5 Great Reads from 2016

I’m not one for New Year’s Resolutions. More often than not they are expressions of vague aspirations, not firm commitments of action. But at the start of 2016 I decided to read as many books as I could about military history and small unit leadership during the following twelve months. It seemed like a worthwhile topic in light of my ongoing attendance at the Wisconsin Military Academy’s Officer Candidate School and my projected commissioning in September (which did come to pass). The topic was also a nice change of pace from my day job, which was heavily influenced by the tumultuous circus of an election cycle.

I’ve not yet settled on a general topic or theme for my reading list in 2017, but here’s a look back at five of the 16 books I ended up starting and finishing in 2016.

1) An Army at Dawn, Day of Battle, and The Guns at Last Light by Rick Atkinson. Technically this is a trilogy, but for the sake of space I’ll count all three as one book by an outstanding author. Atkinson, a former Washington Post correspondent, wrote his Liberation Trilogy about World War II in North Africa and Europe over a period of several years, and it stands as a defining recent history of America’s involvement in the European theater. While each books is fairly long, Atkinson provides enough technical details to interest the professional and enough personal anecdotes to engage the casual reader. The advantage of reading a three volume history like this is that the reader can understand the overarching themes that weave their way through the United States’ participation in the war.

2) Washington’s Immortals by Patrick O’Donnell. Thanks to a long road trip and a longer commute to a new job, I ended up going through the audiobook version of this title. O’Donnell traces the formation, development and experience of a handful of Maryland militiamen whose regiments ultimately formed the core of General George Washington’s Continental Army. There are limitations to following a specific unit through a specific war, but the fact that these Maryland volunteers participated in nearly every major battle of the American Revolution makes it easy to follow both their own story and the broader story of the American Revolution. The book was all the more moving since several of my ancestors fought in the very regiments O’Donnell writes about. It is hard to complain about anything in modern life after reading of the quiet and courageous sacrifices of these patriots, who, among other privations, marched thousands of miles in bare feet and rags to fight, often without pay, against the most powerful military in the world in defense of an idea only a plurality of their countrymen believed in.

3) Imperial Grunts by Robert Kaplan. This is a slightly dated book because it was published in 2006, but Kaplan is a masterful storyteller who weaves vivid accounts of American military missions around world with picturesque descriptions of the geography, history and culture of the key regions that occupy the national security interests of the nation. Kaplan’s belief in the need for American military action and presence around the world is clear throughout the book, and that strain of idealism might be tempered now in others as a consequence of the difficult wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The real value in Kaplan’s now decade-old work is that it shows that the United States really does not have a choice in choosing whether or not it will engage with the world, but rather must decide how it will engage with the world.

4) The Heights of Courage by Avigdor Kahalani. A short, fast-paced read, this book is a first-person history of the author’s participation in the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Kahalani was a tank battalion commander, and while a battalion is hardly a small organization, there are plenty of lessons available in this book for leaders of any sized organization, particularly leaders who face decisions about managing risks, assuming initiative, and pursuing decisive action.

5) The Outpost by Jake Tapper. Tapper is one of my favorite television correspondents, and in The Outpost he follows the story of several Army units — mostly Cavalry units — that occupied a combat outpost (COP) in Afghanistan during the height of the war there. The book details the everyday challenges faced by units attempting to bring order to a chaotic region, fighting insurgents on one hand and local skepticism — even apathy — on the other. Tapper doesn’t paint a rosy picture of war — it is harsh, particularly on the families left behind — but amid the routine proclamations of today’s generational softness it is a stark reminder that courage and sacrifice are still to be found today.

When Christmas Was Banned… By Christians

We hear a lot about the war on Christmas, but few remember that, once upon a time, Christmas was completely banned. This wasn’t in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. It happened right here in America. The story begins with the Pilgrims. Yes, those Pilgrims. The same ones that we celebrated a few weeks ago when we had Thanksgiving dinner.

Conventional wisdom has it that the Pilgrims came to the New World in search of religious freedom. That’s true to a certain extent. They left England originally to avoid persecution, but they first settled in Holland. In Holland, they had religious freedom, but they had several complaints about life there.

According to Christianity Today, the Pilgrims didn’t like living in Holland because it was a hard place to make a living. They also thought that Holland, with its permissive culture, was not a good place to raise their children. The Pilgrims left Holland for America because they want a more pure and holy society.

