Author Archives: Ari Armstrong

Donald Trump

Still, Never Trump

Donald Trump has won the Indiana primary—and with it, likely the Republican nomination. So, barring a miracle, it looks like the next president of the most powerful nation in world history will be either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump—two of the people I’d least like to see as president.

No, I don’t think the nomination of Donald Trump will be armageddon for the Republican Party. Nor do I think the election of Donald Trump (if by some miracle he can manage that) will be armageddon for the country.

But his nomination will be very bad for the party, and his election would be very bad for America. Which is why I for one will not be voting for him. Even if that means Hillary wins.

Now is a good time to run down some of the unpleasant facts about The Donald and then discuss some of the implications for this election and for the future of the country.

Trump as Enemy of Free Trade

Donald Trump wishes to “throw free trade out the window,” an insane position totally at odds with individual rights and economic liberty.

True, the Republican Party used to be the party of economic protectionism, meaning its leaders favored “protective” tariffs and the like.

The term “protectionism” is misleading, however, as what tariffs actually do is prop up some industries at the expense of other industries and of consumers, who must pay higher prices, and make people poorer overall. Tariffs “protect” a country in roughly the same way that influenza microbes “protect” a person’s body.

The previous “great” Republican president to run with protectionism was Herbert Hoover, who was, like Trump, a successful business leader. Hoover’s anti-trade policies helped push the country into the Great Depression, setting the stage for Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s disastrous New Deal.

To emphasize the point: A businessman Republican “protectionist” bears substantial responsibility for the rise of statism—bordering on economic fascism—in 20th Century America. That this fact apparently gives so few modern Republicans pause is disturbing.

Thankfully, for the last few decades, the Republican Party, guided by such sensible free-market advocates as Milton Friedman, has largely embraced free trade (despite some obnoxious exceptions).

It’s not like the principles of free trade are difficult to understand. Politically, people have a right to buy and sell goods and services to whomever they please (excepting some military items and the like). Economically, when people of different regions can specialize in what they’re relatively good at and then trade, people overall grow wealthier.

Yes, free trade can result in some people having to find a new profession—as the introduction of the automobile caused many horse breeders to find new work. But consumers don’t owe any particular person a given job. If American consumers prefer to purchase some goods from out-of-country, that’s their right. (The same principle applies if people in one U.S. state wish to buy goods and services from people in another state).

Of course, insofar as U.S. tax and regulatory policy drives businesses overseas and punishes domestic producers, that is horribly unjust. The proper solution is to remove those government impediments to production, not to add more.

It is no accident that Trump and “Democratic Socialist” Bernie Sanders are now leading the political movement against free trade. Restrictions on trade are a logical extension of the statism that both Sanders and Trump endorse. Both men are enemies of economic liberty—and, by extension, of the prosperity that comes with it.

Trump as Enemy of Free Speech

As I’ve written, Trump is antagonistic toward freedom of speech. Consider a couple key examples:

Rather than stand in support of those drawing Mohammed—such as Bosch Fawstin, who nearly was murdered by jihadists in Texas—Trump said drawing Mohammed is “taunting” jihadists. In other words, Trump joins the many leftists who essentially claimed they were asking for it.

And Trump said he wants to “open up the libel laws” so he can sue media outlets that criticize him. (He said he was discussing “false” articles—he said the New York Times and the Washington Post write such articles—but it’s pretty clear that he wants to set a low bar for judging a critical article of him “false.”)

Trump as Enemy of Freedom of Association

Obviously Trump cannot be trusted, ever, to maintain his positions from one day to the next. However, at one point, Trump insisted he’d deport some eleven million immigrants currently living in the United States without the proper paperwork.

In short, Trump threatened to turn the United States into a fascist police state for the purpose of forcibly removing millions of peaceable people. Yes, “Papers, please!” is now a rallying cry for many within the Republican Party.

Of course, Trump has also indicated that he didn’t mean it.

Trump is right to criticize the government’s soft treatment of illegal immigrants who have demonstrated a propensity for violence.

He is wrong to forcibly prevent Americans from hiring peaceable people who wish to work for them.

It’s pathetic that many Republicans stand up for freedom of association only in the context of bigoted bakers declining to serve gay couples, not in the context of employers wanting to hire peaceable immigrants.

Trump as Cronyist

The most tragic aspect of this year’s election is that many people will confuse wealthy Trump with an ideological defender of free-market capitalism. Trump is a businessman, but he is no capitalist. He is a cronyist, someone who uses government force to acquire wealth.

As David Boaz summarizes, “The billionaire mogul-turned-reality TV celebrity, who says he wants to work on behalf of ‘the silent majority,’ has had no compunction about benefiting from the coercive power of the state to kick innocent Americans out of their homes.”

Trump as Latin-Style Cuadillo

Dave Kopel aptly described Trump as a “Latin-style caudillo” (strongman). Consider some illustrations:

  • Trump said he’d order members of the U.S. military to murder the families of terrorists and to engage in torture—both war crimes.
  • When two of Trump’s supporters mercilessly beat a homeless man from Mexico, Trump described his supporters as “passionate.”
  • In response to a protester at his rally, Trump said he’d like to “punch him in the face” and see the protester “carried out on a stretcher.”
  • Trump said the Chinese government’s murder of students at Tiananmen Square “shows you the power of strength,” and he said “Putin has been a strong leader for Russia.” (He said he wasn’t “endorsing” such strength.)
  • After Marlene Ricketts donated money to an anti-Trump PAC, Trump threatened, “They better be careful, they have a lot to hide!”
  • Back when a contested convention was a real possibility, Trump’s ally threatened to publish the hotel rooms of Cruz’s delegates.

Trump as Conspiracy Loon

Trump has floated so many loony conspiracy theories it’s hard to keep track. (This is the man to whom many Republicans wish to hand the U.S. nuclear codes.) Here are some examples:

  • Trump claimed that Rafael Cruz (Ted’s father) was “with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death [of John F. Kennedy], before the shooting.” In reply, Ted Cruz sensibly called Trump a “pathological liar.”
  • Trump promoted the story that Barack Obama may have been born a Muslim in Kenya. (This example and those following are via Ben Shapiro.)
  • In defiance of the evidence, Trump claimed that vaccines cause autism.
  • Trump suggested that the 9/11 terrorist bombing may have been carried out or invited by the U.S. government.
  • Trump suggested that Antonin Scalia (who died at age 79) may have  been murdered.

Trump as Mean-Spirited Bigot

Again we can consider some well-known examples:

Trump and the Supreme Court

Given the above, no thoughtful, self-respecting person can vote for Donald Trump for any office, much less the presidency. This is not a “reality” television show; this is the greatest republic in the history of humanity. At least it was.

I haven’t decided whether I’ll disgustedly vote for Hillary Clinton or vote for a minor-party candidate (bearing in mind that a single vote for president is never decisive).

(I will point out, though, that it is flatly untrue that not voting is the same thing as “voting for Hillary,” as I’ve heard on the radio. Switching one’s vote from the GOP to Clinton is effectively a two-vote difference.)

The most (potentially) compelling reason for voting for Trump, despite it all, is that the next president is likely to nominate several Supreme Court justices. Wouldn’t it be better for Trump to do this rather than Clinton?

Someone on radio (I think Hugh Hewitt) suggested that Trump would name specific possible court nominees in order to win Republican support. That indeed would be a smart strategy.

Of course, there is the problem that it is impossible to trust anything Trump says. We can rely only on his presumed desire to win reelection (if he wins this time).

Then there is the question of whether Trump’s nominees would actually be better than Clinton’s. Trump probably would pick people more likely to uphold gun rights and less likely to permit censorship of political speech. But I’m not hopeful that Trump’s selections would be very pro-liberty; undoubtedly in some ways they would be worse than Clinton’s picks.

Constitutional scholar Randy Barnett thinks that “either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will appoint justices who will stand aside and let them flout the constitutional limits on their powers.”

But I want to make a broader point. The Supreme Court is supposed to be the last line of defense for blocking abusive, rights-violating government actions. If Congress did its job properly, the Supreme Court would not have to consider bad laws, because they would never be passed.

The only reason the Supreme Court matters with respect to gun rights is that Congress and various state legislators pass anti-gun laws. The only reason the Supreme Court matters with respect the EPA regulations is that Congress has completely abnegated its responsibility to “regulate commerce” itself, rather than pass off this responsibility to unelected bureaucrats. The only reason the Supreme Court matters with respect to free speech is that Congress and state legislatures passed laws allowing censorship of political speech.

In other words, the primary reason the Supreme Court matters to conservatives (and to liberty advocates) is that conservatives (and liberty advocates) have been largely feckless in blocking rights-violating legislation. Indeed, conservatives (but not liberty advocates) have proactively supported much rights-violating legislation.

For example, Republicans elected John McCain (and company), who sponsored the censorship law (McCain-Feingold) that Hillary Clinton now complains was overturned by the Supreme Court.

So what matters more than the next Supreme Court justices is the future of a real pro-liberty movement that blocks bad legislation in Congress and in the state legislatures.

And what will Donald Trump, if elected, do for the future of such a pro-liberty movement? He may destroy it.

If Trump wins, the only way he will not destroy a pro-liberty movement is if advocates of liberty do not help him win, but instead stick to their principles.

It’s obvious that, if Clinton wins, Republicans will rally against her rights-violating policies. It’s equally obvious that, if Trump wins, Republicans who support Trump will rally around his rights-violating policies.

Then there is the matter that many down-ticket Republicans will have to distance themselves from Trump in order to win their elections. Other Republicans can’t help them do that while they’re busy collecting their thirty pieces of Trump’s silver.

So, no, the Supreme Court is not a reason to vote for Trump, an anti-liberty buffoon.

Silver Linings of Trump’s Success

As disappointed as I am that enough Republicans flocked to Trump to give him the nomination, I do see some silver linings to his success. In no particular order:

1. Trump represents the rejection of the hyper-sensitive “political correctness” now rampant in our culture. It’s one thing to avoid gratuitously insulting comments in public (not that Trump does that); it’s another to bow to the “safe space” thought-police.

2. Trump’s trouncing of Cruz indicates that the evangelical movement is not the behemoth, focused ideological group I had feared. Cruz’s central strategy, at least early on, was to win with evangelicals. He failed. Instead, evangelicals flocked to Trump, despite his relatively moderate abortion stance (which no one even believes he believes). I continue to think the evangelical movement could gel into a powerful and frightening ideological movement in the future, but today it is scattered and largely unserious.

3. Trump’s success sends a strong message that the GOP should stop running squishes such as McCain and Mitt “Father of ObamaCare” Romney for president.

4. In 2010, scholar Brad Thompson penned an obituary for neoconservatism. Trump’s success (and Cruz’s and Sanders’s success for that matter) affirms that attempts at nation-building are over (at least for now).

5. The rise of the Never Trump movement hopefully will lead to a serious reevaluation of the conservative movement and of the Republican Party. I suggest they start by reading Stuart Hayashi’s article, “Donald Trump and the Anti-Reason Essence of Conservatism.” In many ways, various conservative and Republican leaders set the stage for Trump for many years. He is the culmination of the worst aspects of today’s conservative movement.

Concluding Remarks

It is dangerous to think that Trump is some sort of national savior, that he (and he alone) can “make America great again.” As Cruz and others have suggested, he has hardly any idea what made America great in the first place.

But I think it’s also dangerous to overstate the disaster of Trump’s nomination and possible election. (The same is true of Clinton’s possible election.)

As far as our nation has strayed from the Constitution, the basic structure of government with its checks and balances remains in place, and Trump cannot change that. Even if Trump manages to win the general election, which seems highly unlikely, he will have to contend with the rest of the executive, Congress, the Supreme Court, state governments, and—most importantly—the American people.

I have no doubt that, in a different era or in a different place, Trump could comfortably settle into the role of dictator. But this is America, still. And this will continue to be America long after Trump fades from the headlines—if we who champion liberty and Constitutional government hold strong now.

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· Reflections on the Presidential Race after Super Tuesday
· Get Government Out of Political Parties: How to Resolve the Primary-Caucus Debate
· Ted Cruz’s Remarkable Nod to the Separation of Church and State
· Trump, Cruz, and Freedom of Speech

Image: Gage Skidmore

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Get Government Out of Political Parties: How to Resolve the Primary-Caucus Debate

Imagine there’s no party on government ballots; it’s easy if you can (with apologies to Lennon).

Right now in Colorado and elsewhere in the nation, we are debating whether to use a caucus system (based on local meetings and assemblies) or a primary system (based on mailed ballots) to assign Republicans and Democrats to general-election ballots for various government offices. (Right now in Colorado we use a combination of systems for many offices, and we use a caucus system to select national delegates to the Republican national convention. By separate laws, third parties assign candidates at their conventions.)

Colorado’s caucus system exploded in controversy after Ted Cruz won all of the state’s delegates at the April 9 Republican state convention. Although Colorado Republicans elected delegates to the national convention exactly the same way as last time, Donald Trump played on widespread confusion about a cancelled, non-binding preference poll at caucus to claim that the system is “rigged” and that it “disenfranchised” people.

Having participated in the Republican caucus system, I saw how grass-roots it really is—it begins with neighborhood meetings where local Republicans get together to discuss politics, conduct party business, and select delegates to various assemblies. I think there’s a great deal of value to the caucus system that isn’t obvious to people who don’t participate in it (and even to some who do). That said, I also had some sympathy with arguments for moving to a primary system closed to party voters that splits delegates proportionally.

But then I started thinking, why is government involved in political parties in the first place? When government places a candidate’s party affiliation on a ballot, it thereby sanctions and helps to entrench today’s two major parties. And primary elections are funded by taxpayers. How is it moral to force people who disapprove of the parties (or of voting generally) to pay for the process of selecting Republican and Democratic candidates for the general ballot? Answer: It isn’t.

What got me thinking along these lines was a remark by the great Colorado political analyst Peter Blake, who reminds us, “Parties, as the Supreme Court has affirmed numerous times, are private organizations.”

