Republicans Are In No Position To Mock The Democratic Party Primary Debates

In his Morning Briefing email today, the National Review’s Jim Geraghty disparaged last night’s latest Democratic Party primary debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders with these words:

‘Yeah, There Was Another Democratic Debate.’ (Stifles Yawn)

Thursday night’s Democratic debate in Brooklyn basically amounted to Bernie Sanders’s repeating all of his familiar attacks against Hillary and her insisting they’re baseless; and her charging that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, at which point he would counter-charge, “THE GREED AND THE RECKLESSNESS AND ILLEGAL BEHAVIOR OF WALL STREET BROUGHT THIS COUNTRY INTO THE WORST ECONOMIC DOWNTURN” — sorry for the all caps, it’s the only way to accurately capture the volume of Sanders’ high dudgeon voice — “SINCE THE GREAT RECESSSION OF THE THIRTIES, WHEN MILLIONS OF PEOPLE LOST THEIR JOBS AND THEIR HOMES AND THEIR LIFE SAVINGS, YOU’VE GOT A BUNCH OF FRAUDULENT OPERATORS AND THEY’VE GOT TO BE BROKEN UP!”

Below are a couple of highlights, to the extent there were any:

Clinton, last night, defending her judgment: “President Obama trusted my judgment enough to ask me to be secretary of State for the United States.”

Yeah, that line may work really well in a Democratic primary, but you can apply the same “hey, if Obama picked me, I must know what I’m doing” argument to former HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius, VA secretary Eric Shinseki, short-lived Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, all of those wealthy donor ambassadors who knew nothing about the countries where they would represent the U.S . . .

Hillary Clinton: “It may be inconvenient, but it’s always important to get the facts straight. I stood up against the behaviors of the banks when I was a senator.

I called them out on their mortgage behavior. I also was very willing to speak out against some of the special privileges they had under the tax code.”

Bernie Sanders: “Secretary Clinton called them out. Oh my goodness, they must have been really crushed by this. And was that before or after you received huge sums of money by giving speaking engagements? So they must have been very, very upset by what you did.”

I’m sorry, does a political debate no longer count as interesting or exciting unless a deranged mob of populist Republicans are flinging feces at each other or comparing the size of their junk?

Are Sanders and Clinton repeating themselves a lot? Yes – as someone who is deluged by campaign emails and briefings from both sides, that much cannot be denied. But at least the things that they are saying actually matter. They relate to foreign policy, trade policy, crime and punishment, campaign finance and the influence of Wall Street.

The argument in the GOP primary has devolved into little more than pledges to revoke ObamaCare faster than the other (“I’ll abolish ObamaCare by executive order at the beginning of my inaugural address!”) and competing visions for exactly how high the wall should be between the United States and Mexico.

Debates on both sides probably shed a lot more heat than light, but anyone who has watched a few of these things in the 2016 cycle would have to admit that more of substance has been learned on the Democratic side than the Republican side this time round – with the same going for 2012 too, when the Republicans treated us to Michelle Bachmann and Herman Cain.

There is a group – and I can’t say how large it is, but I know it exists from my time living in America – of liberty-minded conservatives out there who are thoroughly disgusted with the Democrats’ record in office and the general direction of the country, but who will stay home or hold their nose and vote for Hillary Clinton before they see Donald Trump or even Ted Cruz in the White House.

(And to those Trump supporters who protest, I would simply say that fighting back at the establishment and sticking it to the man does not have to mean vocally supporting torture and eroding the constitution. In fact, as Britain’s Nigel Farage discovered, it is actually better when the establishment come at you equally hard for holding mostly reasonable position, as their desperation to kill the challenge to their power is then exposed for what it is).

Though I am not yet a US citizen, if I had voted in the 2008 election I would have voted without hesitation for Barack Obama over the John McCain / Sarah Palin freak show. Many others did the same. So forget trying to attract massive new demographic groups to the side of the Republican Party – maybe the GOP should focus more on simply not alienating those people who will reliably vote for any serious-minded conservative, but who are constantly chased away from the party by the carnival of idiots who keep making it to the primary debates.