As we all know, the Pilgrims moved to America in 1620. What many don’t think about is that, once established in New England, the Pilgrims were absorbed into the larger Puritan movement. The Puritans were reformers in the Church of England who rejected many of the trappings of the English church.

As the Puritan colonies in New England were growing, Puritans in the mother country were actually revolting against the king. The English civil war was fought between the Royalists, also called Cavaliers, who supported Charles I, the Catholic king, and the pro-Puritan forces of Parliament called “Roundheads.” The Roundheads were led by Oliver Cromwell, a Puritan military leader. After the Roundhead victory in 1645, Cromwell became the military ruler of England and the Puritan Parliament canceled Christmas.

Puritans hated Christmas because, even then it was largely a secular holiday. Christmas was celebrated with raucous partying and drinking, two things that were very unpopular among the Puritans, who were literally “puritanical.” After all, the Pilgrims had left Holland a few years earlier to escape this sort of sinful culture. They didn’t want it follow them to Massachusetts.

The Puritans also noted that Christmas was not Biblical. The Bible didn’t mention when Jesus was born and there was no record of early Christians celebrating the Nativity.  Puritans associated Christmas with the pagan Roman festival of Saturnalia and the winter solstice. Puritans also viewed every day as holy and spurned the idea that holidays were more special than any other day.

In Puritan England and Massachusetts, work went on as normal on Christmas Day. People who openly celebrated Christmas could be fined. In England, the Christmas spirit was hard to break. Pastors who attempted to preach on Christmas Day were arrested. Pro-Christmas sentiment ran so high that Parliament ordered shops to stay open and ordered that they be protected from violence and intimidation by people offended that they were open on the holiday.

After Cromwell’s death in 1658, Christmas returned to England in 1660 when the monarchy was restored. The ban on Christmas lasted much longer in Puritan Massachusetts. Royal pressure led to lifting of the Christmas ban in 1681, but the holiday still wasn’t popular. The royal governor of Massachusetts held a Christmas Day service in Boston under the protection of redcoat troops in 1686. Anti-Christmas sentiment flared up around the time of the American Revolution due to its association with the crown. While not banned, Christmas wasn’t widely celebrated in New England as late as the 1850s. Christmas became an official holiday in Massachusetts in 1856.

With the Christian concern today that secular forces are trying to eliminate Christmas, it’s ironic to think that it was Christians who once banned the celebration of the birth of Christ. Truth can definitely be stranger than fiction.


Venezuelan Hyperinflation Means Money No Longer Fits Wallets

The crashing Venezuelan economy has put consumers between a rock and a hard place. Shortages have caused prices to increase dramatically while, at the same time, the value of the Venezuelan currency has plummeted. The result is that wallets are no longer large enough to contain the wad of banknotes that are necessary to buy even small, everyday items.

According to the Washington Post, the exchange rate is so bad that the largest Venezuelan banknote, a 100 bolivar bill, is worth only about 5 US cents on the black market, far less than the official exchange rate of 10 bolivars to the dollar. That means that common items are increasingly out of reach for Venezuelans. A pack of cigarettes currently sells for about 2,000 bolivars, the current equivalent of $1 US.  This transaction alone would require the exchange of 20 of the 100 bolivar bills.

The large number of banknotes required for a typical shopping trip makes it difficult to carry enough money in a wallet or purse. Many Venezuelans are increasingly turning to electronic transactions to avoid carrying large amounts of cash. For others, the large quantity of paper money means using larger plastic bags or backpacks to transport their bankroll.

Shortages have caused the price of food to skyrocket even as the money lost its value. As food riots rocked the country in August, CNN reported that staples such as flour, milk and pasta can cost a month’s pay… if you can find them at all.

In Venezuela, there are three ways to buy products. First, there are official government stores where the price is subsidized and kept low. Economic law dictates that artificially low prices cause abnormally high demand. The result is that people flock to the government stores and rapidly clear their shelves. Products disappear quickly even with rationing. Customers at government stores can only shop on certain days of the week. There are long lines and, when you get to the front, there are no guarantees that there will be anything left to buy.

Venezuela also has private stores. Since these stores are not subsidized by the government, prices are higher. Private stores still have to contend with the shortages as well.

