It Is a Good Thing Congress Has Done So Little

It has been 228 years since the United States Congress first gathered. Now, after all that time, multiple press outlets are reporting that Congress has not done anything thus far in 2017. In stark contrast, Barack Obama had gotten a stimulus plan passed, the Lilly Ledbetter scam passed, and started on Obamacare.

But this is not the Obama Administration. This is a Republican Congress that claims to be conservative.

Congress has begun to roll back Obama era executive orders. It has begun scaling back the size of government. Frankly, by not otherwise acting, Congress has acted in all our best interests.

To be sure, Congress needs to repeal Obamacare, but while they are doing nothing, Obamacare is collapsing all on its own. In its continued collapse, Obamacare could, in Rahm Emanuel’s words, create a crisis the GOP won’t let go to waste.

After 228 years, you would think Congress could get by without passing a single new law. Do we really need any new laws other than one giving Americans permission to fire missiles at slow pokes in the left lane?

Not working is really not something any of us should get worked up about. A Congress making progress and writing laws is a Congress more often than not encroaching on our liberties and spending our money.

They should repeal Obamacare, do what they have to do to fund the government, then go home. If they can reform the tax code while they’re at it so Apple brings home its several billion dollars parked offshore, so much the better.

But otherwise, an inactive Congress makes for a free people.

#AlwaysPrinciple

So here we are.

Just under a year ago, in the lead-up to the first-in-the nation Iowa Caucuses, I wrote an “open letter” to fellow Republican primary voters supporting neither Ted Cruz (my preferred candidate) nor Donald Trump.  In glancing at the polls at the time and the fact that Trump held a polling lead in virtually every state not named “Iowa,” I laid out the stakes, as I saw them:

We movement conservatives presently stand at a crossroads.  For those of us deeply committed to the ideological and philosophical moorings of our movement—a Burkean skepticism of “sophisters” and “calculators,” a Hayekian eschewing of would-be grand ambitions in favor of the free market’s “spontaneous order,” a Kirkean emphasis in transcendent natural order and private property sanctity, and a Buckleyite synthesis of traditionalism, constitutionalism, laissez-faire, and anti-totalitarianism (be it communism or jihad) alike—there is simply no getting around the obvious fact that Donald Trump is not only anathema, but indeed represents an existential threat.

As the primary progressed, I—like so many others at this website—ultimately adopted the #NeverTrump mantle.  I lambasted a GOP establishment that I saw as friendlier to strongman Trumpism than it was to principled constitutional conservatism.  I routinely honed in on Trump’s foibles and disquieting authoritarian overtures alike, and I encouraged his ouster at the convention in Cleveland.  After having previously defined our conservative opposition movement as a Resistance in exile analogically akin to the Jews in Babylon, I then wrote an Election Day morning post attempting to redirect our feisty Resistance toward a more subtle and widespread civic Restoration:

Conservatism is going to lose this evening in the race for leader of the free world, regardless of which Democratic Party-donating Big Government New Yorker prevails in the Electoral College vote tally.  Tomorrow morning, the restorative project commences.  I am in this fight with you.  So are the rest of us here at The Resurgent.  Good luck, and Godspeed.

By the early morning of November 9, of course, Donald Trump was President-Elect of the United States.  The American people revolted against intellectually sclerotic, economically stagnant, and culturally militant Leftism in a way that neither pollsters nor pundits had ever foreseen.  A non-ideological, non-conservative man had indeed won the presidency; but the Republican Party—the longtime partisan home for the conservative movement—had attained a national mandate to countermand the “transformational” shameful presidency of Barack Obama, a progressive matched in zeal for top-down smug elitism and disdain for Founding era constitutionalism only by his predecessors Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson.

The Left, of course, has done more since November 8 to make me feel better about the incoming Trump presidency than anything Trump has ever said or done himself.  When I wrote on November 11 that “[t]he [Left’s] sundry temper tantrums, riots, cry-ins, and hand-holding kumbaya sessions are just out of control,” that was not even accounting yet for the #NotMyPresident nonsense or the petty awfulness that is civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis questioning Trump’s presidential legitimacy.  All in all, the identity politics- and enviro-Statism-obsessed Left has collectively lost its mind since November 8.

To be sure, saving the American experiment from the deeply destructive excesses of unshackled progressivism is what drives many of us—including me—into conservative activism in the first place.  That is how it should be.  The Left is unyielding in its assaults on truth, natural law, individual liberty, freedom of conscience, national sovereignty, and many other core tenets of Western republicanism.

But in order to fight back against the Left, it is imperative that we ourselves stand for something positive.  Opposing Leftism does not itself suffice, and the GOP itself must now stand for something concrete.  My friend Daniel Horowitz put it well yesterday:

[A conservative restoration] will take a catharsis for elected Republicans to finally end their identity crisis and move beyond simply being “better than Obama” or “the lesser of two evils.”  It will take an affirmative agenda—a positive, consistent, intellectually honest, and forward looking agenda on sovereignty, security, free markets, liberty, property rights, and a strong civil society.  An agenda that can stand on its own veracity, not just as an opposing view to whatever the media or the Left is promulgating.

In concrete terms, what that means is straightforward.  The goal of the conservative, during the Trump presidency, must be to neither reflexively oppose Trump nor reflexively shill for Trump.  The goal for us must be, like a well-trained home plate umpire, to call balls and strikes as we see it.  And we will call those balls and strikes not out of fealty to ad hoc cults of personality, but out of fealty to our timeless principles.

