Paul Zummo

The Solid South Goes for Trump

Donald Trump’s clean sweep of southeastern states has taken many pundits by surprise, but it shouldn’t have. Trump’s performance in the south among evangelical voters is actually quite in keeping with the strain of evangelical conservatism prevalent in the bible belt.

Many moons ago in a prior blogging life I wrote a multi-part series detailing the different strands of American conservatism, and reading it now I may have forecasted the rise of Trump. First, I noted a type of conservatism (cranky conservatism) that seems to typify the Trump voter.

On the other end of the spectrum, the paleo-conservatives and crankycons seem to hate everything.  And yet they are most comfortable with populist schemes that betray the Framers’ original plans.  Their anti-elitism runs so deep that they would bequeath to the masses enormous power.  Their enemies are the ghouls in the academies with their fancy ideas.  But while they would have you believe that they are the true inheritors of the conservative mantle, their philosophy is a deep betrayal of the republican tradition.  Their ultimate designs are no less radical than the hated neocons they so regularly disparage.

Sounds like a typical Trump supporter to me.

As related to religion and conservatism, this is what I wrote back in 2005 (please ignore the horrible misspelling of hear as “here”):

Traditional conservatism is generally less concerned about the temporal world.  This strain of conservatism dates to Augustine, who saw utopian schemes for the foolishness that they were.  Thus, it should come as no surprise that the intellectual impetus behind this brand usually comes from the Roman Catholic Church, or its near neighbors in the Episcopalian version.  Buckley, Kirk, Ponnuru, Reagan: all thinkers who are Catholic or whose religion was close to that of Roman Catholicism.  This is no mere coincidence.

We here a lot about religion and the conservative movement, and indeed religion has played a crucial role in all conservative parties throughout the world.  But what many fail to understand, principally because they fail to understand Christianity is that there are crucial differences in the religious outlook of Evangelicals and Catholics, and these differences play out in the political world.  The steadfast pessimism of the Catholic faith is mirrored in the political outlook of most conservative Catholics.  They see this as a fallen world.  And while we should strive to make this world as good as we can, our expectations for the temporal world should not be so high.  Consequently, we should not put much stock in government and its ability to change the world.

I am not as well-versed in Evangelical religion to speak authoritatively, but it seems to me that the Evangelicals are much more optimistic about reshaping this earthly realm.  Their fervor for conversion seeps into their political consciousness, thus they have grander visions for reform than does the Catholic conservative.

It would be easy to simply paint as the essential demarcation in conservative thought as the interplay between Catholic and Evangelical theology.  It would be easy because it is essentially correct.  We share many of the same values, but at some point there is a rift in our fundamental vision of the government because there is a fundamental rift in our theological outlook.  That is not to say that all Catholics are all of a particular political stripe, and all Evangelicals of another.  But if one wants to understand the divergence in American conservative thought, there would be worse starting points than this examination of the difference between Catholicism and Evangelical religion.

None of the developments of the previous decade has changed my thinking on these matters. To be sure, not all Evangelicals are utopian, nor are all Catholic conservatives necessarily fierce opponents of “big government.” Indeed the lone remaining standard bearer of traditional conservatism is Ted Cruz, a fervent Evangelical himself. Yet the populist appeal of Trump in the south indicates there is something to this distinction. Meanwhile Cruz has done better in the southwest and midwest, areas of the country that have a more libertarian hue and better represent the traditional strain of conservatism.

Contrary to the narrative, this primary is far from over. Trump is likely to be the nominee, but Cruz still has a fighting chance. This is the ultimate showdown of the two types of conservatism I detailed many years ago. Regardless of who wins, I believe we’re just seeing the beginnings of a much fiercer war for the heart of conservatism.

National Review Endorses Ted Cruz

No doubt this will only embolden a portion of you to oppose Ted Cruz all the more, but NR’s editorial endorsing Cruz lays out, with eloquence, the case for Cruz (and saves me a lot of time writing).

We supported Cruz’s campaign in 2012 because we saw in him what conservatives nationwide have come to see as well. Cruz is a brilliant and articulate exponent of our views on the full spectrum of issues. Other Republicans say we should protect the Constitution. Cruz has actually done it; indeed, it has been the animating passion of his career. He is a strong believer in the liberating power of free markets, including free trade (notwithstanding the usual rhetorical hedges). His skepticism about “comprehensive immigration reform” is leading him to a realism about the impact of immigration that has been missing from our policymaking and debate. He favors a foreign policy based on a hard-headed assessment of American interests, one that seeks to strengthen our power but is mindful of its limits. He forthrightly defends religious liberty, the right to life of unborn children, and the role of marriage in connecting children to their parents — causes that reduce too many other Republicans to mumbling.

That forthrightness is worth emphasizing. Conservatism should not be merely combative; but especially in our political culture, it must be willing to be controversial. Too many Republicans shrink from this implication of our creed. Not Cruz. And this virtue is connected to others that primary voters should keep in mind. Conservatives need not worry that Cruz will be tripped up by an interview question, or answer it with mindless conventional wisdom when a better answer is available. We need rarely worry, either, that his stumbling words will have to be recast by aides and supporters later. Neither of those things could be said about a lot of Republican nominees over the years.

Of course the Trump forces will just say that this is proof that Ted Cruz is really a member of the Establishment (as indeed one wag on Twitter suggested immediately upon seeing this news), but basically anyone who doesn’t think Donald Trump is the Messiah is deemed to be part of the evil Establishment by Trump supporters.

Georgetown University Finds a New Low

Just when you thought the dissident “Catholic” university couldn’t find a new low, it manages to surpass even our lowest expectations.

The Lecture Fund at Georgetown University is planning to host Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) President Cecile Richards on campus this April, The Cardinal Newman Society has learned.

“This is the latest in a long history of scandal at Georgetown University,” said Cardinal Newman Society President Patrick Reilly. “Disguised as an academic event, this is nothing more than a platform for abortion advocacy at a Catholic university and under the nose of the Catholic bishops, featuring a wicked woman who defends the sale of baby body parts and is responsible for the deaths of millions of aborted children.”

It would be one thing to invite Richards to a debate, but here she is given the floor to spew her pro-abortion propaganda. And with Ms. Richards, we’re not talking about someone who happens to favor abortion but who is discussing a different topic. No, she is the head of an organization that is responsible for the murder of over 300,000 unborn children per year, not to mention the selling of body parts. Planned Parenthood is just about the most anti-Catholic institution on the face of the Earth, and the head of this organization is being given a platform by an institution that deems itself to be Catholic.

How outrageous is this decision? The Archdiocese of Washington even spoke out against the decision.

In any case, this is not our issue here. What we lament and find sadly lacking in this choice by the student group is any reflection of what should be an environment of morality, ethics and human decency that one expects on a campus that asserts its Jesuit and Catholic history and identity.

One would prefer to see some recognition by this student group of the lives and ministry, focus and values of people like Blessed Óscar Romero, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and Pope Francis in place of that group’s seemingly constant preoccupation with sexual activity, contraception and abortion. The Archdiocese of Washington is always open and ready to dialogue with the students, faculty and administration of the University on issues of such significance.