“I’ve been waiting in line since 3 a.m. and have only managed to get two tubes of toothpaste, so, I guess I’m going to have to eat toothpaste tonight,” Monica Savaleta, a 19-year-old dancer, told CNN.

There is a third option, the black market. Buying and selling on the black market is illegal and can be dangerous. It is also very expensive compared to the legal stores.

“I make between 12,000 and 15,000 bolivars a month,” Savaleta said. “If I buy from the [black market] bachaqueros, my whole salary is blown on three kilos [6.6 pounds] of rice.”

Business Insider listed several black market prices for common grocery items. Fresh milk is impossible to find, so many used powdered milk which costs $700 US for a 2.2-pound box. A dozen eggs fetch $150 US. A box of pasta costs more than $300 US. Watermelons are $40 US each. A one-pound bag of coffee is $200 US. To put this in perspective, the Venezuelan minimum wage is about 15,000 bolivars per month, about $1,500 US. More than three-quarters of Venezuelans live in poverty according to the Wall Street Journal.

Venezuela’s situation is known as “hyperinflation,” a condition typically defined by economists as monthly inflation of greater than 50 percent. At that level, an item that costs $1 on January 1 would cost $130 a year later. The Venezuelan inflation rate has been estimated at between 720 percent and 2,200 percent.

There have been 55 other cases of hyperinflation, all of them since the onset of the 20th century. The most famous was in the German Weimar Republic in the 1920s that eventually led to the rise of Adolf Hitler. As with many cases of hyperinflation, war and financial mismanagement led to the onset of the Weimar crisis. Germany had financed its war effort with debt, which was compounded after the war with reparations payments to the Allies. The Reichsbank began monetizing the debt, a process by which the central bank issued bonds to cover its debt which were then purchased by the same central bank. Using this process, the government could borrow money without having to repay it. The German government also began printing more marks to finance domestic spending.

In Venezuela, the economic crisis is primarily due to government policy and the oil slump. Former president, Hugo Chavez, a protégé of Fidel Castro, nationalized large swaths of Venezuela’s economy and funded much of the country’s consumption with foreign debt according to The Guardian. When the price of oil crashed, so did Venezuela’s revenues. As a result, Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s successor, was forced to use the country’s gold reserves to service the national debt.

The Maduro government also printed more money, which contributed to the devaluation of the currency. Another basic economic law says that when there is more of something, it is valued less. More bolivars on the market made each individual bolivar less valuable.

Also contributing to the problem is corruption. Transparency International rates Venezuela as the ninth most corrupt country in the world. While ordinary Venezuelans suffer, Maduro and his cronies are doing well. The NY Post noted last spring that an estimated $2 billion has been exported from the country to private banks. The Maduro government is accused of bribery, money laundering, siphoning funds from the state-owned oil company and even drug smuggling.

In 1923, the Weimar hyperinflation ended when the German Reichsbank stopped monetizing the national debt and stopped printing new money. The Reichsbank pegged the value of the Papermark at 4.2 trillion to $1 US according to the Mises Institute. A new currency, the Rentenmark, was introduced with a value of 1 trillion Papermarks to 1 Rentenmark.

At this point, there is no end in sight to the Venezuelan crisis. A resolution will require a change in government policy and may require a change in the government itself. Dissatisfaction and food riots may eventually turn into a revolution or coup against the country’s ruling class. Until reforms are made, the best the government can do to deal with the crisis is to print money in ever larger denominations.

How Beer and Football Became a Part of Thanksgiving Day


This Thanksgiving as millions of Americans settle into a turkey-induced afternoon coma, others will push aside their plates and prepare to partake in that other great American Thanksgiving tradition. The tradition that I speak of is not honoring the memory of the Pilgrims or thanking God for his blessings, although those are also important. The tradition that I speak of is football and beer.

Thanksgiving football games, paired with a cold amber, ale or lager, are a longtime American tradition. In fact, this tradition has its roots in history that predates even the first Thanksgiving turkey. Thanksgiving beer and football goes all the way back to Samoset and Squanto, the Indians who befriended the Pilgrims and taught them how to survive through the harsh New England winters.

On March 16, 1621, an Indian wearing only a loincloth walked into the Pilgrim settlement at Plymouth, Mass. The book, “The Light and the Glory” by Peter Marshall and David Manuel, tells what happened next.

