Monday, February 29, 2016

Never Trump!

During the weekend the journalist/commentator Megan McArdle, noting the #NeverTrump trend on twitter, asked life-long Republicans to send her emails as to why they’d decided they would not support Donald Trump if he is the nominee. The piece is here: and there is a link within it to some of the material that was not included. It’s a fascinating and I think important column.

My submission, a slice of which made it into the column, is below [Note: I stayed away from any policy differences because I didn’t want to give the impression that not supporting a, b, and c would be enough for me to break with the Party’s nominee]:

I first started exploring conservative thought in 1977 after attending a speech by James Buckley as a high school student. My first presidential vote was for Reagan in 1980. I've sat out some elections because the result in my state was a foregone conclusion (example Dole vs Clinton when I lived in California), but I've never voted strategically for a Democrat or Independent.

I didn't like McCain in 2008 but voted for him. Thought Romney was the wrong nominee (because he was neutered on ACA) but voted for him in 2012. Living in Chicago my last vote was for Rahm--who I loathe--against Garcia because, this being Chicago, Rahm is the Buckley rule candidate. Vote for the video suppressor, it's important!

But I won't vote for Trump if he is the nominee. It's not just that I don't think he's conservative. It's that as President I think he'd be quite capable of doing anything, except governing reasonably well. Trump as President would essentially ruin the Republican/conservative brand for decades.

To my mind, if Trump is the nominee the conservatives have to break with the Republican Party in the clearest and most explicit manner possible. I have no illusions about Hillary. I realize the Supreme Court hangs in the balance. But something can be salvaged from being in opposition. In power with Trump at the head is to lose everything.

"The Prime Minister said that the nations [read in this context, political causes] which went down fighting rose again, but those which surrendered tamely were finished."

Five Days in London: May 1940, John Lukacs


Friday, February 26, 2016

Thoughts on Christie Endorsement of Trump; from Chinese Philosophy

“Wealth and high station, these are what men would like to have; but it they cannot be obtained in conformity with principle [Tao] they must not be held.”

“The Master said, ‘A man of honor is not a mere tool.’”

“If the way prevails among the states, you can make yourself prominent; but if it does not prevail, then keep in retirement. If it prevails in your area, it is a disgrace to be poor and humble. If it does not prevail, it is a disgrace to be rich and honored.”

Chinese Philosophy in Classical Times, edited by Ernest Rhys

Monday, February 22, 2016

To Bring Down Trump Remember Acton and Focus on His Power

"…that soul [Kurtz] satiated with primitive emotions, avid of lying fame, of sham distinction, of all the appearances of success and power."

"He could get himself to believe anything—anything. He would have been a splendid leader of an extreme party. ‘What party?’ I asked. ‘Any party’, answered the other."

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

If you follow twitter and other media sites you will notice that the emphasis in the anti-Trump camp is that he is not a conservative, is woefully uninformed about politics, and is too erratic to be trusted with nuclear weapons. They will highlight his absurd, innacurate boasts about having warned against the invasion of Iraq and the oddity of a thrice married casino owner being supported by evangelicals.

To understand why Trump has thrived despite these weaknesses and to gain a better sense of how to actually take him down, it is better to think of Kurtz in Heart of Darkness and to recall Lord Acton's observation that "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." And here it is important to understand that Acton the historian was speaking not of the actor, the person in a position of power, but the observer or how people respond and evaluate people in power.

Trump is invulnerable to normal political attacks because he occupies a position of perceived personal power, like Kurtz as demi-god, that is unlike the normal politician. This is the key to all of the free media that he has been able to garner. It isn't just the exposure, it is the constant reinforcement of the idea that this a man to whom attention must be paid.

If the above is correct then the point of vulnerability isn't the incoherence of his political pronouncements, his personal behavior or even his business tactics such as his use of eminent domain. All of these can be ignored, pace Acton, of the powerful wielding and benefiting from their power. To truly damage Trump you have to take down the perception of Trump as wildly successful businessman. That's the source of his power.

And a good place to start would be to focus on Trump's involvement in the USFL as related by Joe Nocera. The USFL was set up as a professional football league that would operate in the NFL's offseason. It had a very successful first season. Trump came in as an owner of the New Jersey Generals and characteristically, in thinking only of Trump, disrupted the salary discipline by signing stars like Herschel Walker and Brian Sipe. Then he got the League's games moved to the fall--only losers play spring football?--where they would compete directly against the NFL. And that was the end of the USFL.

