Flashback: The Swamp Knew They Could Play Trump

Many Americans were no doubt unpleasantly surprised to see Donald Trump fill his administration with Swamp hires, let the Swamp set his legislative priorities, appoint Swamp-friendly judicial nominees, and make Swamp-approved primary endorsements. But they should have seen it coming.

Way back at the height of the 2016 Republican primary, there were more than a few establishment Republicans speaking openly about how they preferred Trump to Ted Cruz for one simple reason: because Trump’s grasp of conservative issues and principles lacked any real depth or firm conviction, it would be much easier to them to steer him in more, shall we say, comfortable directions.

While that view was not universally held among the Swamp GOP, it was very real, publicly expressed… and ultimately proven right. Below I have compiled a few examples, which are worth revisiting in light of how Trump’s presidency turned out, and especially before deciding whether to give him another chance in 2024.

Elaina Plott, National Review, January 15, 2016:

The developing feeling among House Republicans? Donald Trump is preferable to Ted Cruz.

“If you look at Trump’s actual policies, they’re pretty thin. There’s not a lot of meat there,” says one Republican member in Ryan’s inner circle, who requested anonymity to speak frankly about the two front-runners as leadership has carefully avoided doing all week. If Trump were to get the nomination, he would “be looking to answer the question: ‘Where’s the beef?’ And we will have that for him,” says the member.

The member says he believes that, when it comes down to it, “almost all of the candidates would subscribe to” the conservative agenda he and the rest of leadership are hoping to advance.

Except, that is, for Cruz.

“Look at the Senate. He hasn’t been a team player. He’s always been his own person with his own aspirations and his own vision, only concerned with where he wants to go. And, you know, for us, we want to work closely with the president. And with Cruz, there’s a question of whether that could happen.”

Ryan Grimm & Sam Stein, Huffington Post, January 21, 2016:

“Cruz has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way in D.C., whereas Trump hasn’t, and Trump up until this year was pretty much a player,” said Craig Shirley, a longtime GOP strategist and charter member of the establishment. “Ultimately, the Washington establishment deep down — although they find Trump tacky or distasteful — they think that they ultimately can work with him. Deep down, a lot of people think it is an act.”

There is ample reason for Republican insiders to feel more affinity to the real estate mogul than to the brash Texas tea party senator. As Shirley noted, Washington has spent decades doing business with Trump, if not personally begging him for checks.

But, mainly, the reason that Republican leaders are moving toward Trump has nothing to do with him. They viscerally, unashamedly loathe Cruz.

“Nobody likes him.” It’s a line Trump has used several times to describe Cruz, but it’s also a quote attributed to GOP greybeard Bob Dole that was published Wednesday by The New York Times (of all places). Another former Republican Senate majority leader, Trent Lott (R-Miss.), said the same day that he, too, would take Trump over Cruz. That came a day after Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, the longest-serving governor in the nation, broke his longstanding neutrality to encourage caucus-goers to vote against the Texas senator. That, in turn, came a week after Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the party’s 2008 presidential nominee, said there were “issues” over whether Cruz was even eligible for the presidency — putting McCain philosophically in cahoots with Trump, a man who not too long ago mocked his war service.

Jonathan Martin, New York Times, January 21, 2016:

Yet many members of the Republican influence apparatus, especially lobbyists and political strategists, say they could work with Trump as the party’s standard-bearer, believing that he would be open to listening to them and cutting deals, and would not try to take over the party.

“He’s got the right personality and he’s kind of a deal-maker,” said Bob Dole, the former Republican senator and 1996 presidential candidate.

Of course, this willingness to accommodate Trump is driven in part by the fact that few among the Republican professional class believe he would win a general election. In their minds, it would be better to effectively rent the party to Trump for four months this fall, through the general election, than risk turning it over Cruz for at least four years, as either the president or the next-in-line leader for the 2020 nomination.

And, even if Trump somehow found his way into the White House, the longtime Washington hands envision him operating as a pragmatist, leaving their power unchecked.

“We can live with Trump,” said Richard F. Hohlt, a veteran lobbyist, reflecting the sentiment of his colleagues at last week’s meeting of the Republican National Committee in Charleston, South Carolina. “Do they all love Trump? No. But there’s a feeling that he is not going to layer over the party or install his own person. Whereas Cruz will have his own people there.”

[…]

If Cruz were the party’s nominee, said Charles R. Black Jr., a lobbyist who has worked on numerous Republican presidential campaigns, “what would happen is a lot of the elected leaders and party elders would try to sit down and try to help Cruz run a better campaign, but he may not listen. Trump is another matter.”

“You can coach Donald,” Black said. “If he got nominated he’d be scared to death. That’s the point he would call people in the party and say, ‘I just want to talk to you.'”

Trump is also a recognizable type in the political world. A wealthy businessman, he has given money to donation-hungry candidates for decades, often welcoming the supplicants to his Manhattan office. He has also employed a small stable of lobbyists in Washington, such as Black, and in state capitals to promote his real estate and casino empire. He has had large law and lobbying firms on retainer.

Robert Costa, Philip Rucker, & David Fahrenthold, Washington Post, January 21, 2016

“Between Trump and Cruz, it’s not even close,” said Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), a longtime House moderate who has not endorsed a candidate. “Cruz isn’t a good guy, and he’d be impossible as president. People don’t trust him. And regardless of what your concern is with Trump, he’s pragmatic enough to get something done. I also don’t see malice in Trump like I see with Cruz.”

[…]

Trump fired back Thursday at a campaign rally in Las Vegas, saying that Cruz was “slimy” and unpopular in the Senate, whereas he would be able to “get things done.”

“I can tell you, they like me, those guys,” Trump said. “And there’s nothing wrong with that, folks. We’ve got to make deals. We don’t want to sign executive orders. We want to make good deals.”

[…]

Yet among some in the GOP, there’s a sense that the extreme rhetoric that has fueled Trump’s campaign — including the comments about immigrants and his call to temporarily bar Muslim foreigners from entering the United States — is just talk. In a general election, they believe, he could say something different.

