Romney’s Third Party Flirtations Are Immoral

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Newt Gingrich tore into Mitt Romney in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, calling the former Republican presidential nominee pathetic, bizarre, and ineffective — principally for his efforts to derail Donald Trump and his flirtations with a third party candidacy. Newt might have added a fourth adjective to the list: immoral.

It is a beautiful thing, the American electoral system: in the privacy of the voting booth, each enfranchised American is able to cast his or her ballot as they see fit, according to whatever criteria they choose. Outside the voting booth, plenty of voices are lecturing voters, “you must do this or that for this or that reason.” But inside, the voter is sovereign, immune from the judgment of others; responsible for the morality of their vote only to their conscience and their God.

But what is said and done in public is a bit different. Most of us are free to express our political opinions to anyone we can find who will listen, but certain citizens have particular obligations in regard to their party’s presumptive or actual nominee.

For example, candidates who ran for the nomination and signed a pledge to support the party’s nominee. Unambiguous: it is flatly immoral for Jeb Bush to now refuse to endorse Donald Trump, having told the voters he would do so. I am not aware he was coerced into making that pledge. It was convenient then and, well, not now.

And what of the living former Republican presidential nominees, George H.W. Continue Reading

Trump’s January Pivot

Donald Trump (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Donald Trump is well on his way to winning the Republican presidential nomination. This owes substantially to the party’s bias for “winner-take-all” and “winner-take-all-lite” primaries.

Trump will come out of the four earliest beauty contests states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada) with a solid lead in delegates, assuming he wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina, as now looks likely. South Carolina is the big prize, and it is a winner-take-all state, notwithstanding the RNC rule that there be no winner-take-all primaries before March 15.

Ted Cruz leads in Iowa, and a win there will give him momentum enough to insure he is above the 10 percent New Hampshire threshold for delegates. But the small number of New Hampshire delegates (23) could get divided 5 ways.  The Nevada caucuses do not have a threshold, and so will divide their delegates between multiple candidates.  Trump could end February with a 4-1 lead in delegates over his nearest competitor — which looks at this point to be Cruz.

Then comes the SEC primary, in which five states (Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, and Vermont) have a 20 percent popular vote threshold to win any delegates. Who’s currently competitive to clear the 20 percent threshold:  Trump and Cruz. Minor candidates get bupkis (a candidate who gets 9 percent in each of the SEC states will get roughly 15 delegates, or 2 percent of the delegates awarded). Cruz cleans up in Texas, and we’ll see how well Trump runs in the Southern States, although if South Carolina is any indication, he’ll do just fine in the Bible belt. Continue Reading

Who’s Hot, Who’s Not: Cruz Cruising While Rubio Looks Outmaneuvered

HOT: The big dogs of the social conservative movement have voted, and their candidate is Ted Cruz.  The effort among leading social conservative organizations to coalesce around one candidate – in order to maximize their influence on the nomination process – is a quadrennial initiative which usually comes to naught.  But this year, doubtless due to fear of The Donald, the objective was achieved.

As noted previously, Cruz has been endorsed this week by the National Organization for Marriage and Richard Viguerie.  Other participants in the social conservative consensus project will follow suit.  But the big get is Iowan Bob Vander Plaats, whose network of pastors across the state is widely considered sufficient to swing the caucuses to Cruz.

That sets up a big bounce for Cruz going into New Hampshire.  Of course, the Iowa and New Hampshire electorates are very different (the former evangelical, the latter libertarian), and in fact, New Hampshirites revel in going their own way.  But winning Iowa puts Cruz in the top three in New Hampshire and sends him into South Carolina with Big Mo.

NOT HOT: Marco Rubio.  The cruel calculus of the nominating process is that you actually have to win somewhere early on.  If Cruz does indeed pull out Iowa and South Carolina, with The D taking New Hampshire – or if Cruz comes in second in South Carolina to The D, which will be fun because so many heads will be exploding here in D.C. – there isn’t much oxygen left for Senator Rubio.  Continue Reading

Peggy Noonan Nails the Trump Phenomenon

Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in New Hamsphire (photo credit: Michael Vadon, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Peggy Noonan is the only Wall Street Journal op-ed regular who does not hyperventilate at the mention of “The Donald.”  Despite hanging with the beautiful people in Manhattan, Ms. Noonan stays admirably in touch with Middle Americans – perhaps because of her frequent travels to the heartland, although it is difficult to see Ms. Noonan staying in a Motel 6.