You can sneer that it is cultural snobbishness at work (and a bit of it is – though not the majority), but it goes deeper than that. And the good news is that the Republican Party will soon have another chance to reinvent itself for a new era as they spend another presidential term in dreary opposition. Hopefully they will not repeat the mistake of 2008, and actually have serious discussion this time about who they want in the party and who they want out, and whether they want to appeal to the better angels or the darkest fears and prejudices of those who are invited to remain.

That process can begin soon. But in the meantime, let’s not get cocky about the Democratic Party primary process, which has seen left-wing politicians with substantially different worldviews tearing chunks out of each other on policy and substance – which is precisely what should happen.

That is the debate that the GOP should have been having this election cycle were they still a functioning party, and were they not now being forced to pay in a lump for every cynical act of alarmism, obstructionism and posturing they have taken since the inauguration of Barack Obama.


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David Cameron And Donald Trump – Promising Security Over Conservatism

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Donald Cameron and David Trump. Or is it the other way around?

In many ways, you couldn’t imagine two politicians more different than Donald Trump and David Cameron.

The British prime minister (despite his best efforts) exudes an air of privileged, private school entitlement at all times, and has a reputation for making withering (if cruel) put-downs of his opponents in the House of Commons. The increasingly presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee, on the other hand, takes pride in being brash and boastful, and his claim to “have the best words” is as laughable as it is factually inaccurate.

Furthermore, David Cameron was quick to weigh in against Donald Trump when Trump made sweeping and inaccurate generalisations about Britain and Muslims, stopping short of the shrieking and hysterical calls for Trump to be banned from entering the UK, but still condemning him in strong words.

And yet, the two politicians – one seasoned in Westminster politics, the other making a virtue of his inexperience in the ways of Washington – are more alike than it first seems.

In seeking to understand the persistent appeal of Donald Trump to a large and broad swathe of the Republican Party base, Einer Elhauge argues that Donald Trump wins because he promises to be The Great Protector, keeping Americans physically safe and financially secure in an uncertain world.

Elhauge writes in the Atlantic:

The message of his Republican opponents has effectively been: We are more faithful to conservative principles. Trump’s message has been entirely different. He essentially says: I will protect you. I’m conservative, but if protecting you requires jettisoning conservative ideology, I will do so. Protecting you is the prime directive. This message has powerful resonance, especially for voters who feel the Republican Party has failed to protect their interests.

You see this pattern in all of Trump’s deviations from conservative orthodoxy. Take the debate over Planned Parenthood. Like all conservatives, Trump opposes abortions. But he stresses he does not want to stop funding their wonderful work protecting women from cervical and breast cancer. The other Republican candidates simply express a desire to destroy Planned Parenthood outright. Trump’s message to voters: The other candidates will adhere rigidly to ideology, even if it needlessly fails to protect millions of women from cancer. I won’t.

[..] Trump’s signature policy is to build a wall to protect his voters’ jobs. What could evoke protection more than building a huge wall? His opponents quibbled about its feasibility but ultimately adopted the same position. Trump’s message to voters: I care about protecting you enough to propose huge historic projects. The other candidates begrudgingly agreed, but their heart is not in it, so they are less likely to follow through.

Free trade is great, Trump says, but it has to be fair. His opponents just adhere to pure free trade, which does increase the economic pie. But economic research shows that free trade harms some subsets of voters, particularly the working-class voters flocking to Trump. The message to his voters: I will favor free trade only to the extent that I can protect you from harm, perhaps by compensating you using the gains of trade. My opponents will favor free trade even if it harms you.