Stand for moral clarity and oppose moral relativism.  Support rule by neutral law and oppose rule by capricious men.  Support national sovereignty and oppose outsourcing that sovereignty to transnationalism.  Support the separation of powers and oppose the modern despotic presidency.  Support federalism and oppose the centralization of power in Washington, D.C.  Stand with the liberalized West and existentially oppose the global jihad.  Stand for free enterprise and unshackled markets and oppose proto-fascistic “economic nationalism.”  Support the private inculcation of civic virtue and oppose heavy-handed government indoctrination.  Love life and oppose the destruction of innocent life.  Love liberty and oppose the whims of those who would deprive us of liberty’s eternal blessings.

#NeverTrump is dead.  #AlwaysTrump never was.  But #AlwaysPrinciple is alive.  And so it must be.  “Pragmatism” will never defeat the Left and save the republic; only unapologetically principled conservatism can do so.

My colleague Steve Berman is right that we are all Deplorables now, insofar as being a Deplorable is coterminous with accepting the legitimacy of the Trump presidency.  But we must never mistake schadenfreude at the Left’s follies or sympathy for Trump’s delectable assaults on the woebegone mainstream media with apologia for Trump himself.  As Ben Shapiro put it yesterday, “It’s not our job to prop up Trump—it’s our job to tell the truth.”

Tell the truth we can—tell the truth we must.

Praise Trump when he abides by conservative principle.  Praise him if he signs off on Obamacare’s demise, rescinds the Iranian nuclear deal, or appoints a sound originalist to fill Antonin Scalia’s seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Criticize Trump when he fails to live up to conservative principles.  Criticize him if he follows through on his vows not to touch bankrupting entitlement programs, to pass a massive infrastructure package, or to pass protectionist tariffs that only end up harming American consumers.

Remember who we are, as conservatives.  Our principles are timeless.  Do not be afraid to stand up for them, when they inevitably clash with volatile Trumpism.

Be neither #NeverTrump nor #AlwaysTrump.  But please do be #AlwaysPrinciple.

Enjoy Inauguration Day.

Grading Donald Trump

In the weeks since Donald Trump’s stunning Election Day upset, I have given a lot of thought to the conundrum of how exactly it is that principled conservatives—and, in particular, those of us who were either passionately #NeverTrump (hi, everyone) or otherwise merely supremely skeptical of the mogul—should approach the business of assessing Donald Trump’s actions.  Here is how I put it the day after Election Day:

The staggeringly awesome schadenfreude of Leftist tears today will temporarily mask the difficulty of the henceforth delicate calibration project on which movement conservatives must hone in: that between the need for vigilance over Trump’s inevitable deviations from conservatism and the need for large quantities of grace, humility, and humble pie.  There isn’t an easy answer to be found there…We must be simultaneously humbled in the face of our getting this election wrong and unapologetic in our defense of our values.

To be sure, I still think that approach is the proper one.  As Leon Wolf aptly noted in May and Ben Shapiro tweeted yesterday, it is indubitably the case that timeless long-term principles and ideologically anchored short/medium-term public policy goals must always triumph over the mercurial temptations of personality cults or the demands of political partisanship—indeed, it is precisely the risk of pernicious long-term conflation of conservatism and Trumpism that helped lead many of us to the #NeverTrump conclusion, in the first place.  Now that we’ve had nearly four weeks of real-world experience with Trump as President-Elect and have seen no shortage of controversies both large/real and small/manufactured, I think it is time to revisit the overarching question of how we movement conservative Trump skeptics ought to proceed in assessing the soon-to-be 45th President of the United States.

The reality is that, far from being a Rorschach test, Trump actually is many things all at once.  He is an ideologically unmoored pragmatist with vaguely populist/mercantilist/European-style nationalist instincts. He is wildly uncouth and unpresidential in his demeanor—both in real life, such as when he defends his manhood size on national television, and on Twitter, such as when he tweets out amateurish schoolboy mockeries of political rivals’ wives.  He is both a narcissist and a marketing genius.  He is both a political novice and an accomplished veteran at manipulating the media.  And so forth.

As far as responding to everything Trump does, it is frankly difficult to know when to hold fire and when to spray proverbial bullets like Al Capone at the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.  To the extent it is cohesive and non-contradictory, I find myself in profound agreement with both those inclined to aggressively protect post-William F. Buckley movement conservatism with all their might, and also those who call for no small doses of grace and humility from us erstwhile Trump opponents/skeptics.  I have spent much of the past year writing about the intellectual imperative of guarding the conservative movement as a mother hen might guard her bar-frolicking sorority sisters from Bill Clinton and Jeffrey Epstein sundry wanton and inebriated cads, but I also humbly recognize how very wrong I was in missing the latent signs of the Trump phenomenon by consistently predicting a Hillary Clinton landslide victory.  To the extent this zealous ideological guardianship and needed humility do strike us as ostensibly self-undermining, reconciliation is needed.

I see this task unfolding in tripartite fashion.