This past Saturday, Ms. Noonan opened a window on the Trump candidacy by an examination of Ronald Reagan.  She wrote:

… People continue to miss Ronald Reagan’s strength and certitude. In interviews and question-and-answer sessions, people often refer to Reagan’s “optimism.” That was his power, they say—he was optimistic. No, I say, that wasn’t his power and isn’t what you miss. Reagan’s power was that he was confident. He was confident that whatever the problem—the economy, the Soviets, the million others—he could meet it, the American people could meet it, and our system could meet it. The people saw his confidence, and it allowed them to feel optimistic. And get the job done. What people hunger for now from their leaders is an air of shown and felt confidence: I can do this. We can do it.

Noonan never says that confidence is the source of Donald Trump’s support; she doesn’t need to.  The importance of her observation really concerns the American voter.  Trump’s “Make America Great Again” baseball cap slogan and his “I’ll make the greatest deal EVER” rhetoric feeds a hunger on which Noonan has put her finger. Continue Reading

George Will Needs to Chill

Conservative columnist and pundit George Will (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Wednesday’s anti-Trump rant by George Will is far from his first.  On September 9, it was “Donald Trump is a Malleable Mess.”  On August 26, it was “The Havoc that Trump Wreaks – on his own Party” (which included this memorable sentence, “Every sulfurous belch from the molten interior of the volcanic Trump phenomenon injures the chances of a Republican presidency.”)  On August 12, it was “Donald Trump is a Counterfeit Republican.”

As less biased observers recognize, Donald Trump is not injuring but increasing the chances of a Republican presidency.  He is a, if not the, principal reason the viewership of the four Republican debates was 74.4 million.  He has made the other candidates stronger, as the latest and best Fox Business debate last week demonstrated (and he has made the debate formats better by criticizing the media moderators).

What has changed over time in Will’s columns on Trump is the disclosure statement.  For the previous three, it was: “The columnist’s wife, Mari Will, works for Scott Walker.”  Now George Will flogs for Chris Christie.

These columns of his are so tendentious it’s a bit beside the point to review the logic of his argument.  George Will doesn’t like Trump, and does like Chris Christie, and that’s really all you need to know.  But let’s humor him: Will thinks Chris Christie, but not Trump, Carson or Fiorina, will be able, in a general election debate, to ask Hillary Clinton: where “is America safer or more respected today, anywhere in the world, than it was when Clinton became secretary of state?”  “It is beyond peculiar,” Will writes, “it is political malpractice for Republicans to fritter away time and attention on candidates who, innocent of governing experience, cannot plausibly ask that question with properly devastating effect.”  Really?  Continue Reading

Who’s Hot? Ted Cruz; Who’s Not: “Gentle Ben” Carson

The Republican mating ritual is getting down to brass tacks: policy substance is of increasing importance, and the two candidates whose persona is most about substance are Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina.

The field continues its winnowing, now down essentially to four candidates: Trump, Carson (for the moment), Rubio and Cruz (though Fiorina is capable of a come-back). Cruz is lapping everyone other than Carson in fundraising, having had a great 3rd quarter and a strong post-debate bounce. He has released a tax plan which is superficially attractive (whether or not businesses get to deduct wages will determine its actual stimulative effect and political appeal). But Cruz also gets that the narrative on why economic growth is so anemic must include over-regulation and the Fed’s monetary manipulation. He’s getting close to the whole package on economic policy.

Plus Cruz has all along been the choice of those voters looking for a fighter, the articulate candidate most willing and best able to tear into the presumptive Democratic candidate. Cruz is now certain – barring unforeseen developments (which means the possibility I am wrong) – to finish among the top three in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Say it Ain’t so, Ben

No candidate in the Republican field is less able to withstand the charge of biographical enhancement than Ben Carson. His political persona is entirely about character, trust, faith, I’m-not-like-the-others-ness. What compels a man of such objective accomplishment to dissemble about being accepted to West Point? Does he think he hasn’t done enough in his life? Continue Reading

Who’s Hot: Marco Rubio, For Quietly Becoming the Favorite “Insider” Candidate

Hot: Marco Rubio

A gang of six is emerging in the Republican presidential field — which once sported 17 candidates.  The six are: three outsiders (Trump, Carson, Fiorina), two senators (Rubio, Cruz), and one former governor (Bush).  The top of the “insiders” is now Marco Rubio.  The question is, why?

Doubtless Rubio has benefited from the withdrawal of Scott Walker, whose political persona was most similar.  Rubio is besting that other candidate from Florida (what was his name again?), because former governors aren’t playing well this cycle.  Rubio is the most “outsider” of the “insider” candidates (he certainly isn’t averse to playing hooky from the Senate).  And he’s got that almost Reaganesque, above-the-fray, won’t-engage-in-attacking-other-candidates thing going on.

But to solidify his position as a first-tier candidate, he has to be about more than style, more than about a personal narrative (which is actually his parents’ personal narrative), more than about embracing the future, and more than about delivering well-rehearsed debate answers.  The central rational for his candidacy remains unclear; he will have to articulate a governing vision, or wither.  But for the moment, he has an opening to do so.