“Welcome!” he suddenly boomed, in a deep, resonant voice. The Pilgrims were too startled to speak. At length they replied with as much gravity as they could muster: “Welcome.”

Their visitor fixed them with a piercing stare. “Have you got any beer?” he asked them in flawless English. If they were surprised before, they were astounded now.

“Beer?” one of them managed.

The Indian nodded.

The Pilgrims looked at one another, then turned back to him. “Our beer is gone. Would you like … some brandy?”

Again the Indian nodded.

The beer-loving Indian was Samoset, one of the few Indians in the New World who spoke English, having learned the language from English fishermen and explorers who visited the New England coast. Samoset soon returned and introduced the colonists to Squanto, another English-speaking native.

Squanto was alone in the world. He had been captured by Captain George Weymouth about 1605 and taken to England, where he spent about 10 years. After returning to North America, he was captured by another Englishman, Thomas Hunt, and sold into slavery in Spain. He escaped and returned to his home in 1619, only to find that his entire tribe, the Patuxets, had been wiped out by smallpox.

His meeting with the English gave Squanto a reason to live. “These English were like little babes,” according to “The Light and the Glory.” Squanto taught them to plant corn, catch fish and “helped in a thousand similar ways, teaching them to stalk deer, plant pumpkins among the corn, refine maple syrup from maple trees, discern which herbs were good to eat and good for medicine, and find the best berries….”

It was the Pilgrim gratitude to both God and Squanto that inspired the first Thanksgiving feast. The joyous celebration lasted for three days. It is truly miraculous that the Pilgrims, thousands of miles from England, would encounter two Indians who spoke their native language and who would take the time to teach them to survive in their new home.

If beer was present (or at least sought) at the earliest Thanksgiving, football came a little later. President Lincoln declared the first fixed Thanksgiving holiday in 1863 and the first Thanksgiving football game came only six years later.

The Philadelphia Evening Telegraph chronicled a Thanksgiving Day football game in 1869 between the Young America Cricket Club and the Germantown Cricket Club. This game came only six weeks after the Rutgers-Princeton game that is widely considered to be America’s first football game.

Yale and Princeton played Thanksgiving Day games from 1876 through 1881 according to Wikipedia. In 1882, the Intercollegiate Football Association began holding a championship game in New York City on Thanksgiving Day. By the time the NFL was organized in 1920, football was already a Thanksgiving staple.

Thanksgiving is properly a day to reflect on God’s blessings. We are truly fortunate to be heirs to the religious liberty sought by the Pilgrims and to live in this land of plenty. But as you celebrate God’s gifts, don’t feel guilty as you enjoy a football game. And if you want to have a Thanksgiving beer, consider raising your glass to Samoset and Squanto, without whom the story of the Pilgrims might have ended very differently.

Death of a political party



The deep schism in the Republican Party has given rise to speculation that the GOP is finished. While it is certain that the Republican Party is deeply wounded, it is premature to say that is dead. As conservatives and Republicans contemplate their future, it may be helpful to remember how the Republican Party was born from the death of the Whig Party.

The Whigs were formed in 1834 to oppose what many saw as the authoritarian tendencies of Andrew Jackson. They took their name from the British anti-royalist party and stood against the Democrats led by the man they derisively called “King Andrew.” Like the later Republicans, the Whigs were derided as a rich man’s party by their opponents.

The Whigs had a 20 year run as a successful party. Politico noted that their decline began with the election of an outsider candidate, Zachary Taylor. Many Whigs felt that Taylor did not share their beliefs and that the party had embraced Taylor’s personality as a hero of the Mexican War rather than nominating a candidate who shared their values. Horace Greeley, the founder of the New York Tribune, said that the party was “at once triumphant and undone” as it elected a man who might have been called a “Whig in name only.” Once in office, Taylor, who had campaigned on his personality since the Whigs did not even write a platform that year, soon began to anger party loyalists.

The election of Taylor deepened a rift between Northern and Southern Whigs over the issue of slavery. After his death in 1850, his vice president, Millard Fillmore, passed several pro-slavery laws with the Compromise of 1850. As the party became more pro-slavery, Northerners began to leave. In 1852, the Whig candidate carried only four states, losing in a landslide to Democrat Franklin Pierce.