First, we must, indeed, guard our timeless principles.  Just because the Republican Party’s President-Elect now supports a whole host of policies across the entire political spectrum that deviate from historical conservative norms does not make Trumpism any more conservative—and, indeed, it is our solemn duty to preclude American conservatism from being wholly consumed by Trumpism and/or replaced by European-style ethno-nationalism as the defining ideology of what it means to be politically right-of-center in America today.  To the extent I see Trump surrounding himself with close advisers who eschew liberalized free enterprise in favor of illiberal “economic nationalism” (i.e., dirigisme) and universalist Americanism in favor of balkanized ethnocentrism, we should emphatically call Trump out.  To the extent he corrupts capitalistic ideals, threatens the integrity of the post-World War II global order, and continually cheapens hitherto just conservative men, it is indispensable that we do our best to put the kibosh on such misguided tomfoolery.  No doubt about that whatsoever.

Second, to the extent opportunities for cooperation exist and it is cogent (i.e., not self-defeating) to do so, traditional conservatives can find a way to meaningfully work with the Trumpist populists to push the ball forward in our long-term fight to destroy Leftism.  My former boss Sen. Mike Lee calls it “principled populism“:

The rough terms of a successful partnership seem obvious.  Populism identifies the problems; conservatism develops the solutions; and President Trump oversees the process with a veto pen that keeps everyone honest.  Call it “principled populism”: an authentic conservatism focused on solving the problems that face working Americans in a fracturing society and globalizing economy.

The always-eloquent conservative intellectual Yuval Levin seems inclined to agree with Lee that such a principled fusion of conservatives and populists is not only feasible, but now inevitable:

This would still be a thoroughly conservative coalition in a familiar sense.  It would be the natural home for pro-growth, small-government capitalism, along with social traditionalism and unabashed American patriotism and constitutionalism.  But it would tend to emphasize the links between these views (which, after all, are also naturally in tension) by emphasizing their common roots in humility more than their common aspirations to boundless liberation.  It would be more sober than cheerful, more careful than confident, more Tocque­ville than Kemp.  And it would be a conservatism heavily influenced by the increasingly populist flavor of the broader Republican coalition in the age of Trump, even as it frequently needs to act as a check on the party’s populism.

The notion of forming such an alliance is not actually all that new.  The Weekly Standard ran a piece on Sen. Lee’s “labor Republicanism,” back in 2013, noting the distinctly populist elements of Lee’s then-nascent “Conservative Reform Agenda” and his concomitant “shadow party” devoted to advancing it.  Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner has literally been calling for “free-market populism” ever since Mitt Romney lost to Barack Obama.  Carney’s pleas are closely associated with the ideas of the self-styled “reform conservatives” like Ross Douthat, and I wrote a bit about it for RedState over two years ago.  It is true that virtually all of these conservatives mentioned here—from Sen. Lee to Levin to Carney to Douthat to, well, heck, even myself—were either firmly #NeverTrump or deeply skeptical of Trump.  And it is true that Trump’s form of populism is much more brutish and shoot-from-the-hip than anything which someone like Lee or Levin might feel comfortable tolerating, let alone advancing.  But there are still opportunities for legitimate collaboration between the camps—and, given its campaign salience and emotional potency, border security seems like an awfully fine place for Trump to start.

Third, we must remember that Trump is a complete political novice, and that we should therefore cut him substantial slack where the issue is more a foible of decorum and statesmanship than it is a potentially ruinous substantive departure from conservative fealty.  Take the instance of the now-infamous Donald Trump flag-burning tweet—and, in particular, focus not on the merits of bans on flag burning, but on the fact that Trump proffered jail time and/or citizenship revocation as the properly prescribed penalty.  It was a mightily stupid thing for Trump to say.  Flag burning is not exactly a politically hot-button issue at the moment, Trump took a stance which, on the merits, would require either a constitutional amendment or a total rejection of judicial supremacy as it applies to the 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case of Texas v. Johnson, and, perhaps most importantly, his draconian prescribed punishment of citizenship revocation is monstrously and incontrovertibly unconstitutional.  Trump should not have written the tweet, and it is true, more generally, that the President-Elect’s Twitter account right now is comically oafish and lamentably unpresidential.

But I’d aver, as it pertains to the flag burning tweet, that this is precisely where we must strive to show more grace and humility toward Trump.  Trump’s sophomoric Twitter tendencies may well metastasize into a genuine threat to national safety and security, but, for now, Trump sounding off on Twitter like an old man trying to return soup at a deli is anodyne enough.  It is surely irresponsible—regardless of whether Trump was serious about his constitutional ignorance or was merely trying to troll hapless Leftists—to tweet such a thing, but there is also no real collateral damage, and social media nuance also seems like the quintessential kind of thing that an unpolished and politically inexperienced man like Trump might acquire as time passes.  Besides, if Trump has time to use his personal Twitter as frequently during his presidency as he does now, it will necessarily mean that he is not particularly busy.  Which would mean that Mike Pence is probably directly running the free world just as much as Trump is.  Which, from a conservative perspective that gives Pence a sizable benefit of the doubt that he may or may not presently deserve, would be pretty freaking awesome.

Personal utter gaucheness does not come anywhere close to intellectual vitality-sapping on a hierarchy of the possible Trump offenses regarding which movement conservatives might be inclined to pounce.  As long as we can continue to make that distinction whilst simultaneously looking to follow the lead of Sen. Mike Lee in looking for collaborative efforts to effectuate a “principled populism,” conservatives will be doing their best to keep Trump in line whilst also not being seen as crying wolf.  Let’s all strive for that.