“With Trump, hey, it’s just a deal,” said Alex Castellanos, a longtime Republican strategist. “The primary’s one deal, that’s done. If he were to be the nominee, the next deal’s a general [election]. You can see him saying, ‘We had to do what we had to do to win the primary, but now’s the general, and we’ve got to beat Hillary.’ You can see him pivot on a dime.

Enough with the excuses. Let’s try competence and conservatism next time.

Independence Day for an America in Crisis

Normally for the Fourth of July, I like to revisit President Calvin Coolidge’s 1926 speech on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence’s signing. The address is one of the finest articulations of America’s founding principles ever composed, made all the more valuable for its defense of their timeless nature.

But I cannot help but come into this Independence Day with a heavy heart. Not because I feel any differently about the reasons for the holiday—America’s birth remains a massive, unambiguous historical good, her founding principles remain the finest guide for organizing a society mankind has ever been blessed with, and the freedoms, opportunities, and standard of living we enjoy here remain the envy of the world. But never in my lifetime have we been in greater danger of losing those freedoms and erasing those principles.

Never in my lifetime has the danger of America ceasing to be America felt so real.

Utterly corrupt, amoral fanatics dominate the presidency and narrowly control Congress. The security of our vote is compromised, and the few states that are even doing a fraction of what’s necessary to set things right are targets of demonization and discrimination—including from a Justice Department opposed to justice. The spirit of fascism thrives thanks to the very people crying “fascist” the most loudly, projecting their own evil onto their victims while hiding their true natures behind a rainbow flag, a white paper mask, and a black fist emblem. Lies about our politics, our social ills, and our very history permeate news, entertainment, and education, with the very social media platforms our culture has become addicted to growing bolder by the day in how they slant what we see about them. Our own military is at the mercy of generals and civilian leaders less interested with protecting the homeland than with social experimentation and second-guessing whether the homeland is worth protecting. And throughout all of the above, our courts cannot be trusted to defend our liberties.

Perhaps worst of all, while one of our viable political parties (Democrats) can only be described as evil, the other (Republicans) cannot consistently get its act together to mount a serious response to any of the above. Thankfully, some state legislatures are taking at least some action against vote fraud, online censorship, and anti-American hate in the classroom, but it’s nowhere near enough, and nationally we can count on one hand the number of politicians who even come close to recognizing the magnitude of the crisis. We have one—ONE!—genuine leader on the horizon who shows the combination of qualities we need to start setting things right, yet the online conversation among my fellow conservatives is still inundated with far too many people who are too emotionally invested with an incompetent, narcissistic failure to even consider letting go of him.

To summarize, one half of America is dominated by the bad guys, and in the other half too many of the “good guys” are still acting like it’s amateur hour.

I think a lot about the warning popularly attributed to Benjamin Franklin, that the Founders had established “a republic, if you can keep it.” Our system of constitutional self-government is not self-perpetuating; it requires routine maintenance from a virtuous, knowledgeable, attentive citizenry who understand how it’s supposed to work and why.

Can we still keep a republic? I honestly don’t know anymore. All those of us who know better can do is keep trying, keep setting the best example we can, keep articulating the problems and the solutions as best we understand them, and pray.

Ron DeSantis for President (UPDATED)

Having established that conservatives and Republicans would have to be brain-damaged to nominate Donald Trump for president again, the question now becomes who we should pick instead as our 2024 standard-bearer. As evidenced by the fact that Trump got nominated the first time, the GOP talent pool is usually slim pickings, to say the least.

Fortunately, this time around we have someone who for years has been proving himself an aggressive, effective leader, an authentic movement conservative, and a skillful communicator. Someone with all of Trump’s perceived strengths and none of his weaknesses. Someone who’s been delivering so many conservative wins that his biggest problem may be running out of stuff to do by 2024. That man is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

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Ending School Shootings without Gun Control: the Israel Example

NOTE: I wrote the following essay in 2018 as part of a job application that didn’t pan out. As such, the news references are out of date, but I am publishing it here, without any changes, because the information and arguments are still useful to our continued debates about gun control and mass shootings.


Following Nikolas Cruz’s murder of seventeen people at Majority Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in February 2018, two diametrically opposed proposals emerged for how to prevent future school shootings. As usual, those on the Left called for stricter gun control laws, such as instituting universal background checks on firearm purchases, tightening regulations on the possession of AR-15s (the model of gun legally purchased by Cruz and used in the attack), and raising the legal age to purchase guns from 18 to 21.

But while President Donald Trump expressed openness to some of these ideas, what’s gotten the most attention is his proposal to arm at least some teachers. “Armed Educators” with annual training would serve as a “big & very inexpensive deterrent,” Trump argued on Twitter, not only because they could “immediately fire back if a savage sicko came to a school with bad intentions,” but because the knowledge that a school had armed responders on-site would discourage potential shooters from attempting in the first place.

Some schools in the United States already do arm certain teachers, and contrary to the mockery Trump has received from political opponents, he was not calling for all teachers to be given guns whether they wanted them or not, but simply for a voluntary armed presence on school grounds by qualified personnel. That being said, it may not be realistic to expect every school to have teachers willing to take on such a dangerous responsibility, and while advertising that schools are no longer gun-free zones would certainly dissuade some would-be shooters, those so far gone they don’t expect to walk out alive would remain a serious threat. So is there a better way?

It’s worth noting that this particular tragedy was not the result of insufficient laws, but of authorities at every level—local police, state children’s services, even the FBI—failing to heed ten years’ worth of warning signs from Cruz. That said, we obviously can’t count on all threats being preemptively identified (or even identifiable), so we need to explore our options for protecting students when our existing systems fail. And on that point, America could learn a great deal from Israel.

Despite living in far greater overall danger than the United States thanks to being surrounded by regimes that loathe her very existence, the Middle East’s sole Jewish democracy enjoys far greater school safety than America does. The Washington Post’s Ruth Eglash writes that school shootings are “virtually unheard of” in Israel, while the Jerusalem Post’s Linda Gradstein reported that as of October 2017, Israel had not seen a non-terrorism-related mass shooting of any kind since 2013. According to CBS News, even terrorists have only carried out six attacks on Israeli schools since 1974.