It was the pro-slavery Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 that finally killed the Whigs and led to the creation of the Republican Party. A March 20, 1854 meeting of opponents to the act is generally considered the birth of the Republican Party according to History.com. Two years later, in 1856, the Republicans fielded their first presidential candidate, John C. Fremont. By that point, the Whigs were nonexistent. Four years later, the Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected president.

There are several lessons to be learned from the demise of the Whigs. The Republican Party was the result of a coalition of anti-slavery activists. The Republicans focused on that issue and swayed enough voters with their argument that they won the election of 1860. Republicans knew what they believed and fought for it. They focused on what was important and kept their eyes on the prize.

Though not part of the campaign, the debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas in 1858 established a logical and moral basis for the party’s existence. Lincoln was able to eloquently argue the evils of slavery and the impracticality of having a nation that was split between slave and free states. The debates not only helped to cement the regional factions of the new Republican Party, they also established Lincoln as a powerful intellect and a popular and persuasive speaker.

Conversely, the Whigs didn’t know what they stood for any longer. The party had no platform or statement of principle to rally around. The party that had opposed the Mexican War nominated a war hero and Taylor’s nonpartisan stances alienated Whigs rather than attracting voters from other parties. A successful political party must preserve its base while persuading unaffiliated moderate and independent voters at the same time. The Whigs won new voters at the cost of splitting their base.

Winning elections is not the only reason a party exists. The Whig party won the election of 1848, but lost its soul in the process. Winning the election with a candidate that did not share their principles doomed the party in the long run. There is little point in winning an election if the end result is not to move the country in the direction that the party believes is best.

Finally, if the Republican Party does die, it doesn’t mean that conservatism dies with it. There will be opposition to Hillary and the Democrats even that if that opposition is does not fall under the Republican label. Millions of conservatives will not cease to exist if the Republican Party dies. They will reorganize and rally under a new banner.

One new conservative banner that competes with Trumpist Republicans is the one being hoisted by Evan McMullin. McMullin said in the Washington Times, “In the long term, we’re building a new conservative movement we think is badly needed in this country. The party needs to be more welcoming to people that don’t look like me, people of different races and religions.”

If the Republican Party does go the way of the Whigs, there will be a period of confusion and rebuilding, but the party that emerges may be stronger than what came before. The Whigs lasted for 20 years. The Republicans have lasted for more than 150 and have produced some of the greatest presidents in American history. Abraham Lincoln, generally acknowledged to be among the top presidents, emerged when the party was only four years old.

In the nearly 250 years of the American republic, many political parties have come and gone. There were political factions before the Democrats and the Republicans and there will be new parties that one day take their place. Political parties come and go, but principles never die.

We Need Retired Military Leaders to Participate in the Political Debate

A common theme has been developing this election season as numerous retired flag officers – generals and admirals – have weighed in on partisan political debates and even backed political candidates. There is a rising sense among a number of respected individuals in the defense community that such partisan civic involvement by retired senior military leaders somehow tarnishes the military’s impartial, non-partisan standing in American life and Constitutional structure.

Writing Tuesday at War On The Rocks, a widely read national security blog, retired Lt. Gen. David Barno and Dr. Nora Bensahel, two national security experts, argue that so-called flag officers (one star officers and above) should avoid any display of partisan tendencies even in retirement. They assert:

“Retired generals and admirals publicly endorsing candidates for president is not just more politics as usual. It deeply affects the profession of arms by putting at risk the apolitical reputation of the U.S. military and by eroding civilian leaders’ trust in the non-political nature of our senior uniformed military leadership.”

As Barno and Bensahel note, both Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump have received high profile endorsements from retired senior military officers. The topic even came up at Monday night’s presidential debate where Trump declared, “I’ll take the admirals, and I’ll take the generals any day over the political hacks that I see that have led our country so brilliantly over the last 10 years”.

Trump has secured the endorsement of 88 retired generals and admirals, and during the debate he suggested that he may yet hit 200 retired senior officer endorsements. We’ll see.

For her part, Clinton, a former Secretary of State, has the backing of 95 retired flag officers.

While Barno and Bensahel note that political candidates are eager to burnish their foreign policy credentials by securing high profile military (retired) endorsements, they worry that the gesture tarnishes the military as a whole and the public image of each service. “If U.S. elected leaders are to maintain trust in an apolitical military whose uniformed leaders aren’t seen as simply waiting in the wings for their opening to a future political role, the current norms that tolerate endorsing political candidates must change,” they claim.

