected) get quite a bit harder. While “Never Trump” was the focus of the media attention over the “chaos” on the voting on the floor early in the day, much of the concern from the likes of Utah Senator Mike Lee was to close off Republican primaries to Independents and Democrats in 2020. This step would have drastically shifted the electorate to the right and made the path for Ted Cruz easier. This process was shouted down on the floor.

Never Trump: It’s dead. Again. The choices are now: Trump, Gary Johnson, or stay home. Folks have until November to decide.

Hillary Clinton: The goal of the night was to show that Hillary Clinton’s failures around the world have made the nation less safe. If viewers (again, I was watching CSPAN, so I don’t know how much the other channels were showing) watched the entire presentation, they were educated about what the Republican Party sees as the  consistent failures of the Obama-Clinton foreign policy.

Lt. General Michael Flynn: Following Melania Trump was tough. Not only did Flynn seemingly speak for an hour (it was less), but the content was delivered in a drill-sergeant-ish monotone yell that was interrupted every once in a while by him trying to get (or joining in) a rally chant. There were a lot of people in the audience who were leaving after Melania’s address, so it couldn’t have been a good feeling giving a prime time speech and seeing people filing out.

The Benghazi 13-Hours Guys: They are American heroes, but their delivery was off. A lot of the jokes would make military folks laugh, but came off just a little strange to the layman. They also competed with General Flynn for the most times I checked my watch during a presentation.

Sen Joni Ernst: Senator Ernst was among a group of veterans and speakers after General Flynn. She started after 11pm and, thereby, missed the prime time window. Senator Ernst is a rising star in the Republican Party, but, in that her audience was basically reduced to a few people in the hall and some holdouts on CSPAN, this was not her night.

Diversity in Audience: It’s a sad joke about the Republican Convention to compare it to “Where’s Waldo” when talking about persons of color.

Solemn Close-Ups of People Nodding: Seriously, CSPAN’s cameras get right up in people’s faces. Added points if they’re crying.

Mike Pence Officially Tapped as Trump VP

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

GOP presumptive nominee Donald Trump confirmed this morning that he will select Indiana Governor and former House of Representatives member Mike Pence as his Vice Presidential pick. Pence, the 57 year old conservative governor of the Hoosier State is serving his first term as governor (succeeding Mitch Daniels in 2013).

Mr. Trump and Governor Pence will appear together Saturday at 11am. Mr. Trump had originally intended to make the announcement today, Friday the 15th, but out of respect for the terrorist attack in Nice, France, the event was postponed.

Initial reports of Pence being selected broke on Thursday, July 14th from RollCall and other online news sources. From anecdotal reporting, it appears that Mr. Trump, who has made a living off of showmanship and reality-show-style reveals, was frustrated at the leak that appeared to originate from Indiana (whether from Trump’s staff there or Pence’s is undetermined). By later in the afternoon on Thursday, Republican sources (who would be on the “call list” for Trump’s staff before the public announcement) all-but confirmed the news. Trump, however, played coy when being interviewed by both Greta Van Sustren of FoxNews as well as Bill O’Reilly Thursday night. As early as Friday morning, Trump’s inner circle was denying reports Trump had made the selection.

Pence, an often-cited potential presidential contender for the Republicans as early as 2008, has both the “insider credentials,” having been a member of the House from 2001 until 2013. Pence was also the Chairman of the House Republican Conference from 2009 until 2011, as well as gubernatorial experience. Trump made no secret early-on that he was looking for a Vice President who could work inside the halls of power, where Trump has found himself so often on the outs with powerful members of his own Party. Pence’s role would clearly be as an intermediary between a Trump White House and Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell in Congress. However, at 10:50am, Trump made the news official by way of a Tweet.

While in Congress, Pence was one of several GOP members to oppose No Child Left Behind, Cash for Clunkers, Medicare Part D and TARP. Pence was also one of the first GOP Congressmen to actively support the Tea Party in 2009 (before the 2010 surge).

Pence is currently in the middle of running for re-election as Governor or Indiana (and, according to sources has $7M in his campaign account). Pursuant to Indiana law, he will not be able to run both for Vice President as well as Governor. As a consequence of joining the ticket, Pence will be forfeiting his chance at re-election. However, given that running would raise his national prominence even if there is a loss, he may have his eyes set on the crowded and well-credentialed 2020 field.

Governor Pence does bring some baggage to the race. Last year, he signed a controversial “religious freedom” bill that seemed to imply stores and institutions could deny service to individuals based on their sexual orientation. While the Governor quickly called for a patch in the legislation to prevent that eventuality, it was roundly condemned and likely cost the State of Indiana millions of dollars in lost revenue. The backlash from the signing possibly was the cause of Pence opting not to run for President. Given the number of business interests that rallied against him, it was a bad political call. However, Pence also oversaw the elimination of the estate tax in Indiana as well as the largest tax cut in state history.