And as it goes for policy, so it goes for style. Trump consistently eschews the hard-headed statements of fidelity to conservative principle or the Constitution which voters hear from Senator Ted Cruz, focusing instead on cultivating the same “your safety first” narrative:

Trump talks endlessly about his polls, because the polls stress that he is strong enough to protect his voters. He speaks extemporaneously and often crassly in a stream-of-consciousness way, which has many pitfalls but emphasizes that his views are unprepared, authentic statements of his views and that he will thus carry out his promises to protect his audience. He responds aggressively to every attack, no matter how minor, conveying the sense that he will also aggressively protect his voters.

It is hard to deny the success of this approach. Many voters, feeling let down by the stewardship of both President Obama and the reactionary Tea Party dominated Congress which followed in 2010, have lost faith in politicians selling explicitly ideological remedies for America’s ills.

Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum got nowhere this election cycle, suggesting that the public’s flirtation with Constitutional libertarianism and social conservatism respectively are not the vote-winners they once were. And the same goes on the Left, with Hillary Clinton now pulling clear of Senator Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, despite the huge achievements of Sanders’ campaign.

The situation in Britain is strikingly similar. David Cameron’s general election victory – at Labour’s expense and despite the rise of UKIP, the SNP and Green Party on the radical Right and Left – suggests that while a minority of voters (this blog included) crave stronger ideological differences and a move away from consensus politics, a larger number of people looked at the two main parties and went for the option which they believed would deliver them the most security.

Having secured his coveted Conservative majority government in the general election, David Cameron declared in his victorious 2015 party conference speech:

I tell you: our party’s success in growing our economy and winning the economic arguments has never been more vital.

Nothing less than the security of every single family in our country depends on it.

Before concluding:

And now with couples married because of us, working people backed because of us, the NHS safe because of us and children in the poorest parts of the world saved because of us, everyone in this hall can be incredibly proud of our journey – the journey of the modern, compassionate, One Nation Conservative Party.

This was not the speech of a flinty-eyed ideologue yearning to roll back the frontiers of the state. It was the speech of a leader who calls himself a conservative, but is perfectly willing to use the machinery of government to deliver the social and economic outcomes that he wants – in Cameron’s case, building an election-winning coalition by promising physical, social and economic security over and above freedom and individual liberty.

Ed Miliband, to the extent that his weak leadership stood for anything, ran on a platform of fairness and equality, emphasising entitlement over strength and security. And it got him absolutely nowhere.

David Cameron and the Conservatives, by contrast, ran on a platform of stability and security as the only objective. It wasn’t thrilling, inspiring or glamorous, but given the weakness of his opponents, it was enough to deliver a parliamentary majority that almost nobody predicted.

You can argue that David Cameron represents everything that is ideologically vacuous and wrong with modern British conservatism – as this blog does, loudly and often. But what you cannot do is deny the fact that Cameron has hit on a winning electoral strategy.

That’s why David Cameron ran for re-election with a manifesto pledging a creepy, statist “plan for every stage of your life”.

That’s why the Conservative Party talks about creating a strong economy not as an end in itself, but only in the context of generating more taxes to pay for ever more public services.

That’s why there is not an ancient right or civil liberty that David Cameron and Theresa May will not gladly crush in their effort to be seen as strong in the fight against terrorism.

Sure, they may look and sound different – almost complete opposites, in style and temperament. But both Donald Trump and David Cameron are both essentially playing the same trick – or perpetrating the same fraud – on their respective electorates, depending on your outlook.

Donald Trump was once a Democratic Party supporter and donor, talked up his great friendship with the Clintons and held positions which are diametrically opposed to his current conservative stances. David Cameron, meanwhile, calls himself a Conservative but is busily implementing Tony Blair’s fourth term New Labour agenda.

Neither man is what he publicly claims to be. And certainly neither Donald Trump nor David Cameron can fairly be described as small-c conservatives.


