Republican Party Chaos & Third Party Prospects


The Trump revolution revved up last night with the Donald’s Super Tuesday victories. As a consequence, the so-called Republican “establishment” is in a tizzy. They are revealed to be “even more incompetent” than was first believed. As of today, they are “waging war on their own base.” In other words, we are witnessing the Great Republican Crack-up.

Never mind that there continues to be—in the Republican base—many who consider the Trump insurrection to be scandalous. They voted for one or the other of the non-Trump candidates last night. And there were a lot of them. And now, some of them threaten to vote for anyone but Trump. This escapes the attention of the media.

There have been calls for a third party for quite some time. Experiments that have been tried have been conspicuous failures. (The Libertarian party, for example, has melded with the Republican party to the point that libertarian politicians who aspire to the presidency pledge allegiance to the Republican party—most recently, Ron Paul.) The “Tea Party” wasn’t really a party. It was a remarkably organized, but still unofficial, movement within the Republican party, which fizzled out when Obama came to power in the executive branch of government and Republicans “took control” of both houses of Congress. “Tea partiers” pinned their hopes on the Republicans “they” had elected—by the thinnest of margins in the Senate—and have been so angered by their “passivity” (if not outright betrayal) that it’s now time for a revolution. Donald Trump recognized an opportunity to exploit this angst and finagle his way into the Republican party and, he hopes and believes, into the Oval Office.

Seeds of the Trump revolution were sown in the Republican party among some elements within its base. As just noted, Trump’s numbers on Super Tuesday came from a minority of Republican voters. In addition, an astonishing number of voters turned out in states like Virginia. Some say they turned out for Trump. But it has to be said that if they hadn’t turned out in such numbers, then Trump would not have done as well, and neither would the other candidates.

So what’s with all this talk about disenfranchising “the base” by the “establishment’s” effort to upset the Trump momentum? Why are those who support Trump considered the base while those who do not support Trump are not considered part of the base? This Trump-friendly narrative, perpetuated by the media (from Fox, to CNN, to MSNBC), is flat-out false.

But the narrative is powerful. And it compounds confusion about the crisis now facing the Republican party.

So where are we headed? The short-term worry is that Hilary Clinton wins regardless of what the party does about Trump. If they back Trump, while pinching their noses, they still fear a Clinton victory. If they find some way to edge Trump off-stage, the worry is that the Trump devotees will revolt, and that Trump may even sabotage the party by running as an Independent. Again, Hilary wins.

This short-term worry may be short-sighted. We may be witnessing the “crack-up” of a venerable party that is resolved with the painful and torturous emergence of a third party. But whose party would a third party be? Would the Republican “establishment” be forced out? Or would Trump emerge as the leader of a new party? Neither scenario would happen quickly. And neither is especially appealing, from any point of view (unless you’re a devoted Democrat voter).

Suppose “establishment Republicans” seek to force Trump and his revolutionaries out of the party. Trump may win in this election cycle. (Or he may lose to Clinton.) But they would get their party back, and that would be good news to the party faithful in the base who have never taken to Trump. All things considered, this could be a temporary setback for the party. It would be a shock. It would be an unwelcome consequence of Trump’s shenanigans. But it could have healthy consequences long-term.

Suppose Trump and his cadre attempt a full-on “hostile takeover” of the party that forces the “establishment” out of the party, or completely neutralizes their influence within the party. This doesn’t look like a promising move. Could Trump mount that level of an insurrection so single-handedly? Would he be able to keep the likes of Chris Christie and Jeff Sessions at his side if Trump were to go this far? Maybe. But so what? It’s doubtful that all the Republican politicians who have “endorsed” Trump in this cycle would be enthusiastic about a Trump party (the “Trumpist Party” or an American “Labor Party”?). That would really be sticking their neck out. And it goes against the survival instincts of most politicians. (Christie may have nothing to lose at this point.)

One big worry on either scenario is that the Democrat party would benefit by a parting of the ways. Set that aside for the time being. How and when could the so-called establishment effect an ouster of the Trump interlopers? They could try (as they seem intent on doing) to get the nomination for a non-Trump choice. Failing that, they could attempt some unprecedented maneuver during the Republican convention to seize the nomination from Trump.