Despite the foregoing, and an ill-fated attempt to launch a quasi-state-run media outlet, Pence’s record has been one that may put more conservative voters (as well as Party elites) at ease given the nominee at the top of the ticket. Pence is a far more “traditional candidate” and will go a long way to assuaging the fears of elected Republicans and Party backers.

Of the choices presented to Mr. Trump, he has gone with the candidate most of the GOP would like to see have a vibrant future in the Oval Office.

Donald Trump Should Be Thanking Director Comey

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

At a previously unscheduled press conference today, FBI Director James Comey told the press that the FBI would not be recommending any prosecution of Hillary Clinton over the mishandling of top secret and other emails on her “homebrew” email servers.

This decision was the culmination of months of investigation of Hillary Clinton and her aides from when Mrs. Clinton, who is the presumptive Democratic nominee for President, was Secretary of State. The FBI’s investigation is now turned over to the Department of Justice for a decision with respect to prosecution. However, given the public and definitive nature of the FBI’s recommendation, it is next-to-impossible that the DOJ will seek to prosecute.

While the decision of the FBI comes as a bit of a letdown to those who were ardently looking for an indictment of the former Secretary of State and First Lady, the verbiage used by the FBI Director was damning, if not the right legalese to result in charges. For instance, Director Comey stated: “Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”

Further, with respect to whether foreign intelligence agents and hostile forces were able to get a hold of sensitive information, Comey concluded that “We do assess that hostile actors gained access to the private commercial e-mail accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact from her personal account.”

These were just two statements in the litany of poor judgement and security lapses that were attributed both to Mrs. Clinton and her staff by the director of the FBI. While this list was exhaustive and seemed to smack of intentionally reckless conduct, it did not rise, in the eyes of those investigating it, to the level of criminal activity.

Because of this conclusion, Donald Trump should be very happy. Why is that? Shouldn’t Mr. Trump want to see Hillary Clinton indicted and prosecuted for her severe lapses in security and undermining the national interest? Well, perhaps. However, if Mrs. Clinton’s case had been referred for prosecution with the direction that the FBI found evidence of a crime, there would be deafening calls for Mrs. Clinton to exit the race.

In the event Mrs. Clinton were to leave the race, the Democrats would be forced to choose between Bernie Sanders, the runner up, or, most likely, Joe Biden. It seems almost certain that the Democrats would select the sitting Vice President to take over the ticket and to guide the helm of the Party into November.

Joe Biden would also be a nightmare for Donald Trump. Trump’s current strategy looks something like this: use Hillary Clinton’s massive unfavorable rating among blue collar workers to drive a wedge inside the go-to coalitions in the Democratic Party. Trump hopes to capitalize on these disaffected Democrats in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin to deliver him a rust-belt sweep and the Presidency.

Joe Biden would do far better among those constituencies than Hillary Clinton ever could. It seems probable that, were Biden the nominee, and given Trump’s inability to rise above his own negatives, that the Democrats would ride a George HW Bush (1988) wave of enthusiasm into the White House in November.

Consequently, Donald Trump owes a nice thank you to Director Comey for giving him all of the ammunition he could have hoped for, while keeping Hillary Clinton in the race.

Trump’s “Trade War” is Just a Battle in a Much Broader Campaign

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

If there is one thing even Donald Trump’s most ardent detractors begrudgingly give him credit for is being an “excellent showman.” This is due, in large part, to Trump’s effective marketing of both himself, and, somewhat interchangeably, his brand. As we’ve pointed out here on numerous occasions, Mr. Trump’s success in the primary was more a result of effective marketing than political acumen. Before you say that this is a cynical approach, or an attempt to minimize Trump’s success, the fact is: he is the (presumptive) nominee because he was able to better read the electorate than the people with doctorates and ivory tower credentials.

And, note, when we are saying “he read the electorate,” given the fact that Trump’s “brain trust” of advisors during the primary was a skeleton crew of outsiders (some may, inartfully, call them the Island of Misfit Toys), much of the decision making and “tough calls” likely came down to the man himself. If anything, he was hampered by the people around him rather than bolstered. As we’ve pointed out, ad nauseam, Trump’s greatest strength is his ability to cut through the media noise wall to reach prospective voters. Again, this isn’t meant as fawning adulation; rather, this is merely an assessment of the clear reality we are dealing with in the post-primary, pre-convention timeframe.

Trumpean Economics and Trade

So, the other day Mr. Trump laid out his plan on economics that generally focused on trade. It was principally a rehash of most of the well-trodden Trumpean tropes of “bringing jobs back,” “making great deals,” “renegotiating the terrible trade agreements” that we have as a nation, and “putting killers in the position to negotiate future deals.” Anyone who has even mildly followed Trump’s positions on trade know that these have been the hallmarks of the Trump campaign since the beginning. However, now that he is the nominee, these policies are getting examined in greater detail.

