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.

Super Tuesday and the “Cult of Trump”


Here are a few things to consider if you’re thinking of voting for Donald Trump on Super Tuesday. I posted this on Facebook a few weeks ago.

Trump enthusiasts shouldn’t go along with everything he says or does just because it has shock value. Do you disagree? This isn’t a game or one of Trump’s “beauty pageants” where he should be able to “strut the runway” without accountability. His supporters, especially, have the opportunity and the responsibility to hold him accountable. That’s the most significant contribution you can make, as an individual, in this election—compel your candidate to face the music, whatever it is, whatever it’s source. Wouldn’t you like to know what he’s really made of, and who he is behind the bluster?

No one denies that Trump is full of bluster. That’s what many like about him. So let’s include that in the mix, for argument’s sake. A voter who’s mad about what’s going on may like the sound of Trump’s brass. But is bluster all that matters to Trump fans? Is that all it takes to convince them that he’s The Man? What about substance? Talking tough without showing courage is revealing. Do you disagree?

Wouldn’t you like to know how Trump would hold up under the most intense scrutiny? I know I would, no matter what candidate in any election.

Here’s something to consider. Donald Trump may be the ultimate “insider.” This possibility should not be taken lightly, since it contradicts what his fans would like to think about him. He’s master of the sound byte. He makes big promises to woo conservatives, but without a conservative track record. He’s an opportunist, something he tacitly admits when he says he “gets along with everybody.” This is code for, “I can buy whoever I want to get whatever I want.” That’s what I’ve done (“had to do”) as a business man. How about this? He’s paying His own way for his campaign, right? So he’s buying your vote. He hopes it will get him what he wants. (And he criticizes fellow candidates for depending on the support of others who raise money for them. The implication is that you aren’t a worthy candidate for the presidency unless you’re a billionaire. That’s a convenient way to narrow the field!)

Talking so glibly about getting along with everybody “to get things done” is Trump’s diversionary way of explaining his generous donations to liberal politicians and liberal causes. He did it to get something out of it. He admits it. Fine. Maybe that has gotten him where he is as a business man. But should it qualify him for the presidency? Should it even qualify him as a man of integrity in the world of business? At the very least, this is a question worth asking. A man of integrity in the world of commerce would want you to know such a thing.

In any case, Trump has made deals with insiders to get where he is. That makes him an insider. But is that what you want?

Trump supporters, how do you know Trump isn’t selling you a bill of goods to get what he wants? How do you know he’s being honest about what he wants? Hasn’t he proven that he’s an arch manipulator? Ask yourself, is there any evidence for that?

I understand people want an activist, someone who will “get things done.” I also understand people wanting what Trump promises. And I understand the temptation to think he’ll get it done because of his track record as a corporate kingpin. But will he be your friend after he wins and has no use for you any more? When he’s done with people who get him what he wants, he’s been known for throwing them under the bus. (How does he feel about Hillary now?) This is Trump’s M.O. But isn’t that what has turned you off about other candidates? So why give him a pass?

(Did you catch what Trump said when he was asked why he gave to the Clinton Foundation, which was using their finds dishonestly? He said he didn’t know how they were using their money. Do you believe that? He wrote the book on the art of the deal. No prudent donor would give to an organization without scrutinizing their practices. A responsible donor investigates an organization that asks for money. He has to be convinced that his money will be handled responsibly. So either Trump did not exercise due diligence or he knew more than what he wants you to know he knew. If he knew, then he’s been dishonest with you (to keep your vote). If he didn’t know, then he’s not as savvy as he says he is (and he hopes you won’t consider that possibility, again, so he can keep your vote). Hasn’t Trump admitted, in a sly sort of way, either that he didn’t act wisely, or that he knew all along and didn’t care? You be the judge. But it’s a good question, don’t you think?)

How do we know this is Trump’s M.O.? Have you read his book? Have you ever wondered how he made his billions? Have you watched his campaign strategy closely and his media appearances? One day he likes Fox. The next day he despises them. One day he’s devoted to the Republican Party and willing to accept the results of the nominating process. The next day he’s threatening to go his own way if “he isn’t treated right.” One day he wants to please you, the avid supporter, the next day . . . .

Trump supporters, do you have such admiration for Donald Trump that you would like to be the kind of person he is? How about this: Would you like your children to emulate him? If you reflect unqualified zeal for Trump in your home, aren’t you representing him as a role model to your children? How do you feel about that? Do you want to teach your children that getting ahead is the main thing to shoot for, and that this end justifies any means? (Can you convince me that’s not the way Trump operates? Again, have you read his book?)