But are they really? When government lists parties on ballots and pays for systems of selecting a party’s candidates, political parties in reality are not purely private; they are instead quasi-governmental entities. And that ambiguous status generates all kinds of problems.

The reason that Trump’s claims of “disenfranchisement” seem plausible to many people is that many people see today’s two major parties as de facto arms of the government. If the Republican Party is part of the government, then it makes sense that it should follow “enfranchisement” rules appropriate to government.

On the other hand, if the Republican Party is truly a private organization, then it makes sense for the party to select candidates in a way best suited to the party’s goals (and I think a caucus system is best for that). For comparison, if you join the Catholic Church, you don’t think you’re “disenfranchised” because you don’t get to vote directly for the next Pope. You just understand that the church has a longstanding (and very elitist) selection process for that.

By way of background, this is the first year that I participated in the Republican caucus system. Before registering Republican late last year, I was an unaffiliated voter for many years. Before that, I was very active in the Libertarian Party of Colorado; I even ran for state representative once. At the time, I appreciated the easy access that Libertarians had to the ballot. Now I think it’s absurdly easy for third parties to place candidates on the ballot relative to the major parties and to independent candidates. All third parties have to do in Colorado is hold a convention where members of the party select candidates to appear on the ballot. So I’ve been aware of some of the oddities of Colorado’s candidate selection process for some time.

We Coloradans had a bizarre election for governor in 2010 that illustrates some of the problems with existing election laws. That year, Tom Tancredo, formerly a Republican member of Congress, ran with the American Constitution Party. He did so well that his new party gained “major party” status—which was quite ridiculous.

Given the many problems of government involvement in political parties, here is what I now propose: Government should set simple rules for a candidate to get on the general-election ballot (presumably based on petition requirements); these rules should apply the same to everyone, regardless of party; and government should not be involved with promoting a party or selecting its candidates in any way.

Let me spin a hypothetical case to make clear what I’m talking about. Let’s say government at all levels requires that petitions for candidates be submitted by September 1 of an election year. Anyone may get on the ballot, without party affiliation listed, by meeting the petition requirements. A political party, as a truly private organization, may select its favored candidates however it wants. Indeed, any private organization could select its favored candidates however it wants.

Let’s say Alan Albertson, Barty Bernardo, and Chad Cox want to run as Republicans for U.S. Senate. They would join the Republican Party, and that party would institute a selection mechanism (such as a caucus and convention) to pick its candidate. Let’s say Alan Albertson wins the Republican contest. Then Alan would get the petitions to be on the general-election ballot. But couldn’t Barty and Chad also petition onto the ballot? Yes, they could. Presumably, the Republican Party in that scenario would have an honor system by which candidates pledged to petition onto the ballot only if they became their party’s official designee.

Let’s say that Barty promises not to petition onto the ballot if the Republicans consider backing him and he loses, but that he’s a lying bastard. Barty loses the Republican contest, then petitions onto the ballot anyway. This would simply be none of the government’s business. Voters could choose whether to sign petitions placing Barty on the ballot and whether to vote for Barty in the general election.

So where do parties come in, then, if they are not listed on the ballot for the general election? Presumably, parties would simply distribute and publicize slates of their candidates. For example, the Republican Party would send out a list of its selected candidates for the various offices in contention. A voter could then vote according to the Republican Party’s slate—or not.

In short, what I am calling for is the separation of party and state. I think it makes no more sense for government to list “Republican” on a general-election ballot than it does for government to list “Catholic” or “Mormon” on a ballot. Tracking a person’s private affiliations is simply none of the government’s legitimate business.

Incidentally, I’m pretty sure that the system I describe is close to how politics actually was done long ago, but I don’t know that history. (That would make an interesting topic for a future article.)

Another detail: I very much support approval voting to handle elections in which more than two candidates run. Approval voting basically means that voters can vote for as many candidates as they want. So if two similar candidates appear on the ballot, voters could select both, thereby reducing the chance of splitting their votes and electing a less-popular candidate. The candidate with the most votes overall wins. (Ranked voting achieves a similar outcome, but it’s harder to implement.)

Although I very much enjoyed the Republican caucus process this year, something about the way that candidates end up on a general-election ballot has been bothering me. Now I think I know what it is—the inappropriate collusion of government and political parties. I think my proposal—to separate political parties from government—is the only morally and practically defensible move.

April 18 Update: Yesterday I posted the following remarks to Facebook; they reflect my latest thinking about caucuses, primaries, and the problems with government collusion with parties:

Thank you to those who have helped me clarify my thinking about these issues. Again, I think the fundamental is that government ought not collude with political parties, and such collusion is the key problem in this context.

Unfortunately, it looks likely that government soon will force the political parties to allow non-members to help select (some of) their candidates, by my lights the worst possible outcome and a grotesque violation of rights of association (which Republicans seem to occasionally defend).

In the context of political parties restored as (fully) private organizations, should they use a caucus or a primary system? It occurred to me that either system could use local meetings, mailed ballots, or some combination of those things (which I think would be the way to go). So the key difference is whether all members get to vote directly for all party offices and candidates, or whether they get to vote on delegates to choose (some or all of) those offices and candidates.

I still think the caucus is the best way to handle the process, because a caucus system creates a first-level, easy-access stage of activist. To run as a delegate (to assemblies), a person has to make an effort to win the support of neighbors. This necessarily encourages neighbors who are party members (who want to get involved) to get to know each other very well. Much of that dynamic is lost in a primary; there’s no built-in incentive to get to know other activists in your area.

That said, I think if a party used a primary system, it could compensate pretty well in terms of developing activists by holding local events.

So I end up where I began: It doesn’t really matter too much whether a party uses a caucus or a primary system. What really matters is that government not force parties to conduct business one way or another. Unfortunately, most Republicans seem perfectly content with government micromanaging and subsidizing private organizations, at least when they are political parties.

· Setting the Record Straight about Colorado’s Republican Caucus
· BREAKING: Jim Hoft Flubs Story about “Deny Trump” Flyer
· Atwood Pitches Approval Voting

Image: Ari’s photo of the Jefferson County, Colorado, Republican convention on March 19, 2016

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Primaries Rob Conventions of Meaning

I agree wholeheartedly that government should not be involved in or fund political party processes, but I would go further and state that the primary system specifically and the caucus system more generally rob the convention process of any real meaning.

Once upon a time, local and state parties caucused about policy more than candidates. Each state party selected delegates to represent their beliefs at the national convention. That is why the national conventions used to spend so much time debating and voting on platform planks. Then, and only then, once they had decided what they stood for this time around, did they select national candidates to promote and, hopefully, enact that platform.

Today, thanks to the primary system, the national candidates are usually a foregone conclusion by the time the convention rolls around. The convention is a media event and nothing more. The delegates will still spend time fussing over the platform, but it is mostly a useless exercise – the platform that gets enacted will be the candidate’s platform, not the convention’s, because the cart is now squarely in front of the horse and the candidate owes little to the delegates.

Good luck fixing this, though.

—John K. Berntson


BREAKING: Jim Hoft Flubs Story about “Deny Trump” Flyer

A lone Colorado Republican with nearly zero influence within the party handed out anti-Trump flyers at various Colorado Republican conventions, and, according to the intimations of Jim Hoft and some of Donald Trump’s supporters, this somehow counts as evidence of party corruption.

At issue is a flyer distributed by Robert Zubrin titled, “Resolution to Forbid Colorado Delegates from Voting for Donald Trump.” As far as I can tell, I am the first person to report the existence of this flyer, which I photographed and posted to my Twitter feed on March 19, at the Jefferson County (Jeffco) Republican Convention.

At the Jeffco convention, to which I was an alternate delegate, Zubrin stood outside of the convention hall and passed out the flyer to people entering. In no way was this flyer part of official party business; it was just a flyer handed out by a lone activist. I realize that Trump and his supporters sometimes have a difficult time with the concept of freedom of speech, but Zubrin handing out his flyer was an expression of that.

Although the flyer claims to be a “resolution,” it was never considered as an official resolution by the party. The county assembly did officially consider resolutions that had been submitted by precinct caucuses, but the language of the flyer was not among them.

I interviewed Zubrin at the convention about his flyer and his views about Trump:

As a bit of background, I have known Zubrin for several years, and I’m a big fan of his work. A former scientist with Lockheed Martin, he is the president of the Mars Society; indeed, Andy Weir—author of the novel The Martian (which inspired the blockbuster film)—credits Zubrin for many of his ideas. Zubrin also works in the energy industry, and he is the author of Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism. Back in 2012 I reviewed Zubrin’s book and interviewed Zubrin for The Objective Standard. He also writes occasional articles for National Review.

Zubrin started a group Colorado Republicans for Liberty, which had nineteen members on Facebook as of April 12. I’m glad Zubrin started the group (and I was a Facebook member of it), but it has practically no traction within Republican circles. (Note: Apparently Zubrin deleted the other members following the publication of Hoft’s article. Not that Trump’s supporters would ever threaten anyone or anything.)

At the state convention on April 9, Zubrin also ran for national delegate. As practically an unknown within the Republican Party, of course he lost. (I haven’t checked, but I’d be surprised if he picked up more than a handful of votes out of thousands.)

If Zubrin is from Mars, Hoft is from whatever planet inspires the most paranoia. It’s not like Zubrin is a some political mastermind pulling the strings. At his tiny precinct caucus, he was elected as an alternate delegate to the state convention (as I was in my precinct). Because he was an alternate, I doubt he could even vote at the state convention; some alternates were able to step in for missing delegates, but only a small fraction. (I didn’t get to.) At any rate, Zubrin had practically no impact on anything that happened within the Colorado Republican Party this year. Again, this is not to disparage Zubrin’s efforts, which I applaud; merely to point out that he is far from a major player in state politics.

With that background in mind, let’s review some of Hoft’s claims about Zubrin’s flyer and about the process generally.

Hoft: “Colorado Republicans Passed Around ‘Resolution to Deny Trump Delegates’ Back on March 22.”

Reality: Actually it was March 19 (but who’s counting).

Hoft: “There never was a vote—Party elites decided on who got the delegates.”

Reality: The March 1 precinct caucuses were open to all Colorado voters who had been registered Republican at least a month. There, the participants voted on delegates for county, congressional, and state assemblies. The suggestion that people like Zubrin, me, and most of the other delegates and alternates are “Party elites” is laughable.

Hoft: “The anti-Trump politicians were passing around a ‘Resolution to Forbid Colorado Delegates from Voting for Trump’ for weeks before the convention.”

Reality: Robert Zubrin was handing out the flyer, and he’s not a politician.

Hoft: “After Cruz swept the Colorado delegates the Colorado Republican Party tweeted this out: [We did it. #NeverTrump].”

Reality: Hoft and reality are actually in alignment on this one. Of course, Hoft neglects to mention that the state GOP chair was fiery mad about this unauthorized (and incredibly stupid) tweet.

Hoft: “The anti-Trump officials handed out this same resolution at the state convention on Saturday.”

Reality: Well, I guess Zubrin is an “official” something. For instance, he’s the official president of the Mars Society (and Buzz Aldrin is on the Steering Committee!). So I guess Hoft’s claim here is true in a certain respect.

UPDATE: Actually, Zubrin didn’t even hand out the same flyer at the state convention. He tells me, “I did not pass out the ‘no votes for trump’ resolution at the convention. I passed out a flyer advocating my own candidacy for delegate.” Here’s that second flyer:

Zubrin Second Flyer

Hoft: “Here’s the resolution [original flyer shown] passed around at the convention that instructed Colorado Republicans to not vote for Trump.”

Reality: I saw Zubrin at the state convention and talked with him for a couple of minutes. I think he was handing out literature to people walking in (I didn’t actually see copies of the flyer in question at the state convention [see the update above]); maybe he also handed out stuff inside the hall. Anyway, the flyer did not “instruct” anyone to do anything. It merely expressed Zubrin’s opinions about what he thought should happen.

Hoft: “The resolution was created by Colorado Republicans for Liberty—a Cruz offshoot group.”

Reality: Here Hoft seems to imply that Colorado Republicans for Liberty—which, again, is an informal group with a handful of (former) “members”—is somehow affiliated with Ted Cruz’s campaign. It is not. It doesn’t even directly support Cruz that I’m aware, except perhaps by implication by opposing Trump.

It’s unclear to me whether Hoft actually believes his own nonsense or is merely spouting it to further inflame Trump’s supporters—as if they needed the help. It’s going to be a long year.

· Setting the Record Straight about Colorado’s Republican Caucus
· Zubrin Aims to Turn Waste Gas into Profits

Image: MisterFastbucks

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Setting the Record Straight about Colorado’s Republican Caucus

“All Colorado Republicans [registered more than a month] could vote in precinct caucuses, which chose delegates to congressional and state conventions, who voted for national delegates.” That’s my (unabbreviated) Tweet summarizing the way that Colorado Republicans chose delegates to the national Republican Convention. I should know; as a Colorado Republican I participated in the caucuses.

But apparently, for some Trump supporters, my experience participating in the caucus process is no match for a Drudge headline claiming it never happened. As of the evening of April 10, Drudge claimed on its main page, “Fury as Colorado has no primary or caucus; Cruz celebrates voterless victory.”

So let’s set the facts straight, beginning with my own experiences with the caucus system.

After long being an unaffiliated voter, I registered as a Republican voter late last year, in part so that I could participate in Colorado’s Republican caucus system this year. (I plan to remain a Republican, barring an unforeseen major shift in the political scene.) I looked up how to participate in my precinct caucus on March 1, showed up, participated in the meeting, and successfully ran as an alternate delegate to the county convention on March 19 and to the state convention on April 9.

Interestingly, in my precinct, I’m pretty sure that not a single person had participated in the caucus system before. We were all “outsiders.” We even had to ask one of the party organizers to step in for a while to help us figure out the process. But we worked it out and got along fine. We even had a very civil discussion about the presidential candidates; one fellow was strongly for Trump, while several of us were strongly against him. (I only know the views of those who expressed them.)