Evan McMullin Should Not Be Architect of New GOP

Independent presidential protest candidate Evan McMullin is a decent man and an American patriot, but under no circumstances should his view of conservatism form the basis of a rebuilt Republican Party post-2016, or form the bedrock of a new conservative moment.

There is no question that at time when both major political parties have nominated fundamentally distasteful and deeply flawed candidates, individuals whose basic human decency is open to question based on their previous records and remarks, Evan McMullin is a respectable human being. But while respectable and decent are now – remarkably – enough to fuel a nationwide protest campaign, they are not all that is required to rebuild a GOP that will emerge deeply divided on November 9th.

From social issues to foreign policy issues, and even touching an important fiscal issue, McMullin’s articulation – or lack of articulation – betrays good intentions that are not backed up by concrete principles or policy proposals.

Maggie Gallagher, a social conservative activist, expressed skepticism of McMullin back in August in a piece for National Review Online. Citing his general silence on domestic policy issues, she asserted that the former CIA officer turned Capitol Hill staffer is “not the savior conservatives are hoping for.”

On the life issue, Gallagher pointed out that McMullin’s website was then – and still is – pretty sparse on details even though the candidate declares that, “Our respect for life is the most important measure of our humanity.” Well put, and certainly very much in line with a conservatism that respects the equality of human beings and a belief that government should protect human life. But the only policy specific McMullin embraces is no taxpayer funding for abortion. “A culture that subsidizes abortion on demand runs counter to the fundamental American belief in the potential of every person – it undermines the dignity of mother and child alike,” his platform reads.

A ban on taxpayer funding of abortion is already the law of the land. What is still allowed – and what McMullin is silent about – is the use of taxpayer money to fund the non-abortion operations of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider. That’s a recent debate that McMullin, if interested in proving his pro-life credentials as a serious candidate, could have easily weighed in on. Instead, he has remained silent on his website and a search for news clips and public statements turned up nothing.

Gallagher suggests that McMullin may be seeking “to be a unifier through vagueness, as many consultants would no doubt advise.”

In contrast to his one paragraph statement about the importance of human life, McMullin spends 19 paragraphs outlining his immigration reform plan. The plan is chock full of policy principles that McMullin wants to see implemented after the border is secured. It is a realistic and thoughtful plan – proof that even as a last minute candidate, McMullin can put meat on broad position statements provided the issue is one he cares about.

On another social issue – the hot button topic of the definition of marriage, and who defines it – McMullin has adopted a passive tone. Professing that he personally believes marriage is a union between a man and a woman, McMullin told Bloomberg that he “respect[s] the decision of the [Supreme] Court and I think it is time to move on.” Pressed if perhaps the issue should be resolved at the state level, a position similar to those embraced by Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio or Sen. Ted Cruz, McMullin again emphasized the matter is settled law: “Ideally, yes, but it has been handled by the Supreme Court, and that’s where it is.”

When queried about whether or not he favors appointing Supreme Court justices who might take the view that Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that forced all states and the federal government to accept same-sex marriage, was decided incorrectly, the nascent candidate said he would not favor those types of judicial nominees.

Sen. Marco Rubio famously said of Obergefell that, “I don’t believe any case law is settled law. Any future Supreme Court can change it.” Promising to nominate strict constructionist judges, the then-presidential candidate told NBC News, “I don’t think the current Constitution gives the federal government the power to regulate marriage. That belongs at the state and local level.”

Rubio wasn’t afraid to use some political capital to defend his position. According to another NBC News story, “Rubio seems unconcerned his positions on social issues might cost him younger voters.” He also pushed back against the argument that supporting the traditional definition of marriage makes someone a bigot.

For his part, Sen. Ted Cruz promoted the idea of an amendment to the Constitution that clarifies that the definition of marriage is settled at the state – not federal – level.

Beyond just social issues, however, McMullin has been oddly unwilling to say whether or not he agrees with a widely embraced conservative reform proposal for Social Security. Facing financial unsustainability, the entitlement program is certainly not poised to live up to its promise to future generations of retirees. One plan to make it more sustainable is to allow younger workers to take a small portion of their current Social Security and Medicare payroll deduction and put it in a personal savings account that could be invested in traditional retirement securities. It’s a plan championed by House Speaker Paul Ryan and it’s modeled on federal employee retirement plans.

“I support most conservative solutions to entitlement reforms,” McMullin said when specifically asked about the idea of allowing younger workers to take Social Security contributions – taxes – and invest some of them into personal accounts. Pressed for a more clear-cut answer, he refused to say whether he agreed with the Ryan plan.

In the area of foreign policy, McMullin has sounded extraordinarily hawkish notes. Having spent a decade of his life helping chase down terrorists and bad guys who threaten America’s security, there’s no question that McMullin has personal credibility on the topic. But experience doesn’t always begat wisdom even as it reveals impeccable intentions.

Speaking at TEDx event earlier this year, and before he entered the presidential race, McMullin argued that genocide is a good enough justification for American and Western economic and military intervention in foreign affairs. Complaining about Western “governments’ lack of political will” to stop genocide, he proposed a fairly sweeping interventionist outlook where the public pressures democratic governments to do more to halt internal violence in troubled nations.