And has it occurred to you that maybe you’ve accepted the relativism of the age, and bought the same line: “The end justifies the means.” Have you decided that a vote for Trump, whatever reservations you have about his character and reliability, is the means that is justified by your desire to “Make America Great Again”? Is this the right way to do that? In other words, do YOU believe the end justifies the means?

Is it possible that you’re making an emotional decision about something that requires rational deliberation? Is it possible that the way you justify your choice of a candidate is no different than what drives those you consider mindless zealots for Obama? Do you believe that Obama fans have abandoned the tools of critical reasoning? Can you honestly say you’re different?

If you think you’re different, a model of critical thinking and rational deliberation, how do you convince others that you are? How many of his other supporters are being properly critical in their support? Does Donald Trump want you to reflect carefully and examine his detailed arguments for his proposals? (Right now you should be wondering, “What arguments?”) Is it just possible that Trump is counting on an emotional frenzy to get you jazzed up and wired to vote for him?

Have you joined the cult of Trump? Or is there something different about your support for him, compared with all the others out there that you know are not exercising due diligence?

Donald Trump and the Nationalist Christian Movement


Without the support of Christians across the nation—without the support of evangelical Christians—Donald Trump would long ago have cancelled his candidacy. He could not have achieved his monumental success without them. Christians must urgently consider whether they may now be complicit in the future demise of the America they say they love.

This will sound alarmist to some. But Donald Trump’s own campaign slogan is “Make America Great Again.” What he envisions, without much in the way of specifics, is a New America. His critics have commented on the negative and bombastic tone of his campaign, and his supporters have either ignored or celebrated this aspect of the demagogue’s character. But few have commented on the crassly Nationalist sentiment he trumpets.

Nationalism must not be confused with patriotism. The Nationalism I speak of raises national interests to the level of idolatry in the name of patriotism. Patriotism reflects a spirit of pride in the benefits of one’s country. Nationalism is a political ideology. It defers to the charismatic whims of a demagogue whose rhetoric is sometimes subtly, and sometimes blatantly, seditious. It derives its energy from intense emotion that is manufactured through mass manipulation. It plays on the anger of citizens who feel they have been disenfranchised and want to take their country back. Often it results in fascism, of one form or another.

With the rise of Trump there has arisen an almost militant nationalist sentiment among Christians. We may actually be witnessing the emergence of a Nationalist Christian Movement. The Trump phenomenon is strong indication of this. And it is cause for concern. If I’m right, Trump isn’t the problem. The problem is that so many Christians are willing to follow an unprincipled, morally bankrupt, ambitious, and egomaniacal character along the path to imagined bliss. His character, which is no secret, says something about what he thinks is good for this country, what it would mean to make America great again.

Socially conservative Christians have long complained that their cultural influence has been compromised. But today, on the eve of Super Tuesday 2016, they have it within their power to stop Donald Trump in his tracks overnight. This is because without them he wouldn’t be where he is in the polls. And as long as they are with him, as long as they zealously trumpet his persona and uncertain promises, they are responsible for his meteoric rise, and they will be responsible for whatever version of America he considers “great,” if he wins the general election. Christians have never been better positioned to make a difference—for better or for worse.

Less than a hundred years ago, Christians in Germany faced a parallel situation. Angered by their military, economic, and cultural marginalization, many forged an alliance with a Nationalist regime that resulted in Nazi fascism. For them at the time, German Nationalism was Christian Nationalism at its best. Nationalism has often been a stepping stone to diverse forms of fascism.

Don’t think it can’t happen here. Don’t think Christians would never fall for that sort of thing. And don’t think that a Christian Nationalist Movement isn’t already gaining momentum. Someday we may even witness the sad emergence of a Christian Nationalist Party.

 

Shopping for a President: Republican Debate #3


Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 12.51.21 PMThe top ten contenders for the Republican nomination gather tonight for their third presidential debate. It will be aired on CNBC at 8:00 pm ET.

These debates offer the electorate one of the best vantage points for peering into the character and policy plans of the candidates. Many expect the field of serious contenders to be winnowed after tonight.

I hope you’ll be watching.

But what should we be watching for? What questions will inform our observations as the event unfolds? Here are some things that will have my attention:

  • There will be the usual one-upmanship on display. Look for the contest between Donald Trump and Ben Carson. Does the “religion issue” come up? How does that play out? How will their inevitable sparring affect their post-debate poll numbers?
  • Who apart from Trump and Carson do well? I expect Marco Rubio and Carly Fiorina will, and maybe Ted Cruz. They’ve all demonstrated tenacity.
  • I’m looking for Fiorina to do well. Hillary Clinton has made the fact that she’s a woman a central feature of her campaign. How would that play if the Republican nominee is also a woman? Fiorina needs to perform well again if she’s to gain more traction in the media.
  • Anticipate how the media will cover the debate in the days ahead. Fiorina has exceeded expectations in each debate so far. And she’s a woman. This should have attracted lasting media interest. So the shortage of media uptake has been puzzling. Maybe it has to do with the Trump vs. Carson obsession. I have a theory. Democrats care about who wins the Republican nomination. They’ve thought about the field of candidates and scored each one for his or her potential to defeat their own candidate. I think Ben Carson looks like an easy target. I think Ben Carson is an easy target. What about Trump? He has terrific potential to self-destruct and alienate people, if he can even win the nomination. If I’m right, the Dems have a vested interest in a Trump or Carson victory. That’s what I would be hoping for if I was Hillary Clinton. So if you’re a Republican, think of media attention as a weather vane. And consider the possibility that a left-leaning media will seek to control the buzz following the debate. Will they want a strong candidate to gain traction? Or will they continue promoting a national obsession with Trump and his closest contenders, whoever they may be at any given time?
  • As you listen to each debater, whose ideas have the most cogency? Who speaks persuasively about the most urgent domestic and foreign policy problems facing the nation? How specific is their plan? Do they know what they’re talking about? Have they done their homework? Are they focused on high priorities that matter to most of the electorate, including Republicans and Democrats?
  • Ask yourself, “Do I want to hear from this person for four to eight years if he or she becomes the next president?”
  • Ask yourself, “Would this person galvanize a nation with strength at home and abroad, with a winning persona, with an inspiring vision for the future?”
  • Ronald Reagan’s legacy has long been a reference point for Republican aspirations. As you watch the debate, does anyone sound most Reaganesque, in message and in tone.

You don’t have to be a Republican to play this game. You don’t have to be a Republican to have a stake in the outcome. If you’re a registered Democrat, you may want to consider the merits of a Republican candidate for the presidency.

What will you be watching for? Share your responses here.

Related links:

What Kind of Presbyterian is Donald Trump?


Trump has lately been shouting that he is a Presbyterian, as if the only one who has trouble believing it is himself. This is not to say that most people believe it. But Trump needs to convince himself if he hopes to convince everyone else.

But what kind of Presbyterian is Donald Trump?

His claim might mean something if he would simply answer a few straightforward questions. For example: “Which ‘version’ of Presbyterian are you, Mr Trump? Are you PC USA (Presbyterian Church USA)? Are you PCA (Presbyterian Church in America)? Do you know the difference?” The PC USA is much larger, but only marginally theologically orthodox (to put it gently). The PCA is broadly evangelical and much closer to the tradition of Presbyterianism influenced from the outset by John Calvin, who was active during the European Reformation of the 16th century.

There are many other smaller branches of Presbyterianism spread out across the U.S. and Canada. Most of these are broadly evangelical. Is Trump the evangelical kind of Presbyterian?

John Knox-New College EdinburghNow if Trump thinks he will recruit scores of evangelicals to his cause simply by calling himself a Presbyterian, then maybe he doesn’t know what a Presbyterian is. Or maybe he doesn’t get evangelicals. Or maybe he doesn’t credit the intelligence and discernment of evangelicals, including those who are Presbyterians.

Here’s another question for Trump: “What is the name of the Confession of Faith historically affirmed by Presbyterians?” I would be surprised if he could answer this question without prompting from his handlers. (Yes, Donald Trump has “handlers.”)

Suppose Trump can name that Confession. Then he should be asked if he can complete this sentence from the Confession: “The chief end of man is to ____________________ and ____________________.”

If Trump can’t answer that question, he may know less about Presbyterianism than he does about Seventh-day Adventism. If he can answer that question, then he should ask himself how his campaign rhetoric holds up in light of its standard.

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Bonus Question: Whose statue is pictured here and what does this guy have to do with Presbyterianism?

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.

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Other blog posts that speak to this general problem:

Is President Obama a Birther?


Barack Obama - Caricature

Image by DonkeyHotey via Flickr

I argued recently that questions about President Obama’s birthplace may plague him more in the next election season than it did during the 2008 election. Donald Trump, who is rumored as of today to have decided to run for the presidency, could press the issue so that Obama is compelled to respond.

I’ve also argued that Obama would be wise to respond. Here are two reasons, stated succinctly:

  1. As president, it would be admirable for him to act in the interests of seeking national unity by providing what the birthers have asked for.
  2. It would also go far in deflating the steam that has built up among those who seriously believe that he was not born in the United States.

Obama needs to find a venue for doing this that looks less like a capitulation to demands and more like the act of a statesman. That means offering the long form version of his birth certificate sooner rather than later. It would be a relief to many of us who are not birthers if Obama would take this simple step and put it behind us all.

Let’s face it. This is the only way everyone will know for sure that Obama isn’t himself a birther.

Question: What do you think about the birther controversy?

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