Yet Israel’s broader gun laws and culture do not fit neatly into either side’s narrative—on the one hand, Eglash notes that gun possession is heavily regulated, with civilians having to be at least 27 years old, demonstrate a need to be armed, and abide by limitations on types of guns and amounts of ammunition. 3.5 percent of Israelis own guns, as opposed to approximately a quarter of Americans. On the other hand, the sight of visibly armed soldiers routinely patrolling every street is such an obvious deterrent that it cannot be assumed those restrictions alone would produce the same results.

Most significantly, most Israeli teachers are not armed. So what’s their secret? According to Ministry of Education spokesman Amos Shavit, it’s simple: “Professionals deal with the security. Not the teachers.” Shavit says teachers who happen to possess gun permits are allowed to have their weapons in class if they choose, but Israel prefers to let them focus on teaching rather than encourage them to take on such an awesome secondary responsibility.

Instead, Israeli schools invest their time and money in comprehensive, rigorous security for school buildings, which starts with legally-mandated armed guards. CBS reports that prospective guards are subjected to rigorous background checks, mental evaluations, and intensive training. Moreover, once a guard is in, job security is by no means a given—he must be retrained every four months, and approximately 40% of guards actually fail these evaluations and have to re-apply all over again. In other words, children’s safety is treated like a full-time job, and receives all the time, attention, and demanding standards needed to do it right.

To minimize panic, students are also taught to take responsibility for their own preparedness in the event of an emergency. According to analysis by SOFREP, schools routinely have children—even as early as kindergarten—participate in practice drills for a wide variety of dangerous scenarios, such as earthquakes, rocket attacks, chemical/biological/ radiological/nuclear attacks, and other threats. This is part of a broader hallmark of Israeli culture necessitated by its geopolitical situation; Rod Ellis writes in Campus Safety Magazine that “determining who and what potentially constitutes a threat is taken very seriously by every Israeli citizen,” thanks to years of learning the hard way that rocket attacks or suicide bombings could come anywhere, anytime, and from anyone.

Each school also has its own subsurface shelter, which while intended primarily to guard against terrorist bombings, would also obviously come in handy if a shooter somehow made it onto the school grounds. That being said, getting onto school grounds without permission would be quite a feat. The building is fenced in on all sides, with the average school having just a single entrance gate (although some larger schools have more, and locked emergency gates are sometimes disguised as part of the fencing). Regardless of the number of gates, each is locked at all times, and each has an armed guard stationed at it. It’s also worth noting that parking lots are kept at a distance from school buildings, a precaution against car bombings.

These guards have a variety of powers and responsibilities, as defined by law. They are responsible for ensuring that the grounds are locked and secure at all times; ensuring that only authorized personnel make it inside; searching all entrants for dangerous objects (checking their bags, questioning them as needed, and sometimes employing hand-held metal detectors); verifying the identification and logging the personal details and vehicles of any foreign individual visiting the school; assisting school occupants as needed; and being informed of anything going on in the school’s immediate vicinity that could have security implications, which requires them to patrol the fences every hour and keep track of the surrounding traffic.

The job doesn’t stop at the school property line, either. Former combat soldiers escort students on all field trips, which all have a Plan B in the event of emergencies. These escorts normally include someone armed with an M2 or M16 carbine (and possibly a pistol as well), and even a qualified combat medic. While this particular arrangement probably sounds unimaginable to the average American, it’s a tragic necessity in Israel, where large groups of children on the roads present tantalizing targets to terrorists.

Campus Safety details another striking difference between America and Israel borne out of the same concern: the fact that Israeli schools don’t have school buses at all. Children walk, are driven by their parents, or use public transportation. In the latter case, kids can take some comfort in the fact that at least one armed Israeli Defense Force soldier is likely to be on the bus as well.

Campus Safety’s Ellis also recounts a conversation he had with an Israeli civilian, which put this in harrowing perspective. “When he had children in school during the height of the suicide bombings, he would make the three children ride to school in separate buses,” Ellis writes, because “mathematically at least, he could perhaps avert tragedy with one of his children.”

Shavit notes that because the police cooperate with municipal security units, “If there is an incident at a school they will be there in a minute or less.” On top of that, it’s worth reiterating the abundance of armed IDF soldiers all over Israel (as well as the possibility of armed reservists, whom Ellis notes comprise 80% of the country’s defense forces) who are in a position to assist in the event of a threat, and whose very presence surely acts as a deterrent against would-be shooters who aren’t willing to get themselves killed.

Ultimately, Israel’s solution differs from both conventional law enforcement and from Trump’s proposal in one key respect: it relies on people who can devote 100% of their time, effort, and attention to the sole purpose of protecting a school’s inhabitants. Guards can be counted on to proactively identify and neutralize potential threats because they don’t have other cases to investigate or areas to protect like police do, and because they are not teachers—who already have a full-time responsibility demanding their attention—being retrofitted with new training for an additional, and no less demanding, responsibility.

Obviously, not all of these tactics would be applicable to American schools. School shootings are a serious threat, but they are a far cry from Israel’s situation, where the trained use of military-grade weapons could inflict mass civilian casualties at any time. But while we need not emulate the lengths to which terrorism has forced Israel to go, the United States could stand to learn a great deal from her about emergency preparation, school security, and taking proactive measures to identify potential threats. At the very least, we should be able to agree that dedicated armed guards are long overdue.

Incredibly, while one might expect armed security professionals to be far more palatable than arming teachers, some liberals oppose the idea just as bitterly. Writing in the Guardian, Chicago teacher Ashley Lauren Samsa frets that armed guards would “add to a culture where guns are commonplace” and make schools “feel like prisons” (one wonders if Ms. Samsa thinks of prisons when entering banks, museums, or government office buildings). Unsurprisingly, most Americans disagree—a March 2018 Quinnipiac poll finds that 82% of the public supports putting armed security guards in schools. Full-time security guards would undoubtedly be expensive, but most voters would likely see it as a far better use of their tax dollars than the average referendum they’re asked to approve.