Since, at least, 1993 (the earliest source we could find), Mr. Trump has opposed trade deals that would lower the barriers for integrated markets. Trump opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) during the George HW Bush/Bill Clinton presidencies. He’s seemingly been on record since the late-1980s warning of Asian domination of manufacturing markets. Trump’s opponents are quick to point out that Trump made a considerable amount of money outsourcing his manufacturing work to the same countries that are “ripping us off,” but his supporters argue that it’s just another example of Trump’s savvy (and who wouldn’t want someone who isn’t afraid to make tough decisions in power?).

In actuality, the business community should be more aware of what they would be getting with Trump than with Hillary Clinton, who is racing to head-off Trump on trade despite her lobbying for both NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). She claims that she now opposes the TPP, despite her vocal support during her tenure with the Obama Administration. The rationale is understandable: both Bernie Sanders and Trump are running to Hillary’s “left” on the issue, and she has a glaring weak spot.

The focus of this article isn’t going to be whether a return to a protectionist, “America First,” trade policy would actually benefit the American worker. The rhetoric of neo-mercantilism is obviously appealing to people who have felt wages stagnate and jobs diminish. Without being overly-reductive or needlessly cynical, the reality is that it doesn’t really matter whether the numbers would add up on Trump’s trade proposals. Rather, it matters that voters, especially the ones who feel betrayed by increased globalization, believe that their quality of life would improve.

Marketing, Trade, and Synthetic Logic

This article led off by focusing on the fact that Trump has, without a doubt, focused on effective marketing throughout his campaign. His Twitter feuds, his news-cycle dominating comments, and his targeted attacks, have placed him in the position to be one of two persons who could lead the nation in 2017. Is there more to this trade talk than just manufacturing?

On the heels of Trump’s economics speech, the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers quickly opened up with a salvo against Trump’s plans. Simultaneously, voices in organized labor criticized the Trump plan. These are very unlikely bedfellows. The Chamber is an overwhelmingly pro-“Republican” group representing business. They don’t often see much common ground with the labor movement.

Now, it may seem at first blush that this type of criticism would immediately demand a walk-back from Trump, or at least a movement towards one said or another (as a Republican, Trump would be expected to embrace the Chamber). Trump, however, doubled-down on his position and accused the Chamber of not fighting for the American worker and inexplicably supporting “bad trade deals.”

So, why does this apparent departure not necessarily spell Trump’s doom? Because, in short, this is only nominally about trade and instead focused on an “anti-special-interest” message. Staking out positions that may cause certain classes of people to lose money quickly baits the same into a frenzy of concerned statements and actions. We would think that Trump is keenly aware of this. The populist message of Trump from the beginning has been one “against insiders” and that he is “not a politician.” The juxtaposition with Hillary Clinton, who is pivoting her trade positions 180 degrees couldn’t be more stark.

While not intending to insult the average American, the truth is that most normal folks can’t tell you America’s trade deficit with China or about the interconnectedness of multinational corporations and financial markets. People care, rather, about making sure they have an income and can provide for their families. The Republican Party, to its peril, has generally ignored outsourcing of manufacturing and labor for decades.

But is it Going to Play in West Virginia?

Still, you may think, it’s all well and good that Trump is pushing a relatable message and people will see him as fighting against special interests, but aren’t the special interests just going to win in the end? Another way: special interests, such as they are, have controlled politics for a century, is there really any chance of changing the status quo? The answer to these questions depends greatly on your perception of how receptive the American public is to messaging. Trump is certainly being attacked on all sides at the moment (and, let’s be honest, the media hit pieces are almost comically relentless). So, is there hope for Trump, or will he simply get drowned out by the negativity?

Let’s take two pieces of evidence that indicate that the race shouldn’t be called for Hillary just quite yet. The first is just how badly Hillary Clinton lost West Virginia in the primary against Bernie Sanders (she lost by 15.6%) compared to her victory in the same state against Barack Obama in 2008 (she won by 41.3%). Obviously, there are a myriad of circumstances that go into why people make the decisions that they do on Election Day. However, when Hillary Clinton gave a speech wherein she said she wanted to put “coal miners out of a job,” her fate in West Virginia was basically sealed.

West Virginia is not a battleground state. Trump will likely win over 60% of the vote. However, it is a bellwether for voters in Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio, and even parts of Michigan. Trump has made no secret of the fact that he is looking to put each of those states in play in November. If Hillary Clinton is unable (or unwilling) to undo the damage she has done to these communities, it could lead to a revolt in traditionally-Democrat-friendly labor communities. Is this possible? Look at the Brexit vote and the number of Labour voters who voted Leave.