Here’s another option: Turn Trump loose and let him sink or swim in the general election, with or without their vote, and wager that if Trump—by hook or by crook—wins the election, it will be a failed presidency that barely survives a full term. There is good reason to think that Trump cannot fulfill the specific promises that will get him the nomination. He may not even intend to. If you think his supporters are angry now, imagine their ire if Trump lets them down or turns on them. They might well pull a Trump on Trump and abandon him as soon as they have no further use for him. Could he get re-elected? (I have uncharacteristically staked a bet with a friend who likes Trump that Trump will not have a wall built on the Mexican border by the end of his second year, fully paid for by Mexico. I think the odds are heavily in my favor.)

This scenario may be preferable to a Clinton presidency that could go for eight years. But could it happen if the true Republicans (yes, that’s what I called them) stand on the sidelines and let Trump get elected on his own steam? Does Trump need the establishment—which may need Trump, so they can get their party back?

This option puts the eventual emergence of a third party in doubt. But it also leaves presently unanswerable questions about long-term grassroots support for the Republican party. The ascendancy of the Democrat party may be ensured by the crisis, at just the time when the party was poised to seize control from Democrats. And nobody in the Republican base wants that.

Should Christians Renounce Donald Trump?


“Can anyone stop Trump?”

Since Donald Trump’s performance at the first Republican presidential debate, broadcast by Fox News August 6 (2015), there has been much braying, blasting, and boosting about his candidacy. The braying and blasting come mostly from establishment Republicans (for example, Charles Krauthammer and George Will) and a few of his Republican opponents. Boosting is heard from the likes of Anne Coulter and many in the electorate who are just plain angry with “the way business is done in Washington.”

  • I get the anger.
  • I get the desire for a non-politician politician.
  • I get the intrigue with Donald Trump’s candidacy.

And I’ve kept an open mind and hoped that Trump would inject some energy into public discourse about several urgent issues facing Americans today.

What I did not expect—and what is shocking—is Trump’s invective against women. He has made a number of demeaning public remarks about women that he has singled out for ridicule in the crassest of terms. Early in the debate, Meghan Kelly drew attention to these well-documented remarks and invited him to explain how he could say such things and expect to get elected. In response, Trump came very close to calling Kelly a bimbo; and in the aftermath he attacked her with scandalous language that really has no place in public discourse, least of all among presidential candidates.

Oddly, polls reflect continued enthusiasm for Trump. Some speculate that his harsh language is part of the reason. Political “experts” have been scratching their heads—and wistfully predicting that “Teflon Don’s” sizzle will fizzle. Some are beginning to doubt a future fall from grace.

So who are the people expressing such support for Donald Trump? Why are his poll numbers so high and still rising? My hunch is that Trump would not be polling so well without enthusiasm among conservative Christians.

If true, this is troubling.

Jesus said to his disciples, “The things that proceed from the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man” (Matthew 15:18). How a person speaks, what he says, the words he uses, expose the condition of his heart. This is a warning because the heart is the core of a person’s being. And it is this core that determines how a man will conduct himself, what kind of a leader he will be. A person’s speech is a public means of assessing a person’s character.

This is why the apostle Paul admonished believers, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification, according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). “But,” you may say, “what Paul expects of Christians does not apply to unbelievers.” But this would be a mistake.

First, Scripture expresses truths that are also good common sense and beneficial to the health of human society. Here we have an example of wisdom for nonsectarian circumstances confirmed by explicit Christian teaching.

Second, Christians are to be an example to unbelievers in every domain that involves attitudes toward others. Our public witness on behalf of wholesome speech is compromised when we celebrate the indecent speech of public personalities and cheer for their success as it impinges on our shared human concerns.

And third, Christians surely believe that both wisdom and grace are needed in the formation of policy by our elected officials. We may not insist on voting exclusively for those who share our religious convictions. But should we turn a blind eye to egregious spewing of venom against others?

In the New Testament letter of James we’re reminded that the tongue is a fire. It is a small organ of the body, but “it boasts of great things.” “Behold,” says James, “how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire.” What does he mean when using the metaphor of fire for the tongue? “It is a restless evil, and full of deadly poison.” Sometimes we encounter clear cases of this, and we should dread the consequences, for the tongue “sets on fire the course of our lives.” James even says, in direct connection with this, that the same tongue is used “to bless our Lord and Father” and also to “curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God.” This includes words that intentionally demean the dignity of human persons. And this includes cheap shots against women made to garner public attention. (See James 3:5-11.)