Allowing qualified teachers to be armed would help, but it’s no substitute for bringing in dedicated guards—a common-sense solution that would leave Americans’ Second Amendment rights untouched, create no new risks, impose no new burdens on existing school staff, and give parents and children some long-overdue peace of mind. Now the only question that remains is whether gun control advocates still believe anything that can “save even one life from gun violence” is worth doing if the rights of law-abiding gun owners aren’t abridged in the process.

The Tragedy of Missed Opportunities: An Objective Review of Donald Trump’s Presidency (UPDATED)

Way back in 2011, Donald Trump said that if he chose to run for president, “you’ll have the great pleasure of voting for the man that will easily go down as the greatest president in the history of the United States.”

He made that remark as the subject of a Comedy Central roast, so perhaps it can be dismissed as a self-deprecating riff on his own ego. But as his presidency became reality, it became clear that Trump really believed, as he told Bob Woodward, that “nobody’s ever done a better job than I’m doing as president.”

Those of us who are not Donald Trump and wanted something more out of this presidency than an entertaining figurehead have a somewhat different view of his job performance.

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The Trump Era Ends, and One Man Is Mostly To Blame

Barring a miracle, Joe Biden (by which I mean Kamala Harris) will become President of the United States in January. Whichever one calls the shots for how long makes little difference; both are fundamentally indecent human beings, utterly unfit for the offices they are about to assume and wholly undeserving of the public’s respect or trust.

The scale of the fraud that’s being reported could absolutely have been enough to steal the election from Donald Trump, but the legal challenges his campaign is pursuing are most likely too little, too late. The time to most effectively fight for election integrity was long before the election — by investigating and prosecuting those responsible for past fraud, by putting federal observers with actual prosecutorial power at polling places and ballot counting centers in every questionable jurisdiction in the country, and by mounting serious challenges to crooked mail-in balloting rules before they had an opportunity to do their damage.

Alas, despite having the United States Department of Justice at his disposal for four years, our lazy, incompetent president didn’t do any of that. In fact, the only effort Trump made was a bust thanks in large part to (surprise!) bad personnel decisions.

So now his campaign’s attorneys are largely at the mercy of left-wing state officials and biased judges. Compound that with the Trump campaign letting the race get within stealing distance in the first place thanks to a string of stupid political decisions (not to mention COVID and all the other things shaping public opinion over the past four years), and nobody should really be surprised that it (probably) ended this way.

(Yes, litigation and recounts are pending, and I fully support Trump pursuing them, if for no other reason than to expose as much Democrat malfeasance as possible and to put a giant asterisk on Biden’s legitimacy. I just don’t want conservatives to set themselves up for even bigger disappointment when the miracle doesn’t happen.)

There’s definitely some poetic irony to all of this, but any temptation to say “good riddance” is more than negated by the tremendous suffering a Biden/Harris administration will inflict on the American people.

Of course, while Trump deserves the lion’s share of the blame for Biden’s victory, he’s not the only one. There’s the tens of millions of Americans who voted for Biden or neglected to vote against him, whether due to bad information, bad judgement, or bad motives. Jo Jorgensen got more votes from libertarian fools in key states than the margin between Biden and Trump. NeverTrump scumbags were a factor, as was the poisonous influence of Trump’s idiot son-in-law. There’s also one more often-overlooked problem: most of the biggest names in national conservative punditry — Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Mark Levin chief among them — constantly fed Trump positive reinforcement instead of using their tremendous influence to keep him on the right track or push him to improve.

Thankfully, Democrats have not enjoyed comparable success in state legislatures or the US House of Representatives, and, most importantly, it appears (pending one more fight in Georgia) Republicans will keep the Senate. That means, while Biden and Harris will do plenty of damage to the country, the most severe threats they posed will be blunted and Republicans will have a strong opportunity to take back Congress in two years and the White House in four.

Of course, whether Republicans seize that opportunity or botch it remains a very open question. The GOP is notoriously bad at learning from its mistakes, and already troubling signs are beginning to emerge.

The GOP/SwampCon establishment is no doubt salivating over the opportunity to “return to normal,” by which they mean grooming some inoffensive mediocrity like Marco Rubio or Ben Sasse to run. And on the flip side, rather than moving on to better alternatives like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, there’s already chatter in righty social media about re-running Trump in 2024 (or, even worse, one of his idiot kids).

No. Just stop. Trump cleared the low bar of “better than the Bushes” and the even lower bar of “better than the Democrats”; that’s not the same as rising to the level of “good.” It’s just not worth subjecting ourselves to the wasted opportunities and constant headaches all over again if we don’t have to…especially not after he failed to mop the floor with one of the worst candidates the Democrat Party has ever put forth.

For God’s sake, people, it’s four years away; at least wait and see who runs before deciding this cartoonishly defective man is really the best we can do.

So to summarize: Donald Trump bought America time, but did precious little with it to secure lasting reform, and as a result his presidency is ending in a way that should surprise nobody. America is down, but not over. Learn from the past four years. Prepare to fight just as hard, but more importantly, to fight smarter. There is a wealth of lessons to take away from this experience; if the Right fails to do so…well, let’s just say America’s last chances to get it right won’t last forever.

The Civic Negligence of Third-Party Voting

Note: the following article is partially adapted from a piece I wrote in 2016 about the last presidential election, and is meant as a companion to my case for reelecting Donald Trump; please read that as well for my complete argument on how to view the 2020 presidential election.

What’s a voter to do when both major-party candidates for president are unappealing? For a vocal minority, the answer is to either vote for a third-party candidate or write in a name. Such choices are usually accompanied by platitudes about “sending a message” or casting a vote that “reflects my values.”

In the vast, overwhelming majority of cases, the third-party candidate will not become president, and in the vast, overwhelming majority of cases, the third-party voter knows it. He generally justifies his conscious decision to cast a vote that will not affect the outcome1—to forego the opportunity to help bring about a more positive outcome or prevent a more negative one—as a symbolic gesture, or a personal statement.

