The following article was originally written in August. Given the lack of responses at the time and that the subject of conservative publications giving platforms to disastrously unconservative political advice remains newsworthy, I am publishing it here.
In most fields, past failures to produce results tend to diminish one’s standing as an authority on future successes. So while it’s natural that alumni of John McCain’s presidential campaign would favor a 2016 nominee as centrist as John Kasich and a running mate as amnesty-minded as Marco Rubio, it’s also alarming to see their prescriptions disseminated in a leading conservative publication.
None of Myra Adams’s five points for Kasich-Rubio ’16 are persuasive. In fact, her August 14 National Review column making the case reads more like a catalogue of the Beltway myths, shallow assumptions, and unconservative priorities that have created countless Republican defeats.
FUZZY ELECTORAL COLLEGE MATH
It makes sense to predict that a state’s reasonably popular governor would have an edge for its presidential nod. It does not, however, to admit that only half of Floridians approve of Rubio’s performance as senator but dismiss it solely on the hypothetical novelty value of being able to say “the vice president’s from my state!”—especially after Paul Ryan proved to be a non-factor in Mitt Romney’s almost seven-point loss of Wisconsin, just five months after a gubernatorial recall election that supposedly served as a monumental referendum on GOP governance.
But even assuming all of Romney’s 2012 wins plus Ohio and Florida, Adams admits it’s not enough for the White House. She offers a few more possible targets, but doesn’t explain why this particular ticket would be uniquely suited to winning them (aside from Kasich’s personal and geographic closeness to Pennsylvania—which also failed to help Romney or George W. Bush). Worse, she ignores the likelihood of losing states from that tally with a nominee that fails to impress flyover country or alienates conservatives who are running out of patience for unprincipled mediocrity.
KASICH SCARES BECAUSE HE “CARES”
Oh, I see…it’s because of Kasich’s liberal tendencies—excuse me, “compassionate conservatism”—that he “has the greatest potential to attract independents, moderates, and conservative Democrats” in blue and purple states. Adams tells us Kasich’s “decision to expand Medicaid and justify it on the grounds of his Christianity” will help make it “extremely challenging for Democrats to portray Kasich as a ‘war on women’ right-wing nutjob.”
Never mind whether the expansion was bad policy, or that the War on Women proved to be such a paper tiger that out of Planned Parenthood’s “Extreme Six” Senate targets last year, they only managed to beat Scott Brown, the one who agreed with them.
She even claims Kasich is “rumored to be the general election opponent most feared by Team Hillary.” I’m sorry, but any reporter who’s actually heard that Hillary Clinton fears John Kasich is getting played. This is a man who’s already gone out of his way to stress that he likes her and doesn’t want to attack her, a man whom she can boast concedes many of her own premises on taxes, spending, healthcare, government dependence, immigration, marriage, and race.
Moreover, centrist GOP insiders still have no idea how big-government apologias—in Kasich’s case, a particularly demagogic flavor that implies St. Peter might send dissenters to hell and sneers at critics, “maybe you think we should put [Medicaid patients] in prison”—can sound perfectly sensible within their own cliques but utterly appalling to everyone else.
Personally, I think it’s unwise to nominate somebody who so cavalierly expresses contempt for his own party’s base. Then again, I never got paid to lose an election to someone who deliberately let newborns starve to death on his watch, so what do I know?
Next comes the obligatory ode to experience. This is unpersuasive enough in its usual “executive” variety (a largely arbitrary point; for instance, we could just as easily note that senators, unlike governors, deal with foreign policy every day), but even less so in this case, as Adams barely mentions Kasich’s governorship.
Instead, she highlights Congressman Kasich’s membership on the House Armed Services Committee (a standard that also qualifies scores of hapless Democrats for the presidency), his leading role in passing the ’97 Balanced Budget Act (never mind that spending restraint is a much lower priority for him these days), and…er, that he “hosted his own show on the Fox News Channel.” Needing to pad a candidate’s résumé to become leader of the free world with his stint on a fluff weekend show hardly inspires confidence.
We now turn to Marco Rubio, who, unlike Kasich, has legitimate conservative appeal on several fronts. His charisma and eloquence are undeniable, his passionate defense of the preborn is admirable, and his command of foreign affairs is impressive.
Yet the fact remains that from contradicting himself on whether “earned path to citizenship is basically code for amnesty” to defending the Gang of 8 Bill months after its severe enforcement deficiencies were undeniable, we simply cannot trust him on immigration. “Single-issue voter” may be a dirty word in many circles, but amnesty must be every conservative’s deal-breaker—as the largest Democrat voter-acquisition scam in history, this “single issue” spells conservative annihlation on every issue.
Adams leaves the implications of a pro-amnesty administration unmentioned, but her electoral reasoning fares no better. Citing a study from an organization that openly champions partnership with “progressive” activists and full citizenship for “Americans-in-waiting” (illegal immigrants), she deems Rubio the key to winning 47% of Hispanic voters, supposedly guaranteeing GOP victory.
But according to Byron York, the share Romney would have had to win to change the outcome was an utterly-unrealistic 73%, whereas a mere 4% shift in the white vote would have sufficed to defeat Obama. But whichever number you believe, how is Rubio supposed to help? Poll after poll after poll shows his immigration position isn’t that important to Hispanics or Latinos. They aren’t particularly attracted to his fiscal or social views, either. So what does that leave us with? Rubio’s Cuban heritage? It’s an odd sort of enlightenment that reduces a demographic group’s interests to their ethnicity.
A TICKET OF DISTRUST & DIVISION
Finally, Adams admits Kasich has “a tough slog ahead” to endear himself to conservatives, but suggests he can do it because he’s managed to impress…a Bush adviser, a political scientist, and Newt Gingrich. The base he actually needs to impress? Not so much.
Adams opened by professing that Kasich-Rubio is a product of the Buckley Rule (the most conservative and electable options) and closes with a reminder that Ronald Reagan “figured that half a loaf is better than none” and an admonishment that a “party divided against itself will lose.” And therein lie her column’s fatal conceits: she promotes two of the field’s most divisive figures and preemptively abandons half a loaf (or more!) without at least trying for a full loaf first.
This advice would be bad enough in any other election; in the midst of Trumpmania it’s sheer denial. We can lament all we want how wave after wave of foolish and unprincipled pronouncements have done so little to erode a quarter of primary voters’ faith in Donald Trump, but it won’t change why his support is so resilient: because the “respectable” Republicans inspire even less confidence. The other candidates with the most momentum are the ones least affiliated with the party elite.
How can any objective person look at all this and conclude we should foist on the base embodiments of everything they’re protesting, who flat-out tell them their priorities are wrong? In what universe does it cultivate trust to reward everything they distrust?
The only responsible approach to the next election is to stop doubling down on all the abuse, disregard, and betrayal the party has heaped on conservatives and finally make amends for it. And particularly given that Trump’s support has not only endured among conservatives but is now showing signs of appeal among moderates, the only conceivable way to steal his thunder is with a candidate who shares his fans’ priorities and grievances and will channel them in a healthier direction.
The closest candidate to that description Ted Cruz (while longshot Rick Santorum is actually stronger on immigration and arguably foreign policy too), but surely fans of most of his competitors would be hard-pressed to name someone further from it than John Kasich. The architects of today’s Republican strife would do well to reflect on their role in creating the conditions for Trump’s ascendance…and ask themselves whether staying the course is really worth seeing how destructive the next revolt will be.