One other passage is telling in this regard. It speaks to the issue of solidarity with others. God’s people, those who fear Him, are warned against consorting with scoffers: How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! (Psalm 1:1). This is relevant, for enthusiasm in the polls expresses solidarity with Trump. This solidarity, I fear, blinds supporters to the shamefulness of his public conduct.

Again, my focus is Trump’s alarming habit of lacing his speech with demeaning words that directly attack the dignity of individual persons—in this case especially, women.

You may like what Trump says about border control or taking a hard line with despots worldwide. You may imagine that a self-made man (who boasts of this at every opportunity) can reverse the downward spiral of our economy. And you may fear that no other candidate, Republican or Democrat, shares your sentiments and feeling of urgency about such things. But can you really be indifferent about what words reveal about a person? And can you ignore the implications this might have for leading a nation that desperately needs God’s blessing? And how are we to explain our professed interest in divine blessing if we temper our objections to Trump’s speech with a rationale that gets things backwards?

I’m writing this for Christians who take seriously their role in human society, who would stand for the right and the good in the public domain. And I urge all believers who are drawn to Donald Trump’s candidacy to consider the possibility that touting Trump approves and encourages shameful behavior.

“Who can stop Donald Trump?” If I’m right about Trump’s support among conservative Christians, they can make a big difference by shifting their support to a more respectable candidate. This answer to the question deserves greater attention.

Here are three suggestions for Christians reading this post:

  1. Circulate this post through Facebook and on your blog to encourage discussion of this issue.
  2. Leave your own evaluation of this post here.
  3. If you’re ever polled about Donald Trump, say you’re concerned about the coarsening of American culture and that you would be uncomfortable supporting his candidacy.

If Christians take a stand against what is sordid and vulgar in public debate, Trump’s numbers might decline dramatically.

* * *

Other blog posts that speak to this general problem:

“There You Go Again”?


Pundits seem almost universally agreed that Mitt Romney needs to have a “Reagan moment” in his first debate with President Obama, now just two days away. The moment they have in mind is when Ronald Reagan said, in response to incumbent Jimmy Carter about misrepresentations of Reagan’s record and platform, “There you go again.” I remember that moment. It was timely and it was compelling.

Now, several decades later, Reagan’s words probably don’t have quite the ringing effect for young adults born since then. I myself have to recall the political climate at the time and Reagan’s uncommon demeanor in the moment to appreciate how effective those words were. (Reference to Reagan’s thumping of Carter has become something of a nostalgic rostrum. Many have probably over-rated that particular moment in judging that it was the turning point, very late in the campaign, giving Reagan an advantage over Carter. I think people felt, in the last analysis, that Jimmy Carter just couldn’t be trusted with a second term. Sound familiar?)

What matters in the immediate political climate—infused with media “coverage”—is that the stakes have been raised for Romney in the upcoming debate. He has to convince people that he can walk on water. Better yet if he can demonstrate his power to walk on water by doing it onstage. That’s all we ask. If he can manage that, then he might get our attention, we might think about voting for him, and a few of us might even actually vote for him.

This is silly. But it’s reality.

So I’ve been thinking about what Romney could say that would achieve the expected (or desired) effect. But is this the right concern? Let’s remember that Reagan spoke with apparent spontaneity in his remark. And it may well have been spontaneous. If so, Reagan had to have enjoined the debate with such a frame of mind that he could say, with such intensity and frankness, what he did when Carter kept up the spin.

Maybe the lesson to be learned, then, is that Romney needs to have the right instincts, cultivated by months of campaigning and by his knowledge of current events and Obama’s response, as he walks onto the dais to go toe-to-toe with the President.

One risk for any debater is a kind of “over-preparation.” In one sense, you can never over-prepare. But it is possible for a debater’s extensive preparation to hamstring his performance during a debate. One reason is that spontaneity may be compromised. And spontaneity, when well-timed delivery is good, is powerfully persuasive.