“Western countries and governments are some of the most empowered to stop atrocities given their economic and military strength. But they also happen to be democracies. And in these systems political will begins and ends with the people on all issues,” he explained.

But in making the case against genocide (an easy case), McMullin didn’t explain why it was moral or appropriate for democracies to always intervene in cases of genocide even if none of their strategic or security interests were at stake. If evil is justification for military action, endless conflict may be had at any point. Expending American blood and treasure to right the world’s wrongs without any other justification will not only be a tough sell to the American people, it will be a questionable use of national resources.

In an editorial for Foreign Policy magazine, McMullin did appear to want some unspecified limits placed on the employment of military force. Saying he disagreed with the decision to invade Iraq in 2003, he went on to outline why the U.S. should do more in Syria, even though the Obama Administration’s policy there has been one of eventual increase of military commitment.

Then he claimed this: “As president, instead of being constrained by rigid doctrines that call for either constant action or total passivity, I would carefully evaluate the situation at hand and determine how best to respond.”

In calling for both more strident military, economic and diplomatic action, while also promising to eschew “rigid doctrines” in foreign affairs, McMullin sounds remarkably like candidate Barack Obama and his foreign policy advisors in 2008.

If the new conservative movement is to be erected on a foundation that avoids social issues – particularly the pro-life issue – refuses to offer concrete fiscal solutions to looming entitlement problems, and promotes a moralistic but confused foreign policy, it is not a movement destined to seriously shape American politics. It will cede much to those who do not constrain their view of government to the parameters of the Constitution.

Let’s Reclaim Conservation Efforts from Radicals

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service (NPS). NPS currently boasts 58 national parks enjoyed by millions of Americans each year.

Like many of you, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting many of these parks. They are not only beautiful, but are exemplary of America’s exceptional heritage and natural beauty.

Conservatives and even some on the Left believe that if entities like NPS relied less on government and more on private contributions, it would run more efficiently and draw in more people.

This begs the question: do conservatives actually hate the environment? Quite the contrary!

Conservatives who hunt and fish are true conservationists  

The National Wildlife Foundation says, “Hunters and anglers are a core constituency to preserving our conservation legacy.”

Many folks on the Right grew up fishing and hunting as a means of supporting their livelihoods. (They also enjoy the entertainment value and life lessons.) Both activities promote self-reliance, stewardship, and true conservation. These activities don’t harm the environment; in fact, they positively impact both humanity and wildlife without disrupting the cycle of life.

While there are some Democrats who support true conservation efforts, the Right has traditionally stood for and supported the expansion of fishing and hunting rights across the country. A 2012 National Survey of Hunters & Anglers published by the National Wildlife Foundation found that anglers and hunters are conservative and overwhelmingly vote Republican:

  • 42% of those interviewed indicated they were Republican, 32% indicated they were Independent with 18% indicting they considered themselves Democrats. 27% indicate they split their ticket when voting
  • 50% consider themselves conservative, including 22% who consider themselves very conservative.

The same study also deemed conservation is weighed equally with gun rights:

47% believe that gun rights are important, but conservation is just as important. 37% believe that gun rights are the most important issue facing sportsmen, while 13% believe that gun rights are not as important as conservation issues.

Conservatives believe free-market environmentalism, not radicalism, is the way forward

Free markets and true environmentalism go hand-in-hand. The current view of environmentalism is rooted in preservation and anti-life, anti-business measures. The goal of radical environmentalism is to undermine business and close off access to public lands and waters to those whose livelihoods depend on it. Here’s more on free-market environmentalism:

  • Markets, property rights, and the rule of law are fundamental to economic growth, and economic growth is fundamental to improving environmental quality. There is a strong correlation between treatment of the environment and standards of living.
  • Property rights make the environment an asset rather than a liability by giving owners an incentive for stewardship.
  • Markets and the process of exchange give people who have different ideas and values regarding the use of natural resources a way of cooperating rather than fighting. When cooperation supplants conflict, gains from trade emerge.

While some of our favorite stores like Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s have engaged in cronyism by receiving over $2.2 billion in taxpayer subsidies (circa 2012)–which is disappointing–free market environmentalism can appeal to conservationists eager to expand enterprise while simultaneously protecting the environment. It’s imperative to showcase that private enterprise, not the federal government, has upheld quality environmental standards.

Conservatives believe public lands are better managed by states, not the federal government 

Although some in conservationist circles admonish the idea of “privatization” or the transfer of public lands to states, conservatives believe that state sovereignty calls for greater stewardship of the environment without reliance on the federal government.

It can be argued that states are best equipped to tackle the fishing and hunting needs of residents. As proponents of limited government, we’d rather see states–not the federal government–manage hunting and fishing resources. Why? They are more attuned to how our taxpayer dollars are actually spent. Some argue that transferring land ownership to the states would be costly, but current regulations and restrictions in place have made it impossible for land management reform to take place. Why should the federal government intervene in affairs related to Yosemite National Park in California or Arches National Park in Utah? (It shouldn’t.)

A one-size-fits-all approach to land management isn’t conducive to expanding hunting and fishing access either. For example, why can’t Virginia’s Department of Game and Inland Fisheries be tasked with managing lands over the Bureau of Land Management or Department of Interior? It’s far more familiar with the needs and wants of Virginia’s anglers and hunters. Plus, it familiarizes itself with conditions all across the state and places an importance on preserving lands that matter to us. It also does a fairly decent job of promoting conservation without infringing on our rights.