The apparent unawareness of those pushing the violence of abortion and the denigration of human dignity that there are other human values and issues being challenged in the world lends credence to the perception of the “ivory tower” life of some on campus. This unfortunately does not speak well for the future. One would hope to see this generation of Georgetown graduates have a far less self-absorbed attitude when facing neighbors and those in need, especially the most vulnerable among us.

When even this Archdiocese condemns an action, you know you’ve gone too far.

I do not normally encourage vocally protesting a speaker, as I generally find it obnoxious. This is a case where I can make an exception.

And Then There Was, Let’s Face it, One

There have been roughly 456,343,455 articles written explaining the Trump phenomenon. My estimate might be off by one or two, but it’s in the ballpark. While I’ve long maintained that Trump is the most inappropriate vehicle possible for those who rightly feel dissatisfied with the Republican party, to me the anger expressed in the pro-Trump movement is entirely justified.

You would think by now that Republican party boosters would have a firm grasp on the political culture in which we’re operating in. Alas, based on the continued intransigence of a certain subset of the #NeverTrump movement, it is clear that they are as pigheaded and foolish as any Trump supporter.

#NeverTrump, for those of you who (smartly) don’t use Twitter, is a hashtag to express the solidarity of a movement that not only seeks to deny Trump the nomination, but which has also indicated its unwillingness to support Trump in the general election, no matter what. This group – and I am or was a part of this movement – has advocated strategic voting meant to deny Trump the ability to win the needed delegates before the GOP convention to secure the nomination. Many anti-Trumpsters advocated strategic voting wherein people voted for non-Trump candidates that were not necessarily their first choice but who had better chances in select states. So, for example, Cruz supporters should back Rubio in Florida, while Rubio backers were advised to go with Cruz in Louisiana.

We are now nearly two-fifths of the way trough the primary season, and it has become manifestly obvious to all but the most strident of Rubio and John “let them bake cakes” Kasich boosters than Ted Cruz is the only viable option to Donald Trump. Cruz has now won six states, and finished ahead of Trump in another. He has, moreover, won in the northeast, the northwest, and the heartland. In other words, the GOP electorate is coalescing around Cruz, while Rubio and Kasich struggle to even win enough votes to garner delegates. Cruz continues to poll the strongest against Trump, and regularly maintains an advantage in a two-man race.

Unfortunately Rubio supporters have acted much like Homer Simpson chasing the pig in the clip above. They deny the reality of the situation, and instead insist on strategic voting despite evidence that such a strategy will, at best, simply deny Trump getting the required 1,237 delegates. If this strategy works we’re left with a nominee being selected at the convention. If that nominee is anyone other than Donald Trump (unless it’s someone like Cruz who garners a similar amount of delegates during the primary season), then the result would be just as disastrous for the long-term future of the Republican party as a Trump outright win in the primary.

Considering the mood of the electorate – Democrat and Republican alike – a brokered convention that nominates Marco Rubio or, even worse, John Kasich, would completely turn off not just Trump supporters, but a fair number of other voters as well. Sure, it would be within the rules (as people are fond of repeating), but such a nominee – again, if it’s someone who didn’t have at least 1,000 or so delegates going into the convention – would be utterly damaged. Whatever your opinion of Trump supporters, completely turning them off and making them feel disenfranchised is an awfully stupid election strategy.

No, this thing needs to get settled in the primary, and the only two men who can win the Republican nomination outright are Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. Rubio backers have relied to a great extent on the argument that Marco Rubio is the most electable Republican in the general election. This argument from pragmatism – which is dubious to begin with – is countered by another pragmatic reality: Rubio is not nominateable. Neither is Kasich. It’s over for them, and any process that gives them a nomination through the back door of a contested convention will damage any general election chance they have.

So if you live in Ohio, Michigan, or Florida, and you don’t want Donald Trump to be the nominee, here’s your strategic play: vote for Ted Cruz.

NB: Rubio backers might argue with some credibility that Rubio’s poor numbers are due to strategic voting. While I can’t deny that there might be something to this, it’s hard to believe that the enormous gap between Cruz  and Rubio/Kasich is due to any great extent to Rubio/Kasich backers voting strategically. Voters are not quite that sophisticated.

Donald Trump: Unfit to be Commander in Chief

There was a horrifying moment during last night debates (there were several cringe-worthy moments as well) when Donald Trump said he would order soldiers to kill women and children. If you remain unconvinced that Donald Trump is singularly unfit to be Commander in Chief after this debate, then perhaps the words of a retired soldier will do the trick.

Tonight, in the Detroit debate, Donald Trump went further.  He doubled down on his claim that American Soldiers should be in the business of assassinating innocent women and children because of the actions of their husbands/fathers.  This is wrong.  This is a war crime.  This is an illegal order.  When he was told U.S. troops do not obey orders to commit war crimes, he responded in typical Trump fashion. “I know leadership, I tell them to do it and they will do it.  I’m a leader.”

This is not just a bad idea.  This is not just embarrassingly stupid.  This is even further trashing of the honor and dignity of the members of the world’s best military.  No Soldier I trained would ever obey that order.  Even worse is to contemplate the soul destroying reality for any that did obey it.  Killing a combatant in defense of yourself and your battle buddies is right and just, but it never leaves you.  In the back of your mind is always the realization that you took a human life, no matter how justified.  How could anyone contemplate putting Soldiers in the position to live the rest of their lives seeing the faces of dead innocent children in their dreams every night?

Donald Trump cannot be the Commander in Chief of the United States Military.  If nothing else convinces you to be #NeverTrump, think of the men and women who offer their lives in defense of your freedom.  Think of what Trump as President means to them in light of what he said at the debate.

In case I was not clear: American Soldiers as a group will NOT obey illegal, unconstitutional orders to commit war crimes.  They will not, and anyone who would consider asking them to should shut up and go home.  Anyone who would consider that does not deserve the votes of the Republican party or of the American people.

This isn’t a joke. “Sticking it to the Establishment” ain’t worth the cost of losing your soul.

One Image Says It All

Last night went moderately better than expected, so you’re stuck with me for a little while longer.

While there were some disappointments, such as Trump blowout wins in Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama (thank you Benedict Sessions!), there were bright spots such as Cruz’s larger than expected win in Texas, as well as him edging out Donald Trump in Alaska despite Sarah Palin’s endorsement. The absolute highlight of the evening, however, was Chris Christie looking forlorn behind Donald Trump as he gave his victory speech. This vine video might be the funniest thing I have ever seen, and captures the utter ridiculousness of the entire farce. This is especially good if you are a Curb Your Enthusiasm aficionado.

I Will Not be Cowed into Voting for Trump this November

Roughly eight percent of the Republican delegates have been doled out thus far, but evidently it’s all over but the shouting. We might as well make piece with GOP nominee Donald Trump, we’re told. Whether or not one is ready to so readily concede, I’ve already seen the message pivot on various social media platforms. Despite the fact that a majority of Republican voters do not like or simply loathe the man, the quadrennial ritual is about to take place. Yes folks, it’s time for another lovely round of “Vote Republican in November or else.”

Oh I’m just as guilty as anyone as playing this game before. I almost made it through 2012 myself before regretfully folding and pulling the imaginary lever for Mitt Romney (more on that later), and I did the same for McCain in 2008. I’ve made the same arguments now being put forth by Team Vote GOP or Die, so I understand them. I personally find it rather amusing that the same people who have kvetched the most about this strategy in the past are now the ones wielding it, but so be it.