The beauty and utility of Trump's destruction of the USFL is that it is so easily communicable. This isn't a Hillary cattle futures trade or Whitewater. This is professional football. The ONE business that every american understands. And one thing they will all be able to grasp is that for a new league to face off directly against the NFL is lunacy. Start there and then go on to his bankruptcies and other business failures. Bring down Trump the successful businessman and you will bring down Trump the putative political leader.

Addendum: Note the Trump searches

Saturday, February 20, 2016

A Round of Platonic Golf Anyone? - A Scalia Dissent

To get some idea of why Antonin Scalia as Supreme Court justice is held in such high regard one only need read his dissent in PGA Tour, Inc. v Martin. That it isn’t a major case may make it more accessible on its own terms. The case involved a professional golfer, Casey Martin, who suffered from a degenerative birth defect that made walking increasingly painful who sued the PGA Tour to use a by rules prohibited golf cart in competition under the American Disabilities Act. The majority sided with Martin, with Scalia writing the dissent and joined by Thomas.

Scalia’s first and perhaps most fundamental objection is that the case fits the ADA requirements. He begins:

The Court holds that a professional sport is a place of

public accommodation and that respondent is a “customer"

of “competition” when he practices his profession.

Ante, at 17. It finds, ante, at 18, that this strange conclusion

is compelled by the “literal text” of Title III of the

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA),

This is indeed a strange conclusion. As Scalia points out the court is turning a player of a professional sport into a fan of that event. Scalia notes that one of the examples of public accommodation is a zoo. In this case, the court has confused the animals for those that come to see them. It does this by claiming the player is a customer of the PGA Tour and or of the course the events are played on. Again, as Scalia notes, this is absurd.

 The court then finds itself asking, a question that Scalia clearly thinks is irrelevant, whether walking is fundamental to the game of golf.


it is worth pointing out that the assumption which

underlies that question is false. Nowhere is it writ that

PGA TOUR golf must be classic “essential” golf. Why

cannot the PGA TOUR, if it wishes, promote a new game,

with distinctive rules.

 And from there he goes on memorably in a way that makes reading a legal dissent as pleasurable as reading any novel:


But the rules are the rules.

They are (as in all games) entirely arbitrary, and there is

no basis on which anyone— not even the Supreme Court of

the United States— can pronounce one or another of them

to be “nonessential” if the rulemaker (here the PGA

TOUR) deems it to be essential.


If one assumes, however, that the PGA TOUR has some

legal obligation to play classic, Platonic golf— and if one

assumes the correctness of all the other wrong turns the

Court has made to get to this point— then we Justices

must confront what is indeed an awesome responsibility.

It has been rendered the solemn duty of the Supreme

Court of the United States, laid upon it by Congress in

pursuance of the Federal Government’s power “[t]o regulate

Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several

States,” U. S. Const., Art. I, §8, cl. 3, to decide What Is

Golf. I am sure that the Framers of the Constitution,

aware of the 1457 edict of King James II of Scotland prohibiting

golf because it interfered with the practice of

archery, fully expected that sooner or later the paths of

golf and government, the law and the links, would once

again cross, and that the judges of this august Court

would some day have to wrestle with that age-old jurisprudential

question, for which their years of study in the

law have so well prepared them: Is someone riding around

a golf course from shot to shot really a golfer? The answer,

we learn, is yes. The Court ultimately concludes, and it

will henceforth be the Law of the Land, that walking is not

a “fundamental” aspect of golf.


Either out of humility or out of self-respect (one or the

other) the Court should decline to answer this incredibly

difficult and incredibly silly question.

 As I said, this isn’t the most important of Scalia’s opinions. But I doubt you will find a more compelling and entertaining argument in opposition to its current reach and its propensity to insert itself where it doesn’t belong.

 The full dissent can be found here:

Friday, February 12, 2016

Wait, Conservatives Object to Super Delegates? What?

I take it that a certain ambivalence and distrust towards full blown democracy is consistent with, if not a core tenet of, conservatism. And yet in the aftermath of Hillary Clinton losing the New Hampshire primary by 22 percentage points to Bernie Sanders but still being awarded the same number of delegates, you’d get a different impression. On social media and in numerous columns conservative pundits and supporters have been either mocking or highly critical.

The reason for the New Hampshire result is the Democratic Party’s use of super delegates. Of the total 4,763 delegates and 2,382 needed to win, 712 are super delegates whose voting is not constrained by the voting in primaries. So super delegates constitute 14.9% of the total. If my math is correct a pure insurgent candidate would need to win 58.8% of the voting determined delegates to gain the nomination [2,382/(4,763 – 712) = .588].If you hang out with Vox, Salon, MSNBC this an abomination, but for conservatives? If Aaron Burr having dispensed with Alexander Hamilton seeks the Federalist Party nomination is an 8.8 percentage point higher bar in the popular will beyond the pale?