Second, the Republican convention has not been held. There is significant dissention in the ranks of the Party elite and conservative-opinion-shapers against the notion of a Trump nomination. We’ve covered the fact here that a revolt against Trump at the convention is unlikely to succeed (even if there is a “conscience” clause put into the Rules). The simple fact is, there is a vocal, powerful minority who are agitating constantly against Trump. This is certainly their right and they’re free to do so. The reality is that this causes some rank-and-file Republicans to also doubt Trump. Trump, being attacked from the “left” and the “right” finds himself in a depressed political state. As we noted earlier, the conventional wisdom following his trade speech would be to tack rightward or leftward. Rather, Trump has chosen a third option: tack towards “the people.” Something, colloquially, along the lines of pointing at both sides, looking at the audience, and saying, “can you believe this, folks?”

The fact is, after the GOP convention where Trump, officially, becomes the nominee, much of the “Stop Trump” and “Never Trump” criticism will abate. There will, of course, be the holdouts and the folks who stay home. There will be some Republicans who decide to go for Hillary. There may be some who go for Gary Johnson. However, after the threshold of the actual nomination, you can expect that the proverbial “dumpster fire” within the GOP will be extinguished. The consequence of this will be Trump returning to high-80% support among GOP voters by mid-August (current FoxNews numbers have him hovering around 76%).

Is there a “nightmare” scenario where Trump has alienated all of the sides of the debate and he, Sampson-like, gets buried in the collapse? Sure. In fact, that’s what most pundits (who “pundit” for a living) are predicting. However, the right mix of “us against them,” economic populism, anti-globalism, and strength could be a winning combination in November.

Is there a Paradox in Growing Technological Interdependence and “Illiberalism”?

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Principally in “Western” liberal democracies, we hear phrases like “the Internet has made the world a smaller place” and “no two countries with a McDonald’s have ever gone to war” (note: this was true up until the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008). We’ll use the term “liberal democracies” loosely to encompass the post-Cold War era European and American landscapes as well as the transitioning states in the Balkans and parts of South America. This is a departure from other articles and thought pieces that have used the term to discuss the transition away from the Imperial Age and the tumult of the World War Period.

 Defining “Liberal”

The reason we should focus on the post-Cold War era in defining our “liberal democracy” term is that the reality of international affairs went from being multi-polar in the 1930s to bipolar from 1945 to the late 1980s to unipolar since. It’s impossible to make the argument that, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and certainly since the advent of modern terrorism (while the First World Trade Center attacks might be a good “cutoff point” for a “start date,” a better one may be either the bombing of the Khobar Towers in 1996 or the attack on the USS Cole in 2000. The reason for this distinction is that the go-to American response to international terrorism began to change in the late-1990s. Over the next two decades, the policies related to interventionism, colloquially the Bush Doctrine, became the forefront of America’s foreign relations. Certainly the doctrine has persisted into the Obama Administration), that the world is unipolar. Under the nominal advice of supranational organizations like the United Nations and NATO, the United States has driven world affairs for the better part of three decades.

The Pax Americana

Given the fighting and wars around the world that flood national and international news, it may sound remarkably cynical to call this multi-generational thirty-year period Pax Americana (modeled, obviously, off of the “Pax Romana” from 27BC to 180AD where Rome had, in almost every sense, abandoned the Republic, transitioned to an Imperial system, and defeated all existential threats, both internally and externally). However, the rationale is this: following the demise of the Soviet Union, the threat of a multinational, intercontinental war has diminished. The United States, while not expanding its borders, has expanded its influence across the globe (an influence that has been growing since the first decade of the 20th Century). In effect, “peace” has been maintained across the world. Again, this may sound cynical given the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as conflicts across Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, between Israel and Palestine, in Syria, and between Russia and Ukraine. However, with the notable exception of Russian expansionism complicating issues in Ukraine and Syria, the risk of a global conflagration with any of these conflicts in minimal. For example, the War in Iraq had very little chance of opening up a front on the American-Mexico border or an Asian theater. The First and Second World Wars, along with the Cold War (and its “skirmish” proxy wars), either had, or had the potential of having, battles on every continent.

“Peace” thus established, the 1990s were a period of rampant economic growth in the United States. We also saw that, given the collapse of the Soviet sphere of influence, countries formerly under external pressure turned their focus internal. The dissolution of both Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia in the early 1990s, reflected this transition. Certainly the Balkan states became a flashpoint for ethnic and political conflict for the better part of the next decade.

Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States, either by necessity or by design, made a transition towards preemptive interventionism. The target of intervention was, nominally, state sponsors of terrorism, or, more succinctly: the Axis of Evil. While a decade-and-a-half of hindsight can highlight certain missteps in this American pivot towards an strict interventionist model (effectuated both by Republican and Democrat administrations), its existence is not in doubt.