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The Republican Party, Or The Mikado

Okay, so some good news out of St. Louis. Ron Paul, the only Republican presidential candidate still in the race whose political ideology, record in office and personality that I can reasonably tolerate, is apparently doing well in the Missouri caucuses. So says the St Louis Post-Dispatch:


Except, why is Missouri having a caucus, didn’t they just have a primary last month? Why, yes, they did, but it was a non-binding primary because some awesome person or people in the legislature screwed up and left a law requiring the state to hold a primary on a date that was earlier than the Republican National Committee would sanction. So they went ahead and held the primary in accordance with their state law, but it was essentially a “beauty contest” because the results counted for nothing. These caucuses, happening now, are the ones that count.

As The St. Louis Post-Dispatch helpfully explains:

“The slate backing Paul cast 158 votes in the non-binding caucus Saturday. The purpose was to choose representatives to a round of Congressional district meetings in April and June that will repeat the process to send 52 delegates from Missouri to the August convention in Tampa, Fla.”

Is that clear everyone? What do you mean, no?

So. The primaries that happened last month in Missouri counted for nothing. But that’s okay, because the caucuses that are happening now will choose the representatives that then go on to another round of meetings in April and June, the output of that meeting being the selection of 52 delegates to travel from Missouri to Florida where they can then all bicker together about who will have the honour of being electorally destroyed by Barack Obama in November.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the greatest democratic system on the face of the earth, etc.

Seriously, this is the stuff of which Gilbert & Sullivan operettas were made in terms of farcical plots, topsy-turvydom and bureaucratic nonsensical officialdom.

Firstly, having a long series of primaries and caucuses is dumb, because by the time the race gets to the big states that actually, y’know, contribute the most to the union (we can quibble about how we define “contribute the most” but we all know it’s true – lose Alabama, for instance, and the USA will pick itself up and limp on, ‘real America’ or not; lose California or New York or Texas and there’s a mortal wound right there) the race is pretty much already decided. Sure, it’s great to make the big rich hot-shots trek around a million diners and pancake houses pressing the flesh every morning and participating in good ol’ fashioned retail politics. But why should ethanol-swilling rural Iowans and their special interests have more of a say in choosing the nominee than those residents of the industrial midwest, or the two heavily populated coasts? It makes no sense, and the way in which those overlooked states which rightly try to increase their influence by bringing forward their primaries have been bullied, slapped down or penalised by the establishment is, if anything, the real affront to democracy taking place in America at the moment.

Secondly. if you are going to have a series of primaries and caucuses, can we at least get together to apply roughly the same rules to them all, so that you don’t need to fire up IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer to work out the impact of each primary election night on the fortunes of the respective candidates? I know, I know, state’s rights and so on and so forth. That’s fine. Every state is allowed to do what they want and organise their primaries the way they best see fit. But when the existing method makes you all look like a disorganised bunch of ass clowns, maybe it’s time to actually get together and come up with a more uniform system. Now when might be a good opportunity to do that? If only there was some upcoming pre-arranged big gathering of the nation’s top Republicans, in a big convention city like, say, Tampa, Florida, that would perhaps be ideal. But we can only wish.

Thirdly. As long as America persists with the ridiculous system they have in place at the moment (and the Democrats aren’t much better on their side, but of course Obama’s renomination is not being contested so we hear nothing about the “superdelegate” shenanigans this time around), I will continue to unapologetically act as cheerleader for Ron Paul’s scrappy efforts to increase his delegate haul by using his army of devoted supporters to out-organise the front-runners and win the apparently-crucial but almost-unreported actual meetings that assign the delegates for real.

After all, if the rules are stupid or flexible enough that winning a majority of votes in a state’s primary or caucus doesn’t guarantee you something approaching a commensurate proportion of delegates to the convention, three cheers for the guy with the smarts to actually play the system.

Why Santorum Is Wrong On Healthcare… Part 1/5000

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There is a small part of me that wants desperately to like Rick Santorum. This is entirely based on the fact that he will stake out a bold, uncompromising position based on his beliefs and defend it to the hilt rather than running away or backpedalling from the position under opposition pressure. That is a rare attribute in a politician and in the US Republican primaries he is matched or exceeded in this regard only by fellow candidate Ron Paul.