Not Hot: Ben Carson

The regularity with which Dr. Ben Carson leaves voters scratching their heads is becoming a real distraction to his candidacy.  Here he is today on ABC’s “Good Morning America” with George Stephanopoulos, explaining the difference between a man robbing a store with a gun and a gunman targeting bystanders.  Five minutes on a national broadcast, and four are wasted not explaining why he should be president. Continue Reading

Walter Jones Is Right: Moral Standards Matter in Speaker’s Race

Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Walter Jones, Congressman from North Carolina’s 3rd district for the past 20 years, in a letter to Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, called on candidates for leadership to withdraw if aware of “any misdeeds” likely to embarrass the House.  His office characterized these “misdeeds” as “moral turpitude issues,” but he seemed to have marital infidelity particularly in mind.  Two days later, Kevin McCarthy withdrew from the Speaker’s race.

Good for Jones.  Why shouldn’t the Republican Speaker of the House be held to a standard of marital fidelity?  The old bromide is that personal behavior has nothing to do with one’s official duties — and that such a standard would have deprived the country of the services of John Kennedy as president.  But then Seymour Hersh’s “The Dark Side of Camelot” reveals that Kennedy’s dalliances put national security at considerable risk.

In January of 1989, George H. W. Bush nominated John Tower as Secretary of Defense.  This nomination was opposed by Paul Weyrich, one of the most morally serious men ever to participate in the political mosh pit of Washington.

Weyrich told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “It is unrealistic to expect moral behavior in matters of public trust from someone who does not exhibit such behavior in his personal life.  Private morals have public effects.”  The Tower nomination was defeated on the floor of the Senate, the first in 30 years.

Paul Weyrich later reflected on his opposition to Tower (and I am paraphrasing here): “time and again I have been told, ‘this man may be flawed, but he’s our flawed guy.’  I have found that flawed people never end up doing a thing for the conservatives who put them there.”

So thank you, Mr. Continue Reading

Who’s Hot, Who’s Not: Second GOP Debate Edition

Carly Fiorina is on fire.  And to think she barely got into the Wednesday debate — only after CNN relented to pressure and changed their eligibility rules.

We don’t know yet if she actually won the debate, because that judgment can only been made after we’ve seen how the American people respond to her.  But tactically, she scored a lot of points.  More than any other candidate on the stage, she conveyed to the audience a sense of who she really is.

Plus, Carly is also the only person to actually draw blood in an attack on Donald Trump.  When asked by Jake Tapper about the Trump “look at that face comment,” Carly responded,“You know, it’s interesting to me, Mr. Trump said that he heard Mr. Bush very clearly [when Bush said we didn’t need $500 million for women’s health care] and what Mr. Bush said.  I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.”  The audience cheered, and Mr. Trump’s come-back fell flat.

Who’s Not: Gotta be The Donald.  Now, you can lose a lot of money betting against Donald Trump, but we may have witnessed the plateauing of his support this week.  The performance he gave Wednesday undoubtedly pleased Trumpians, but it is hard to see who might have been won over to his side.  He was frequently boorish, and occasionally bizarre, as when asked about his having access to the nuclear launch codes: “First of all, Rand Paul shouldn’t even be on this stage, he’s number 11; he’s got 1 percent in the polls, and how he got up here… there’s far too many people anyway.  Continue Reading

So Long, Rick, We Hardly Knew You

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

And so there are 16, as Rick Perry effectively ends his campaign (they always say the campaign is “suspended,” in case they can get FEC matching funds down the road).  The JV debate will be even lonelier with Carly going to the show and Rick to pasture (Gilmore, Graham, Jindal, Pataki, and Santorum remain).

The demise of Perry is not terribly surprising, but it is nonetheless difficult to fully explain.  Hindsight, in politics as well as sports, is not 20-20; there are too many intangibles in play.  Perry on paper should have been more of a contender.  He is a likable man; he was experienced in politics; he stood strongly for the rule of law on border issues; he challenged Obama rather than embraced him (Christie).  But he wasn’t what Republican voters are looking for this year.

In explaining Perry’s demise, there are at least five contributing factors:

  1. His 2012 performance — which included a disastrous debate performance attributed to medication — hung on him like the proverbial albatross.  He couldn’t shake the conclusion he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed.
  1. Nor was he able to overcome the collective legacy of 2012.  Note that none of the alumni of that debacle — Huckabee, Perry, Santorum, and Paul (whose father was the candidate, but Rand was by Ron’s side throughout Iowa and New Hampshire in one of the nastier candidacies in memory) — are doing well, even though this list includes two previous winners of the Iowa caucuses. 
Continue Reading