This transition took place during a period of unprecedented technological advancement through the growth and development of Internet resources, digital commerce, social networking, and citizen journalism. Both America, and her detractors, had a growing platform to reach people who were, otherwise, insulated behind traditional media sources. This should not be taken as a condemnation of traditional media sources, but if the decline of print journalism is any indication, there is a significant backlash by consumers against the “status quo ante” in favor of direct-from-the-source reporting.

 The Arab Spring and its Detractors

The “Arab Spring,” a period roughly from December of 2010 through the better part of 2011, showed the influence of internet resources on otherwise underserved individuals. It’s inappropriate to generalize about the internal political factors across the Middle East and Islamic Maghreb that led to the protests, demonstrations, and regime changes in certain nations, but the constant in each of these conflicts was a reliance on the interconnectedness of people to spread news and information outside of traditional sources.

Authoritarian governments, or governments that have an interest in remaining in power, have moved over the past decade to limit, control, and monitor internet resources. Interestingly, this has led to some of the best internet infrastructure being developed (that is, in order to stay ahead of hackers and revolutionaries, one has to be constantly innovating). China and Russia are two of the preeminent examples of online censorship cultures (the proof being that I doubt, after that statement, that this article will be able to be accessed in either nation). China and Russia notwithstanding, the unprecedented steps taken by Recep Erdoğan in Turkey to secure and maintain his power should actually be more concerning. The reason for this is that Turkey was, at least for the first decade of the 21st century, on a path to becoming the world’s preeminent Islamic democracy. The hope was that Turkey would be instructive to nations across the Middle East as a path towards secular, self-government with Islamic characteristics. Instead of moving in the direction of increased liberalization, Turkey has taken significant steps backwards in recent years.

 “Illiberalism” Around the World?

Numerous articles following the British departure from the European Union have been written that provide a synthetic narrative relating to the decline of liberal institutions worldwide. These articles point to the rise of nationalism in the United States, France, and Germany as well as votes in nations as diverse as the Philippines and Austria, and draw the conclusion that liberal institutions are declining.

While the conclusion is probably correct that certain institutions are declining, the labeling of this decline as the end of a liberal worldview is misplaced. Unfortunately, it comes down to definitions. If you are of the mind that supranational organizations are the logical outgrowth of the liberalization following the end of the Cold War, you will disagree with the position being taken in this article.

Here’s the way the argument goes in favor of equating “liberalism” with the embracing of an international superstructure or global framework. First, it increases market opportunities for the free-flow of commerce and business. Second, it breaks down barriers for the movement of peoples and the exchange of cultures. Third, because of the interdependent nature of people generated by this “global community,” the odds of war diminish because the economic impact would undermine its utility. Fourth, the growth of technology provides a baseline for people to increase in education and, consequently, their labor becomes more valuable. Fifth, with figurative swords now beaten into plowshares, peacetime economics becomes the norm, and the standard of living across the globe increases. Finally, because the standard of living has increased for people, it will necessarily lead to people wanting to preserve their economic independence and, consequently, maintain a liberal order. (It’s important to point out that “liberal” in this context is not synonymous with the progressive movement in the United States or the social democrat ideology abroad).

This progression has been embraced strongly in the post-Cold War European Union and, in a modified way, by the United States.

One of the most interesting statistics in the British referendum to withdraw from the European Union was the vote in Wales to leave. The Welsh, per capita, were receiving more from the European Union than they were putting out. Yet, they voted, apparently against their economic interest, to move away from the supranational governmental framework of the “European community.”

Invective and Outsiders

Let’s not spend too much time on the invective being thrown around on both sides of the post-vote British debate or, for that matter, against the Presidential campaign of Donald Trump. It’s important to note, however, a few important charges being leveled against both (and, for that matter FN in France, AfD in Germany, etc.): racism and xenophobia. Racism, without diving too deeply into hotly contested waters, generally assumes the flawed principle, that one’s race is superior (or, the corollary that another’s race is inferior) because of racial characteristics (often in the form of stereotyping). The outgrowth of this charge is xenophobia. Basically, this revolves around the contention that foreigners (“the other” or the “outsider”) are intrinsically either dangerous, inferior, or both.

In Western society, the label of “racist” more than “xenophobe” carries an appropriate stigma. In the United States, a nation with a very troubled racial past, the label can be used to effectively discard or discredit opinions that stray outside of acceptable political norms. In most cases, the underlying prejudice of racism is a lack of education that leads to a lack of economic opportunity. The prejudice, then, arises, at its core, from self-interest. Now, it’s again important to note the definition of terms. “Self-interest” is not the same thing as “selfish.” “Self-interest” can extend to family or even community. It’s a prospective term (“I want to succeed”) rather than an introspective term (“I want this”).