The small part of me that admires Santorum, however, is vastly outweighed by the rest of me, which is aghast at his riffs on the separation of church and state, on women’s healthcare, on contraception, on economic policy and his naive or callously cynical pledge (depending on how you view him) to bring about a manufacturing renaissance in America by tweaking the tax code a bit and drilling for more oil (domestic oil production is, of course, higher now under Obama than it was under Bush):

Furthermore, I am becoming increasingly convinced that Santorum is being given far too much praise for being an “honest politician”, when there is an increasing pile of evidence from his campaign speeches to suggest otherwise. By all means praise him for saying things that ignite his party’s base, and not backing down in the face of liberal objections, that’s one thing. But when you are standing in front of friendly crowds who more or less share your worldview and policy positions, that is not so hard to do.

If he really were honest though, he would avoid saying things like this, as quoted by the Jeffrey Anderson and Bill Kristol in the Weekly Standard today:

“The reason that .  .  . I ultimately decided to get into this race was .  .  . one particular issue that to me breaks the camel’s back with respect to liberty in this country—and that is the issue of Obamacare. .  .  . [A] little less than 50 percent of the people in this country [now] depend on some form of federal payment, some form of government benefit, to help provide for them. After Obamacare, it will not be less than 50 percent. It will be 100 percent. Now every single American will be looking to the federal government, not to their neighbor, not to their church, not .  .  . to the community .  .  . [but] to those in charge, to those who now say to you that they are the allocator and creator of rights in America. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the beginning of the end of freedom in America.”

You know what, Rick? You hate ObamaCare, and that’s fine. I mean, you haven’t proposed any detailed alternative solution to deal with the problems of the uninsured, or the rate of healthcare inflation (and as I said before, medical malpractice lawsuit reform and cross-state selling of insurance nibbles at the edges rather than fixing the problem), so let’s just assume that you believe 30 million uninsured to be a price worth paying to preserve the “liberty” that once existed in America, but which disappeared in a puff of smoke once the Affordable Care Act was signed. That’s fine.

But there are two things in the above extract from Santorum’s “victory” speech on Super Tuesday:

1. The fact that he laments that nearly 50% of Americans depend on some form of federal payment or benefit. Now, I am a fiscal conservative and also believe that this number is rather too high and represents an overexpansion of the federal government. However, Santorum says nothing about Medicare, the ‘socialist, government-run healthcare benefit’ that the grey-haired brigade benefit from, which makes up a substantial portion of that 50%. And why? Because they vote. MedicAid recipients, and those on unemployment or food stamps are less likely to vote, so it’s a lot easier to talk about them when you bash the percentage of Americans who rely on some federal handout.

2. “It will be 100 per cent. Now every American will be looking to the federal government, not to their neighbor, not to their church…” Now this one really has me stumped. I would be grateful if Santorum supporters could point me to the exact parts of the Affordable Care Act (and yes, I have the PDF downloaded on my computer) where extending health insurance to an additional 30 million people means that everyone – everyone –  is now beholden to the federal government. Unless parts of the bill were written in invisible ink, I saw nothing that says that government is taking over the means of healthcare delivery (hospitals) or health insurance (insurance companies). So say for example that I work in finance and have health insurance through my company, and have done for years. Which part of ObamaCare is going to cause me to spurn my current coverage and go running to nourish myself at the teat of the federal government?

Rick Santorum: There is nothing honest about you when you propogate arguments such as these. Like most other Republicans at the moment, you have decided to go along with the doomsday hyperbole and fear-mongering that has sadly become a feature of the GOP’s position on healthcare reform, rather than engaging and crititicising it on true conservative principles. This has been very effective for your party, and I understand why you have made it the lynchpin of your presidential candidacy. But it does not make you an honest man.