At the precinct caucus, a number of people—both Cruz supporters and Trump supporters—complained that Colorado did not have a “straw poll” for president this year. Indeed, my precinct voted on a resolution saying we want a binding vote by all members in the future. I’m pretty sure I’m the only person who voted against that resolution, on the grounds that we should further evaluate the pros and cons of the caucus system versus a primary or other system. I’m still not sure which is better (and frankly I don’t think it matters very much). I think the caucus system works pretty well and that there are some good reasons to keep it. (For what it’s worth, Justin Everett, a state legislator, favors it.)

That said, a lot of people seem to have some pretty wild misundertandings about what happened with the straw poll. So I’ll do my best to summarize what happened. In previous years, Colorado Republicans held a non-binding straw poll at the precinct caucuses. This had nothing to do with the selection of delegates to the national Republican convention, but it expressed the preference of those Republicans who attended their caucuses.

But, for this year, the national party (for reasons unknown to me) said that we could not have a non-binding poll; if we had a poll it had to be binding. So the state party decided not to have a poll at all. People are welcome to read the explanation for all this by Steve House, the state chair of the GOP (who, incidentally, won his position as an “outsider” who unseated the prior “establishment” chair). For what it’s worth, I think House’s reasons for dropping the poll are pretty good ones.

Anyway, without the non-binding poll—which didn’t actually select any delegates—Colorado Republicans selected delegates to the national convention the same way they have before, through the caucus system. Incidentally, according to Wikipedia, Colorado’s caucus system was first instituted in 1912 “as a way to limit the power of party bosses and to attract more grassroots involvement,” then replaced by a primary in 1992, then restored in 2002 through 2004.

Unsurprisingly, John Frank’s articles about all this for the Denver Post are sensationalistic, designed more to inflame people and to draw eyes to the paper’s web site than to enlighten readers with the relevant facts put in context. (I think it’s a little humorous how many of Trump’s supporters totally mistrust the media—except when it spins things their way.)

A completely fair headline of what happened this year would have been, “Colorado Republicans Select Presidential Delegates the Same Way They Did Last Time.” But the reality of the situation is so much more boring than the trumped up version of it.

To return to my experiences with the caucuses: The woman elected in my precinct as a delegate to the state convention ran on an explicitly anti-Trump platform. She made this very clear, and she was elected by the rest of us with this understanding. Claims that the rest of us were somehow “disenfranchised” are ridiculous; we all got to vote for delegates, and everyone in the room had a chance to run to become a delegate (most didn’t want to). It truly was a grass-roots process. I was elected as the alternate delegate to the state convention, also on an explicitly anti-Trump platform.

The simple fact is that the Republicans at my precinct caucus mostly disfavored Trump, and evidently that is true of most other precincts as well. Trump lost in Colorado because he’s just not very popular here.

Indeed, some Cruz supporters I talked with wanted a binding poll precisely so that Coloradans could send the strongest possible anti-Trump message. I strongly suspect that a primary would have resulted in a Cruz victory, but I’m not aware of good polling data on this.

Should Colorado give up the caucuses in the future? As noted, I’m not totally sure, but I’d like to rebut one reason for saying we should. The claim basically is that, because people have to attend a meeting and then select delegates to conventions, who then select national delegates, the caucuses are not sufficiently democratic.

It is true that, to participate in the caucuses, you have to do more than mark an “x” on a piece of paper. You actually have to (gasp!) go to a meeting. If you want to become a delegate to a congressional or state convention, where national delegates are picked, you actually have to stand up and make your case to your fellow Republican voters (and pay a convention fee). I’m not convinced this is a problem. Arguably, it is a feature, not a bug.

Many Trump supporters seem shocked to learn that American government is primarily representative in nature, not a direct democracy. Have they never heard of the electoral college? The Founders were very careful to create levels of representation; indeed, it is part of the checks and balances of constitutionalism. All we do in Colorado is keep an extra layer of representation in the process; we choose state delegates who then chose national delegates. One can argue that the caucus system is not ideal for whatever reason, but the fact that it is based on the representative model of government isn’t by itself a very good reason to oppose it.

For pointing out some of the basic facts about Colorado’s caucus system on Twitter, I was deluged by comments from Trump’s supporters, consisting mostly of insults, threats, and wild conspiracies. (For example, some people blamed me personally for the lack of a straw poll, even though I wasn’t even a Republican when that decision was made.) It turns out that such tactics don’t actually improve my opinion of Trump as a presidential candidate.

I’m glad I participated in Colorado’s Republican caucus system. From what I saw, it worked well. I’ll take this opportunity to thank the many volunteers who worked tirelessly to help organize and run the caucuses and conventions and the many thousands of Colorado voters who participated in the process. They are everyday heroes who take seriously their responsibility to participate in American governance.

Update 1: A fellow named Larry Lindsey claims that he was not allowed to vote at the state GOP convention because he was a Trump supporter. His claims seem to be fabricated in whole or in part. I was there, and I saw a number of Trump supporters in attendance. They participated just like everyone else did. They just didn’t have enough support to win delegates. Also see a media release from Douglas County Republicans about Lindsey. On further review: I’ve read the Douglas County rules, and apparently delegates to the state assembly are “nominated” at the precinct caucuses but elected at county assemblies. Lindsey did not attend the county assembly, so he was not elected as a delegate. Different counties have different rules; for example, in my county, Jefferson, we elected delegates to state directly from precinct caucuses. See also Mollie Hemingway’s write-up about Lindsey in the Federalist.

Update 2: I went on CNN for a few minutes to explain the basics of Colorado’s caucus process. I want to clarify one point: Moving from a non-binding preference poll to no poll did not affect how national delegates are selected. Obviously moving to a hypothetical binding poll would affect that. At this point I lean in favor of keeping the caucus system but adding a binding poll to it (as opposed to moving to a primary system). There are pros and cons to caucuses and to primaries; to me the biggest advantage of caucuses is that Republicans in a neighborhood actually have a chance to meet and talk about the direction they want their party to take. That is totally lost with a primary system. April 16 Update: Now I think I actually favor a non-binding poll so that people take the selection process of delegates seriously.

Update 3: For more discussion about this issue, I suggest articles at the Federalist and Conservative Review and Mark Levin’s interview with Ken Buck and further discussion (which mentions this article). See also Peter Blake’s interesting article about the history of the caucuses and arguments for changing them.

Update 4: For other accounts of Colorado caucus participants, see write-ups by Laura Carno and Pundit Pete.

Update 5: See also a short clip of my interview with Dana Loesch and my radio interview with Vince Coakley.

Update 6: It is true that one of Trump’s alternate delegates was left off of the ballot at the state convention. I believe this was an unintentional typo, and at any rate it did not affect the outcome in the slightest. NBC reports, “One Trump alternate, Jerome Parks, was not on the numbers-only ballot at #379 — instead the ballot listed #378 twice.” Trump’s own campaign team made more significant errors in publishing its slate of delegates, as NBC relates.

Update 7: In an email, State Senator Laura Woods (who represents my area), aptly summarized the essential value of the caucus system: “My biggest concern about switching away from the caucus system is this:  when voters show up at caucus, they engage with the county party, and they become block workers, volunteers, precinct committee people, district captains, etc. They also are voted on to represent their precinct at the County, Congressional and State Assemblies.”

Update 8: It’s pretty amazing to me how many Trump supporters call Colorado’s system unfair because it’s not perfectly representative of voters, even as they ignore the many ways that Trump benefits from other states’ systems because they are not perfectly representative. As I Tweeted, “Isn’t it funny how Trump never complained about the ‘undemocratic’ result when he got 100% of Florida’s delegates with 46% of the votes?” FiveThirtyEight has more on this.

Update 9: See also my follow-up pieces,”Get Government Out of Political Parties: How to Resolve the Primary-Caucus Debate” and “Jim Hoft Flubs Story about ‘Deny Trump’ Flyer.”

Update 10 (April 27): On April 23 Dave Levine had me on his radio show (1490 KMET) to further discuss Colorado’s Republican caucus.

· Reflections on the Presidential Race after Super Tuesday
· Ted Cruz’s Remarkable Nod to the Separation of Church and State
· The Needed Political Realignment

Image: Ari’s photo of the Colorado Republican Convention, April 9, 2016

Leave a comment

Some Colorado Counties Had Informal Straw Polls

Thanks for your good article. I have one clarification for you and your readers: each county handled the straw poll differently. In Adams County, we had a straw poll which of course was non binding and it had nothing to do with choosing delegates. We had Trump supporters, Cruz supporters and others too. The caucus system worked really well even though most people there were new to the process.

It was a lively (and friendly) atmosphere for the most part and it was great to have engaged voters in their local precincts participate equally regardless of whom they supported.


Not All Can Attend Caucus Meetings

So I work 3PM-11PM in surgery at one of the main hospitals in Denver. I cannot take off work to go to a meeting. I guess my voice does not matter, I just need to be there in case someone you love gets hurt or injured? I will write in Trump once Cruz is shown to just be a puppet to get Rubio, Ryan, etc. as the nominee. Once this election is done I will never vote republican again. I have been R all my life casting my first vote for Reagan in 1980. Hopefully you all will learn not to disregard what the people want, if not have fun with Hillary, who is easily going to stomp anyone the RNC “chooses” over what the voters want.

—Richard Hutson

Ari Armstrong replies: To my mind, the fact that a lot of people have trouble attending the caucus meeting undergirds the strongest criticism of it. However, I would point out that it would be possible to add a binding or non-binding straw poll back to the caucus system, and extend this to absentee voters. Also, I find it a little humorous how many people assume I’m some sort of puppet-master within the Republican Party, even though I just (re)joined it a few months ago.

Biased against Trump

The whole caucus thing is new to me, having spent the first 40 years of my life in California. On primary day, we vote and delegates are awarded. Then I discovered the absentee ballot, which I mailed in two or three weeks before election day, and I never had to bother myself with standing in line or trying to find someone’s garage/polling station.

For a number of reasons, including my reluctance to publicly state my voting preference for professional reasons, I haven’t been to a caucus. It just doesn’t make sense, especially in a country that has embraced the secret ballot for a couple of centuries.

The elimination of a popular vote—”straw poll,” if you insist, but it’s an actual popular vote—made the process even more mysterious. I again chose not to participate, partly because of a prior commitment that night but also because I didn’t want to spend two or three hours merely casting a vote.

It’s clear to me that the party leadership in Colorado saw this as an opportunity to prevent Donald Trump from collecting delegates for the national convention. Instead, actual voters should have had the opportunity to see to that. We in the Republican Party talk a lot about trusting the people. We could and should have done that this year, complete with a secret ballot.


Ari Armstrong replies: Although many of Trump’s supporters are quick to point to conspiracy theories to “explain” the results, I’ve seen no actual evidence that Colorado party leaders made any effort to bias the results one way or another. Notably, Trump’s own supporters in party leadership joined in voting to suspend the straw poll. I absolutely think that, if there had been a non-binding poll again at caucus, Cruz would have won by a landslide. So I think it’s too bad we didn’t have one. Anyway, you certainly wouldn’t have had to drive for two hours to attend your local precinct caucus; those are highly regional. The various conventions are another matter, of course; I had to get up at 5:00 am to make it from the Denver area to Colorado Springs on time for the state convention.

Political Parties are Private Organizations

The Colorado GOP is a private entity. Not public. Therefore, they get to make whatever rules they want.

—Dave Barnes

What About the Fee?

In this post Ari Armstrong said that if you want to be selected as a delegate you must pay a convention fee.

Is this legal? Having to pay to vote?


Ari Armstrong replies: See the comment above; political parties are private organizations. The fee goes toward funding the conventions, as is appropriate. However, I do think the GOP should have a “need” exemption for the fee.

What About the People?

I will make this more simple than your explanation of Colorado’s republican caucus. For most Americans the system you have in place is far too complicated. Most Americans don’t care nor understand the delegate process. The delegate system takes the voice of average American citizens away from outcomes that will effect their lives. Indeed the system is legal and was supported by you and your fellow caucus members/supporters. That said, I bet if you did “another pole” in Colorado or any state for that matter and asked the public this question, “If you were given a choice to vote for a candidate to represent your party for POTUS or let a small, very small group of people vote for you” you would find no support for the caucus. People want a vote. Should anyone or any group be allowed to decide for the masses? In my humble opinion, I think not. I have a funny feeling this system will be changed soon, maybe not soon enough though. I am a proud Republican but I’m loosing faith in our party by the day.

—D. Holmes

Ari Armstrong replies: For one thing, private organizations have no inherent moral or legal obligation to operate by pure democracy. For another, the Founders were extremely skeptical of pure democracy, which is why they instituted many checks to it. Whoever does not wish to participate in the Republican Party (or any other party) is free not to.

Many Trump Supporters Didn’t Show Up

Thank you for your well written article about your personal experience of the Colorado Caucus system this year. I too, went to my precinct caucus, and was elected as a county delegate and as an alternate to the state. It was my first time investing this much time & energy and Saturday was a long 12 hour day and although some alternates in my county got to vote, I did not. I did not feel cheated, but I was ready to vote for the Cruz slate if I had the opportunity. At my precinct caucus I was one of only 3 people who showed (out of about 200 registered republicans). All 3 of us were Cruz supporters. Not sure where all the Trump supporters were, but they had an equal & fair chance to show up, but did not. Anyways, thanks again for taking the time to write honestly about your experience and accurately about our state’s caucus system.


Caucuses Are Too Indirect

Your article correctly outlines the process and I have no hidden agenda with either of the remaining GOP presidential candidates. However, I do have a problem with the GOP primary process, in Colorado.

Here you vote for a delegate, who votes for a delegate, who is supposed to cast a vote for a candidate. It’s too indirect of a process, designed to keep the existing structure in place. It not only discourages change, in actively inhibits it. I’d like for the Colorado GOP to go to a proportional primary, where a candidate who gets 40% of the vote gets 40% of the delegates.

As it is, the existing power brokers will remain in power, the Colorado GOP will continue to slot moderate candidates wherever possible and the conservative citizens of Colorado will feel disenfranchised and unrepresented. The Colorado GOP will lose it’s base and eventually just be part of the Democratic party.

I can’t wait. Then a party that represents its members (instead of a party that dictates to its members) will evolve, to take the GOP’s place.