There are two core arguments being put forward as to why we need to get in line for Trump: the courts, and “OMG! Hillary!” (Yeah, Bernie too, but establishment Democrats are ironically better at putting their thumbs on the scale to thwart grassroots sentiment than the not quite so Machiavellian GOPe, so forget him for the time being).

Normally I’d fall in line with this way of thinking, but not this time. Let’s address the courts first.

Antonin Scalia’s death has made the Supreme Court, and the corresponding presidential appointment power, even more pressing of an issue than it normally is. Assuming Senate Republicans actually hold the line – and to their credit, I think they will – then the next president will not only choose his replacement, he or she might get to fill two other vacancies, if not more. Do we want Hillary to make those appointments? Donald Trump may not be counted on to make suitable choices, but at least with him we have a fighting chance. Sure he hasn’t demonstrated any familiarity with constitutional law, or a deep understanding of originalism, and on several high profile cases (such as Kelo) he took the anti-Constitutional side. But he will surely have the best men and women advising him, and we can trust that he will pick good people to pick good people.

To which I reply: The infinitesimal chance that Donald Trump will astutely nominate jurists whose philosophies echo Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, or – dare a girl dream – Clarence Thomas, does not counter all of the other negatives associated with Donald Trump. When speaking of constitutional issues Trump seems barely more coherent than a high school kid who has not done his social studies homework. It’s easy to make too much of his comment that his radically pro-abortion sister would make a “phenomenal” Supreme Court justice, but it underlines his fundamental lack of seriousness on the courts and constitutional issues. He may mouth platitudes about appointing “pro life, conservative” justices, but even when he’s trying to say things he knows his supporters want to hear, he still betrays his complete lack of understanding of what the courts are about. I don’t want “pro life, conservative” justices, I want constitutionalists who will adhere to the document as written and originally understood by its framers. Such justices would naturally decide in a manner that would overturn the social justice engineering wrought by the courts, but would also consistently vote so as to keep the courts out of other areas that are not their concern.

It’s also folly to count on Trump picking excellent advisers to assist him with these picks. We’re left hoping that he picks the right person to pick the right people. Hey, I have an idea – let’s cut out the middleman. Maybe instead of Trump we could have a president who, say, has argued (and consistently won) before the Supreme Court and thus might actually know a little but about constitutional law. Oh, I know, that’s crazy talk. Better to roll the dice, cross our fingers and pray that Trump picks the right person to pick the right person.

Even assuming Trump hits the jackpot and chooses a suitable replacement for Scalia, guess what – he’s likely gonna have to repeat that process multiple times. I would be surprised if Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy don’t resign during the next Republican administration. Ruth Bader Ginsburg might try to hang on for another four years in case Trump wins, but even she might walk away. So not only are we relying on Trump getting it right to simply hold the line, we might need him to make the right call when it comes to appointing someone who could switch the court’s basic composition.

Wait. There’s more. While we focus obsessively on the Supreme Court we forget to scores of lower court appointments that will be made. As Danel Horowtiz details, less than one percent of cases make it to the Supreme Court, meaning that most cases are decided on the appellate level. And as Horowitz shows, President Obama has completely remade the lower courts.

While most people focus exclusively on the Supreme Court and how that institution has reached rock bottom with some of the decisions of the past term, the situation in the lower courts is even worse.  And remember, only 1% of this country’s cases ever make it to the land’s highest court.  Obama has now appointed 54 active appeals court judges, which represents 30% of the appeals court benches.

As of 2016, nine of the 13 circuits are comprised of majorities of Democrat-appointees.  In totality, there are 92 Democrat circuit judges, 77 GOP judges, and 10 vacant seats.  The all-important D.C. Court of Appeals—the second most important court in the land on constitutional issues—is now 7-4 majority Democrat-appointees, with four judges appointed by Obama alone.

On the district level, Obama has now appointed 260 judges, 39% of the federal district bench.

Even if we trusted to Trump to somehow have a better batting average of appointing constitutionalists to the bench than Ronald Reagan and the Bushes, it probably won’t matter. The courts are so fundamentally broken that even appointing the right people – which we can’t even trust Trump will do – won’t solve anything.

Which brings us to the final point. The judiciary has usurped the legislature’s role in deciding social issues. It has become a super legislature, far beyond anything imagined by the framers of the Constitution. Even if the courts decided rightly on these major social issues, we should question why they are even deciding so many of these issues in the first place. Major judicial reform is necessary, including such ideas as jurisdiction stripping. While I wouldn’t expect even a President Cruz to succeed in this arena, at least not as thoroughly as one would hope, there is no chance in Hades than a President Trump will get behind any initiatives to reform the judiciary. In the end, the courts are simply too far gone to think that electing Donald Trump can make any difference whatsoever.

Which brings us to the “but Hillary” argument. Yes, Hillary Clinton is a sociopathic, charisma vacuum who would almost literally (maybe not almost) kill someone who stood in her way of obtaining office. She has no scruples, would say anything to get elected, lies as easily as any of us breathe, and is a doctrinaire leftist.

But I also kind of just described Donald Trump (except for the charisma thing – I’ll give him that).

Phillip Klein laid out a pretty exhaustive list of Trump’s political failings. It’s hard to see in this list precisely where he’s markedly better than Hillary Clinton. In fact both are political chameleons who seem to thirst after power, and will do and say anything to attain that power. In the end, President Clinton or President Trump will do nothing to repeal Obamacare, and both seem to be fine with ideas to further socialize health care. Neither is going to reign in the judiciary, nor are they going to halt the expansion of executive powers. And on and on.

As mentioned above I held out for much of 2012 before finally succumbing to the “he’s better than Obama” argument as applied to Mitt Romney. The thing is, Mitt Romney is Edmund Burke, Barry Goldwater, and Ronald Reagan rolled into one compared to Donald Trump, not to mention his clearly superior moral character. Mitt Romney, for all his faults, truly was a superior alternative to Barack Obama. I cannot say the same about Donald Trump as compared to Hillary Clinton.

So that is why no amount of pleading will ever get me to vote for Donald Trump. If it makes you feel better I live in a state that has zero chance of going Republican in a general election, so it also won’t matter. As I said in my previous post, Donald Trump actually could and maybe even likely will defeat Hillary Clinton. God help our nation that this is our choice.

NB: If Tuesday goes as poorly as I fear it might, this will be my final post on presidential politics until election day in November. I don’t think I can stomach eight months of coverage of these two fundamentally loathsome human beings.

Marco Rubio Would be an Election Day Disaster

I am bucking both conventional wisdom and my own stated feelings in coming to the conclusion that Marco Rubio, if he somehow wins the Republican nomination, would lose to Hillary Clinton (though possibly not Bernie Sanders). I have long held that just about any Republican can beat the charisma vacuum that is Hillary, but now I have grave doubts about Rubio’s ability to win in November.

Let me first concede that polling data suggests the opposite. Right now the Real Clear Politics average of polls shows Rubio up by 3-4 points over Hillary, with Ted Cruz a little less than a percentage point over Hillary, and Donald Trump several points behind Hillary. The polls over the past couple of months have been fairly consistent, with both Rubio and Cruz holding edges over Hillary, but Hillary holding an edge over Trump (with Sanders beating everyone).

