Sunday, February 21, 2016

Those Still Standing

Significant attrition has finally befallen the list of contenders for this year's Republican presidential nomination. Here is my take on those who still stand:

Donald Trump
First, I must say that I believe Trump would make a better president than either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders -- but saying he would clear that extremely low bar is very different than saying he would be a good president.

Trump has virtually no knowledge of the Constitution and there is plenty of evidence that if he did know what it says, he would be against it (after all, he fancies himself wielding immense power from on high, which is precisely what the Constitution was designed to prevent).

He is vastly ignorant about matters that are of central importance to the presidency. For example, when the nuclear triad was brought up during a debate, he obviously had no clue what it even is.

He has little regard for free speech and individual rights (other than his own). For example, when his critics and opponents have said things he doesn't like (and which are usually true) he has responded by suing them, threatening to sue them, and issuing cease-and-desist letters... plus, he has abused eminent domain by attempting to use government power to steal acquire other people's property for his own private use.

Because his business success is said to show that he has the executive acumen needed to be president, it's fair to ask exactly what business success he and his fans are talking about. To wit:

The family fortune was produced not by Donald Trump but by his father, Frederick Trump, who set him up in business by buying him a housing development as a graduation present; who installed him in the family enterprise; and who bequeathed him a ton of money upon his death.

When Frederick Trump passed away, his wealth amounted to $400 million in today's dollars. Flip forward to today, and the most thorough analyses of Donald Trump's worth estimate that it is now around $300 million. This suggests that he is actually adept at squandering wealth, not creating it.

The "adept at squandering, not creating" notion is supported by the fact that Donald Trump's ventures have landed in bankruptcy on four different occasions for the same basic reason: He spread them too thin with flippant spending, then tried to escape the jam by borrowing at high interest rates he ultimately couldn't afford (don't high rates indicate that your creditors think you're a bad credit risk?).

On at least one occasion Trump was bailed out of a jam by his father, and on two occasions (so far) he has been bailed out by Saudi Prince Walid bin Talal.

Is this the kind of man you want "scrutinizing" congressional spending for "waste, fraud, and abuse"?

Is this the kind of man who is able to use (or even have) leverage in a tough negotiation with, oh, let's say, the Saudis?

Is this the kind of man you want appointing judges to the federal bench?

Trump's (occasional) refusal to bow to political correctness has emotional appeal. So does his unclarified catchphrase "Make America Great Again." But those are just words, and his words frequently contradict themselves. When it comes to what matters -- actions and core principles -- he has nothing that warrants me voting for him in a Republican primary.

Ted Cruz
The GOP is often criticized for not being conservative enough, and I often agree with that criticism, so I'm happy to say that there is much for conservatives to like about Ted Cruz.

He has proven he will stand on principle and damn the consequences -- as evidenced by him going to Iowa and campaigning against ethanol subsidies; by his solo 21-hour filibuster of Obamacare funding in 2013; by his fearlessness in the face of Democrats threatening to shut down the government and blame it on Republicans; and by him publicly calling Mitch McConnell a liar regarding the Ex-Im Bank.

There is no doubt that Cruz means it when he says he will stay the hand of federal power.

If he ever threatens to veto a bill, even one that has been larded with high-sounding pork for the specific purpose of scaring him away from his veto pen, there will be no doubt he means it.

When liberals ask Cruz dumb (but smart-sounding) questions that are based on false premises, his answers: 1) destroy the premises rather than accept them; 2) are spot-on right; and 3) show that his knowledge far exceeds that of his critics.

But be all that as it may, there is something about him that grates.

On one level, it's good to hear him answer questions in the manner I just described; however, he never answers them gracefully or with any sense that he respects another person's opinion. We conservatives lionize Ronald Reagan, so we should take note that Reagan never came off like that even when he was slapping down an opponent's argument.

While it's good to hear Cruz criticize fellow Republicans when they deserve it, it's not good to hear him speak harshly about them when they don't deserve it -- something he does far more regularly than he will ever admit.

His decision to stake his campaign solely on turning out the far Right while ignoring the "largely Right" and "center Right" seems recklessly narrow even for the primaries, and suicidally narrow for November. And I have to say that it also seems more than a little bit un-American.