Now, the important note here is that “self-interest” does not always manifest in prejudice (prejudice, again, being the likely root of racism). Self-interest can also manifest in what is colloquially referred to as the “American Dream.” That is to say, the ability for one to succeed and reach the highest levels of a field despite a starting point at or below that of one’s peers.

With these terms established, we move into the explanation of the confluence of events that more aptly explains the “decline of liberal institutions” than simply “growing illiberalism” or, more crudely “xenophobia.”

 The Confluence of Factors

We start, first, with the growing accessibility of technology to persons who outside of traditional “cutting edge” demographics. The lament of millennials in the late-2000s was something like “oh gosh, Grandma is on Facebook.” While usually played for humor (Grandma sharing too many cat videos or awkwardly commenting on pictures of college students drinking), the anecdote belied a serious change. According to 2014 Pew research, 79% of persons 30-49 and 64% of persons 50-64 (and 48% of persons over 65) use Facebook. Of those users, 91% are on the platform either daily (70%) or weekly (an additional 21%). Twitter has a smaller overall marketshare, holding sway over about 23% of all adults online (29% of 30-49).

If we go by the progression of “liberalism,” above, the increase of users on social media, and of the internet, generally, should have a liberalizing effect on the overall population. If the supranational structure argument (that is, the EU/UN, etc. is better for everyone), is to be believed, the growing interconnectedness of people should result in higher favorability for such institutions. However, empirically, we are seeing that the rise of this technological interconnectedness has had, while not the “opposite” effect, certainly not the intended effect.

We have seen, whether in the Arab Spring or in the Brexit vote, the ability to express discontent and circumvent the filter (and argued bias) of institutional sources. Cue a discussion of Donald Trump.

 It’s a Politics Article in 2016, so of Course we will Talk About Trump

Opinions of Mr. Trump wholly notwithstanding, Trump’s social media presence is dominant. Trump has shown that, especially on Twitter, he can (to the chagrin of institutional sources), reach millions of people with a tweet he, personally composes. While this has drawn scorn and ridicule from a wide spectrum of media and “establishment” sources for occasionally poor spelling and diction (Sad!), it is also an honest and direct source for both supporters and detractors to engage with an already-larger-than-life political figure. While other politicians use Twitter and Facebook to pump out saccharine political fluff written by campaign staff and consultants, there is something refreshing in the wholly “Trumpian” posts that break through the monotony of typical political discourse. Is this a good or bad thing? In substance, that’s certainly debatable given one’s political leanings. In style? It’s a brilliant, populist, strategy.

 Clickbait and the Press

This accessible technological baseline established with an ever-growing online population, we then confront the issues that people care about. It only takes you a few moments searching through the Twitter accounts of traditional media sources and their reporters to see a symptom of the next step: clickbait. Roughly defined, clickbait is a link that presents a lurid, questionable, or sensationalist headline designed to get a user to access the article or website. The underlying article, video, or media is usually fairly bland and not in keeping with the title’s promises. The purpose of clickbait is to generate “clicks.” In essence, digital media and the monetization of online resources comes down to an analysis of how many users access a site. The (overly reductive) formula is: the more clicks, the more profits.

So, what does clickbait have to do with the decline of “liberal” institutions worldwide? The early years of clickbait headlines were usually advertisements or fringe blogs. However, any cursory search of even the most traditional news and information outlets will reveal clickbait-ing. What does this mean? First, that traditional media sources are declining. We all know that. We’ve seen the fall of print journalism for the past decades. However, the second point is that traditional news sources are losing market share, or being drowned out, by available coverage.

For example: would you rather read an article on a news website or simply read the Twitter feed of a reporter covering the event? Moreover, straight “news” presented without analysis is simply not as lucrative as opinion-shaping narratives. This isn’t meant as a cynical critique of journalism, just as a presentation of the reality of “new media.”

It is in this context that our “new technologists” find themselves. Having grown up on traditional media, they are now actively experiencing the rapid development of the monetization of news (this is the reason Grandma shares so many cat videos—the ad executives are counting on it, actually). Given the glut of online sources, it becomes a “buyers’ market” for content. Consequently, otherwise niche sources quickly become hubs for discourse as they attract a strong following. Especially when individuals can “follow” or “like” their preferred news sources, the stream of information that they receive is tailored to fit their narrative. (This is the echo chamber theory, by the way).

Message Control

Immediately, an event becomes filtered through a lens. We see this on display when there are “mass shootings” in the United States. Even before details are released, proverbial battle lines are drawn between “blame guns” and “terrorism” and “no more gun free zones” and the like. Control of the narrative becomes almost more important than the facts. (c.f. the complaint on the right that Obama refuses to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism” and the complaint on the left that Republicans have blood on their hands for not having votes on “common sense” gun control).