I submit that, in the vast, overwhelming majority of cases, this is grievously irresponsible for one simple reason: your vote affects other people. The ballot box isn’t a personal survey; elections have direct short- and long-term consequences for the freedom, safety, health, and prosperity of more than 330 million Americans other than yourself.

How you vote isn’t about you, your reputation, or your self-image. It’s not about symbolism, messaging, how any of the candidates make you feel, or even what any of the candidates “deserve.” It’s about what happens to millions of your countrymen—whether their personal freedoms expand or contract. How many innocent children they have to let be legally killed before birth. How much money is taken out of their paychecks. Whether job opportunities are allowed to grow or are suppressed. What kind of schools they can send their children to. How safe their communities are. What the government does with their money. How many dangers of the world spill over into their country. And even whether they’ll retain any means of reversing their government’s direction in the following elections.

To whatever extent voters should weigh notions of a candidate’s “fitness,” character, style, or temperament, morally they must give greater weight to the real-world consequences that candidate would have for the well-being of the American people. Further, voters cannot weigh those consequences in a vacuum, but in comparison to the consequences of the alternative winning instead.

Simply put: every American has a clear, overriding moral obligation to choose the viable candidate whose election would spare his or her countrymen the greatest amount of net harm.

But what if both candidates would be equally harmful? First, that might be theoretically possible, but if a third-party/write-in voter genuinely believes it, then he would have to justify his decision by making a case to that effect, and leave the my-vote-is-all-about-me platitudes behind.2

Second, moving from theory to reality, it’s plainly false that both choices before us in this election—Donald Trump and Joe Biden—would be equally harmful. Readers can click here to read my full case for that contention; here I’ll simply note that there are vast, clear policy differences between a mismanaged center-right executive branch and a unified hard-left one…among them the fact that (for reasons explained in the piece linked above) a Biden victory carries the very real danger of the nation our children inherit being transformed into one of single-party rule, one in which our constitutional order has been gutted beyond repair.

It is not hyperbole to say that the modern Democrat Party is opposed to every major principle of the American Founding. A Democrat takeover of the executive branch poses a clear, potentially existential (in the sense of permanently losing the freedoms and safeguards that make America America) threat to the country. Voting for Jo Jorgensen (the kind of person who supports the legal power to have one’s child executed in the womb, by the way) won’t do a thing to prevent that, or to advance any of the non-evil causes she and her fans claim to value. Nor will writing in a name in protest. Only by voting for Trump—distasteful though he is—do we stand even a chance of preventing it. (For those understandably unenthused about the incumbent, think of a Trump vote as a vote to keep the seat reserved for four years so a constitutional saboteur can’t occupy it, buying us time to hopefully work on finding someone better for 2024.)3

Of course, many reject the premise that their vote holds that much influence. While technically true in the sense that national elections never literally come down to a single vote, it’s also painfully obtuse—votes add up, particularly in light of the Electoral College, under which a few thousand votes in a few states can make the difference for the whole country.

The only circumstance in which it would be at least defensible to vote for a third-party presidential candidate would be if a voter of one party lives in a state absolutely dominated by the other, like Republicans living in California. It’s safe to say Biden will take the Golden State no matter how they vote.

Even so, while at least such voters won’t harm the electoral outcome, there’s still another consideration to keep in mind. Trump beat Hillary Clinton in 2016 in electoral votes, but lost the popular vote (thanks mostly to, again, California), which gave the Left a useful propaganda point they’ve relentlessly deployed ever since. Even if you don’t care about how that affects Trump or the GOP politically, you should certainly care about how it’s used to undermine the Electoral College, one of the pillars of our system of government.4

Large swaths of our culture have been conditioned to internalize a conception of voting that, at its core, is narcissistic. But the truth is that voting is a service, and a hugely consequential one at that (which is why the Founders believed in placing conditions on who could exercise it). As such, those who chose to participate are assuming an awesome responsibility. Ultimately, the only truly moral way to exercise that responsibility is to vote as if your vote will be the one to tip the balance between the top two competitors, whoever they may be.


Footnotes:

1. The idea that a third-party vote doesn’t affect the outcome assumes that the voter doesn’t have a consistent pattern of voting for either party. But that isn’t the case if he is a longtime voter for one of the parties. If someone normally votes Republican but chooses to make an exception for Trump, it obviously helps Biden by reducing the number of votes the Republican nominee would have otherwise gotten (and vice versa).


2. I acknowledge that third-party and write-in votes may be more defensible at the state or local levels, where there may be lower stakes and greater variation among Republicans and Democrats. That said, such decisions should still be made on the basis of the relative outcomes, not on the use of the ballot box as a vehicle for self-expression.


3. None of this is to deny the many severe defects of Trump and the Republican Party. Whether the GOP is beyond reforming is a very open question, and the desire to burn it down so something better can take its place is entirely understandable. But reforming and replacing a major political party are difficult tasks, and there is no evidence that third-party presidential voting brings us any closer to accomplishing either of them. It’s worth noting that when the GOP replaced the Whig Party in the 1850s, it was channelling powerful preexisting discontent with its predecessor, not driving that discontent. As dysfunctional as the modern GOP currently is, one need only look at Trump’s approval rating within the GOP to see that today’s inter-party discontent is still nowhere near that level. (Also, the Libertarian Party is an impotent pack of amoral fools who don’t deserve to become one of the two major parties. But that’s another conversation.)

4. For voters who are also public figures, such as political activists or commentators, there’s one more reason you should vote for the better major-party candidate even if the opposite party dominates your state: setting a good example for members of your audience who live in states where their votes still can make a difference.

Trump Term One: an Objective Review, and a Conclusion for 2020

Four years ago, after a bitter and bizarre Republican primary season, I grudgingly came to the conclusion that conservatives had a clear moral obligation to vote for Donald Trump in the general election against Hillary Clinton. I predicted he would be a lousy president, but vastly better for the country than the direct threat posed by any Democrat administration. I also advised readers not to expect Trump himself to save America, but rather to buy America time in hopes that a later president could truly step up to be who America needed.

