By John F. Di Leo -
Nobody can predict the future. Not Nostradamus, not Karl Rove, not the Oracle at Delphi.
But as primary voters, we must try. Not because we’re going to Las Vegas to bet on the election, but because every primary race is dependent on some judgment about the likely result.
In November, voters only need to ask one question:
- Which of the major party candidates would be better in the office?
But in the primaries and caucuses, we have several questions to ask:
- Which of our choices would be best in the office?
- Which of our choices has the best shot in a crowded field of being one of the final contenders for the nomination by the time the primary or caucus arrives, so we don’t waste time in 2015 on someone who’ll be out of the running by Iowa and New Hampshire?
- And which of our candidates has the best shot at winning in November?
In November, the choice is usually easy. Bush or Gore? Bush or Kerry? Obama or McCain? Obama or Romney? The difference is so massive, a person would have to be unconscious to make the wrong choice (and yet, so many still do…)
But in the spring, the dynamic is so much more complicated. In 2012, was Romney the best and most electable choice, or should we have chosen Santorum or Gingrich or Perry? Romney did a remarkable job in many states, with 60% and 65% and even 70% wins all over the country, but couldn’t do well enough in certain key demographics and regions to make it past the finished line. Might one of the others have done better, or might they have fared even worse?
We should also rethink the winners. In 2000, George W Bush looks like the right choice because he won a tight battle, but might Forbes, Keyes, Kasich or Quayle have won more decisively? Or might another have come up short and lost the election, resulting in one or even two terms for the ridiculous Climate Change huckster Al Gore?
This is not an exact science. It’s a difficult process, critical for our nation’s future… and the world’s.
What Do We Know About Winning?
In the end, the most important question is who can win in November. Not to say that electability trumps ideology – not at all – just that the whole purpose of the primary is to select the strongest candidate for the general election. So we must work to select the best one who can win.
In the old days, generations ago, each party had to think of this question on every race on every ballot… but generations of gerrymandering have left so many districts “safe” for one party or the other, many of us don’t even worry about winning for our legislative races; November is a foregone conclusion in many districts. So we have less experience with such analysis to draw on when a contested race like the presidency or a senate seat or governor’s mansion is in question.
We must remember that anything is possible – Michael Patrick Flanagan beat Dan Rostenkowski in 1994; James Abdnor beat George McGovern in 1980 – but we can’t count on a sea change like 1994 and 1980. Such shifts in the tectonic plates of the earth may occur now and then – and the party should certainly be trying to accomplish them, but a primary voter can’t count on it.
So we must look at what kind of candidate wins, throughout history.
Looks: Ever since 1960, at least, the television age has ensured that the candidate who looks better on television has a huge edge. It’s not fair, and we can cry all we want about how “Abe Lincoln couldn’t get elected today,” but thoughtful decision-making requires honesty. It’s simply a fact that, at least since the handsome Jack Kennedy beat the more experienced Richard Nixon in 1960, appearance plays a role.
Attitude: Michael Medved has convincingly theorized that – in presidential politics at least – the more optimistic candidate always wins. In 1976 that was clearly Jimmy Carter. By 1980, Carter had transformed himself into a malaise-diminished whiner, and Ronald Reagan had the optimism. The exception to the Medved Rule is 1968, when the serious, even glum, character of Richard Nixon won the day, due to cities aflame with riots, with war at home and abroad. A strong case can be made that 2016 will be another 1968. Baltimore, St Louis, Chicago, New York are all aflame with an unrestrained assault on law and order. This can, and should, alter the dynamic of an election.
Experience: Presidencies are won by three kinds of candidates: incumbents, governors, and senators. Not in 62 years has a commanding general won. Not since 1928 has a cabinet secretary won. Not since 1880 has a Congressman won. Many lacking government experience have sought the office (full disclosure: this writer has made the mistake of supporting such candidates four times, and regrets having done so), but none have ever won. The one time the Republican Party nominated a non office holder – Wendell Willkie in 1940 – he had his clock cleaned by a failure running for an unprecedented third term. We can consider a casino builder, a neurosurgeon, or a tech CEO, but we should also consider the odds. Anything may be possible, but the statistics say otherwise.