But general election polls nine months out before everything has been decided are not quite reliable. That said, the polls do confirm what many feel to be the case. Hillary Clinton has not one jot of her husband’s political skills or appeal, and if just about anyone besides a 74-year old socialist were her primary opponent, she would be toast by now. Sanders has a certain appeal to the millennial crowd, and the general electorate is likely unaware of the full extent of his radicalism.

For the Republicans, Rubio has a superficial appeal that would seem to sway more independent voters. He is not perceived to be as much of an ideologue as Ted Cruz, and apparently has a more vibrant appeal than the supposedly dour Cruz. Trump, meanwhile, reviles people on all sides of the political spectrum. I for one have not only sworn I would never vote for the man, but have said his nomination would cause me to disassociate myself from the Republican party. In that I am hardly alone. If he can’t even get Republicans to vote for him, then how could Trump possibly win?

As much as it pains me to say, Trump not only can win a general election, it’s possible he would even be a favorite to beat Hillary. Of all the reasons I personally dislike Trump and pray fervently he is not the nominee, his lack of electability has never been one. Even if a decent chunk of conservatives refuse to vote for him, he can actually bring in enough disaffected, middle class whites to offset the loss of Republicans. Besides, don’t doubt that more than a few people vowing not to vote for him will, in the end, blink.

We’ve just alluded to Cruz and his ideological rigidity and lack of charisma. Very many people, even on the right, seem to have a visceral hatred of the man.

So why would either be more likely to win in November than Rubio?

In the 1997 movie The Devil’s Advocate,  the main character (and son of Satan, but we don’t need to get into the plot right now – but the movie’s worth checking out if only for Al Pacino’s amazing hammy scene at the end) Kevin Lomax is a defense attorney for a man accused of murder, played by Craig T. Nelson. That the man he is representing is a loathesome, New York real estate tycoon is not at all connected to the point I’m about to make, but it’s a funny coincidence. Anyway, during opening arguments, Lomax (played by Keannu Reeves) offers his opening remarks:

What I need to tell you won’t take very long at all. I don’t like Alexander Cullen. I don’t think he’s a nice person. I don’t expect you to like him. He’s been a terrible husband to all three of his wives. He’s been a destructive force in the lives of his stepchildren. He’s cheated the city, his partners… …his employees. He’s paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties and fines. I don’t like hm. I’m going to tell you some things during the course of this trial that are going to make you like him even less.

But this isn’t a popularity contest. It’s a murder trial. And the single most important provable fact of this proceeding is that Alexander Cullen was somewhere else when these horrible crimes took place.

I want one thing from you. That’s it. One thing.I want you to ask yourself: “Is not liking this man reason enough to convict him of murder?”

When an angry Cullen confronts Lomax about these remarks, Lomax replies (pardon the very crude language):

I’m gonna bust my ass make sure they hate you. Because as long as you’re boning Melissa, you’re not home killing your wife!

There’s something to be said about laying your cards out on the table. It’s been established that Trump is, well, not a nice guy, and yet he’s winning over Evangelical voters (a topic for another day after a few rounds of heavy drinks). Cruz – not nearly as unlikable as he’s portrayed, but whatever – is also something of a known commodity. As Matt Walsh points out, Cruz is still able to win over voters through the strength of his ideas despite the lack of a strong charismatic appeal (though admittedly this was written after the Iowa caucus when things were looking a bit rosier for Cruz).

The point is though that Cruz and Trump have reputations that precede them. And that might be a good thing for their general election prospects. The voters already have a sense of what these candidates are (even if it’s exaggerated in Cruz’s case, but again, whatever), and yet Cruz still holds his own in a potential election matchup against Hillary. Moreover, one gets the sense that both Trump and Cruz will be able to withstand the blows that Hillary is going to land in debates and in the incessant advertising and media blitz to come. The thing is, people already have a good sense of who these men are, and there’s not much more that the Democrats can do to bring them down. And both men also will be quick to hit back just as hard. Neither man is a boy scout, and for general election purposes, that’s a good thing.

Which brings us to Rubio. The opposition dump that is to come on Marco Rubio is going to make whatever Right to Rise did look like a day at the beach. This has nothing to do with any personal issues that will get dug up, but rather how the Democrats will inevitably go after his “extremism.” Well all those Rubio supporters here in the primary pointing out Rubio’s conservative voting record are going to have to scramble when that voting record is suddenly more deeply explored by the media and the DNC – but I repeat myself. Sure they’ll do the same to Cruz, but again, that’s already known about him. Suddenly the squeaky clean boy wonder won’t look quite as “moderate,” and when his foreign policy bellicosity is added to the mix, suddenly he looks even more extreme than Cruz.

And how would Rubio respond to the attacks that are to come? This is where the rubber hits the road and my lack of confidence in Rubio comes to the fore. Does Rubio have what it takes to take on the Democratic party/Clinton machine? What I’ve seen of Rubio thus far does not impress me. His speaking style inspires some, but has me thinking he needs to hit the decaf. More seriously, I don’t see in him the type of person who can take an attack head-on and deftly go on the counter-attack. Even if one thinks the debate flub against Christie became an exaggerated talking point, it demonstrated a weakness that will be exploited in the general election. I don’t happen to think Rubio is dumb or programmed, nor am I confident that he has the chops to go mano y mujer against Hillary.

What’s more, I don’t think he will pull in as many non-Republicans as Trump, nor will he do as well among Republicans as Cruz. Will conservatives stay at home on election day if Rubio is the nominee? Not necessarily, but as was the case with Romney, I don’t think his nomination will help mobilize the base to engender even greater Republican turnout. Rubio will be perceived, rightly or wrongly, as just another Establishment Republican. He’ll get most on the right to dutifully go to the polls for him, but will they knock on doors for him? Will they hit the phone banks?

I’m not even certain Rubio will outperform Cruz among non-Republicans. There is a bitter anti-Establishment mood in this country, and Cruz is a much better vehicle for that feeling than Marco Rubio. Let’s be blunt – are the angry, white middle-class Americans going to storm the polls for one of the leaders of the Gang of Eight? Rubio supporters can roll their eyes if they wish at another invocation of the dreaded Gang of Eight, but it’s a stench that will not leave Marco. And while it’s a stench that will drive away disaffected independents, it will not draw in minority voters.

So I’m bucking conventional wisdom to say that of the three main Republican contenders, Marco Rubio is the most ill-suited to win this November election. Could I be wrong? Of course, I’ve gotten plenty wrong before – except about Jeb Bush not being the nominee. Go me. Therefore if your primary motivation for voting for Rubio is electability – first slap yourself for playing this stupid game because you probably voted for Romney and McCain for the same reasons, and second, know that you’re betting on the wrong horse.

 

America the Beautiful Open Thread

Feeling a little bit better about my country tonight for some reason, so how about a Ray Charles nightcap.

PS, it looks like Mike Huckabee got his thirty pieces of silver from Trump and is calling it quits. It really has been a great night.

New York Values

Well this campaign season just keeps getting better. Last night the Republicans had the latest in a series of presidential debates. I personally thought the top three contenders – Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Donald Trump – all acquitted themselves very well. Even Donald Trump, as off-point and rambling in his answers as ever, was basically coherent. Jeb Bush continues to look like a hostage forced to run for the presidency against his will. Chris Christie did well even if he completely dissembled about his record and once again complained about people debating during a debate. John Kasich is still permitted to participate in these things for reasons that elude most sane people. And Ben Carson, well, Dr. Carson is an extraordinarily humble man of great character, and I’ll leave it at that because I don’t want to say anything too mean.