Don’t Complain If You Don’t Get Involved

Thank you for the first-hand account of how Colorado’s process works. I find it’s usually the people too lazy to get involved in the process who complain the loudest. If you don’t like the rules, get involved and work to change them.

—Melody Warbington

Cruz Had the Support at Caucus

Thanks Mr. Armstrong. This is great! I sent Drudge a message earlier and may forward him this link too. As a pro Cruz person I was sent to the county assembly. Everyone there from my district who wanted to attend the state convention was approved. 9 delegates and 9 alternates. 18 people volunteered. The Cruz supporters won the delegate slots and the few Trump supporters there were won the alternate slots. It was all very reasonable and involved at the local level and I too truly thanks those who involve themselves time after time with these details.

—Terri Goon

Feigned Outrage Over Results

Ari Armstrong, thank you for a calm and clear explanation in defense of our CO grassroots voice!

Hopefully, your detailed and patient explanation may put to rest some of the honest misconceptions. I’m a bit too cynical to believe there aren’t many who will prefer to ignore the truth because whining and feigned outrage suits their purpose best.

—Denise E. Denny

Respect the Process

Thanks for writing about your experiences. I went to the Nevada caucuses and found it a good experience too. The fact that Trumpsters can’t respect a legitimate process says a lot about them and their candidate.

—Jess Solomon

Caucus Participant Is No Insider

Ari, well written.Your experience was similar to mine and my feelings about caucus vs primary are similar to yours. I was also a delegate to the CD assembly and thought that process went better than expected. I also am no insider. Last time I was elected to represent our precinct was in 1996.

—Doug Drees

Hold a Vote of the People

I think you did a good job of explaining what goes one. I will always think that a vote of people should be held and the numbers speak for themselves. A lot of people will take time to go to the booth. Going through the caucus system myself I still would rather see a Vote of the People.

You did a good job.

—Douglas Rushing

Cruz Had Support at Caucus

I similarly went to the republican caucus this year. There were maybe twenty-five or so people there. You’re completely right in that there were a majority of Cruz supporters there. In the end, we had an informal, non-reported straw poll and it was something like twenty Cruz to four Rubio and one Trump. The two delegates we sent to state were for Cruz and Rubio. The Trump supporter voted for themself, and the wishy-washy-whatever-the-room-wants establishment guy didn’t win. There were plenty of new people, but I recognized at least eight people from four years ago.

—Kazriko Redclaw

Trump Backed Out of Convention

Thanks for making this so clear. I agree with you 100%. I had similar caucus experience and ended up at state. Trump was coming to the convention, then backed out. I didn’t get one mailing from a Trump supporter. Seems he and his people want to be bottle fed and do no work. I’ve been called names too. People are so childish. Thanks again for a well thought out article.

—Theresa Sorenson

Most People Didn’t Attend the Caucuses

You’re wrong on a few points. Number one, most people didn’t show up to caucus. In my precinct (446) we had forty out of how many thousands? Ours is one of the larger in El Paso county as we had 10 delegates for county and 3 for state. How can 40 people represent the will of the people in a large precinct?

Which brings me to the second point in that as a delegate your vote is not who you prefer, but rather who the people prefer. Most delegates, including you apparently, don’t understand that and had picked “their guy” long before the caucus. In my precinct it was pretty much equally divided between Cruz and Trump with one for the third guy with only forty people. If this is at all representative of the other precincts your assertion that Trump just isn’t popular in Colorado is totally speculative. Lastly, as a delegate that was actually at the State Assembly and El Paso County I can say it seemed there was again equally divided support for both Cruz and Trump on the floor with a very small group for the third candidate.

—Mark Whitaker

Ari Armstrong replies: I think registered Republicans in a precinct tend to number in the hundreds. The delegate in my precinct was elected explicitly on her anti-Trump platform. I similarly make my preferences quite clear, and was voted in. Obviously Trump did not have nearly the support that Cruz did at the state convention.

Trump Didn’t Campaign in Colorado

My experience as well in my district caucus—we did take a poll informing our elected delegates of who our preferences were. In our poll Cruz was number one, Tramp two. Ben Carson received one vote I think. The fact that Trump did not even campaign in Colorado, instead relying upon staying in New York in a state where he’s heavily favored, I just don’t understand how he expects to receive support in Colorado.

—Bruce F. St. Peter

Primaries Don’t Handle Large Fields Well

Thanks for your article! I have been a Sate Delegate in Utah. It is frustrating how many people don’t take part in the process, then complain when the don’t understand how it works. Could you imagine what a mess a regular primary single election would be like if we had sixteen candidates to choose from? The process we have helps cut down the field and still give everyone a chance. This year is a good example. Trump and his supporters brag about all their votes, yet still can’t get past 37%. That isn’t that popular. If it were just between Cruz and Trump from the beginning, my guess is Cruz would be winning. Therefore if he comes out the winner at the convention, then the voice of the people will have been heard.

—Stan Jackson

Media Fed False Narrative about Poll; County Organizers Miraculous

Thanks, Ari, excellent summary.

This was my fourth State Assembly. Your experience sounds much like mine. I was elected to State at Precinct 231, favoring Rubio. (As if this isn’t complicated enough, El Paso County pushes election to State and CD down to the precinct level, bypassing County.)

We had two slots for State and two for [congressional district] CD5. Cruz supporters won three, and then there was me, a couple Cruzers defected to me out of sympathy, because I served as Chair when nobody else at all wanted the job, and felt I should be rewarded. At the end of the evening, we broke with the “no straw poll” rule and held our own private straw poll which we did not report—nine for Cruz, eight Rubio, four Carson, four Trump, one not voting. Only one of the Trump people wanted to go to State or CD, but he only got four votes.

I was disappointed with the turnout; it was lower than previous Presidential years, by half or even less (I was a Newt guy last time). Prior to the Caucus, there were many, many people saying “haven’t you heard? Caucus doesn’t matter this time, there’s no poll. I had to correct dozens of people before March 1st. The Trump supporters were the most adamant that there was no reason to go to caucus, so sad. I blame the press for this, I’m so glad you actually got to CNN. I must have spent a dozen hours in the last six weeks trying to break into “Journalism World” and clarify the boatload of falsehoods and half-truths bandied about by the people who should be informing us and striving for accuracy. Such an incredibly frustrating experience. Some people lost faith in politics in the last couple months, I lost faith in the seriousness of American journalism.

Part of the problem we have in Colorado is that a primary election has to be conducted by the State with tax dollars. The caucus/precinct system is (miraculously) funded by the poverty-stricken party. All the spending regulations come down very, very hard on the Parties. It’s impossible to keep money out of politics, money will find its way, but perversely, donors are very limited by law in how much they can give to candidates’ campaigns and especially to the parties. Therefore the Super-Pacs, they are the only place to which money can freely flow.

El Paso County contains 31% of Colorado’s registered Republicans, but has 1.5 paid employees (and my gosh, the paperwork is enormous). The office looks almost like a struggling body shop. That they can pull this off with volunteers at all is nothing short of miraculous. They are “the establishment,” the despised, the sometimes hated, it really bothers me to hear all this abuse. Why was I Chair? Because I was at GOP HQ for a small open meeting with Senate candidate Darryl Glenn, and was persuaded by someone to put my name on a party “volunteer list.” A few months later they called and begged me to chair the Caucus, as the previous Precinct Leaders had moved out of state. They did not know who I supported, they did not ask, for all they knew, I was a Communist three-headed purple hippopotamus. They just begged “please, please help us out, you’re on the list, we have so many spots to fill.”

Thanks for making things more clear for people, the current system is certainly too complicated, I would like to see a more streamlined caucus. And better communication, from the party and from the press.

—Phil Beckman

Republican National Committee Out to Get Trump

Hi, thanks for a very informative and even-handed explanation of the Colorado system. I have been following the various primaries and caucuses and was curious about what had happened in Colorado. The only thing I would say is in fairness to Trump and his supporters, even if everything in Colorado was completely fair and above-board, they have plenty of reason to mistrust the party and the media. The RNC has been out to get them since day one. There hasn’t even been any secret about it. That sort of thing breeds the mistrust you are hearing now from the Trump supporters.

—Lou Filliger

Have a Vote of the People

The long meetings (I’ve heard between two to three hours just at the precinct level) are unpalatable to the average voter imho. I don’t think that means they shouldn’t get a vote. I also don’t see the comparison between the electoral college and Colorado’s current selection process. There are typically two candidate to vote for in a presidential election (regardless of who the actual electors are), not six-hundred people whom you know nothing about. As far as I know, there’s nothing that compares to “an unpledged delegate” in the presidential election. We don’t really vote for delegates in the national election (I understand that the electors’ names are on some ballot, but it’s just a name—we’re voting for the candidate) so I don’t get why the primaries would be any different. Seems like something to bring before all the people of Colorado for a vote at the next election—that’s seems like a “We the people” kind of thing to do.


Ari Armstrong replies: Actually, in the general election, you’re “really” voting for members of the electoral college. My point about the electoral college is that politics in America is not, and never has been, about direct democracy. This is even more true for parties, which are private organizations. Participants in the caucus process have every opportunity to learn the views of the people they’re selecting to represent them.

Washington State Politics Is Complex

First off, thanks for the great article. I am writing this comment because it sounds like you would be interested in more information about using primaries or caucuses for selecting nominees.

I live in Washington state, which has probably one of the most complicated systems for choosing a nominee: Caucuses by precinct, which select delegates and alternates to go to county conventions. The county convention includes caucuses by Legislative district to select delegates and alternates to go on to the State convention. At the state convention caucuses are held by Congressional district to select the delegates and alternates who will be sent to the national convention. We also have a primary a few days after the state convention, the result of which binds the national delegates, by Congressional district, for the first ballot.

The caucuses are closed, with a deadline set two to three weeks prior. The primary merely requires not having been a part of any democrat caucuses that year (the WA democrats do not hold primaries for presidential nominations.)

As addendum, two items: First, this is the first year when I have been old enough to engage in this process, and what a year to start! Second, and more interesting, is that Snohomish county, where I live, and where much of Seattle lives, managed to elect primarily Cruz delegates to go to state, and only one trump supporter got huffy.

Once again, thank you for your writing, and thank you for your time.

—Jeremy West

Vilified for Participating

I too was at the Colorado Assembly as a delegate. We went from a small town in southern Colorado. We had, from our district, about twenty that came, alternates and the delegates.

To become a delegate you had to go to meetings (oh dear) and find out what is going on. We had one Trump guy in our district and on the floor where we were. We voted him in to go so he could represent his thoughts.

The number of Trump voters was very small. They were not very vocal, since Trump himself did not even deem our state important enough to send a higher profile person to win over hearts and minds—nothing but a unknown. That was foolish in my view.

After it was all over, the Trump vote was small. Another non-establishment guy, Darryl Glenn, won hands down with this crowd. He had a powerful, faith-filled speech.

All in all we enjoyed the process. I hadn’t even voted yet and posted I was at the convention and was vilified as a sellout—insanity, showing zero grasp of the book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Not a wise, winning play. Now Trump and his supporters are whining about everything. Sour grapes I’d say; get better organized.

I will vote for Cruz or Trump if either wins. No Democrat, period.


Shocked at No Binding Poll

As a recent registered Republican in Colorado, I also was unaffiliated but changed last year in order to participate in the nomination process. I was totally shocked to learn the Colorado Republicans would not have a binding poll at their caucus.

Yes I understand your reasons. But in considering caucus vs primaries please consider the following: On caucus day many may be traveling, hospitalized, serving in the military, attending to family, working, or have any number of other legitimate reasons that would prohibit them from attending a caucus. A primary with early voting ends that problem and equalized the playing field.

One other problem. Colorado includes mountain communities. I live in Nederland and would have had to travel over 25 miles to attend a caucus in a strange community. How is that fair? It certainly doesn’t put me in touch with my community. Nor would I know anyone there. We do not have many Republicans in Nederland. So I had no say in anything.

Thanks for reading. Please consider others if you are in a position to help Colorado represent all Republican voters.

—Pat Everson

Ari Armstrong replies: It’s silly to say you had no say; you got to vote for delegates to conventions and run for delegate yourself if you wanted. True, if you live in a lightly populated area, you probably have to drive further to meetings. To repeat: I think a caucus poll plus a mechanism for absentee votes would work well.

Taxpayers Shouldn’t Have to Fund Primaries

I like your idea of eliminating primaries and just using the caucus system. As a former precinct captain, I found that the caucuses did a great job of representing the folks who bothered to attend. And I object to forcing taxpayers to pay for state run primaries. The parties should use their own funds to decide who to run for office.


Cruz Favored at Caucus

Very good article. I’m in Mesa county precinct 10 and Mr. Trump got one of 12 votes. Mr. Cruz was clearly the favorite in our Precinct.

—Lynn Ensley

Trump Favors Controversy over Truth

I’ve become more convinced that whatever Trump says is designed to create controversy and attention for himself. He doesn’t care about the truth.

I went to my precinct caucus in Boulder, CO. I hadn’t been to one in 20 years. I felt like I’d put my two cents in this time. I was a delegate to the 2nd CD convention 20 years ago. I can’t remember if I was eligible to go farther than that, but that’s where I stopped. I wasn’t interested in being a delegate this time, as I know that drill, and I have other goals I’m focused on right now. I was hoping to vote for at least one Cruz supporter at my precinct who could go on to be a delegate to another assembly, who would hopefully vote for Cruz delegates to the national. (None at the precinct level are committed to vote for anybody’s delegates to the national. They just talk about their personal preferences.) I was the only Cruz supporter in my precinct. There were five of us. There were about ten-plus precincts in the caucus. Except for myself, I think there was only one other person in my precinct who had been to a caucus before, and he had participated in the IA caucuses four years ago.

I wasn’t prepared to make a pitch for Cruz, but I did my best on the spot. Everyone except for myself in my precinct was for Rubio and Kasich. They didn’t think Cruz was mainstream enough to win the general election. We were supposed to vote on two or three delegates (I forget how many now) from our precinct. I didn’t vote on delegates, which was fine with me. I showed up, did what I could, which was vote on party resolutions, and left.