We can’t allow our opponents to paint us as antagonists of the environment any longer. Yes, private enterprise and the environment can co-exist. Yes, hunting and fishing do promote conservation. And yes, land management should be reserved to the states.

Happy trails, friends!

 

After Trump, The GOP Will Not Snap Back to Conservatism–It’s Time for Something Else

Donald, if you are the GOP’s Messiah, tell us plainly! Quoth Donald: I and the GOP are one. Lord, forgive me for butchering John 10:31. The GOP is Donald Trump and Donald Trump is now the GOP.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and political nature is no different. Where the party has left one, it will be filled with something else.

The party had been warned for years. A party that defines itself by being everything “not the other party” is indeed nothing at all. Erick expounded on the sadness of the blues versus the greens, with no real difference other than partisan allegiances. Of course, there are differences, enormous differences.

You won’t find any unlimited abortion-on-demand, I-hate-America-loving, flag-burning socialists in the Republican Party. And you won’t find small government, capitalist-promoting, Second Amendment proponents among the Democrats. But those are just the polls of a large social spectrum.

In the 1990’s the Democrats began their move to the far left, leaving anyone with love of God, Israel, capitalism and vestiges of American exceptionalism (read: patriotism) without a home in the big blue tent. Many “blue dog Democrats” switched parties or retired. Republicans took over the center, because the Democrats abandoned it.

Now, the GOP has moved firmly into the center-left, trailing in its wake all the backlash of nationalists, white racists, and America-firsters whose version of America is somewhere between Appalachian hillbillies, 1970’s NASCAR, and a sixpack for the game after church on Sunday. It’s a version of America that is sadly out of date, if it ever existed at all (in the sense of being successful). But that’s Trump’s Disneyland-esque Main Street vision of Make America Great Again™.

Next, Trump will bring back tail fins on Tesla cars (which are made in the USA, after all).

An enormous caste of abandoned conservatives has been left in the wake of this tidal shift. Trump never got above 40 percent of Republican support, and those who back him now do it out of fear, not principle. They don’t want to subject their careers (if they do politics as a career), or their personal wealth to a future with Hillary, or to the wrath of core Trumpkins. Core Trumpkins have nothing to lose, just like core Obama voters.

They want something for nothing. They want to win, and have someone else pay the dinner tab. Trump’s core supporters are no better than Obama’s in many ways. Obama was supposed to be the autocrat, the savior, for his acolytes. But now they are deeply disappointed, just like Trumpkins will be (either in November or four years hence).

Trump_Supporters_Venn

The majority of “Buckley conservatives,” social conservatives (not just in name as “Evangelicals” but the label is for consistency), and many Republicans, even if they vote for Trump or support him as “not Hillary” will be looking for a new home.

Noah Rothman wrote:

The convention has so far made one thing clear: Even after Donald Trump secured the presidential nomination of his adopted party, its members have not yet been able to shake the conservatism to which they have spent decades adhering. Many have wondered whether Trump’s style and policy prescriptions are such a departure from mainstream Republicanism that he may be simply renting the party rather than transforming it. Given the groundwork for 2020 being laid by Republicans even now, the GOP seems to be betting on the former and presuming that Donald Trump will get an eviction notice on November 8.

The GOP leadership wants to have its cake and eat it too. They want to go all-in for Trump in 2016, then go back to conservatism for 2020. But like a rubber band that’s been pulled too far and ruptured, it just can’t snap back like that. The Trumpists can’t hold the center.

Rothman believes that the party will save itself, starting with the core who did not bow their knee before the Orange Throne.

For now, the smart money is going to be on those Republicans who sacrificed their reputations and their influence within the party in the ill-fated effort to save their fellow Republicans from themselves.

I don’t believe that. I think the GOP has stretched itself too far, transmogrified itself beyond recognition, and by 2020, will begin to go the way of the Whigs. I would rather align with a new movement, one founded on Constitutional liberty, proper functioning of the American branches of government, and ending the tyranny of the courts, than the embedded self-interests of the GOP.

The Tea Party never really got off the ground because (a) it was populated by some of the very people (Libertarian-oriented, non-values voters) who now form Trump’s core, and (b) it was overrun with self-interested promoters and charlatans. However, the Tea Party did justify its existence by producing candidates like Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio–the very candidates the Trumpkins (and to some degree, the GOPe) despise.

If there’s ever a dead canary in the coal mine, the confluence of the center-left Trumpkins and the GOPe against former Tea Party conservatives is it. The Republican Party will not snap back to pre-2016 conservatism.

And since politics abhors a vacuum, we will simply have to find the next thing…whatever that is.

The Unorthodox Roadmap for a Conservative Presidential Win

Donald J. Trump is the presumptive Republican Party nominee for the 2016 presidential election. To date, the #NeverTrump movement has failed. Democrats, although not wholly satisfied with their likely nominee, Hillary Clinton, are salivating at their prospects this November.

What’s next?

In the week since Trump effectively secured his pathway to the GOP nomination, conservatives have – rightly – attempted to survey the littered wreckage of this primary cycle and ponder the future. All hope for a conservative victory in 2016 – to speak nothing of the now near-impossibility of a Trump/Republican victory – appears lost. Stoically, committed conservatives have recognized that what matters is the long game. Better to lose another election cycle than forfeit the moral high ground and sunder the movement from its moral underpinnings.