There were some fierce exchanges, and perhaps the biggest moment of the night occurred Ted Cruz deftly handled the question about his status as a natural born citizen. He even got Trump to concede that he only went there because of Cruz’s standing in the polls. It was beautiful to see the crowd actually boo Trump as he tried to continue down this foolish path.

The other Trump-Cruz exchange arguably did not go quite as well for Cruz. On the stump Cruz had dissed the Donald for upholding “New York values,” a line of attack he continued during the debate. Cruz concluded with the line “Not a lot of conservatives come out of Manhattan,” a line which was actually a subtle jab at Trump’s remark that “not a lot of Evangelicals come out of Cuba.” Trump hit back, going to the 9/11 well to talk about how New Yorkers stood tall and united after the terrorist attacks. It was certainly a well-crafted response by Donald, and it caught Cruz a bit off guard. Video of the exchange can be seen at this link.

Now there’s been some back-and-forth in the social media world about Cruz’s “New York values” line of attack – a phrase, by the way, uttered by Trump himself a few years ago. Many New Yorkers are supposedly upset by the remarks as evidenced by this Daily News front page (link does not go to the Daily News*).

*I remarked on twitter that if the New York Times had a lobotomy, the result would be the New York Daily News. I was in error. The Daily News is the result of the New York Times getting drunk. 

Now, I happen to be a native New Yorker, born and raised in the mean streets of Queens. I attended high school in Manhattan and worked there for a couple of years after college. My family still all live in New York. I loved New York, and still get a little weepy sometimes when I hear Frank Sinatra’s version of “New York, New York.” I remain loyal to my New York sports teams, particularly the Mets. Donald Trump was absolutely right about the spirit of New Yorkers, and their great resiliency. There is a great charm in New York bluntness. Having lived in several other large cities, and having regularly traveled throughout the country, I still think in many ways that New York is the greatest city in the country, especially if you are a certain age. The combination of arts, entertainments, business, food (the best food of any major city, or at least the city with the best diversity of good food), and just the general vibrancy of the city are unmatched. And even as Democratic as the city might be, there is a great working class charm to the outer boroughs where the residents are not so easily typecast. There is a reason New York City did not elect a Democratic mayor for two decades, and why the one who served for 12 years shortly before Giuliani (Ed Koch) was hardly a doctrinaire leftist.

All that being said, let me relay a statistic for you. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the abortion rate in 2010 for women aged 15-44 was 17.7 per 1,000 women in the country. New York’s rate was 35.3, second only to Delaware. No other state was in the thirties. I am willing to bet a small fortunate that the rate in the city was much higher than upstate.

Abortion rates of course don’t tell the whole story, though there is a definite correlation between high abortion rate states and “blue” states. There are demographic, economic and other factors at play in the statistic as well.

But let’s be clear about something. Ted Cruz was getting at something all of us understand in our hearts. There is a certain value set among urbanites and other people on the east coast that clashes with the values of folks in much of the rest of the country. Of course not everyone who happens to live in New York holds the same values as the urban elites, and even holding those values does not make you, ipso facto, a bad person. Believing in socialized medicine does not render you incapable of rising to the occasion in moments of great stress, or of helping in times of crisis. But when it comes to the world of politics, and in understanding the role of government, or in holding certain cultural values, New Yorkers and the like generally clash with the values and ideology held by the majority of Republicans, and definitely of conservatives. All the crocodile tears shed in the world will not change this stubborn fact. Even if you cringe at the hint of a suggestion of some kind of culture war, you have to acknowledge the difference in value sets. And no matter how much Donald Trump has pulled the wool over the eyes of many voters, his history and his actions show he’s from a different world (metaphorically speaking) than traditional conservatives. And that’s Ted Cruz’s point, and it’s a point that is absolutely correct.

Friendly Fire

When Rick Perry dropped out of the presidential race in 2o12 it was an easy decision to back Rick Santorum. Santorum was easily the best of the remaining field of candidates, as his political ideology closely mirrored my own. I have no desire to fe-fight the battles of 2012, though I will say that I thought some of the attacks on Santorum, particularly by some on the libertarian-right who depicted Rick as a big government conservative, were unfair.

Santorum is running again for the presidency, and thus far is gaining almost no traction. Considering that GOP runners-up have historically wound up being the man nominated next time, this is somewhat curious. It’s true that the field is (or was) much stronger, but Santorum had established a decent base of support. It’s also worth noting that while Donald Trump has rocketed to the top of the polls largely based on his strong rhetoric vis a vis illegal immigration, Santorum, unlike the Donald, has consistently been an immigration hawk. Even with Donald’s bluster, Santrum still holds the strictest line on immigration – legal and illegal. And yet he flounders, barely registering in the polls.

Whatever the cause for his stagnation, he and his supporters still hold out hope that he can make the same kind of poll comeback in Iowa as he did four years ago. Indeed he is in about the same spot in the polls as he was at this time, roughly five weeks before the Iowa caucus. Yet it doesn’t seem likely that Santorum will come from back of the pack this time, and one of the primary reasons is Ted Cruz. Cruz has garnered the support of the evangelical and conservative wings of the party, and what’s more, he has developed the sort of ground game in Iowa and elsewhere that makes it very unlikely he will fade from the race.

I am most certainly not the only Santorum supporter who prefers Cruz this time around. Though I still like Rick, there are a few key differences between the two that make me prefer Cruz. I’ve always been a bit bothered by Santorum’s more bellicose foreign policy views, and Cruz seems to fit a happier middle ground between the Paulite and McCainiac extremes of the party. Santorum has also backed ethanol subsidies and the Export-Import bank, two corporate welfare schemes that belie the idea that he is not in fact a big government conservative.

With Santorum being desperate to start gaining ground, he has decided to go after Cruz on social issues. Santorum, like Mike Huckaphony Huckabee last week, has tried to take advantage of a Politico hit piece news story purporting to show Cruz being two-faced on social issues.

In June, Ted Cruz promised on NPR that opposition to gay marriage would be “front and center” in his 2016 campaign.

In July, he said the Supreme Court’s decision allowing same-sex marriage was the “very definition of tyranny” and urged states to ignore the ruling.

But in December, behind closed doors at a big-dollar Manhattan fundraiser, the quickly ascending presidential candidate assured a Republican gay-rights supporter that a Cruz administration would not make fighting same-sex marriage a top priority.

In a recording provided to POLITICO, Cruz answers a flat “No” when asked whether fighting gay marriage is a “top-three priority,” an answer that pleased his socially moderate hosts but could surprise some of his evangelical backers.

Aha! You see – Cruz isn’t as committed to social issues as his public statements make him seen. He’s a fraud!

Except, as Patterico points out, everything Cruz said in private is what he has been saying publicly for months on the campaign trail. First, Patterico provides the full quote from the fundraiser:

Q: Can I ask you a question? So, I’m a big supporter. And the only issue I really disagree with you about is gay marriage. And I’m curious: Given all the problems that the country’s facing — like ISIS, the growth of government — how big a priority is fighting gay marriage going to be to a Cruz administration?