The Boulder County Republicans conducted an unofficial straw poll at their caucuses, and Rubio eked out a “win,” with 32% of the vote. Cruz came in just behind at 31%. Trump had something like 23%, and Kasich got something like 14%. That was a surprising result, since Boulder is such a left-leaning county. Since Rubio dropped out of the race after the FL primary, I imagine most of the Rubio support went to Cruz and Kasich, though it’s interesting that Kasich didn’t appear to be a factor at all in the conventions. You’d think with Trump’s charge of Establishment corruption, Kasich would’ve done great here, since he’s their first choice. If they had their way, he’d be the clear leader in delegates by now.

[April 19 Update:  remembered later I left out votes for Carson when I talked about the straw poll. Rather than rely on my unreliable memory, I went back and checked the published results in my local paper ( They were Rubio 33%, Cruz 31%, Trump 19%, Kasich 10%, and Carson 7%.]

The thing about this is that every Coloradan who is registered Republican has an opportunity to be involved in the process. They won’t make it all the way through the process, since it’s designed to winnow down the group that gets to the state convention, but even if you don’t make it all the way (or want to), you have an opportunity to influence the process by dealing with the people who are your neighbors, and are in your region. People like yourself, or them, get the opportunity to be involved at higher levels in the process, even becoming national delegates. It’s not an insider clique that meets by itself, and selects delegates on its own. Another thing about the convention process is it doesn’t exist just to select delegates to the national convention. Candidates for state office and Congress appeal to convention delegates for their votes, so they can either appear on the Republican primary ballot, or be nominated outright by the delegates in attendance to appear on the general election ballot, if there is no primary. The thing is, you have to be interested in the Republican Party, not just their candidates, and you have to at least consult a local party office to participate, so they can tell you how to do it, but that’s all you need. You don’t have to be a mover and shaker, winer and diner, muckety-muck.

—Mark Miller

Dirty Politics

People, in general, don’t follow politics as a rule of thumb. They don’t go to Drudge, don’t typically follow pundits at all. They do note however, when they are supposed to vote, and generally who they are going to vote for. Regardless of “the rules” set out by the RNC, they are not expecting to have their vote not count. So while all of these shenanigans may be legal, the average voter dud not know that they could vote for their delegates, what that meant, or when the vote was taking place. So they are angered that they do not now have a voice and feel it has been stolen from them. Rightly so I might add. I see this as dirty politics. Something the democrats would do. This kind of behavior is why they want Trump in the White House. They’re sick to death with politicians; that’s why Americans from all parties with differing views on many things are all on the Trump Train together. The RNC should take note, because they feel, rightly or wrongly, if Trump loses the nomination because of tactics like these, Trump supporters will follow Trump wherever he goes. But they will not vote Cruz or Kasich. If they must, they will stay home.

—Shane Carroll

Ari Armstrong replies: I think if people join a private organization, such as a political party, they should expect to have to follow the rules of that organization. If you want to change the rules, get involved. Burning the house down isn’t the answer.

A Primary Is More Accessible

Thank you for your explanation on caucus system. I see now that we need to change to a primary voting system where all people up to 100 yrs. old, the disabled and those in military, etc., can vote quickly and securely. Shouldn’t have to convince a “delegate” to support our candidate choice.

—Lorain Kaiser

Process Needs Reform

You explanation of the process is pretty accurate. I have been going to caucus for more than twenty years and have been to several state assemblies. The problem we face as a party is how people are feeling about the way the process is working. Trump’s campaign has brought people to the conversation that have never participated before. They just want to cast their vote and go home. They have no interest in playing the political game. They just want to pick a leader and go on about trying to survive the fallout from Obama’s failed policies. The PERCEPTION is that their vote didn’t count. You can not argue people out of how they feel. We have to respond to how they are feeling and correct the perceived injustice. Asking people to comprehend and participate in our arcane caucus system is not going to win over these folks, and we need them to win the white house and more importantly the SCOTUS. The GOP is getting hammered for not listening to its people; the Democrats have the same problem. The process needs to be refined so that its less like making sausage, and more like carving a steak.


Losing Our Nation to Mob Rule

Your article concerning the Colorado Convention was great. I live in New York and have always taken my responsibility to be an informed voter very seriously. I value our constitution and understand the sacrifice made to protect our freedoms. I believe the caucus is what our founding fathers had in mind so that those who take the time to participate and not just shout like a mob will protect us from tyranny. I fear we are losing our nation to mob rule and people who have no understanding of our constitutional principles.

—Michael Dyckman

Politics Is Too Dirty

Ari, thank you for the very informative article. I am from Iowa, another caucus state, and although some like to criticize the caucus, it does work very well. I am also a Trump supporter and like many others, find myself disappointed that the Trump Campaign was not on top of this. I do agree that delegates chosen in this process should be binding.

I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, and my opinion is that Colorado was not the main issue going on that weekend, but has been used by the media to divert attention from other issues.

Just like Colorado, delegate conventions were being held in many states. As the day progressed, there were several reports of ballot irregularities. Delegate names being misspelled, names omitted, double delegate numbers, etc.

As informed voters, we see that it seems to be a pattern and our hearts actually ache that our country’s core is constantly disrespected and trampled on.

Most of us feel the GOP is dead, but it is because of what they have become. Politics have pretty much always been dirty, many are finally deciding it has gotten too dirty to be able to wash and wear. It is time to throw it out, dirty water and all, and replace with brand new.

—Alice Cronin

Ari Armstrong replies: Any complex process, whether a caucus and convention system or a primary vote, will inevitably have a few errors. This is especially true when volunteer activists play a huge role, as they do in Colorado’s caucuses. I am aware of a few minor errors, but nothing major, and nothing that would have changed the outcome. I believe these were all innocent. Trump’s own campaign made numerous errors in promoting its slate of delegates. I encourage people not to fall into confirmation bias. If you think Republican “leadership” is out to get Trump, you’re bound to see examples that seem to support that belief, and you may be tempted to ignore the many examples that run counter to it.

Show Up to Participate

Great job explaining the Colorado delegate selection process. I live in Illinois but can read the Green Papers and understand Colorado’s rules. From what I heard approximately 65,000 people voted in this caucus system and many Trump supporters complain that the non-binding straw poll was eliminated. Cruz understood the process and his campaign had been working the ground for months ensuring Cruz supporters showed up to the Mar 1 caucuses. Trump didn’t have permanent paid staff in the state until after the Mar 1 caucus.

For those complaining they were disenfranchised because the non-binding straw poll was removed, please see the 2012 results:

Apparently they were disenfranchised then as well (sarcasm).

Bottom line is if you don’t show up to the game, you can’t say you were cheated.

—Travis Brown

Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz’s Remarkable Nod to the Separation of Church and State

What Ted Cruz said about church and state during a March 29 town hall is remarkable—and very welcome to me as a secularist.

A student asked Cruz (see CNN’s transcript; hat tip to Craig Biddle):

[H]ow and why does your religion play a part in your political decision-making? Don’t you think it should be more of a moral belief and not something that can interfere with your decision-making when you’re making decisions for all religions in the United States?

In other words, the student asked about Cruz’s stance on the separation of church and state: Should government impose by force the tenets of sectarian doctrine?

Cruz replied:

Listen, with me, as with many people in America, my faith is an integral part of who I am. I’m a Christian, and I’m not embarrassed to say that. I’m not going to hide that and treat it like it’s something you can’t admit publicly and acknowledge. It’s an important part of who you are.

But I also think those in politics have an obligation not to wear their faith on their sleeve. There have been far too many politicians that run around behaving like they’re holier than thou.

And I’ll tell you, my attitude as a voter when some politician stands up and says, I’m running because God told me . . . to run, my reaction as a voter is, great, when God tells me to vote for you, we’ll be on the same page.

And so, listen, I’m not asking you to vote for me because of my personal faith with Jesus Christ. I’m asking you to vote for me because I’ve spent a lifetime fighting to defend the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, fighting to defend the American free enterprise system, and we need a leader who will stand up every day and protect the rights of everyone, whether they’re Christians or Jews or Muslims or anyone else.

The bill of rights protects all Americans. It protects atheists. That’s the beauty of the bill of rights, is that we have the freedom to seek out God, to worship and to live according to our faith and our conscience, and I think the Constitution and Bill of Rights is a unifying principle that can bring us together across faiths, across races, across ethnicity. And we need to come together behind the unifying principles that built America.

Notably, Cruz specifically mentioned atheists as part of the American fabric whose rights are protected equally by the Bill of Rights. He said that people properly have “the freedom . . . to live according to . . . [their] conscience”—a crucially important idea. And Cruz openly mocked those who claim they have a mandate from God to run for president.

On their own terms, Cruz’s remarks here constitute an endorsement—or at least approach an endorsement—of the separation of church and state as articulated by Thomas Jefferson (among others). They make me, a secularist advocate of free-market capitalism, more comfortable with the possibility of Cruz serving as president. Indeed, as a participant of Colorado’s upcoming Republican convention, I will do what I can to support Cruz over Trump for the nomination, and I will probably vote for Cruz should he win the nomination.

Of course, Cruz’s recent remarks on the issue of church and state do not erase his history of pandering to religious conservatives and even to outright theocrats, nor his history of endorsing faith-based policies in outright contradiction to his recent remarks.

To review briefly: Early in his campaign, Cruz made outreach to evangelical voters the centerpiece of his strategy. Cruz launched his campaign for the presidency at the evangelical Liberty University (which, incidentally, has its own “Center for Creation Studies” that promotes young-earth creationism).

Cruz actively campaigned with Kevin Swanson, who called for the eventual execution of unrepentant homosexuals. Cruz touted the support of Troy Newman of Operation Rescue, who called for the execution of abortion providers. (I detail these facts in “Ted Cruz’s Dangerous Pandering to Theocrats.”) While sharing a stage with Swanson, Cruz said that a nonreligious person is not “fit to be commander-in-chief of this country.” Cruz also actively campaigned with anti-gay bigot Phil Robertson.

In terms of faith-based policy, Cruz endorsed a total ban on abortion—even in cases of rape and incest—and even a ban on certain forms of birth control.

Obviously, although Cruz recently said that people have a right to live according to their conscience, he does not really believe that. If he could, he would impose at least some of the edicts of his religious faith by force of law.

So what are we to make of Cruz’s recent comments that seem to endorse the separation of church and state? Cruz’s shift from focusing his campaign on evangelical voters to explicitly appealing to nonsectarians and even atheists seems to suggest that Cruz’s earlier outreach to evangelicals was at least as much tactical as it was ideological.

What happened to Cruz, put bluntly, is that his strategy of winning with evangelical support blew up in his face. Rather than back him, as Cruz expected, evangelicals flocked to Trump in large numbers. Now that Cruz must play underdog with less evangelical support than he had hoped for, he needs to build up more support among other segments of the Republican Party, particularly those with free-market and “libertarian” views—people who are far more likely to be secularist in outlook.

Unfortunately for Cruz, if he does win the Republican nomination, his previous alliances with theocrats and his faith-based policy positions likely will haunt him and possibly will cost him the election. At some point, more journalists (not to mention PACs) are likely to seriously question Cruz about his alliances with Swanson and Newman, about whether he really wants to outlaw abortion even in cases of rape and incest, about his views on the proper legal status of the copper IUD, about whether he wishes to legally punish women who get abortions or doctors who provide them, and so on.

If Cruz manages to win the Republican nomination as well as the presidency, he will seriously threaten to undermine the right to seek an abortion. Not only will Cruz almost certainly sign any abortion restriction sent to him by (a Republican) Congress, he will almost certainly choose Supreme Court justices comfortable with approving national and state restrictions on abortion. This is especially important given the spread of state restrictions, such as a law passed recently in Indiana that (among other things) forbids women to get an abortion if the fetus has Down syndrome.

Unfortunately for voters, the choice is not between Cruz (if he wins the nomination) and an ideal candidate; it is between Cruz and Hillary Clinton (assuming she also wins). As Craig Biddle points out, Cruz is quite good on a number of issues as judged from a secular capitalist perspective, especially the right to freedom of speech. Clinton, by contrast, has already promised to nominate Supreme Court justices who will allow censorship of paid political speech.

Given the dismal options this election cycle, I can see how a secular capitalist could support Cruz. But it is unwise to get too caught up in Cruz’s rhetoric—especially given how adept Cruz is at telling people what they want to hear—and to downplay or ignore his serious problems in terms of bringing his faith into his politics.

In any case, I’m thrilled to see Cruz’s recent statement supporting (at least to a substantial degree) the separation of church and state. Even though Cruz is far from consistent on the matter, the fact that he has expressed some support for the principle of separation sets a bar by which secularists can measure Cruz if and when he advances faith-based policies.

April 27 Update: Following is my entire “Ted Cruz and Religion” cycle. Please note that my views about Cruz evolved considerably over time. Although I’m still very concerned about Cruz’s positions on abortion (and related matters) and his alliances with theocratic-leaning conservatives, I’ve also come to appreciate more deeply his many virtues, including his partial endorsement of the principle of separation of church and state. I became active in Republican politics toward the end of 2015, and I came to support Cruz over Donald Trump for the nomination.
· Why I Will Vote for Any Democrat over Ted Cruz
· Voting, Political Activism, and Taking a Stand
· Ted Cruz’s Dangerous Pandering to Theocrats
· Yes, Ted Cruz’s Policies Would Outlaw Some Forms of Birth Control
· Ted Cruz Would Ban Abortion Even for Rape Victims
· Ted Cruz Touts Support of Anti-Gay Bigot Phil Robertson
· Republican Religion Undermines Capitalism
· Ted Cruz’s Remarkable Nod to the Separation of Church and State

· Trump, Cruz, and Freedom of Speech
· Reflections on the Presidential Race after Super Tuesday
· Republican Religion Undermines Capitalism
· Ted Cruz Touts Support of Anti-Gay Bigot Phil Robertson
· Reason and Rights Republicans
· The Needed Political Realignment
· Ted Cruz Would Ban Abortion Even for Rape Victims
· Yes, Ted Cruz’s Policies Would Outlaw Some Forms of Birth Control
· Ted Cruz’s Dangerous Pandering to Theocrats

Image: Jamelle Bouie

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Abortion Fear Is Overstated

I think the abortion fear is overstated. Cruz’ first political ideology is to the originalist view of the constitution and the enumerated role of the federal government. This makes abortion a state, not a federal issue. He said as much last night on Megan Kelly’s townhall—that the voters of the states should decide.