This, naturally, has led to conspiracy (and some factual) theories that social media and internet companies, like Facebook, Twitter, Google, and the like, have the ability to shape popular opinion and create a narrative by limiting or over-exposing “sides” in a debate. It’s an interesting contention that belies a deeper skepticism about institutional bias.

 Conclusions

We return, in the end, to the definition of “liberalism.” What we have before us, as exemplified in the Brexit vote most recently, is the charge of “illiberalism” for opposition to the perceived “openness” of the supranational institution of the European Union. Given the predicate that self-interested persons are self-selecting their information in a means that breaks down traditional power structures, media narratives, and political formulations, we have the case where “liberalism” is, converse to the assertion, actually prominently displayed. In defiance of economic pressure, political pressure, and rhetorical invective, a majority in Britain chose the option that was presented as national self-determinism. In effect, the call was for being ruled “closer to home.”

There is no end to the number of “think pieces” about the Brexit vote, sociology, and the politics of Britain moving forward. However, if we consider the “populist” message of the Arab Spring, Brexit, and within the American discourse, we see a combative, but self-deterministic strain of thought emerging. In effect, the message we may be able to take away from the whole dialogue isn’t really about liberalism or illiberalism at all. Rather, perhaps the message simply comes down to people actively attempting to restore trust in institutions. “A government that exists closer to home is a government I can keep my eye on.”

Maybe it would be better to abandon the clickbait and the scolding and move in the direction of restoring institutional trust? But, how would we sell that to advertisers?

Prodigal Republicans

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

One of the most annoying things is being woken up in the early hours of the morning by two cats fighting. The hissing, the guttural yowls, and the surreal, haunting shrieks. Obviously, this made me want to write about the current state of Republican politics.

We have all seen that the sniping in the Republican Party has increased over the past few days. Understandably so. After Donald Trump’s rout of Ted Cruz in Indiana on Tuesday evening and both Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich quitting the race, Trump is the de facto nominee of the Republican Party.

This fact has led to consternation, open celebration, hand-wringing, insults, and a whole host of other (and, thanks to social media) public displays of poor sportsmanship. Magnanimity in victory and grace in defeat are two virtues that are blatantly lacking in the current discourse within the Party.

On the one hand, this is understandable. Donald Trump is a divisive figure. This isn’t meant to disparage Mr. Trump or his accomplishment. Against all odds, and against all punditry, Trump succeeded. However, even Mr. Trump realizes (as he noted in his speech Tuesday night), that the Primary has been ugly and grueling. Certainly Mr. Trump’s most ardent supporters will even concede that there are moments during the campaign where they would have preferred their candidate not to have taken the rhetorical track that he wound up following.

The call to Party unity is noble, albeit hollow. Many of us remember the insurgent 2008 and 2012 campaigns of then-Congressman Ron Paul. In both, the GOP elites waged an utterly scorched-earth “assent or stay silent” approach to Congressman Paul’s supporters. While some of Congressman Paul’s ideas or positions may have been outside of the “political mainstream,” the Party’s treatment of his supporters was deplorable. It’s not lost on some how Donald Trump’s own insurgent campaign’s victory provides a sense of schadenfreude while watching GOP opinion-shaper balk from “kissing the ring.”

An irksome part of the national GOP primary in 2016 has the “he’s not a conservative, you’re not a conservative, etc.” griping. Look, it’s 2016. The Democrats have a growing coalition and some are fighting over points on a resume. There’s a joke among libertarians that, if you put two libertarians in a room, in under ten minutes they will be arguing about how the other isn’t “a true libertarian.”

Given this backdrop and the insufferable amount of infighting that we’re seeing, I was reminded of the parable of the Prodigal Son. Now, you don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate parables. That’s kind of the point (at least in my mind) of a parable: they’re relatable expressions of a point to a large, diverse audience.

If you’re unfamiliar with the scripture, it’s Luke 15:11-32.

Now, let’s go out on a limb here and assume that, before we started the discussion, you assigned the “prodigal son” label (that is, the one who went and squandered his inheritance) on the viewpoint you disagree with in the Republican Party. For instance, if you’re an “establishment” kind of person, you assume that the “Trump folks” have gone out and wasted themselves on debauchery. If you’re a Trump person, you are expecting that the parable means that the establishment folks jumping off of the ship right now are about to go and live in dissipation.

Essentially, the preconception of “both sides” is the problem that we’re dealing with. Treating the Party like a zero-sum game (that is, a binary winner-loser paradigm) is going to, ultimately, devastate what you’re seeing yourself trying to protect. This is the complaint of the “other brother” in the parable. If you adopt the “I’ve been doing it right, where’s my reward/candidate/thanks/donation etc.,” you’re essentially occupying that space of the brother unwilling to engage.