CRUZ: “My view on gay marriage is that I’m a constitutionalist and marriage is a question for the states. And so I think if someone wants to change the marriage laws of their state, the way to do so is convince your fellow citizens — and change them democratically, rather than five unelected judges. … Being a constitutionalist is integral to my approach to every other issue. So that I’m very devoted to.

Q: So would you say it’s like a top-three priority for you — fighting gay marriage?

CRUZ: “No. I would say defending the Constitution is a top priority. And that cuts across the whole spectrum — whether it’s defending [the] First Amendment, defending religious liberty, stopping courts from making public policy issues that are left to the people. …

I also think the 10th Amendment of the Constitution cuts across a whole lot of issues and can bring people together. People of New York may well resolve the marriage question differently than the people of Florida or Texas or Ohio. … That’s why we have 50 states — to allow a diversity of views. And so that is a core commitment.

There’s more at the link. Long story short, there is absolutely no inconsistency between what Cruz said in private and what he has said in public.

Santorum, though, has decided to attack Cruz for his federalist-inspired approach.

“It’s basically that he’s not the social conservative that he’s portraying himself to be and is the answer is he’s not,” added Santorum, citing aPolitico story where Cruz said on a secret tape at a fundraiser that he wouldn’t make fighting same-sex marriage a top three priority in his administration.

“If people want to do drugs in Colorado, it’s fine with him,” said Santorum. “If people want have different kind of marriages, it’s fine with him. He doesn’t agree with it. If you want to have an abortion, it’s fine with him, he doesn’t agree with it, but he’s not gonna fight it. That’s not what people are looking for. They’re looking for someone who has a very clear vision of what’s right and what’s wrong and be able to lay that vision out for the American people.”

This is at best a gross mischaracterization of Cruz’s beliefs. What’s more, as streiff at Redstate says:

There is nothing non-conservative about saying that you are willing to allow the voters of Colorado to legalize drugs or the voters of Massachusetts to legalize homosexual marriage. That doesn’t make those decisions right but what social conservatism is about is creating a space where people of faith are free to campaign to have their view be the dominant one. On abortion that means fighting in all states to have abortion outlawed. It doesn’t mean you have to win in all states. It means getting the Supreme Court out of these issues and not imposing Anthony Kennedy’s perverted view of human sexuality upon 300 million people.

I’d go a step further than streiff and note that Cruz’s approach is far, far more likely to lead to social conservative victories than is Santorum’s. Sad to say, Santorum is living up to his image as a would-be nagger in chief. Cruz’s approach, meanwhile, is one that would get the courts out of the social policy game. If the states are left to their own devices to set policy, then we would have a much greater chance of seeing abortion outlawed or gay marriages not sanctioned than we would now. That is not to say that we stop fighting the cultural values – just the opposite. It’s just that the primary objective of a president is to appoint justices who respect the 10th Amendment and would thus allow those fights to be had on a local level. It would then be up to social conservatives to spread their message in New York, California, Massachusetts, etc.

I understand why Santorum said what he said, but it doesn’t make it any less disappointing. Yet I’ve been constantly disappointed by the need people seem to feel to absolutely denigrate every presidential candidate that is not their first choice, but that’s another discussion.

 

 

Horizontal versus Vertical Orientation

Nicholas Frankovich has a very astute post in National Review’s Corner blog about the amazing technicolor light show from the Vatican last night. In it he argues that the real battle in the Catholic world is not between the right and the left, but rather between those who are vertically oriented and horizontally oriented.

Two years ago on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis traveled to the neighborhood, Piazza di Spagna, which is near Rome’s highest-end shopping district, to pray and preach against neglect of the poor. On that occasion too, his politics overshadowed his spirituality. In general, he does a bad job of integrating Christianity’s horizontal message, “love thy neighbor,” with its vertical message, “love God.”

His intentions may be noble, but what he usually ends up communicating is that the horizontal message is primary. His assumption, which was fashionable among Jesuit educators in the 1970s, is apparently based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: You can’t expect someone to listen to your theology and philosophy if he’s cold, hungry, and sick. So the first duty of a teacher and of a preacher is to be, in effect, a social worker and political activist.

The poor we will have always with us, however. The implication of Jesuit social activism is that we must constantly postpone our attention to their spiritual needs. In many quarters, including the Vatican under this pontificate, the institutional Church has lapsed — or crashed, with a thud — into its besetting sin of valuing temporal over spiritual power. The political popes of the Renaissance would understand Francis well.

Contemporary Catholicism is mainly divided not between the political Left and the political Right but between the horizontally oriented and the vertically oriented. The latter are often pushed to the margins of Catholic circles. Last night, while up at corporate headquarters the princes of the Church were garishly attempting to ingratiate themselves to global political elites, the Institute of Christ the King, an order of traditional Catholic priests, led a stately Marian procession through the streets of Rome.

I noted in my critique of Pope Francis’s environmental encyclical that it really lacked a firm theological message, and that the encyclical was too secular in its language. Frankovich crystallizes why Pope Francis’s message seemed so hollow to me.

Trump Freakout Number 999

No doubt jealous that President Obama was getting all the attention for his latest inane speech, and worried that Ted Cruz had passed him in the polls in Iowa, Donald Trump offered his latest off-the-cuff, incendiary policy proposal: prohibiting Muslim immigration and foreign travel to the United States. There are five key points to make about this and the reaction to it.

1. It’s stupid and unworkable. A blanket ban on all Muslim immigration fits in well with Trump’s basic approach to politics, which is to use a jackhammer to screw in a nail. Not only does the proposal cast all Muslims together as the enemy, it could have potentially adverse foreign policy implications, as Ben Shapiro explains:

Kiss Our Intelligence Apparatus Goodnight. We need to work with Muslims both foreign and domestic. It’s one thing to label Islamic terrorism and radical Islam a problem. It’s another to label all individual Muslims a problem. That’s what this policy does. It’s factually wrong and ethically incomprehensible. Donald Trump has just transformed into the strawman President Obama abused on Sunday night.

It’s unworkable for all of the reasons Reihan Salan suggests:

So I understand Trump’s anxiousness, and I share in it. Where we part company is on how the United States ought to treat people who identify as Muslims going forward. I use this awkward locution (“people who identify as Muslims”) advisedly, because the screening mechanism Trump seems to have settled on is to ask travelers if they are Muslim and to turn away those who say yes. There is something almost quaint about this approach, as if we should expect that people who are trying to do us harm will play by the rules Trump has laid out and openly profess their religious beliefs, knowing all the while that it would lead to their exclusion from the country. Granted, there are many Muslims who would never deny their faith, even if it meant that they wouldn’t be allowed into the country. Indeed, I can imagine such professions sparking a social media campaign designed to discredit the exclusion of Muslims, and to celebrate principled resistance to it. The trouble is that terrorists rely on deceit to achieve their objectives, while the kind of people who’d never dream of lying about their religious convictions generally fall in a different category.

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As usual, Trump is speaking off the cuff. Perhaps he is not entirely serious about simply asking people if they are Muslims or not, in which case he could rely on country of origin. Shall we exclude travelers from Muslim-majority countries? This approach would exclude Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, animists, and other religious minorities, and it would ignore the Muslim citizens of non-Muslim-majority countries, like India, Britain, or France. We might instead exclude people with Arabic surnames, as this is generally a good marker of Muslim ancestry, though not a perfect one: this approach would exclude some nontrivial number of non-practicing Muslims, converts to other faiths, atheists, and agnostics, not to mention a large number of Muslims who reject Islamism and Islamist violence.