Other conservatives have begun to embrace the illusion of hope offered by a Trump candidacy. They have chosen to announce that they will vote for the New York liberal this fall because, they claim, he is better than Hillary Clinton. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) is one of those conservatives.

Republican Party elites have, for the most part, stumbled over themselves in their rush to declare common-cause with a candidate so weighted down by negative baggage their embrace of the man may come back to haunt their careers. As it turns out, spending a career explaining why Republicans should give in to Democrats, and mocking Republicans who stand on principle, is good practice for selling your soul to a morally bankrupt candidate who just so happens to carry an “R” after his name.

To his credit, House Speaker Paul Ryan has, so far, refused to declare his allegiance to Trump.

What the #NeverTrump movement must learn in hindsight is that being opposed to a deeply flawed, morally repugnant, politically disastrous candidate is not enough. In electoral politics one cannot oppose and expect to win. There must be a choice and there must be an alternative. As the anti-Trump movement picked up steam – not coincidentally as more Republicans departed the primary race – it never rallied around one candidate. Sen. Ted Cruz benefited from a united #NeverTrump front in Wisconsin, but notice that even there Gov. Scott Walker (himself a one-time candidate this cycle and not someone who has pledged #NeverTrump) offered an unreserved endorsement, praising the Texan as the candidate who needs to be the next president.

The failure of the #NeverTrump movement to coalesce around one clear, conservative alternative didn’t just doom Ted Cruz, the last man standing in opposition to Trump, it doomed the movement itself as a successful force that could influence the GOP nomination process.

If #NeverTrump is a serious movement, and if it wishes to be a force in the general election, it needs to embrace a conservative candidate. Not only that, but it needs to be part of a coalition of conservatives who pursue an unorthodox path to November. Bret Stephens, writing in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, only gets it half-right when he declares, “The best hope for what’s left of a serious conservative movement in America is the election in November of a Democratic president, held in check by a Republican Congress.” True, conservatives shouldn’t own the disaster that is Donald Trump. But conservative still have a long – very long – shot at scoring a win in the presidential election.

Orthodoxy has failed. Unorthodox means are not only what must be used – they are the only option left for those unwilling to cede the election to a liberal Democrat.

Talk of a third-party candidacy by a conservative who can wave the flag of principle and provide a standard around which serious citizens can rally to declare their dissatisfaction with both Trump and Clinton is commendable. But it is not enough.

What is needed is a four-way, or more, race for the presidency by serious contenders.

Both Trump and Clinton are deeply unpopular within certain wings of their respective parties. A mid-April Gallup poll found that Clinton’s favorability rating among Democrats was a paltry 36%, down from a 63% favorability rating last fall. The Huffington Post’s poll tracker for Clinton’s favorability rating gives Clinton an average favorability of 41.8% among voters – not just Democrats. According to that same metric, 54.2% of voters don’t like Clinton.

On the Republican side the news isn’t good for the Grand Old Party’s nominee-in-waiting. Trump has a favorability rating of only 36.5% among voters according to the Huffington Post tracker, and 58.3% of voters view him unfavorably. Among Republican-leaning voters, Gallup finds that Trump is in comparatively better shape with his base than Clinton is with her base. A total of 31% of Republicans disapprove of Trump, while 61% have a favorable view of him.

Clinton leads Trump in 6 of the last 7 major polls reviewed by RealClearPolitics.com, but in only two does she get 50% or more of the vote.

So what’s the playbook for conservatives this year? 1824. In the presidential election of 1824 the two major candidates were Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams. Two other serious candidates with regional appeal joined them: William Crawford and Henry Clay. In an ironic twist, all four were members of the same political party, the Democratic-Republican Party.

None of the four received the necessary electoral college votes to win the presidency. That’s when the 12th Amendment provision that the election be thrown to the U.S. House of Representatives kicked in. In the House, the states, voting as entire Congressional delegations, pick a winner from the top 3 electoral college vote recipients. Henry Clay of Kentucky, who happened to also be the Speaker of the House, was eliminated from the race because he garnered fewer electoral votes (37) than the other three candidates.

All that is needed to win the Congressional vote is a simple majority of states. Members of Congress do not vote for individual presidential candidates, they join with their colleagues from the state they represent to determine (by a majority vote of the state delegation) who will receive the state’s lone vote.

In 1824, John Quincy Adams emerged as the winner.

This year, a candidate must secure 270 electoral votes to win the presidency. If no candidate reaches 270 electors the election goes to the U.S. House where the magic number becomes 26 states (simple majority of 50 state delegations total). This means that while the District of Columbia gets 3 electoral college votes, because it has no voting delegation in Congress it wouldn’t play a role in the outcome of the presidential race.

Throwing the presidential election to the U.S. House is the only chance conservatives have of securing a real victory – not just a moral victory of protest – in 2016. Just like in 1824, the effort will require fielding several candidates, not just a single standard bearer who waves the third-party banner of protest.

Previous elections demonstrate that third-party candidates, even when they perform strongly, give the election to the party opposite from the one that “birthed” the third-party. In 1912, former two-term President Theodore Roosevelt ran on the Progressive/Bull Moose ticket against Democrat Woodrow Wilson and Republican William Taft. Roosevelt trounced Taft, carrying 6 states and 88 electoral votes compared to Taft’s 2 states and 8 electoral votes. But beating them both was Wilson, who with only 41.8% of the popular vote swept 40 states and 435 electoral votes.