Additionally, it sounds a little like Republican derangement syndrome to suggest that a Republican controlled Congress would pass a federal anti-abortion bill. Abortion is a toxic issue. Only the most ardent supporters of the religious right would think it’s worth the political capital, and self preservation keeps the majority of Republicans away from the issue. Possibly we could see a renewed initiative to ban third trimester abortion (as exists in many states) but it’s such a wedge issue that it’s profoundly stupid political move that would likely be spurned by those in congress who are politically astute.

Politics is about appealing to special interests and Cruz’ attempt to appeal to theocrats should be no surprise. But his personal brand is as a defender of the Constitution, and as such it also makes sense that he would market to those of us who believe liberty means the freedom NOT to believe in Christianity. The Constitution and atheism are not mutually exclusive. While I can’t say I like his preacher like style, Cruz is more committed to governing according to the Constitution than any other candidate. I would like to see America give that governing philosophy a chance.

—Tim Anderson

Separation of Church and State in Context

If you haven’t already I recommend you google and read the correspondence between Jefferson and the Elders of the Danbury Baptist Church, which is the first time Jefferson uses that term “Wall of Separation”. It becomes crystal clear that Jefferson imagined that wall not as one which we do today prevents from people from expressing their faith in the public sphere or even being informed by their faith in how they create law, but to protect the Churches from tyrannical government.

The historical context is ridiculously plain. The major nations of Europe all had “state religions” which citizens by default belonged to and supported regardless of their desire. Among the first to settle here were Pilgrims who fled Europe and religious persecution. This ethos was integral in the early nation and for this reason the freedom to practice a religion without infringement was in the very First Amendment. The framers specifically set out to create a nation where there was no official federal state religion at the same time guaranteeing citizens the right to worship (or not) as they saw fit without any interference from government. That is what Jefferson was assuring the Danbury Baptist Elders of. Today I believe the contemporary understanding of the Establishment Clause is a complete inversion of its actual meaning.

Somehow the very plain black letter law of the 1st Amendment has been twisted from no infringement to complete infringement. The First Amendment did not confine religious faith to the closed doors of Churches or temples or to ones conscience. It put no limits it.

Its not there to put Atheists from being offended. Nor does it restrict the Judeo Christian heritage from being an important foundation for the law, it was simply a recognition of the fact Western Civilization is built on this ethos.

Scholars resort to trying to know what was in the mind of the framers when they wrote the First Amendment. The acid test is how did the nation at the time put these beliefs into practice. Expressions of religious faith were literally everywhere in most if not aspects of public and private life, not because everyone was necessarily devout but because to the greatest extent religious and atheist saw the world and the problem of good and evil in the same way, differing only in what animates the universe.

Whatever one believes of the growing gulf between secular and faith society, there is no foundation whatever to believe the Founders meant the secular to always and everywhere triumph at the expense of the religious.

—Dan Scerpella

Ari Armstrong replies: That people have a right to freedom of speech regarding religion is not in question. However, the purpose of the Wall is not only to keep government off the backs of churches; it is to keep churches from overtaking government. Anyway, the concept of the separation of church and state is broader than the text of the First Amendment. The best discussion I know of is by Onkar Ghate.

Cruz Is No Theocrat

Thanks for this balanced consideration, Ari. I believe Cruz’s earlier positioning has been mischaracterized. Essentially, he was talking churchy to churchy people, an important demographic for his strategy to win the nomination. He was not advocating an evangelical legislative agenda, whatever that might be. It’s revealing that the closest you can come to assigning religion to any Cruz proposal is his strong anti-abortion position. Other than that, people mistakenly got the vapors about Cruz the Theocrat, simply because he knew how to talk faith with the faithful.

Well, as we move into the general election, I suspect he will also know how to talk jobs with the unemployed, and financial reform with opponents of cronyism, etc.

—Shawn Mitchell

Abortion Should Be a State Issue

In a recent town hall, Cruz was asked about abortion, and he said that he was opposed to it in a lot of cases, but he went on to say that the way this issue should be resolved is for Americans to try to convince their friends, their communities, and ultimately their states to go along with their view. He said he believed that Roe v. Wade was a bad judicial decision that was not in keeping with constitutional powers, and he would hope that the Supreme Court would overturn it, not to ban abortion federally, but to return the issue to the states where it belongs.

Pre-Roe, that’s how it was. Different states had different rules about when abortion was allowed, and what procedures were allowed. He said that this way, there would be some states that would allow abortions under some circumstances, and others where it would be restricted more, according to what fits with what they believe are acceptable conditions. This is an endorsement of federalism. It’s what I’ve come to believe is a better way to go with the issue.

As we’ve discovered in the years since Roe, it’s a very divisive issue for us as a country. We’re never going to get complete agreement on it. States should be allowed to decide the issue for themselves. Let the pro-life and pro-abortion advocates battle it out there. It should not be a federal issue, not least because the Constitution gives the federal government no authority to enforce rules on it.

—Mark Miller

Ari Armstrong replies: I agree that Roe was a flawed decision; however, I do think that the federal government properly protects rights broadly as authorized by the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment. I believe that women do have a right to seek an abortion and that the federal government should intervene to prevent states from violating this right.


Watkins and Brook Return with Book Challenging Inequality Narrative

Is there something immoral about the fact that such great creators and producers as author J. K. Rowling, business leader Steve Jobs, and football star Peyton Manning earned enormous wealth, or should their achievements and resulting wealth be celebrated?

Many leaders in politics and academia offer, at best, a mixed appraisal of those who earn great wealth, claiming (among other things) that their wealth isn’t really earned, anyway.

Usually when Barack Obama mentions accumulated wealth it is to question its legitimacy. On March 22, Obama gave a speech in Cuba, a nation whose people for decades have been subjected by their Communistic rulers to abject poverty and political oppression, largely in the name of economic equality.

In his remarks, Obama conceded that Cuba’s leadership recognizes some of the “flaws in the American system,” flaws including “economic inequality.” Among the “enormous problems in our society,” Obama said, is “the inequality that concentrates so much wealth at the top of our society.” Unlike Marx and many of his followers, who call for violent revolution to strip (or kill) those with “so much wealth,” Obama said “workers can organize” democratically to achieve greater economic equality.

Obama has made greater economic equality a centerpiece of his presidency, and now Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have made it a centerpiece of their campaigns for the presidency.

Whether we look to political debates or to academic discussions, many people these days take it for granted that inequality of wealth is a bad thing (or at least morally suspect) and that politicians should pass laws to take more wealth from the wealthy or to make it harder for people to earn great wealth in the first place.

Don Watkins and Yaron Brook—the team behind the 2013 book Free Market Revolution—do not take the common inequality narrative for granted. Instead, they challenge the notion that economic inequality in a free society is immoral, tackling the issue in the realms of philosophy, history, economics, and politics. The title of their new book indicates their thesis: Equal Is Unfair: America’s Misguided Fight against Income Inequality.

Those wanting a taste of the authors’ work can read the first chapter of their book, download their ten-page summary of their case, or watch the video trailer for the book:

In their first chapter (“Who Cares about Inequality?”), Watkins and Brook suggest that income inequality is a red herring. What really matters is not how much more income or wealth some people have than others, but “the opportunity to make a better life for ourselves,” regardless of where we start or how high we rise (p. 4).

James Truslow Adams referred to “the American Dream” in a 1931 book, Watkins and Brook tell us; in Adams’s words, this was “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” (p. 5). So the American Dream, properly understood, has nothing to do with achieving results equal to others; rather, it is about each person having the freedom to make the most of his own life.

Central to the authors’ case is that, to the degree that people are free to do so, we produce wealth and trade goods and services by consent; we do not seize a fixed amount of stuff from others. Watkins and Brook summarize the typical stance of inequality critics: “There is only so much wealth to go around, and so inequality amounts to proof that someone has gained at someone else’s expense.” But that view is wrong; “because people are constantly creating more wealth,” the mere existence of income inequality gives us no “reason to suspect that someone has been robbed or exploited or is even worse off” (p. 8).

One of the strengths of the book is its historical account of great producers, whose existence demonstrates that (where freedom exists) wealth truly is earned and either makes others better off or leaves them unharmed. Whether reviewing the rise of Apple Computer under Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak (pp. 87–91), the great shipping enterprise of Cornelius Vanderbilt (pp. 148–149), or the productive work or numerous others, Watkins and Brook make clear that those who produce great wealth deserve their great rewards.

What, then, is all the fuss about income inequality? Critics of income inequality claim that, despite the apparent mutual gains of wealth production, the fact that some people earn much more than others does somehow harm others. How? Supposedly the fact that some people earn vast wealth somehow prevents others from advancing and suppresses general economic progress (pp. 5–6). But, as Watkins and Brook show, such claims are bunk.

Watkins and Brook summarize:

Some economic inequality critics . . . contend that there comes a point at which inequality undermines progress—and, by and large, they believe the United States has reached that point today.

What do they base that conclusion on? There is no theoretical reason why differences in income or wealth should slow human progress. . . . Instead, many inequality critics resort to statistically based empirical evidence that tries to draw correlations between high inequality and low growth and low inequality and high growth. (p. 110)

Watkins and Brook spend considerable effort reviewing and refuting many such empirical claims, showing that the critics of inequality misuse the data, ignore relevant data, or improperly interpret the data. In these sections the book becomes policy-wonkish, but the authors do a good job keeping the discussion lively and engaging for a general audience.

To take just one of many examples of these empirical studies: the authors address “a widely touted report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which suggest[s] that in underdeveloped countries, higher levels of inequality are correlated with lower rates of economic growth.” Based on this study, one leftist referred to the United States as a “banana republic” (p. 110).

The authors reply:

The question is whether inequality lowers growth, and the mere fact that some low-growth economies also have high inequality doesn’t answer that question. After all, these high-inequality, underdeveloped countries are also semi- or full-blown dictatorships, where the rulers use political power to exploit people for their own benefit and the benefit of their cronies. It would be ridiculous to draw conclusions about the merits of an economic inequality that emerges from freedom based on an economic inequality that emerges from theft. (p. 111)

Across the board, Watkins and Brook convincingly answer the inequality critics who invoke statistical studies to try to advance their agenda.

In their fifth chapter (“The War on Opportunity”), Watkins and Brook flesh out their argument that the real problem is not inequality of wealth but political impediments to opportunity. They argue that, although economic mobility remains much stronger in the United States than the critics of inequality typically allege,

opportunity is under attack today, and the culprit isn’t successful people earning huge paychecks. It is the labyrinth of obstacles the government puts in the way of everyone’s success—and virtually all of these obstacles are endorsed by the critics of inequality. (p. 123)

From outlawing jobs below a “minimum wage,” to forcing entrepreneurs to jump through regulatory hoops to start a business, to monopolizing education and driving innovation from the field, to pushing up college costs through subsidies, to taxing away people’s wealth, to punishing producers with arbitrary antitrust laws, to tying up health care in bureaucratic red tape, to imposing a motivation-stifling and dependence-inducing welfare state (to mention some of the main areas discussed), modern American government stifles economic opportunity, Watkins and Brook argue.

Although their treatment of these issues will not persuade hardcore critics of capitalism, their case is sufficiently detailed and strong to at least clarify their concerns and to prompt those open to argument to seriously consider their far-reaching proposals.

In their final chapter prior to the conclusion, (“Understanding the Campaign Against Inequality”), Watkins and Brook delve into the philosophic arguments for forcibly limiting income inequality.

Among other things, they critique the view, developed most forcefully by Thomas Nagel and John Rawls, that a person’s success or failure is fundamentally a matter of luck. Even a person’s “superior character that enables him to make the effort to cultivate his abilities” is a matter of luck, claims Rawls, for it “depends in large part upon fortunate family and social circumstances for which he can claim no credit” (p. 192).

Watkins and Brook respond to such claims:

Something is clearly wrong here. No honest person believes that Woz [Steve Wozniak] didn’t earn the millions he made at Apple by pioneering the first personal computer, but instead just “got lucky” and “won the lottery.” The key error in this argument is that it totally mischaracterizes what it means to earn something. For the egalitarians, the results of our actions don’t merely have to be under our control, but entirely of our own making. (p. 193).

Citing Diana (Brickell) Hsieh’s book, Moral Luck, Watkins and Brook continue, “In reality, responsibility doesn’t require omniscience or omnipotence. It requires only that our actions be voluntary and that we know what we are doing.”

Their remark about the meaning of the relevant concept is particularly apt: “We need the concept of ‘earn,’ not to distinguish people who earn their brains and parents and those who don’t, but to distinguish those who use their abilities and resources to create something from those who don’t” (pp. 193–194).

Ultimately, Watkins and Brook demonstrate, the egalitarian movement is not about defending the poor, achieving fairness, advancing economic progress, or any such positive goal; rather, it is about stoking envy, encouraging the victim mentality, and demeaning and punishing success. They show this from the realm of philosophy, where some theorists enthusiastically say egalitarianism allows us to “exploit [other people] for the common good” (p. 204), to the realm of popular culture, where some people talk about pulling other crabs back into the pot (p. 74), “chopping down the tall poppies” (p. 213), or getting “that bastard” with wealth (p. 210).

Of course, I have highlighted only a few of the many important elements of the book. Overall, Watkins and Brook have written a profoundly important book at just the right moment in history. If many people read and seriously contemplate this book, it can help save the nation from the morally and economically destructive agenda of the egalitarians.

I do think more work needs to be done, whether by this duo or by others, on the academic arguments for egalitarianism. Although Watkins and Brook adequately (if briefly) address Rawls’s arguments about luck, they don’t rebut his claims about the proper conditions for generating social policy (his famous “veil of ignorance”). Nor do they make much headway countering the claims that people with great wealth unduly influence the political system and threaten to undermine representative government. But we shouldn’t obsess about what the book doesn’t do when it does so much so well.