Now I can already here the Trumpeteers shouting: aha, so that means you’re with Obama and just want unfettered Islamic immigration. Trump supporters and sympathizers have an unusually Manichean worldview: if you don’t support Trump that means you must support Jeb, if you disagree with banning Muslim immigration you’re for open borders, etc. On the contrary, it’s quite possible to disagree with the proposal to ban all Muslim immigration while simultaneously viewing President Obama and the left as dangerously naive when it comes to the problem of Islamic radicalism.

2. Trump doesn’t even mean it. As I wrote elsewhere, if Donald Trump became dictator tomorrow this ban would never occur, just as most of his over-the-top immigration proposals would never see the light of day. Trump offers up this red meat in the hopes of getting his supporters riled up while also getting his opponents to lash out in over-reaction. As usual, he accomplished both missions, and so in that respect Eric Erickson is correct in calling this a brilliant political move.

If you truly believe that this is a well thought out proposal, here’s the Donald explaining how it would work:

Willie Geist: Donald, a customs agent would ask the person his or her religion?

Donald Trump: They would be probably, they would say, ‘are you Muslim?’

Geist: And if they said, ‘yes,’ they would not be allowed in the country?

Trump: That is correct.

Wow, that’s almost as foolproof as asking immigrants if they are terrorists. This will certainly ensnare any would-be evil doers.

3. No, this will not help Isis. It has became all the rage to denounce all unpopular policy ideas as things that would be recruiting tools for ISIS. We were told that the refusal to allow Syrian refugees into the country would be used as a recruiting tool, and now we’re hearing that Donald’s proposal will only create more terrorists. I suggest we turn this idea around: I think that using the no-fly list as an excuse to deprive people of their second amendment rights without due process will only enable the terrorists, and will clearly create more jihadists.*

*No, I don’t actually think that, but it’s no less absurd.

You know what fuels the terrorists: our very existence. Some damned fool idea by a loud-mouthed American is not pushing anyone over the edge to jihad.

4. No, this is not unconstitutional. There seems to be an insistence in some quarters that all bad policy ideas are ipso facto unconstitutional. Jim Geraghty, for one, has been banging the drum on the proposal’s lack of constitutionality. Sorry to say bu the US government can pretty much restrict immigration to whoever the hell it wants. There is no constitutional right to emigrate here, and neither the first amendment or the ban on religious tests for public office speak to this issue. Unconstitutional does not mean “icky ideas.”

Now there has been some confusion as to whether Trump has lumped American citizens into this blanket ban, but it seems at the moment that this is confined to non-citizens overseas.

5. Only one person has not taken the bait. Like night follows day, the denouncements came in from all sides. Twitter quickly filled up with angry tweets, and presidential candidates giddily joined the fray. Jeb Bush, Lindsay Graham, Marco Rubio and pretty much the rest of the remaining GOP field quickly jumped in to declare how horrible a person Trump was.

Jeb Bush getting on twitter to denounce Trump might be the most tone-deaf political maneuver one can imagine. Donald Trump’s position as the lead horse in the GOP field is almost entirely due to Jeb Bush’s existence in the race. Bush’s continued delusional run – and lump Graham, Kasich, and most of the others in there – is what is keeping Trump atop the polls. Narrow the field to three candidates, or even four, and suddenly Trump’s 25 percent doesn’t look so impressive. Yet not only does Bush persist, he does the one thing Trump desires most: he gave him negative attention.

Only one GOP candidate didn’t take the bait, and it’s the one person who seems to know what the hell he’s doing. Ted Cruz didn’t denounce Trump, but instead chose a softer way to distance himself from the Donald:

“I do not agree with his proposals. I do not think it is the right solution,” Cruz said in the Capitol. “The right solution I believe is the legislation that I have introduced.”

More on what Cruz has proposed here.

So not only did Cruz refuse to poke the bear, he made his own policy proposal the centerpiece.

Amazingly Cruz is being roundly denounced himself by some for refusing to do his own denouncing. While it’s certainly possible that this is a cynical ploy not to anger Trump’s supporters for fear of alienating them down the road, it also happens to be the proper strategy, and one that other Republican candidates would be well advised to employ. Yet only Cruz seems to have the wits to understand this. That almost in and of itself is why Cruz is now in position to surpass Trump sooner or later.

The Trumpeteers’ New Emmanuel Goldstein

Trying to keep Trump supporter logic straight is a harrowing ordeal. When confronted with the reality of Trump’s many, many, many (did I say many?) deviations from conservative orthodoxy, Trumps fans respond with an “argument” that employs “GOPe” “Jeb Bush” and “RINO” in some form. The irony of calling any other candidate a Republican in Name Only while supporting the one candidate who is – based on his actual voting and ideological history – quite literally a Republican in Name Only is often lost on these individuals.

Throughout the campaign the big bad for most Trump supporters was Jeb Bush. Jeb Bush was held up as the Establishment darling, and as such the symbol of all that was wrong with the GOP (e). This is perhaps the one time the Trump supporters were largely right. For reasons that defy explanation the GOP Establishment, such as it is, has propped up Jeb Bush. Despite being arguably the absolute worse type of nominee the party could hope for to run against Hillary, the big donors flocked to him. As such, any attempt to criticize Trump has been met with accusations that one must therefore support Jeb Bush. Again, this ignored the fact that at one time 15 (now 12) other candidates were in the race, and the combined polling support for those other candidates has hovered around 60-70 percent, which would seem to indicate to anyone with either a sense of logic or ability to do math that Republicans had other choices in the primary.

Now that Jeb’s star has faded he has been replaced with a new Emmanuel Goldstein. It’s not Ben Carson. Though Trump has personally attacked Carson (and quite maliciously), the real subject of his supporters’ vitriol is Marco Rubio. Just as Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia, and never Eurasia, evidently the real enemy has been Marco Rubio all along.

You can see it in comments sections of right-leaning blogs all the time. Marco Rubio is the clear GOPe darling (not Jeb Bush – it’s never been Jeb Bush), and the man to be feared. Now as Bush fades in the polls it’s quite possible that that hefty six percent or so of the electorate currently supporting Jeb will swing Marco’s way, and that indeed the big bad Establishment might see Rubio as their new savior. But the almost delusional antipathy to Rubio is only starting to peak, as can be seen in this bizarre rant where Ace of Spades lays the blame of Donald Trump’s inability to answer a question in a coherent manner at the blame of Rubio’s followers. Yeah, it’s the GOPe that rendered Trump incapable of clearly and convincingly saying no to a reporter who asked if we should just round up all of the Muslims in the USA and force them to register in some kind of database.

Sadly this is all too representative of the basic gist of Trump support, which is entirely grounded in some kind of hate towards the “other”: other candidates, other cultures, other ways of communicating that are more sophisticated than grunting. It also highlights how the Trump phenomenon is built on a foundation of sand. Even though Jeb Bush never reached particularly high in the polls, we were repeatedly told that if you didn’t hop aboard Team Trump then we were cruising towards a Bush coronation. Now Marco Rubio is the new scarecrow and symbol of all things to be feared.