During the dark days of racial tension that plagued the 1968 presidential election, Republican incumbent Richard Nixon overwhelmingly crushed his two major opponents, Democrat Hubert Humphrey and pro-segregation American Independent Party candidate George Wallace. Wallace did manage to carry 5 states and 46 electoral votes and while his cause was morally repugnant, his election outcome offers insight into what it takes to actually win states apart from a major party ticket.

The strongest third-party performance since 1912 was Ross Perot’s 1992 bid, which cost President George H.W. Bush his re-election and installed Bill Clinton in the White House. Clinton received only a plurality of the popular vote but dominated in the electoral college. Perot did not win a single state.

So what does all this mean?

First, it is possible for long-shot presidential candidates to win states if they focus on issues that are deeply important to those states or to the surrounding region. Second, a generic third-party effort never succeeds at winning enough votes to secure the presidency outright. The former is reason enough to field viable, favored-son type candidates in multiple states or regions to draw electoral votes away from the two major party candidates. The second demonstrates why a more sophisticated effort than a simple nation-wide protest campaign is necessary.

Over at The New York Times a helpful info-graphic of the vote margins of various major party candidates shows the geographic breakdowns evident in both the Democratic primary and the Republican primary this cycle. Clinton primarily does well in the South and with urban Democrats. Bernie Sanders does well with rural Democrats and Democrats in the Northeast, upper-Midwest, Great Plains and Northwest. On the Republican side, Ted Cruz dominated in Republican strongholds like Texas and Utah and rural areas outside the South. Trump dominated the Northeast and South up into some areas of the so-called “Rust Belt.” Rubio came close to winning in Virginia and other areas with suburban voters.

If conservatives opposed to Trump were to field a candidate who spent his or her time focusing on peeling away the electoral votes of places like Texas, Utah, and Oklahoma from the Trump column, and simultaneous supported an “inspiring” leftist like Bernie Sanders, who energizes much of the Democratic base unhappy with Clinton, in states where neither Trump nor another conservative stands a chance of winning, the race could end up in the House of Representatives.

Yes, the stars would have to align perfectly for this to happen. Yes, it first requires keeping both Clinton and Trump from reaching 270 electoral votes (something that can only be achieved by fielding a liberal and conservative candidate) and yes it can only be done if the “protest” candidates focus on regions and specific states. It would also require that the conservative candidate at minimum come in third in the electoral college vote. But this is the year of the unorthodox.

Trump Win Would Destroy Conservative Gains in GOP

If Donald J. Trump becomes the Republican nominee for president the two biggest losers will be the nation – which will not see a real, substantive and issue-driven debate in the general election – and the conservative movement. Yes, the Republican Party will suffer a deep and perhaps irreparable rift, but political parties are a mechanical part of the process, they are not an end in and of themselves. What matters more than political parties are the people who run for and hold office, and the philosophy they embrace and the governing record they amass.

There is no question that some Trump supporters are conservative. They describe themselves as conservative, and some even self-identify as “very conservative” when asked by pollsters about their political beliefs. But to be a conservative who supports Trump, you must suspend your beliefs and your principles to back a man who, even now, does not support conservatism as a political philosophy.

One explanation for Trump’s relative popularity among a minority of conservatives (and Republicans for that matter) is that conservatives are upset with the GOP over a real and perceived failure to stand up to President Barack Obama. This frustration manifests itself in a “tear the whole thing down” mentality that supports Trump not because of what he believes or says but because he represents a finger poke in the eye of the Republican Party.

I am all for holding the Republican Party accountable. It must be done for there are numerous weak spines and principle-free individuals who make their home in the GOP merely to secure position, power or prestige. Principles matter nothing to them outside of the principle of self-promotion. And while the GOP is not the conservative movement and vice versa, voting for a liberal candidate only because he has a loud mouth just to “stick it” to the Republican Party is a very foolish strategy.

It is one thing to champion conservative candidates who are running to change the status quo, it is another matter entirely to suspend your conservative principles just to “send a message,” particularly at a time when the Republican Party is slowly being tugged in the direction of conservative principles.

Look at the make up of the United States Senate today (disclosure: I support Sen. Ted Cruz for president and I like him as a senator). That body, which used to be home to Republicans like Trent Lott, Arlen Specter, Richard Luger, Jim Jeffords and others is now home to Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz (for now), Ben Sasse, Tom Cotton, and Marco Rubio. Over in the House of Representatives, conservative members pushed Speaker John Boehner out and replaced him with Speaker Paul Ryan, who is certainly far more conservative than Boehner.

Playing hardball in a GOP primary works if the stakes are between a genuine conservative and a defender of the Washington D.C. status quo. Donald Trump may have never held elected office, but he’s no outsider and he’s hardly a champion of conservative values.

Conservatives should recognize that thanks to hard work and strong contrasts, principled men and women are gaining ground in the Republican Party. Is the GOP perfect? Hardly. Do more primary fights need to be waged? Absolutely. But nominating Donald Trump would be a blow not just for the Republican Party, but far more importantly it would undermine the work of rock solid conservatives who have begun to make real inroads.

You can’t change the status quo by voting for someone who unapologetically boasts about all of his years spent advocating for the status quo.