I end on a personal note. My son now is about eight months old. What will the future look like when he is twenty, thirty, sixty? Will his future be his to make of it what he can—or will his achievements be denied to him or taken away from him for the sake of envy masquerading as a moral theory?

I urge you, to help preserve the American Dream, this Land of Opportunity, to buy this book, read it, and share it. The future can be yours to achieve—if you fight for it.

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Trump, Cruz, and Freedom of Speech

trump-stopOn the evening of March 11, Donald Trump had planned to hold a rally at the UIC Pavilion arena, owned by the University of Illinois at Chicago and rented to Trump for the purpose. Instead, Trump and his campaign team cancelled the rally “after chaos and clashes between protesters and attendees overtook the event.”

This episode puts me in the position of disapproving of what Trump says—indeed, I loathe the man and nearly everything he says—while defending his right to speak (a la Voltaire). The silver lining is that, once again, we as Americans have an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of freedom of speech and on its central importance to civic life and to liberty.

Let’s begin with the basics. If someone wishes to hold a rally, he has a moral right to do so—on private property. (By contrast, you don’t have a right to hold a rally in my back yard without my permission.) And he has a right to set the terms of behavior at the rally, on pain of ejection. Trump has a right to hold a rally just as everyone else does—and anyone who employs violence to stop Trump from speaking thereby violates his rights and the rights of everyone coming to hear him.

In this case there are a few complications. First, the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC, as distinguished from the University of Chicago) is a tax-subsidized institution. That means that everyone forced to pay taxes to support the institution is thereby forced to help finance the many instances of speech on that campus—a violation of the taxpayer’s right not to speak and not to support speech with which he disagrees.

However, the fact that government forces people to subsidize the university isn’t Trump’s fault. Given the widespread existence of “public” (i.e., tax-subsidized) property in America—including almost all colleges—we have to have some sensible rules governing the use of that property. We can’t just say, “No one really owns it, so therefore anything goes”; that would be total chaos. And Constitutional provisions delimit the use of tax-financed property. In this case, when the university rents Trump a facility for the evening, Trump has the right to use the facility for lawful purposes during that period.

Another complication is that Trump himself has plausibly been accused of inciting people to violence. He’s told his supporters he’d like to “knock the hell” out of protesters and punch a protester “in the face.” In fact, some of Trump’s supporters have assaulted protesters. (His campaign manager also allegedly roughed up a reporter.)

However, two crimes do not make a right. If Trump incites violence, the proper thing to do is call the police, not engage in more violence. Clearly these protesters’ goal, as they brag, was not to stop Trump from inciting violence; it was to “shut down” Trump’s rally.

A third complication is that rallies are in some sense public events, in that people broadly are invited to attend, and rallies are by their nature raucous. So we don’t expect people to be quiet at a rally as we would expect, say, at a classical piano concert. Unless a rally organizer explicitly and clearly announces beforehand that critical messages or remarks are forbidden, they’re clearly expected. Indeed, Trump thrives on protesters at his rallies; he is codependent on protesters. So there’s nothing wrong merely with protesting Trump at a Trump rally—just as there’s nothing wrong if Trump or his team asks protesters to leave. Protesters cross the line when they seek to substantially disrupt a rally, as they did in Chicago. Sometimes these lines can be blurry, but obviously rushing the stage and the like crosses them.

Cruz on Trump

Ted Cruz clearly placed blame for the cancelled rally with the protesters; he said “the responsibility for that lies with protesters who took violence into their own hands.”

He then went on to say—correctly—that Trump himself fosters a climate inimical to freedom of speech. Cruz said that Trump’s campaign “affirmatively encourages violence,” that it faces “allegations of physical violence against members of the press,” and therefore that it creates “an environment that only encourages this sort of nasty discourse.”

Ignoring the facts that Cruz blamed the protesters and that his remarks about Trump are correct, Ann Coulter called him a traitor. Obviously that’s ridiculous (but this is Ann Coulter we’re talking about). The fact that violent protesters violated the rights of Donald Trump and his supporters does not make Trump immune from criticism.

In fact, Ted Cruz is a great champion of freedom of speech; indeed, in my view, that is his greatest strength as a candidate and as a statesman.

Donald Trump: Enemy of Free Speech

Coulter’s claim about Cruz is especially ridiculous in light of the fact that Donald Trump himself is an enemy of the right to freedom of speech. As I’ve mentioned before, Trump threatened to sue media outlets for criticizing him. He also appeared to praised the Chinese government’s murderous crackdown at Tiananmen Square regarding the protest Trump called a “riot”; he has since softened his rhetoric.

To my mind, Trump’s biggest offense here is to blame the victims of Islamic terrorism for the violence with respect to a “Draw Mohammed” event. To review, last year Pamela Geller helped organize a “Draw Mohammed” event in Garland, Texas; two jihadis died in their assault of the event, thankfully with no other casualties. Bosch Fawstin won the contest with his cartoon showing Mohammed saying, “You can’t draw me!” and the illustrator responding, “That’s why I draw you.”

Far from rushing to defend freedom of speech here, Trump denounced Geller and the cartoonists, saying they were “taunting” the jihadists. As he rushed to blame the victims of the attack, Trump thereby echoed some of the sentiments of those who endorse violent jihad.

By Trump’s “logic,” Trump’s critics are justified in violently shutting down his rallies because he “taunts” them by saying things they find offensive. Obviously Trump’s stance here is dangerous nonsense. Trump fails to defend the right to freedom of speech and in some respects openly attacks it; that some of Trump’s supporters so boldly project Trump’s flaws onto other candidates is stunning.

Freedom of Speech and the First Amendment

The matter of Trump’s rally has led to some interesting discussion regarding the relationship of the right to freedom of speech and the First Amendment.

Constitutional scholar Timothy Sandefur Tweets what I take to be the correct view (edited for clarity): “The First Amendment only bars government censorship. If private citizens shout down a speaker, they’ve committed a tort, not an unconstitutional act.”

Conceptually, the right to freedom of speech is a claim against other people, including the people who constitute government. A person or organization (private or government) violates someone’s freedom of speech by using force to prevent the person from speaking (using his own property or in voluntary association with others). The First Amendment specifically bars  government from violating citizens’ right to freedom of speech. Other forms of violence that shuts down speech are still rights-violating; they just don’t fall under the First Amendment.

Congressman Justin Amash—for whom I have a lot of respect—I think gets the legal point right but not the conceptual point. He rightly holds that a private party who violently disrupts someone’s speech thereby commits a crime but not a First Amendment violation. But I think Amash is wrong to suggest that private parties cannot violate others’ right to freedom of speech.

Private parties cannot censor speech—censorship is a concept specific to government action—but certainly they can violate others’ rights to freedom of speech. So, for example, if Jim threatens to beat Alex for giving a stump speech (where allowed by right), then Jim clearly violates Alex’s right to freedom of speech; this just isn’t a First Amendment issue.

I think Amash and I essentially agree in substance; he just makes a slight error in terminology. But it is an issue we need to clear up. The individual’s right to freedom of speech posits a claim against all other people, in and out of government; the purpose of the Constitutional provision is specifically to check government.

Update: Amash further clarifies: “I think the disagreement stems from my distinguishing between the natural right of ‘speech’ and ‘freedom of speech,'” with the latter pertaining to the citizen’s relation to government. Although I think that’s unnecessarily complicated, I think it’s fine to go either way with the terminology, so long as we clarify our intended meaning explicitly or at least contextually.

Return to Free Speech

Donald Trump has a moral and legal right to speak, even if what he says often is despicable. His critics have a right to speak out against him and to protest him—but not to forcibly shut down his events.

Regardless of our particular views, rationally we must defend freedom of speech to preserve a culture in which we can present our views and appeal to the minds of other people.

Shamefully, many Americans have flocked to candidates who treat the right to freedom of speech with contempt. On the Republican side, Trump threatens to persecute his critics in the media and condemns those taking a stand against violent, speech-silencing jihadists. On the Democratic side, both leading candidates take as a central campaign theme the effort to allow government to substantially censor political speech.

To preserve our liberty, we must do more than support the ability of this or that candidate to speak out; we must support the right to freedom of speech across the board, especially for those with whom we vehemently disagree.

To lower the bar on freedom of speech is to court eventual dictatorship—and those who think that’s hyperbole are dangerously naive.

· Reflections on the Presidential Race after Super Tuesday
· Reason and Rights Republicans

Image: Max Goldberg

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Reflections on the Presidential Race after Super Tuesday

trumpI long thought that Barack Obama would turn out to be the most destructive president in my lifetime (although George W. Bush in many ways set the stage for him). Obama weakened the United States around the world, took half-hearted measures to slow the rise of Islamic terrorism, strengthened Iran’s nuclear ambitions, put health care on the path to total government control, stoked the fires of the politics of envy, and more.

I probably was wrong about Obama being the most destructive.

The rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders indicates that Obama may be just the latest excursion down a long road of destruction. If neither Trump nor Sanders wins the presidency, as I suspect neither will, we may gain a few years of reprieve. We may even earn the chance to set America back on the path toward the realization of individual rights and toward unthrottled economic advance.

But, as I watch my infant son, I fear for his future. When he is my age roughly four decades from now, what will the United States look like? Will it look more like Greece does today, more like Putin’s Russia, more like a Christian theocracy? Or will it look more like the land of liberty promised by the Declaration of Independence? The choices we make now will play a major role in determining the outcome.

Trump: The New Hoover

Start with Trump. Donald Trump is a fascist in roughly the same sense that Bernie Sanders is a socialist. Trump is no more a Mussolini than Sanders is a Stalin. Yet Trump expresses watered-down national socialism just as Sanders expresses watered-down Marxism. As I recently Tweeted, the fact that Louis Farrakhan, Vladamir Putin, and David Duke all have nice things to say about Trump should make a reasonable person nervous about him.

I do get the appeal of Trump at a certain level. In a world of university “safe zones,” adult cry-babies, and robotically delivered political talking points, Trump has an air of brash confidence that says to hell with political correctness.

Yet Trump’s war against political correctness is superficial. He merely wants to trade one sort of political correctness for another. Recently Trump declared, “If I become president, oh do [media outlets such as the New York Times and the Washington Post] have problems. . . . One of the things I’m going to do if I win . . . is I’m going to open up our libel laws, so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles [as judged by Trump], we can sue them and win lots of money.” In other words, Trump calls for a new form of political correctness, backed by the guns of government, that cracks down on criticism of a Trump-controlled federal government. This tactic is no different, in principle, than the Obama administration using the IRS to crack down on conservative groups. (See George Will’s recent column for more about this and other matters.)

The other main argument for Trump is that he is a wealthy and successful businessman. Aside from the facts that Trump has used eminent domain to take people’s property by force and that he has used the bankruptcy laws four times to screw his creditors, Trump’s business background does not qualify him for the presidency.

The last “great businessman” to become a Republican president was Herbert Hoover, and Hoover was one of the most destructive presidents in U.S. history. Yet no one could question Hoover’s business acumen. As Amity Shlaes recounts in The Forgotten Man, “By the time he was twenty-five, Hoover,” a mining engineer, “had brought a failing mine to fabulous profitability”; soon he “had turned around the production and the books of mines in the United States, Australia, and China” (p. 28).

Hoover’s downfall as president is that he thought government could be managed like a business—just as Trump seems to think. Rather than see government as a tool to protect individuals’ rights to pursue their own business, Hoover saw government as a tool to “manage” (i.e., control) business.

One of the most harmful things Hoover did was to fight for the passage of restrictive tariffs on foreign trade—similar to the “trade wars” Trump seems intent to start. In 1930, Shlaes recounts, over one thousand economists urged Hoover to oppose tariffs, pointing out that they would force consumers to pay higher prices and “to subsidize waste and inefficiency in industry” (p. 96). The European director of General Motors wired, “Passage [tariff] bill would spell economic isolation United States and most severe depression ever experienced” (p. 97). Shlaes argues that the stock market crash of 1929 was precipitated, in part, by Hoover’s support for proposed tariff legislation (see p. 95).

Hoover’s economic government “planning” and disastrous economic policies opened the door to the presidency and the big-government “New Deal” policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Hoover’s ideology is of a piece with FDR’s as a form of Marx-inspired economic “progressivism”—just like Trump’s is. However much today’s leftist “progressives” may decry Trump and rail against him, he will, in fact, advance their agenda in at least certain economic matters. And undoubtedly Trump will seek to extend Obama’s legacy of seeking to bypass Congress to get done whatever he wants to get done.

Far from a free-market advocate, Trump is a cronyist who promotes cronyism. This takes nothing away from Trump’s legitimate achievements in the business world; it does, however, indicate that Trump’s business background hardly qualifies him for the presidency. He far more resembles the villains of Atlas Shrugged than the heroes—not that Trump’s supporters care about such trifling things as ideas.

What Now?

Our single-candidate voting system* (as opposed to something like approval voting) seems to have ensured a Trump nomination despite his inability to win majority support among Republican primary voters. The basic problem at this point is that Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are splitting the non-Trump vote.

Consider the Super Tuesday results. Trump won Georgia with 39 percent of the vote (rounded, preliminary results), Vermont with 33 percent, Virginia with 35 percent, Alabama with 43 percent, Massachusetts with 49 percent, Tennessee with 39 percent, and Arkansas with 33 percent. Rubio picked up Minnesota, while Cruz won Texas, Alaska, and Oklahoma.

In a two-way race (or with approval voting), Trump almost certainly would not be the Republican nominee.

If Cruz and Rubio cared more about the future of the country than about their own political ambitions, they would immediately join tickets (and obviously if Carson and Kasich cared about the same they would immediately drop out). But I don’t expect this.

And a brokered convention seems unlikely. As political scientist Harry Wessel told the Internatinal Business Times, a brokered convention is unlikely “after Super Tuesday, [because] more states are winner-take-all,” meaning whoever wins the state—even without a majority of support—gets all the delegates.