Romney needs, at least, to do two things during his preparation. First, he needs to be prepared for whatever can reasonably be expected from Obama, both in terms of his attack on Romney and in terms of his defense of his own Presidency. Second, he needs to be clear about what he can do to control the agenda and get the upper hand during the debate. (Of course, Obama needs to prepare in the same way, but there are reasons to think that Obama is at a disadvantage if Romney is effective. If Romney presents well, and Obama struts the usual stuff, there is the possibility that Obama’s presumed presentation skills will appear to be a dance around the tough issues. In other words, speaking in his usual formidable style may, ironically, cause Obama trouble. It may be observers’ perception, “There he goes again!”)

Reagan said, “There you go again.” Romney doesn’t need a cute, canned sound bite that could be his undoing if it isn’t delivered properly. He needs to be relaxed and comfortable with himself, unintimidated by the President. If he rehearses what he believes deep down to be Obama’s greatest vulnerabilities, if he is in touch with his deepest  convictions about the risks we face and what needs to be done about them, then he won’t be intimidated. Nothing is more effective than the courage of one’s convictions.

Nevertheless, Romney could be effective if he finds a way to say, not “There you go again,” but “Here we go again,” in reference to the pile-up of unpalatable effects of Obama-style leadership. Romney should be able to recite what many perceive to be mistakes made during the past four years. The most recent event in the litany is the recent debacle in the Middle East, including the murder of an under-protected American Ambassador and the conflagration that threatens to worsen. “Here we go again. And we, the American people, can’t take much more of this.” This is what we should be thinking after this first debate, and Romney has a prime-time opportunity to make it happen. We should be wondering, “Does anybody really know what an Obama second term would be like?” The first term wasn’t like many who voted for him expected. Have they learned that they still have no idea what to expect?

Live Tweeting Tonight’s Republican Presidential Debate


Doug will be live tweeting tonight’s Republican presidential debate, hosted in Jacksonville, Florida by CNN. People may be indifferent about Doug’s tweeting hobby, but he hopes you aren’t indifferent about the political future of the United States, and that you are attending to the political scene as you are able.

A decision to ignore political news until election day should be a decision not to vote on election day. Unfortunately, many who vote are uninformed or misinformed. This is a travesty against responsible citizenship in a democratic republics like ours. Those who will be debating tonight are after your vote. Watching the debate and talking with others about it is one way to stock up on the knowledge needed for responsible citizenship.

So, by tweeting the debates, Doug hopes to motivate some to join the great political conversation!

Tonight’s debate, hosted by CNN in Jacksonville, Florida is the final debate before the Florida primary on Tuesday. Many believe that Newt Gingrich clinched a major victory in South Carolina because of his performance in the debates leading up to it. Some prognosticators speculate that a bold, fresh approach tonight will signal the victor next week, and that strong or tepid performances by both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney will make it a real horse race. The New York Times reported today that the two “are each signalling a willingness to go nuclear” tonight. If that happens, it could even be fun to watch!

To follow Doug’s live tweets, click here. The debate begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

Gingrich Lesson in Debate Technique: “Repeat Changers”


With so much talk about how great a debater New Gingrich is, why not watch to learn a little about rhetoric and style from the gentleman from Georgia?

Today’s lesson comes from a recent Republican presidential debate in which Rick Santorum accused Newt Gingrich of being a little grandiose at times. The key word here is “grandiose,” and it was meant to sting.

A skilled debater listens carefully for an opportunity to use a rhetorical device that Jay Heinrichs calls the “repeat changer.” Sometimes that opportunity looks and sounds more like a grave misfortune—worthy of a grunt at best, and a look of terror at worst. The repeat changer repeats the key word or phrase that was used to demean and changes its sense to reflect favorably on the original target.

When Rick Santorum described Newt as someone who can be a bit grandiose at times, he meant that Newt often exaggerates to an absurd extent and often thinks of himself in exaggerated terms. He thus sought to tap into public consciousness, shaped to a degree by recent media focus on . . . . well, Newt’s occasional grandiosity.

How did Newt respond? He did the best thing anyone can do under the circumstance: he repeated the accusation, then switched its sense, suggesting that someone may be considered grandiose because he has grand ideas, and lots of them, for improving things for the American people.

Now this may sound like equivocation. To be sure, the repeat changer does often trade on ambiguity. When it does, it is less effective. But if the shift in sense is mild—as opposed to sharp—there is no harm and no foul. In other words, no fallacy has been committed.