Then there is the not-invisible elephant in the room, which is religion. I have nothing against evangelical Christianity and am inclined to believe that Cruz is as dedicated to the faith as he claims -- but nevertheless, his displays of prayer and Scripture-quoting have become so ubiquitous that they are looking staged and carnival-like.

And with those displays happening alongside many credible reports of him engaging in some of his close supporters engaging in dirty tricks (go here and here to read up on that), the words "Elmer" and "Gantry" have risen in my mind. I hate to say that, but it's the truth; and if it's the truth for this right wing grandson of a preacher man, how can Cruz possibly expect to win a general election?

Marco Rubio
Which brings me to Marco Rubio, who, as you might have guessed, is the one I will be voting for when Florida votes on March 12th.

Over the last few months, I have found it surreal to see him portrayed as a squishy RINO moderate who is ensconced in whatever it is that passes for "the establishment." As our British friends would say, that portrayal is codswallop.

Rubio is now in his sixth year in the U.S. Senate, and has amassed a bill-voting and bill-sponsoring record to which we can refer. In evaluating that record, the American Conservative Union gives him a 98 rating for his career while the Club for Growth gives him a 93 and Heritage Action a 91.

Those three organizations are undeniably conservative, and quite unforgiving in calculating their rankings, and they have all scored him above 90% even with him being part of the Gang of Eight that sought immigration reform in 2013.

He has been accused of coming off as too slick and focus-grouped (even I have leveled that criticism) but he does not come across as insincere. Like Charles C.W. Cooke once pointed out: "How many times do we imagine that Ronald Reagan had to repeat that America was great, that the government was out of control, and that the Soviet Union was evil before he became Ronald Reagan?" When Rubio speaks in platitudes he is speaking to the people at large, not to sullen political junkies like me, so what's the problem? (Especially when you consider that his platitudes are on the money -- and just as important, when you consider that his approach is uplifting and positive, in sharp contrast not only to Trump and Cruz but also to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.)

Oh, and going back to Trump's colossal ignorance about the nuclear triad -- it was Rubio who jumped in and explained exactly what that is, for the benefit of those who were viewing the debate. Doesn't this show that he is not the scripted, programmed, slow-on-his-feet robot that Chris Christie claims some people claim?

To be sure, Rubio's Gang of Eight involvement had to do with a serious topic, and yes, it found him disagreeing with many conservatives. But since when have conservatives been forbidden from occasionally disagreeing over an issue? Aren't litmus tests and lockstep marching the stuff of the Left, not the stuff of the Right?

Since when does a difference of opinion over one issue justify excommunication? Going back to Ronald Reagan, doesn't excommunicating a person over one issue run counter to the Gipper's insistence that a person who agreed with him 70% of the time was his 70% friend, not his 30% enemy?

Gather any more than three or four people in a room and ask for their opinions on a few issues, and you will quickly find that it's almost impossible to get all of them to agree on any one of them -- so how can we demand that our presidential candidates agree with all of us every single time in order to earn our vote?

Meanwhile, since Ted Cruz has made religion a focal point of his campaign, and I have pointed out that he comes across gracelessly and has been credibly accused of dishonest campaigning, I feel compelled to share this link. It shows Rubio answering a question posed by an atheist. For those who consider a candidate's religious devotion to be central to whether that candidate earns your vote, you should take the time to watch it and then ask yourself why you wouldn't vote for Rubio as a man of faith.

And lastly, if you don't mind me circling back to electability, polls have consistently shown Rubio -- but not Trump or Cruz -- being likely to prevail in a general election.

Jeb Bush has dropped out.

As I type this, Ben Carson has not but I suspect he will.

John Kasich has not, and I doubt that he will until after Michigan votes on March 8th -- but he should.

If you were to take all of the votes that went for those three in South Carolina, then divide them in half and give an equal amount to Rubio and Cruz, both Rubio and Cruz would have finished ahead of Trump.

A conservative victory in November is well within reach -- if only conservatives will get out of their own way...

Note: Information from the writings of Kevin Williamson, Ian Tuttle, Michael Barone, and Jim Geraghty was used in this post.

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