Fast-forward to today, and… that’s pretty much exactly how things turned out.

First, the good. Trump’s biggest policy success is (or at least was, until the COVID-19 panic hit) the tremendous economic gains he oversaw, thanks in large part to his administration’s aggressive deregulatory efforts. He cut our taxes. He has delivered most of what the pro-life movement has asked of him. His administration has sided with religious liberty and against transgender lunacy. His judicial nominees have been a double-edged sword (more on that below), but are obviously a significant net positive compared to who Clinton would have appointed. He has, albeit imperfectly, modeled the proper level of contempt for the Democrats, the media, and their aims. His very existence as a GOP candidate and officeholder has exposed countless center-right figures and their conventional wisdom for the ineffectual, bad-faith swill of grift and foolishness they always were.

And, of course, Trump’s election spared the country from the countless assaults on life, freedom, prosperity, and the Constitution that a second Clinton administration would have brought. Fewer tax dollars put to abortion. Fewer controls imposed on Americans’ religious, economic, educational, and healthcare choices. Fewer jobless Americans and destroyed businesses. Fewer conservatives and Republicans targeted by their own government for persecution.

But Trump has also let us down on a scandalous number of fronts.

It was easy for Trump to satisfy national pro-life groups largely because those groups mostly just asked him for a range of executive actions that could be delivered with minimal difficulty, while politely overlooking far more consequential failures, like fact that his Justice Department did nothing to bring Planned Parenthood to justice after requesting documents about its baby-parts scandal all the way back in 2017.

Trump’s judicial nominees, while obviously preferable to Clinton’s or Joe Biden’s, have contained an alarming number of unreliable and even unfit jurists, a scandal that came to a head with Neil Gorsuch’s transgenderism opinion that can only be described as activism masquerading as textualism. This didn’t happen because Trump was a secret leftist all along, but because he outsourced the judicial selection process to a fundamentally broken “conservative” legal establishment — and because, again, almost nobody in the GOP, pro-life lobby, or professional conservative activism cared enough to look closely at who we were appointing to lifetime power.

Federal spending has skyrocketed, because while Trump proposed conservative budgets, in the end he signed whatever Congress sent him without a fight. He’s done little to clean leftist saboteurs out of the Justice Department, and his Pentagon is still infested with social-justice warriors. His biggest legislative “accomplishment” was in reality a horrendous dismantling of successful anti-crime policies. The White House imposed pandering gun restrictions worthy of the Obama administration, Mr. Art-of-the-Deal wound up giving away the store to the Taliban in the name of leaving Afghanistan, and Trump’s performance on his central campaign promise — immigration — fell far short of a “big beautiful wall.”

When compared to the last two Republican presidents, Trump looks pretty good. When compared to what Trump sold himself as and what the country needed him to be, he looks abysmal.

Even so, adults know that votes are not cast in a vacuum, and that general elections are binary choices. And with Joe Biden as the alternative, conservatives once again have a clear moral obligation to vote for Donald Trump, even if they have to outrun wild horses or crawl over broken glass to do so.

Biden is an abortion absolutist who wants to force taxpayers to fund babykilling and ban even the most mild state protections for children. He’s a staunch enemy of the Second Amendment. He would prioritize the LGBT agenda over religious liberty, conscience rights, individual liberty, and military readiness. During a global health crisis, he takes advice from a monster who says he would sacrifice the elderly to save the young. He endorses the “systemic racism” lie and anti-police bigotry. He’s as extreme as Bernie Sanders on healthcare, energy, climate, and minimum wage. He’s a standard-issue Democrat on taxes and judges, with all that entails. He speaks openly about COVID-19 as an “opportunity” for federal intervention, spending, and climate action on the level of the New Deal. His election would bring with it an army of bureaucrats and regulators who would set to work finding new ways to spend our money, control our lives, and persecute their political opponents.

Simply put: for every important issue on which Trump is good, Biden will be bad. For every important issue on which Trump is bad, Biden will be worse. This is not complicated, or even (on the Right) seriously disputed.

Nor does Biden beat Trump on character or competence grounds. For every defect of Trump’s (both the real ones and the fabricated or exaggerated), Biden is as bad or worse.

Trump is a dishonest braggart who never admits his failures? Biden is not just a liar, but a serial plagiarist who has repeatedly lied about the truck driver involved in the accident that killed his first wife and infant daughter being drunk.

Trump is unethical? Biden spent eight years near the top of one of the most corrupt administrations in US history, and has used his government connections to make no less than five members of his family very wealthy (including, infamously,  scumbag son Hunter).

Trump is temperamental? Biden calls voters and questioners “full of shit,” “lying dog-faces,” and “damn liars” who are “too old to vote for me.”

Trump bragged about groping women and had a handful of accusers (who showed up in the home stretch of 2016 then disappeared the moment they were no longer useful)? Biden has a well-documented habit of unwanted touching, and has been credibly accused of sexual assault.

Trump is too nice to dictators? Biden told China he “fully understands” and wouldn’t “second-guess” its policy of using forced abortion to control how many children their people have.

Trump is generally amoral? On top of all of the above, Biden is a card-carrying member of the party of abortion and infanticide, who happily goes along with all of it despite claiming to follow a faith that recognizes and reveres human life.

Under any properly-functioning policy calculus or conception of human decency, the verdict is clear: Joe Biden must be kept from taking the White House and staffing a new Democrat administration. And, once again, Donald Trump is the only means of doing so available to us.

I understand conservatives feeling demoralized. I get the impulse to stay home. I really do. But, just like the initial reluctance to support Trump in the 2016 general, those are emotional reactions, not rational choices. As tempting as it can be to want to punish the GOP for its general awfulness, the simple facts are that Republicans never learn the right lessons from defeat anyway, and the consequences of a Biden victory would simply be too great — and too long-lasting.