And now that Ted Cruz is climbing higher in the polls, undoubtedly we will soon come to learn that the true Establishment darling all along has been the man that seems to be the most despised figure among this same so-called Establishment. In fact one Trump supporter has already assured me that “[m]any of us had Cruz pegged as a stalking horse before Trump even announced.” Scooby and Shaggy will soon unmask Ted Cruz only to see Mitt Romney in disguise, I suppose.  We’re not going to want the GOPe to get their man, they’ll say, and there’s no one that the GOPe loves more than Ted Cruz. Ted Cruz has always been their dream candidate, and never Marco Rubio. Or Bush. Or Romney.

And so it goes.

Will the Real Pharisees Please Stand Up?

It’s always nice when you are set to write on a topic but find yourself with a lack of time to discover that somebody else has already covered the issue. So, thank you C.C. Pecknold for doing the heavy lifting so that I don’t have to. Writing about the troublesome paragraphs of the final report of the synod on the family, Pecknold observes:

Jesuits, in fact, have a reputation for just this kind of casuistry that is so apparent in the ambiguous paragraphs. All signs point to Pope Francis’s interpreting them in the way progressives hope. But I’m on record as being a hopeful conservative with regard to this pope, often reading him against the liberal narrative rather than with it. I am obedient to the Office of Saint Peter, and I love this pope. I pray for him as I pray for my own father. And I trust that the Holy Spirit will guard and protect the pope insofar as God uses him as an instrument of the Church’s unity, as a guardian of the deposit of faith, and as our chief evangelist. But as Saint Paul reminds us, our obedience must be rational (Rom. 12.1–2). And thus far rational obedience impels me to ask the Holy Father questions.

What sort of legalism does the pope have in mind? When the pope condemns the Pharisees, does he realize that they were the ones who were casuistical and loosely legalist in allowing for divorce? Does he know that Christ responded to the Pharisees’ legalism with a radical gospel challenge that renewed the creation of man in grace, and the indissolubility of marriage? Does he see that Kasper’s proposal is itself at one with the Pharisees? Does he really think conservatives are teachers of the law rather than of virtue and truth? Does he really think that progressives wanting to accommodate the Church to liberal values, or comply with secular mores, are the vital source of newness for the Church?

Even if Pecknold’s hopefulness with regards to the Pontiff is a tad naive, the observation about Phariseeism is spot on. Heterodox, dissenting Catholics are the quickest to use the term “Pharisee,” mainly because that’s about the only argument their poor brains can muster. When applied to the issue of civilly divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Communion, this label is horribly misapplied. Jesus was highly critical of the Pharisees not merely because they were legalistic, but because their legalism in essence became their religion, and they missed the forest for the trees in their approach to faith. If Catholics were in the habit of suggesting that people could not receive Communion if their shirts were not buttoned up to at least the penultimate button, that would be a more apt description of Phariseeism. Insisting that we adhere to the strict words of Jesus quoted in the Gospels with respect to Catholic couples cohabitating in a state of sin is most certainly not a form of Phariseeism. The true Pharisees will be the ones who use the language of the final synod report to permit couples living in this state of sin to receive the Eucharist absent true repentance. Get ready to see just how many camels they will be trying to fit through the eye of the needle.

Of Pundits and Voters

I did not watch the Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday. There are two primary reasons for this: I am not a masochist, and the New York Mets were playing in the National League Division Series.* Either one of those reasons would have been sufficient to avoid this debacle, and the two in combination  made it a slam dunk decision.

*One may be tempted to sneer that the fact that I am a Mets fan negates my denial of being a masochist, to which I reply . . . Ummm, I’ll get back to you when I have a good retort.

The almost unanimous verdict among pundits all along the political spectrum was that Hillary Clinton was the winner, and it was not particularly close. Clinton was a giant among midgets dwarves little people Democrats. For two shining hours she even seemed almost, dare it be said, human? Perhaps her crack team of engineers, scientists, data programmers, and other smart people finally managed to work together to develop a chip that imparted something close to a personality. She was in command of the issues, managed to approximate the sound of laughter when appropriate without creeping everyone out, and avoided shrieking at decibels that would have had all neighborhood dogs howling in agony. This miracle of modern technology, working in conjunction with the pathetic opposition she faced*, enabled Clinton to get away with the most brutal assault since Chase Utley was allowed to break the existing rules of baseball in order to break a defenseless Ruben Tejada’s legs.

*By way of comparison, imagine a Republican debate in which Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and John Kasich all had to skip, and we were left with Donald Trump, Jed Bush, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki and Jim Gilmore. That is essentially what the Democratic field has been reduced to. 

So we had every pundit alive tripping over himself (or herself, or xerself, or ximself, or whatever pronoun you’re comfortable with) to declare Hillary the winner. So why is it that every focus group and online poll known to man indicated that Bernie Sanders won, and it wasn’t particularly close? I’ll be the first to admit that online polls are as useful as Joe Torre – just ask President Ron Paul – but almost every sample of actual real live voters who may theoretically vote in the Democrat primary, assuming of course evil Rethuglicans don’t deny them their right by forcing them to show personal identification at the polling place, indicates that Sanders was the real winner. What gives?

This is where I’m supposed to snarkily dismiss the punditocracy of being out of touch establishment shills who are merely zealously working overtime to ensure that Madame Hillary is coronated with minimal effort, and that most of them have their heads shoved so far up their collective posteriors that they have completely lost touch with the common man. And I suppose I’m supposed to make some crack about cocktail parties, and maybe another something or other about shills and the establishment, yada yada.

Well that’s partially right. But let me offer up a slightly less cynical take, or at least one that is cynical in the other direction. The problem with pundits, and I guess I’ll include yours truly in that category, is that we judge these things by completely different criteria than the people these debates are meant to persuade. We’re largely looking for substantive answers delivered in a convincing style. We’re looking for a certain adeptness at thinking on one’s feet, hopefully packaged in a way that is folksy without being condescending.

Now is that what the undecided voter is looking for? Do you think said undecided voter, who is probably that person you wind up in line behind at McDonald’s who spends ten minutes trying to decipher the oh-so-complicated menu before settling on the Big Mac, is carefully scrutinizing the pitch at which a candidate’s prepackaged lies responses are delivered? Is the type of voter who is reasonably persuaded that it is actually possible to deliver on the magical list of free stuff the Democrats have been promising all night such a reasoned, informed individual that he will deduct points from Bernie Sanders from sounding like an escapee from Bellevue? When Sanders guffaws on stage and says “G-damn” during a presidential debate, do you think that voter is clutching his pearls and tut-tutting the his lack of social etiquette?

I have some bad news for the pundits, and frankly for most of the American public for that matter. There’s really no way to put this delicately, so I’m just going to say it: these debates are principally aimed at the dumbest segment of the American electorate. Oh sure there are at least  still some reasonably educated people who may not have settled on a candidate yet, so the undecided segment of the audience for a primary debate might be a little bit better informed than that of a general election one. By and large, though, it is not unfair to wager that most of people who haven’t made up their minds and who are actually trying to gauge their vote on these “debates” are not the sorts of people who as zealously and closely follow politics as the people writing about the debates. Which is to say that the pundit interpretation of what happened on stage during the debate is worth almost nothing if one actually wants to know who really won the debate.

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