Campaign: No analysis of the process is complete without also focusing on the decisions a campaign makes, its ability to attract volunteers, its marketing strategy. Will the candidate and his campaign partner with the state parties and cooperate with downballot candidates? Will the candidate communicate his issues effectively through speeches, debates, mailings, and radio and TV ads? Will the candidate inspire volunteers to work, and will his campaign make the most of their time? Will the candidate allocate resources well, knowing which regions or demographics to give up, but also knowing which regions or demographics are still worth an effort because the difference between losing them 90-10 vs. 75-25 could make the difference in a swing state? These aren’t easy calls to make, but the best administrator in the world sometimes hires people who make the wrong calls in these difficult areas. Being a proven success isn’t enough to win the presidency; is the candidate a brilliant campaign strategist as well?
Issues: In the end, it is issues, and the way they are presented, that win the day, in presidential politics. In 1968 it was the seriousness of a law and order campaign in a year of political assassinations that enabled the unlikeable Richard Nixon to win. In 1976 it was the promise of a reforming Sunday School teacher to replace the “corruption” of Watergate that elected Jimmy Carter. In 1980 it was the collapsing economy and the Soviet march across the third world that combined to elect the eloquent Ronald Reagan. Being right on issues is only part of the battle, and being able to win the public’s appreciation for the candidate’s approach on them is what closes the deal.
What Are the Issues in 2016?
In all our obsession with the horserace, with questions of winning or losing, we must never forget the REASON for all this: we need someone to take the lead in fixing all the problems our country is suffering from. Any candidate can state the problem, whine about it, scream about it… some candidates can even whip an audience into a frenzy about it. But who can solve it?
In most cases, there is only one right solution, amidst many wrong ones. There may be solutions that get part of the way there, or most of the way there… there may be solutions that solve part of the problem while exacerbating others. But there is usually just one truly right solution, and it is usually rooted in a return to the Founding Fathers solution, which is to unleash the limitless potential afforded by limited government.
As we review the candidates – who we like and who we don’t, who looks like a winner and who doesn’t – we must never forget that elections aren’t only about winning; they’re about changing policy. Where do they stand on the issues that matter, and – since we’ve seen too many broken promises over the years – which candidates have a proven record of standing strong for those solutions throughout their careers, so we can trust them?
The problem of our inner cities – generational poverty, massive crime, utter nihilism – is nothing new. But it has been exacerbated in recent decades, as the Great Society programs of the 1960s took people in momentary bad shape and locked them into poverty for life, as the tax-and-regulatory state drove entry-level employment out of the cities, and as leftist jurists turned our criminal justice system into a revolving door. The only things that society turns loose in our cities today are welfare checks and unrepentant felons.
The liberal response is to pour even more welfare checks into our cities, to drive out even more employment with taxes and red tape, to make it even harder to keep the criminal element locked up. And since the 2014 riots in Ferguson, MO, a new tactic of the left is to emasculate our police.
The conservative response – the only response – must be to return the nation to law and order, by appointing the right judges and impeaching the corrupt ones, by returning to the welfare state reforms that worked so well in the 1990s, by spurring business growth again, and by returning to stiff penalties (yes, including capital punishment) for violent crime.
Massive Unemployment and Underemployment
By counting only those receiving unemployment checks as the “unemployed,” our government has in recent years been able to get away with the fiction that we are approaching full employment. But with a record 94 million working-age people outside the workforce entirely, and upwards of another half of the working population being stuck in chronic underemployment (accomplished buyers, managers, computer programmers, advertising execs and foremen working as cashiers or greeters)… our economy is in an undeniable tailspin.