Nearly everyone on the Right understands that whenever Democrats take power, they manage to enact something that becomes, for all intents and purposes, permanent — a new entitlement that’s deemed politically untouchable, new spending heights that become tomorrow’s baseline, power grabs like DACA that get enshrined by courts, courts stacked with leftists who get to shape the country for decades to come. Positions that were fringe under the last Democrat president dominate the party under the next one. And reversing bad policies doesn’t reverse the harm they’ve done in the meantime — you can’t un-abort a baby whose execution was financed by restored federal funds, or enabled by the invalidation of state protections.

And then there’s Democrats’ and the Left’s steady efforts to reshape the electorate in its image. Every year, more young people shaped by increasingly-political entertainment, brands, corporations, and schools become voters. Immigration without assimilation is yielding future voters primed to become Democrat loyalists, and Democrats are salivating to finally get their opportunity to put millions of illegals on a path to citizenship.

At what point does the Left win enough of these permanent victories that the Founders’ America is beyond restoring? That conservative reform of more than a few programs around the edges becomes impossible? What do conservatives intend to do when Texas turns blue, and Democrats have imported, brainwashed, and/or addicted to the public dole enough voters to make it impossible for Republicans to win national elections anymore?

As a friend of mine laid it out recently:

 

The #NeverTrump crew, for all their screeching and scowling whenever the Flight 93 Election argument is invoked, never even try to answer these questions (if you can keep one of them from running away, try asking him or her to explain how Michael Anton’s point was fundamentally different from Ronald Reagan’s warning that “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction,” that those who’ve “lost it have never known it again”).

So the conclusion in 2020 is ultimately the same as it was in 2016, except this time it’s even clearer: as badly as we wasted the opportunity of the last four years, this election is about conservatives buying as much time as we can to turn things around. If he wins, Donald Trump’s second term won’t be enough to save America, but it will keep the Oval Office from being occupied by those who want to finish America off.

For now, that will have to be enough. Every hope we have of protecting life, restoring liberty, and healing our nation depends on it.

For an extended discussion of the related question of third-party voting, click here.

Six Simple Truths about Law Enforcement and #BlackLivesMatter

1) The protests might give the opposite impression, but virtually nobody in the US disagrees that George Floyd’s killing was an obvious injustice, for which justice is currently underway — the police officer who did it has been both fired and charged with murder.

2) To the extent the case indicates any broader institutional problem, it has little if anything to do with racism. Rather, it’s that a number of police departments are apparently failing to weed out people who have no business being on the force. (Don’t believe me? Look up the 2017 Justine Diamond case, also in Minneapolis.) The solution is to campaign to pressure the relevant authorities to review the departments in question, then replace leaders & reform policies as needed.

3) Racism is of course an evil that will plague humanity until the end of time, as will every defect of the human condition. Systemic racism, on the other hand — the idea that society is rigged against black Americans, that police are generally predisposed to murder blacks, that racism Is an inherent quality of our institutions or any kind of operating principle — is not a thing, no matter how many celebrities claim its is or how many corporations agree. It is a malicious, destructive fiction chiefly promoted by very, very bad people.

4) Whatever share of the protesting crowds are peaceful, any demonstrations rooted in the premise of systemic racism are fundamentally unserious because they misdiagnose the problem, and therefore cannot be part of the solution. You want to do something of actual value? Start by educating yourself (and no, parroting whatever narratives dominate your social circles does not make you “educated”).

5) The moment someone tosses a brick through a window, steals a TV, defaces a wall, or sets a car on fire (and those are the least of the monstrous acts being committed across the country by people the media is desperately trying to spin away) is the moment you should jettison any sympathy for him or her and stop giving a damn about anything he or she has to say. The same goes for any activist, organization, or commenter that stands with or makes excuses for such animals (I know somebody will lie about this point if I don’t add this, so to be clear: none of this is to say you should stop caring about Floyd or police brutality, but that rioters — and their apologists & enablers — shouldn’t get to be part of the discussion).

6) Once violence and chaos in the streets makes the citizenry of communities across the country too terrified to leave their homes, that pretty obviously becomes the far more immediate problem. Reasonable people can differ as to the most effective means of restoring peace, but if your primary concern is for the welfare of the perpetrators of terrorism — and let’s be honest, that’s exactly what a lot of what we’re seeing is — rather than the victims of it, there’s something deeply wrong with you.

Goldberg & Hayes Dispatch Any Pretense of Taking Swamp Conservatives Seriously

NOTE: The following was originally written for publication at another website. As such some of the particular examples may no longer be timely, but I am presenting it here in its original, uncut form because its arguments remain relevant and its information remains useful.

In October, nominally-conservative media veterans Jonah Goldberg and Steve Hayes relieved months of mild curiosity by unveiling The Dispatch, a new media venture that bills itself as an alternative to a “conservative media complex increasingly invested in a strategy of polarization and demonization of Blue America” – or, as Goldberg said in March, a right-of-center information source readers “won’t be embarrassed to invoke when speaking to liberal relatives around the dinner table.”

Not exactly standing athwart history yelling “stop,” is it?

It’s still unclear how many paying customers they expect to attract to what sounds essentially like a Diet Bulwark (perhaps they instead plan to survive on periodic $6 million infusions of swamp welfare), but the announcement takes pains to profess The Dispatch’s commitment to “honesty and charity” in “fact-based commentary” characterized by “more deliberation.” That sounds nice; too bad they don’t mean it.

Previously one half of the leadership team that destroyed The Weekly Standard (partly by playing Captain Ahab to Donald Trump’s Moby Dick), Hayes is hardly a stickler for journalistic integrity, as demonstrated when TWS ran a falsehood-ridden piece on FISAgate written by a former attorney for Senate Democrats—without identifying her as such. A few weeks back, Hayes helpfully gave readers another example of what passes for “principled journalis[m]” in his eyes when he applied the label to former Fox anchor Shepard Smith—a smarmy liberal known for spouting demagoguery on everything from Chick-fil-A to voter ID, last seen throwing a hissy fit over a Fox guest who didn’t think much of 9/11 Truther Andrew Napolitano’s legal analysis (the fiction of Smith’s “commitment to facts” also made The Dispatch’s October 14 edition).