Here’s the thing: if you assumed that you’re the “good brother,” there’s probably a considerable bloc in the Party that sees you as the prodigal brother. If you’re a Trump supporter, you’ve heard it for months from everyone from former Presidents to national pundits: you’re wrecking everything! If you’re an “establishment type,” the Trump people see you as “taking your toys and going home” in a tantrum over your loss at the top of the ticket. Dare we venture into the realm of saying, maybe both “sides” are making a valid point?

Look, the “call to unity” shouldn’t be based on one person or one viewpoint. We’re all smart enough to understand that the Party isn’t, and must not be, monolithic. If it is, or if it becomes that way, it is doomed to fail. That may seem melodramatic, but that’s the honest reality. Certainly the Republican Party should have a platform to act as a structure of guiding principles, but the endgame of a platform shouldn’t be a torture rack, but rather as tent poles holding up a broad, welcoming structure. Idealistic? Sure. But, given the realities that we are dealing with, there are two options: circle the wagons and adopt a siege mentality or keep the doors and minds of the Party open to any of us who find ourselves as prodigal Republicans.

The Month that Saved the Trump Campaign

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

Regardless of what happens from here until November, you had better believe that people will be talking about and studying the 2016 Republican Primary for years to come. The 2016 Republican Primary cycle: wherein Donald Trump went from a fringe novelty to being the presumptive nominee of the Party of Lincoln.

Look, before jumping too deeply into the analysis, we admit, we were wrong about Trump’s chances early on in the race. Back when we were writing about the horserace (the “Power Rankings” articles, etc.), we started from a position (admittedly like many others) of denying Trump the courtesy of consideration. However, on July 28, 2015, we issued our mea culpa on the Trump phenomenon. While we still held the view that Mr. Trump’s campaign was going to deflate, we ended the piece with the ominous words: “predicting Trump is like trying to predict the path of a tornado.”

Last night, voters in Indiana gave Donald Trump a crushing victory over Ted Cruz, the lone remaining legitimate rival to Trump’s ascendancy (Kasich is a great guy, but he’s been running behind the ghost of Marco Rubio’s campaign for months). Indiana was not supposed to go for Trump as recently as two weeks ago. Our blog, along with many others, predicted that Indiana, following the lead of Wisconsin, would be a staggering blow to Trump’s possibility of achieving the “magic” 1,237 delegates needed on the first ballot to be the GOP nominee. In fact, it was because of Trump’s apparent course for a dismal performance in Indiana that we revised our prediction at this blog in favor of an open convention. To be blunt: the #NeverTrump forces within the Republican Party looked poised for victory.

But then two things happened: the New York Primary and Paul Manafort. If you’re unfamiliar with Paul Manafort, read this piece by Slate. Trump, coming off of a mensis horribilis wherein he got demolished in Wisconsin, saw “Never Trump” reach its zenith, gave at least four bad interviews, and watched his campaign infrastructure collapse, limped into April 19th with a plea to New Yorkers: “I need your help. You know me. Show the country.” And they did. In a big way (yuge, even).

It’s naive to say that the narrative changed over night simply because Trump carried his home state. However, as a matter of perception, Trump went from being a “loser” to being a “big winner.” More importantly, behind the scenes, Trump dramatically reworked his team and gave the people with experience the free rein they needed to resuscitate Trump’s failing campaign.

Now, most of us who watch politics weren’t surprised that Trump carried New York (though the margin by which he did was impressive), and most folks predicted that he would carry all of the “Acela Primary” states on April 26th. What was unpredictable, thought, even to some of the hardest Trump partisans, was the margin by which he would win. On April 26th, in five Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states, Trump won every single county.

Over the next week, between April 26th and May 3rd, Ted Cruz’s campaign imploded as Trump’s inevitability became assured. Indiana became the most dramatic expression of the one-month reversal of the Trump campaign from floundering to total victory. In a state where Cruz had a comfortable lead just three weeks ago, Trump won so dramatically that Cruz was forced from the race.

Policy, skill, politics and rhetoric wholly notwithstanding (and saying nothing about November), the last eleven months have proven one thing: Donald Trump is an excellent marketer. That’s not meant as an insult or a sleight against his campaign, but rather as a reflection on Trump’s superior read of the American electorate than all of the polito-crats in Washington DC and their backers. This was Trump’s gamble: is my read of the American people better than the people who are the political opinion-shapers in the Republican Party?

There are going to be countless hours spent on the “why” of Trump and the apparent paper tiger of the Republican Party’s opposition to him, and we will certainly be discussing these issues going forward. However, at this juncture, the truth, regardless of your opinion of it, is clear: Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee for President of the United States.