The liberal answer? Create whole new industries based on their fairy-tale science – government-subsidized algae farms and windmills, solar panels and electric cars. With every green disaster, the left just doubles down, leading to ever more taxpayer-subsidized temporary jobs, lasting only until the next Solyndra, Evergreen, Beacon, or Ener1 files for its inevitable bankruptcy. More government loans, more subsidies, more stimulus – the Left has no understanding of, or respect for, the free market; all they know how to do is to write checks on somebody else’s account.
The conservative answer is both the simple one and the proven one. End the governmental assault on traditional energy sources (coal, oil, natural gas). Stop pouring tax dollars down the drain by subsidizing politically popular but unproven industries. And instead, just stop driving businesses away; stop discouraging businesses from starting up!
Our effective corporate tax rate is the highest in the developed world; it must be halved, at least. EPA, OSHA, F&W, NLRB, FDA, and myriad other federal and state agencies have regulated our manufacturing sector to death; a decade or more of awful recent regulations need to be repealed, and some of these agencies need to be excised entirely… yes, some of them are utterly irredeemable. Obamacare, along with so many other awful roadblocks to hiring and prosperity, must be terminated.
This is what’s killing employment in America – the tax and regulatory state has driven it out. The problem is easily fixed, but doing so isn’t in the DNA of most candidates for public office. We must find candidates who are committed enough to conservatism to lead this reform.
Our nation is sick. In many demographics, more babies are born out of wedlock than in. More people don’t work than do. Once the most churchgoing of nations, America first drove God out of our public schools, and has ever since tried to kick Him out of the country entirely. And – to the endless shame of many denominations – many churches and synagogues in this Judeo-Christian nation were complicit in taking us in that wicked direction.
America long held a revolutionary record in the history of mankind: every generation grew up confident that they would be better educated, more prosperous, healthier than their parents’ generation. No more.
The left’s position is to continue down this path of destruction. Their ideology declares it unfair that Americans prosper while other countries don’t; instead of advocating that others copy what has worked for us, they strive to bring us down instead. The easy path to equality is always to pull down one’s betters, rather than to support the upward climb of those below.
The conservative position is – and must be – to return America to its roots as a proudly moral Judeo-Christian nation. Not to mandate doctrines or church attendance of course – religious liberty is at the core of our nation’s soul – but government must be supportive of non-denominational Judeo-Christian values, not in opposition to them. The governmental assault on faith and freedom must be reversed.
Military and foreign policy
Peace is a goal; it is not a strategy.
When our nation was last led by a conservative – Ronald Reagan – we strengthened our military, modernized our hardware, trained and respected our servicemen. And this brought about the downfall of the communist USSR, an end to the Cold War.
By contrast, now that our nation is led by an un-American pacifist, one whose supporters think of as more “a citizen of the world” than a citizen of the United States, we have seen the gutting of our military, our ammunition wasted on worthless targets, our allies afraid, our enemies empowered.
The liberal position is more of the same: Give our tax dollars to jihadists and maybe they’ll be nice to us; shrink our military and maybe we’ll never need it.
The conservative knows that a firm foreign policy, backed up by a ready and resolute military, is the only path to peace. This nation desperately needs to rebuild our stores of artillery that two terms of Barack Obama’s useless targets have depleted. We need to hire and train – and properly compensate! – our servicemen. We need to upgrade our hardware for the threats of the world to come – from traditional enemies like Russia to the new enemies of jihadist terror. And while drones have a place in that toolbox, they cannot be the only tool.
Whom Shall We Choose?
America’s presidential primary system is a complex one, desperately in need of reform. We don’t yet know who our nominee will face in November, and the dynamics of every primary and caucus state will have their own effect on the outcome.
But in the final analysis, the problems are as stated above. Domestic crime and foreign wars, the American way of life under assault by malevolent ideology and a leviathan state.
As we ask ourselves “Who do I like,” and “Who do I trust,” and “Who can win,” let us not forget the issues that the new president will face, and ask “Who will drive the reforms we need?”
Copyright 2015 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Chicago-based international trade compliance trainer and lecturer. A movement conservative activist in the 1980s and minor party official in the 1990s, he has now been a recovering politician for 18 years (but, like any addiction, you’re never really cured).
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