Nor are “honesty and charity” serious priorities for David French, who surprisingly decided to leave behind the absolute job security of National Review (where Rich Lowry looked the other way no matter how many Christians he demonized, lies he pushed, and columns of his Andy McCarthy had to correct) for this ultra-niche vanity project of questionable viability. Also onboard are Andrew Egger and Rachael Larimore, two Weekly Standard survivors who followed Bill Kristol to The Bulwark, and who’ve also displayed a striking indifference toward the accuracy of what they write.

And then there’s Goldberg, who never met an argument he couldn’t straw-man. Those who’ve been paying attention know that Jonah’s toxic brew of thin skin, intellectual dishonesty, and simple laziness are less-than-ideal qualities for an editor-in-chief, with his October 4 column perfectly encapsulating his trademark unseriousness for the uninitiated.

After nearly 400 words about blind devotion to Soviet dictators (because padding his work with historical or philosophical asides is how he tricks rubes into thinking they’re reading something deep), Goldberg argues that Trump has a similar “cult of personality,” complete with its own “doctrine of infallibility.”

Certainly, there are plenty of hacks who blame others for Trump’s failures, insist his screw-ups are secretly-brilliant chess moves, and so on. But contrary to the impression #NeverTrumpers constantly paint, the existence of fanboys and apologists is hardly a new or distinctly Trumpian phenomenon (a lesson I learned the first time I saw someone unironically wear a “Trent Lott for President” T-shirt, many moons ago).

As would be unnecessary to explain in a conversation consisting of competent adults acting in good faith, the battle lines in the Right’s Trump debates are far more complicated than sycophants vs. haters. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Jim Jordan, and Josh Hawley have all dissented from Trump on policy. The Federalist’s Sean Davis speaks out as harshly as anyone when Trump crosses the Second Amendment. Conservative Review regularly eviscerates Trump’s failures on spending, crime, and more. Hell, Ann Coulter is the country’s most relentless critic of Trump’s mishandling of his central campaign promise.

So when pundits and politicians defend Trump on particular questions, it simply doesn’t cut it to respond by snarking that they’ve “bent the knee” or want every conservative to become a “throne-sniffer.” Nor should Goldberg get away with using the specter of hero-worship as a pretext to straw-man the entire Ukraine debate:

Just this week, the same people who insisted that Trump would never collude with a foreign nation for his political interest are now defending collusion with a foreign nation for his political interest.

I don’t know who said “Trump would never collude,” but there’s obviously no contradiction between rejecting the false claim that Trump conspired with the Kremlin to win an election, and belief that the Ukraine call isn’t worth the hysteria that followed it. Goldberg handles a lot of the heavy lifting here by playing fast and loose with the word “collusion,” but as Andy McCarthy explained to him over a year ago(!), collusion in the context of Russiagate referred to a theoretical “agreement between two or more people to commit a crime,” not merely to seeking information or cooperation (or even to a dreaded “quid pro quo”).

The people who turn crimson with rage when you point out Trump’s decades of corrupt business practices now insist his only interest in the Bidens is his concern about corruption.

Hunter Biden’s gig and his father’s actions are so obviously suspicious that #NeverTrumpers know they’d have an uphill battle trying to sell normal people on the idea that it was unreasonable to ask about them. So they instead hope to coast on general distaste for Trump’s character—without even trying to explain why it isn’t also in the nation’s interests to confirm whether a potential future president is the type to abuse government power to shield relatives from the law.

They say it’s outrageous that Biden’s son sat on the board of a Ukrainian company when Biden was vice president, but they also say it’s fine to have a daughter and son-in-law duo running vast swaths of foreign and domestic policy while also making a fortune from their business interests around the world.

More observant readers than The Dispatch’s target audience may find themselves asking, hold on, when was the Trump administration accused of trying to oust a prosecutor looking at Trump’s kids? That’s a good question; an even better one is how Goldberg justifies pretending not to know that vast swaths of the MAGA Right absolutely detest Ivanka and Jared as blights on Trump’s presidency they’d jettison in a heartbeat.

Enemies are sinful or decadent when they lie or cheat on their wives, but who are you to judge Comrade Trump?

Note well how the peddlers of this double-standard—and every other argument Goldberg attributes to Trumpists—are neither named nor quoted anywhere in his column. Those who paid attention in their high-school writing classes or debate clubs likely remember that supporting one’s claims with examples and engaging the strongest version of the actual argument on the table are fairly basic concepts…but that sort of thing takes effort, and Goldberg tends to find generalities and caricature more conducive to his favored narratives anyway. That way he can string together versions of things different people are saying to cast some monolithic group as mindless, partisan hypocrites, with various outright misrepresentations sprinkled throughout.

That’s great for feeding preexisting distaste of a particular out-group among one’s clique, but fails to meet any minimum threshold of credible argument. Of course, that’s only a problem if you’re actually trying to win arguments, whereas Goldberg—just like scores of writers at The Bulwark, National Review, Commentary, the Washington Examiner, and elsewhere—is simply out to reinforce a like-minded audience’s shared biases (all without so much as a twinge of irony to interfere with his periodic lectures on the perils of tribalism).

So it’s no surprise that, despite Hayes originally pitching The Dispatch as “more ‘beyond Trump’ than ‘anti-Trump,’” the publication’s first month was defined largely by impeachment-mania, salivating over various prepared statements released by Democrats while displaying far less curiosity about the dissection of those statements behind closed doors.

Nor should we be shocked by its more cavalier approach to questions of integrity and seriousness not related to Trump, from a Republican senator’s use of a fake online persona not only to promote himself but to endorse personal attacks he’d never make under his own name (just “something fun”), to a basketball star complaining that an associate “harmed” safe, comfortable athletes by speaking out for human rights in Hong Kong (not even worth a mention as French gushes over the “great athleticism” of “the GOAT”), to the farce of putting forth ex-Paul Ryan personnel as any sort of authority on “thoughtful legislating.”

If “character is destiny,” then no amount of swamp welfare will be enough to secure Team Dispatch’s future.