This same week, John Yoo wrote an interesting piece titled Trump and Sanders, The Founders Worst Nightmare on the founder’s view towards selecting a president. Yoo notes:

“To prevent mindless populism from seizing the White House, the Founders rejected nationwide election of the president. Instead, they created the Electoral College. States choose electors (equal to the number of their members of the House and Senate), who meet and send their votes to Congress. If there is no majority, then the House votes by state delegation to choose the chief executive.

While the Electoral College today seems Rube Goldberg-esque, it served the important purpose of weeding out emotional passions and popular, but poor, candidates.”

I suspect the real issue here for conservatives is a) the progressive tendency to overplay the idea of their being the true voice of the people, and b) disdain for Hillary Clinton. A better avenue of criticism would be Hillary’s call to abolish the Electoral College in the aftermath of the 2000 election. On that occasion Hillary stated:
         “We are a very different country than we were 200 years ago,…I believe strongly that in a democracy, we should respect the will of the people and to me, that means it’s time to do away with the Electoral College and move to the popular election of our president.”

In light of recent events, an enterprising reporter or debate moderator might ask her about this.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Christie Critique of Repetition in Politics is Nonsense

As you probably know, Chris Christie is widely regarded as landing a solid blow to the Marco Rubio candidacy by claiming that he frequently repeats the same material in his speeches and debate answers. This as part of a larger argument that Rubio is a scripted, inexperienced candidate in stark contrast, one supposes to Gov. Christie.
Now I will admit that of the remaining candidates I favor Rubio. That said, I find the Christie jab to be on the merits rather ineffectual, and it becoming such a big story just shows the silly importance attached to these ‘debates’. For it seems to me that anyone who runs for president should have arrived at a substantial body of understandings in regard to politics. They should have a set of stable, but not rigid, political ideas such that certain expressions, quotes, phrases will appear frequently in their speeches and comments. This isn’t improvisational comedy. The LAST thing we should seek in a potential president is day to day originality.
If we embrace the Christie rule than the obvious choice isn’t Christie, who not surprisingly gave a packaged answer in the debate to a question on drug abuse, but Donald Trump. The lightly thought out, spur of the moment, incoherent ideas of the real estate magnate is apparently what we should value in a president.


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

It Wasn't the Candidate or the Campaign; Jeb Never Had a Chance

In the Iowa post mortems one thread has been that the Jeb campaign has been a historical failure. I disagree with that only in the sense that the blame is being put on Jeb and his political skills. These aren't completely irrelevant, but the biggest factor is that Jeb never had a chance. His and his donors failure is that they didn’t see that he never had a chance.

Before I explain, what I mean by establishment in what follows is that prevailing sense of ‘respectable opinion’ which if it doesn’t persuade at least is taken into account, such that if you see things differently you at least pause to consider that you’ve lost the plot. And that relationship between establishment and conservative is somewhat adversarial with the tension increasing as the conservative viewpoint becomes more ideological.

So why was Jeb doomed? Because he came after the following:

1) His father, Bush I, picks up the mantle of Reagan and promises not to raise taxes. He then raises taxes

2) His brother George, Bush II, is supported fervently for his actions after 9/11, but conservatives aren’t please with the notion of “compassionate conservatism” nor with the explosion of spending that occurs under his watch (zero vetoes!).

3) McCain as nominee in 2008 is widely perceived as the establishment choice. Conservatives aren’t thrilled but they go along with it. They don’t like losing to Obama, but deep down they understand it. Base/conservative wariness with the establishment has increased but hasn’t disappeared.

4) And now we get to the point that finally kills the Jeb campaign. In the 2012 race the perception is that Obama is a colossally bad president. If the Republicans don’t screw it up they’ll win. While the conservatives have doubts about Romney, they eventually give way to the establishment view--after a frantic and failed attempt to find a suitable alternative—on the argument that Romney is the only candidate who can/will beat Obama.

Then the Romney general election barely brings up the subject of Obamacare, which is kind of a big deal for conservatives, and ends up losing. Queue The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again.

That is what Jeb had to overcome, plus the fact that most conservatives weren’t pleased with the royalist suggestions that would come with a third Bush presidency. The surprise isn’t that Jeb failed, it’s that so many pundits didn’t see from the start that he would (and my twitter followers will know that I had Jeb as the John Connally of this race—see 1980—from the start). Jeb was always the longest of long shots in this cycle.