Those are valid concerns, but they also miss a few key points.

Already there is a prohibition on military members lending their official endorsement to political candidates. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, USMC, has repeatedly reminded senior leaders and other service members this year of their obligation to not endorse partisan candidates. “They [the next administration] have to look at us as an apolitical organization that swears an oath to the Constitution of the United States — not an individual, not a party, not a branch of government — the Constitution of the United States,” the top general said in August.

But Dunford has been careful to point out that his remarks apply only to those currently serving, not to retired officers that others feel should still remain silent as the sphinx on political matters.

Certainly, currently serving senior leaders who spend all of their time in uniform lose the autonomy that other citizens’ posses when it comes to free speech and political activity. It is a unique paradox that all service members face: while wearing the uniform of the United States, the world’s greatest defender and protector of freedom and self-government, they cannot engage in some of the freedoms enjoyed by their fellow citizens. It doesn’t mean service members are second class citizens, only that in raising their right hand to swear an oath to defend the Constitution they must, by nature of military service and the proud tradition of military subordination to elected civilian leadership, abstain from partisan politics.

That doesn’t mean service members don’t go on to run for public office either after they retire or as reserve component members (not full-time on active duty). Routinely veterans run for office as Democrats and Republicans, and that’s a good thing that could be jeopardized if the national security community adopts an unwritten and unofficial rule that senior leaders should not weigh in on partisan politics.

Distinguishing senior leaders from other service members, and urging them to voluntarily muzzle themselves on partisan political matters has a range of unwanted and unacceptable consequences.

If the political activity of retired or non-active duty senior military leaders is challenged, it contributes to both a diminished perspective of citizenship and further widens the already wide gap between today’s military and the civilian public. Last October the Economist ran a lengthy piece that examined the yawning cultural divide that separates the military from civilians. “In 1990, 40% of young Americans had at least one parent who had served in the forces; by 2014, only 16% had, and the measure continues to fall,” the publication reported while also noting that only 1% of Americans currently serve in uniform.

Gen. James Mattis, a now-retired respected four-star Marine officer, recently worked on a report that examines the civilian-military divide. “Most people know nobody in the military,” Mattis said in an early-September interview. He went on to worry about “policy makers who have never served in the military” making decisions that shape the military and its use in national security. The current gap will only widen if military leaders recuse themselves from civic and political engagement.

Being a citizen means, among other things, taking your voting and electoral duties seriously. Once their time in active duty passes, members of the military should be free to return to or enter an arena of citizenship that was off limits to them while in uniform.

If the profession of arms voluntarily deprives itself of political involvement once its members are out of uniform, it sends a worrisome signal about the military’s perception of democracy. Self-government is messy, it involves partisan politics, it means building electoral coalitions, it means making your case to voters and, above all, it erases the difference between the governor and the governed. That last bit is unfamiliar to a military culture that rightly requires a strict demarcation of rank and responsibility between leaders and subordinates. But that culture, unique to a military that defends self-government, isn’t a part of good self-government in a democratic republic.

The military spends billions each year training men and women in both enlisted and officer roles, and while not all training has a direct civilian correlation, the training and wartime experiences learned in the military provide valuable lessons that can apply to public service.

If retired military leaders always sequestered themselves in ivory castles and removed themselves from vigorous and important debates, the nation would have been deprived of the post-WWII leadership of President Dwight Eisenhower, or the Gen. George C. Marshall who served as chief of staff of the U.S. Army during WWII and went on to serve as secretary of defense and secretary of state in the Democratic administration of President Harry Truman. In a more vulnerable time, Gen. George Washington left his post-war retirement to assume the presidency of the young United States.

Today leaders such as Sen. John McCain and Sen. Tom Cotton represent different eras of service to the country yet serve as equals in the U.S. Senate. The antidote for a political discourse that has of late appeared to descend to near-frivolity and absurdity is not for serious men and women to retreat from the debate, but to humbly weigh in on matters and at times seek public office with their fellow citizens.

The way to overcome the gap between civilian and military leaders and between citizens who serve in the military and those who find their service in other avenues is not to erect a high barrier between the two groups, but to encourage post-active duty interaction and participation in this great experiment called democracy.

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.