This can be illustrated on one interpretation of Newt Gingrich’s clever rejoinder to Rick Santorum. The basic sense of Santorum’s jibe is preserved, but Newt suggests that Santorum only thinks that Newt is grandiose because Rick is uncomfortable with the grandeur of Newt’s ideas. “Grandiosity” and “grandeur” do differ. But “grandeur” may be mistaken for “grandiosity” by someone who can’t tell the difference. If this is what Newt was getting at, his move was not merely clever, it was ingenious. He might be asking voters, in effect, “Do you want a president who has grand ideas that some confuse with grandiosity, or do you want a president who can’t tell the difference between grand and grandiose?”

In my book, rhetoric has its proper place, especially in public discourse. But it must always be tempered by virtue. So I commend the “repeat changer” when it can be managed without violating the moral and intellectual virtues.

Here’s a poll for you to register your opinion:

Campaign Management and Government Spending: Romney vs. Gingrich


Now’s the perfect time for Newt Gingrich to make a certain eye-opening argument against the prospects of a Mitt Romney presidency. But first, some background.

Newt Gingrich launched his campaign on a shoestring and he has kept it going in the same fashion. Yet here he is today, with renewed vitality and front-runner status. Contrast Mitt Romney. Romney has been running for president for at least five years—longer, in fact, since his brief stint as Massachusetts governor was part of his everlasting campaign—and spending money like the dickens to ensure that he gets what he wants.

Where would Mitt Romney be without his money to bolster his campaign? With lackluster performance on so many fronts—most visibly during the debates—Romney has been sustained by his fiscal capacity to pay his way to the nomination. He has a large and expensive campaign staff and he has paid dearly for his media advertizing.

“Dearly” is probably not the right word, since how much is a “dear” price to pay for something is relative to how much money you have to begin with and how much you want what you think the money will buy you. In these terms, the cost to Romney has not been so dear. He’ll go one making tens millions of dollars year-after-year, even if he loses the nomination.

As we’ve seen with every president, financial management is a huge component in the unpublished portion of the job description. In fact, Romney has been campaigning on his strength as a financial wizard in the business world, as if this is an especially valuable asset for the contemporary American presidency. He’s been quite explicit about this in recent days.

Now consider, not only the money that Romney has raised—and, indeed, earned—but also the money that Romey has spent, the goals for which he has spent it, and the manner in which he has spent it. I offer his campaign expenditures as Exhibit A. (One might, as well, investigate Romney’s method of throwing money after money in failed business enterprises, as well as in those that have succeeded. But this would be time-consuming and less rewarding as an argument-maker.)

Here, then, is the argument I would be making—starting now—if I was Newt Gingrich:

Governor Romney is also Businessman Romney. He’s recently released his tax return for 2010. It reveals that he made 21.6 million dollars in that one year alone. This figure explains whatever success Mitt Romney has had during this nomination cycle: he’s paid for it. And that makes Americans uncomfortable. As long as Mitt believes he’s spending his own money, and he still has plenty of it, he’ll spend, spend, spend. If he were president today, do you think he would do anything different? Once hard-working Americans “pay” their taxes, the federal government acts like its theirs to spend as they see fit. Would Governor Romney be any different? Where is the evidence, during this campaign, that he knows how to be thrifty? My campaign has been running on big ideas and the energy of hard-working Americans who don’t want big spenders taking over the national treasure. During my campaign, I’ve been spending like it’s your money that I must manage responsibly. And that’s because it is your money. Together, let’s win this nomination. And together, let’s bring this country back in line with real American values.

This argument has several strengths:

  • It would make a virtue of Newt’s comparatively limited treasure chest. (“I couldn’t even defend myself while Romney’s PAC poured money into negative television ads ahead of Iowa.”)
  • It would draw attention to the downside of Romney’s largess.
  • It can be made without begrudging Romney’s material success. The aim is not to engender class warfare, but to draw attention to differences in management styles and fiscal responsibility.
  • It is succinct and intelligible. It makes sense and it will make sense to a lot of people.
  • It can be made during a debate, at almost any moment Gingrich chooses.
  • It can be made during brief press conferences.
  • It can be made with such clarity that other people will be able to articulate the argument, too.

This, at least, is how I see it. What about you? Share your thoughts about this argument in the comment box for this post!

Chuck Norris Endorses Newt Gingrich


I feel like I’m in good company when Chuck Norris endorses Newt Gingrich. Read his list of ten criteria for selecting the best candidate and why Newt is that candidate.

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