So it seems extremely likely to me that Donald Trump will be the next Republican nominee for president.

UPDATE: Todd Zywicki and Sean Davis offer some reasons to think that a brokered convention might be a real possibility. Zywicki points out that some upcoming state contests are “closed” to Republican voters, which may favor Cruz. Davis thinks that if Rubio wins Florida that might help deprive Trump of a majority of delegates. Still, at best a brokered convention seems like a long shot.

In my view, Hillary Clinton is the lesser of evils—but that is debatable. It’s easy to argue that Clinton and Trump, individually, are evil (by the standard of individual rights), but to say who is more evil may be splitting hairs. Both pose substantial and largely different dangers.

I think Clinton will trounce Trump. True, Trump will win some of Clinton’s blue-collar base, but Clinton will win many of those Republican voters who have a shred of self-respect and decency left.

Many Republicans will simply sit home. Meanwhile, the leftist outrage machine will undoubtedly bring out the Democratic vote, not so much to support Clinton, but to beat Trump. (I expect that Obama’s Supreme Court nomination will play into this.)

The outcome, I fear, is that Trump may cost the Republicans not only the presidency but other levels of government. Right now Republicans hold a 54 to 44 seat advantage in the U.S. Senate and a 247 to 188 seat advantage in the U.S. House. I don’t study the ins and outs of election cycles closely enough to know how many of these seats a Trump loss might put at risk. To my mind, the worst-case scenario is a federal government totally controlled by Democrats; Clinton checked by a Republican Congress might not be so bad. (On the other hand, Trump supported by a Republican Congress, if he could achieve it, could be a disaster.)

A Trump loss also could threaten Republican control of various state levels of governments. For example, right now in Colorado, Republicans hold a one-seat lead in the state senate, while Democrats hold the house and the governorship. If enough Colorado Republicans who are irritated with Trump stay home, Democrats easily could pick up the entire state government—which likely would lead to some disastrous policies in the state.

Given the facts about Trump and the likely electoral outcome, it’s hard to see support for Trump as anything other than pure nihilism—hatred of “the establishment” (whatever that means) for hatred’s sake, supplemented with hatred of foreigners seeking to immigrate or conduct global business.

On Strategy

It is no secret that I am very critical of Cruz’s open pandering to theocrats, part of his broader campaign to garner support among evangelicals. (As Yaron Brook pointed out in a series of Tweets, Cruz’s central campaign strategy seems not to have worked, as evangelicals support Trump in large numbers.) I summarize and link to my most important articles on the matter in a recent post.

Back on November 25, I declared that, because of Cruz’s alliances with theocrats, I would vote for any candidate over him in the general election. However, it has been a long few weeks since then, and the context has changed substantially.

At the time, I thought the chances of Cruz or Trump taking the nomination were slim. Now it seems like Trump almost certainly will take it, and if he doesn’t, Cruz will. So do I support Cruz over Trump in the nomination cycle? As Trump backer Sarah Palin might put it, you betcha.

I don’t think Bernie Sanders will be the Democratic nominee, so it looks like it will be Clinton against either Trump or Cruz (or maybe Rubio). The question, then, is what to do in the primary?

I think a strategic case can be made for voting for either of the major-party candidates, for a minor-party candidate (but what’s the point?), or for no one. All of the likely candidates are horrible.

One thing has changed with respect to my own political strategy in the last few weeks: I’ve rejoined the Republican Party. I even went to my Colorado precinct caucus meeting March 1 and became an alternate to the county and state conventions. Because of this change in tactics, I’m not going to employ what I call “punishment voting” into the foreseeable future.

I do think a case can be made that voting for Clinton over Cruz would not only be a punishment vote but a lesser-of-evils vote. But I think there is enough about Cruz to like—despite his deep flaws—that if he is the nominee I will vote either for Cruz for no one.

I think an even stronger case can be made that Clinton is a lesser evil than Trump. I certainly will not vote for Trump. Either I will vote for no one or I will vote for Clinton. (Then, as I recently Tweeted, I will take a long, hot shower.)

I am extremely angry that my fellow Republicans have put me (and many others) in a position where I (we) cannot embrace the Republican candidate and must look at a lesser-of-evils vote or a vote for no one. Trump is treating this election like it is a cosmic joke. America’s defenders of liberty—the ideological heirs of the Founders—deserve far better. And I will do what I can to see that we get better in future years.

* Originally I had “winner-take-all voting system” here, but that’s ambiguous given that some states split delegates. The relevant point here is that voters must choose a single candidate from among a field larger than two, which opens the possibility of the candidate favored by fewer people winning, as seems to be happening with Trump. In other words, many voters probably prefer both Cruz and Rubio to Trump, yet the voting system lets Trump win with minority support.

· The Needed Political Realignment
· Reason and Rights Republicans
· Republican Religion Undermines Capitalism
· Ted Cruz’s Dangerous Pandering to Theocrats

Image: Marc Nozell

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Robert Garmong: Approval Voting

Your idea of approval voting is asking way too much of the American voting public. It might be a nice idea, but it can never be implemented as long as we have the (in my opinion misguided) idea that all and sundry can and should vote.

John Stuart Mill wrote a fascinating exploration of voting policy, called “Considerations on Representative Government.” While I disagree with almost everything he said in that, as well as his other works, it is well worth a careful read. Like your idea of approval voting, none of it would ever actually be enacted—but it is interesting to consider how it would work if it were.

—Robert Garmong

Ari Armstrong: Approval Voting

Robert, I’m not convinced that approval voting cannot be implemented. It’s separable from who “can and should vote.” The main problem is that most people simply haven’t considered it before. I think once they do consider it, it will seem pretty obviously better. Usually, I think most people will recognize, it is better to elect a candidate supported by more people rather than by fewer.

If Trump is nominated, there is already talk of forming a new party. So let’s say there are three major parties in the near future. In this scenario, a candidate with only a third (plus one) of the support of voters could win, even if two-thirds (minus one) of the voters would prefer either of the other two candidates. That seems pretty obviously like a bad outcome.

—Ari Armstrong

Mike Spalding: Approval Voting

Thanks for mentioning Approval Voting. It is a simple system (vote for the ones you like) that would overcome the continuing lesser of two evils problem. The trend seems that the lesser of two evils is more and more evil. I think Approval Voting could break this trend by allowing voters to express approval of candidates who aren’t expected to win.

—Mike Spalding, March 5, 2016

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Republican Religion Undermines Capitalism

Perhaps the most important thing Ted Cruz has done this political season is to solidify in many people’s minds the supposed link between capitalism and religion. This is important—and bad—because, logically, capitalism is based not on religious faith, but on secular reason. By trying to defend free-market capitalism on religious grounds, Cruz and his fellow evangelical Republicans discredit capitalism in the minds of many (otherwise) pro-reason secularists. (Capitalism refers, not to cronyism, but to a political-economic system based on individual rights, including property rights, in which government bans the initiation of force.)

Of all the Republican presidential candidates this year, Cruz is the most pro-capitalist, at least on a number of important issues. Consider a few examples. In opposing ObamaCare, Cruz quoted Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged on the floor of the senate. He opposed ethanol subsidies while campaigning in Iowa, illustrating his opposition to cronyism. He defended the right of free speech of individuals who participate in organizations, including corporations.

Cruz is also perhaps the most overtly religious of the candidates. In announcing his candidacy at the evangelical Liberty University, Cruz said the “promise of America” is that “our rights don’t come from man; they come from God Almighty”—ignoring the possibility that rights derive from facts of human existence. (He is hardly alone in expressing this sentiment; for example, Marco Rubio emphatically proclaims that “our rights come from God.”) Cruz openly allies himself with evangelical Christians who seriously discuss the possibility of government executing homosexuals and abortion providers. He campaigns with one after another evangelical anti-gay bigots. On religious grounds, he would outlaw abortion and even some forms of birth control.

With his combination of views, Cruz strongly associates capitalist economics with religious faith. He is hardly alone in this. Thus, it should not be surprising that, today in America, neither religious conservatives nor secularists often question the alleged connection between religion and capitalism.

Consider an example from the secularist side. Evolutionary biologist and atheist Jerry Coyne, whom I respect for his work in biology, writes, “[I]f I could do two things to make America a less religious society (which would in turn make it more accepting of evolution), it would be to have truly universal healthcare and to drastically reduce income inequality.” In other words, in Coyne’s view, capitalism buttresses America’s religiosity, and dismantling aspects of capitalism would undermine America’s religiosity.

Of course, Coyne’s claims on this point are ridiculous. True, more-secular regions of Europe tend to have more of a welfare state than does the United States, but there’s nothing about secularism per se that supports such politics. On the other hand, highly religious South America often embraces socialism—witness Venezuela. Here in the U.S., both leftists and conservatives routinely embrace the welfare state on religious grounds (although they often disagree over details).

Coyne doesn’t actually offer any argument as to why a less capitalist society would become less religious; he, like religious conservatives, just blithely assumes that capitalism must be related to religion.

In fact, there is no reason to think that capitalism is based on religion. Certainly no such reason can be found in religious texts or moral teachings. For example, the Christian Old Testament sanctions bloody conquest and slavery; the New Testament rails against wealth and promotes collectivist communes. Religious morality centers on altruism: self-sacrifice for the sake of promoting religion and serving others. That is why the Catholic Church, for example, routinely publishes texts condemning capitalism, the system sanctioning the pursuit of rational self-interest.

Capitalism, and the theories of individual rights on which it is based, came about not during eras when religion dominated politics, but when Enlightenment ideals of reason and earthly advance put religion on the defensive. Capitalism is rooted in the pursuit of individual happiness and well-being on earth, not in seeking rewards in a purported afterlife.

Increasingly, Americans see the major political divide, not as between individual rights and statism, but between theocracy and socialism (two forms of statism). (Donald Trump, a pragmatist concerned with “dealing” in power, offers yet another form of statism.) Ted Cruz, although not a theocrat himself (except when it comes to abortion), openly panders to outright theocrats. And Bernie Sanders openly calls himself a socialist, while 57 percent of Democratic primary voters think socialism has had a “positive impact on society”—despite the slaughter of scores of millions of people under socialism. These trends are extraordinarily dangerous—and they open the door not only to theocracy and to socialism but to a blend of the two.

Ayn Rand aptly summarizes the underlying problem:

[Conservatives] claim that mysticism—a belief in God—provides the justification for rights, freedom and capitalism. Nothing could be more disastrous to the cause of capitalism. . . . Tying capitalism to faith means that capitalism cannot be justified in reason. A conservative who claims that his case rests on faith declares that reason is on the side of his enemies—that one can oppose collectivism only on the grounds of mystical faith. To the extent that anyone accepts this argument, he is forced to reject capitalism—if he is a man who wants to be rational. Therefore, these alleged defenders of capitalism are pushing potential sympathizers to the exact opposite side. (Objectively Speaking, p. 16, emphasis removed)

Whenever Cruz, Rubio, and other evangelicals promote capitalism, such promotion is a double-edged sword—and the side cutting against capitalism is the sharper one. By tying capitalism to religious faith, they help break the link in people’s minds between capitalism and reason, despite the logical and historical dependence of capitalism on philosophic ideas promoting reason. Pro-reason capitalists should be duly wary—and worried.

April 27 Update: Following is my entire “Ted Cruz and Religion” cycle. Please note that my views about Cruz evolved considerably over time. Although I’m still very concerned about Cruz’s positions on abortion (and related matters) and his alliances with theocratic-leaning conservatives, I’ve also come to appreciate more deeply his many virtues, including his partial endorsement of the principle of separation of church and state. I became active in Republican politics toward the end of 2015, and I came to support Cruz over Donald Trump for the nomination.
· Why I Will Vote for Any Democrat over Ted Cruz
· Voting, Political Activism, and Taking a Stand
· Ted Cruz’s Dangerous Pandering to Theocrats
· Yes, Ted Cruz’s Policies Would Outlaw Some Forms of Birth Control
· Ted Cruz Would Ban Abortion Even for Rape Victims
· Ted Cruz Touts Support of Anti-Gay Bigot Phil Robertson
· Republican Religion Undermines Capitalism
· Ted Cruz’s Remarkable Nod to the Separation of Church and State


Image: Michael Vadon

How Publishers Can Make Ebooks More Reader Friendly

I am now around twenty-five thousand words into a book project (details to come), and I’ve already given some thought to the book’s packaging. In today’s world, “packaging” includes ebook formatting as well as print design.

My goal is to format my book, both in print and in ebook, so that it is as reader-friendly as possible. Unfortunately, most other publishers fail miserably at that task. Here I offer my ideas for improving today’s books as published in multiple formats.

First, as a point of contrast, I’ll mention a bad experience I had recently with book formatting. I purchased Blackwell’s (extremely expensive) A Companion to Ayn Rand, an excellent book in every way except for its ebook formatting. (I purchased the Kindle edition as the print version is even more outrageously expensive.)

So what’s wrong with the book? It is sloppily formatted, for one thing; a number of the endnote markers do not properly link to the notes. That’s not too big a deal, but you’d think that for an asking price of $43.99 the publisher would go out of its way to provide a clean text.

The book has two more important problems.

First, it provides parenthetical citations in the text along with a list of references. In the print version, running down a complete citation, then, means flipping back and forth from the parenthetical citations to the references section—which is annoying. Things are even worse when using the ebook, as it’s not easy to flip back and forth to the references section. My solution to this—an imperfect solution—was to load the same book on my mobile device as well as on my desktop so that I could look at two sections at once. If an ebook requires the simultaneous use of two different devices to read it, that’s an indication the ebook is badly formatted.

Second, the book does not indicate page numbers. I’m just not going to use Kindle “locations” for a citation; doing so would be ridiculous. There needs to be some standardized way to cite passages from a book—which means (usually) the use of real page numbers. Several years ago I outlined a very simple way for publishers to include real page numbers in ebooks, but, to my knowledge, no publisher (except me) has done this. (This is more relevant to nonfiction books.)

I want to emphasize here that Companion is a very good book as far as its contents go; my complaints here pertain only to the ebook formatting of it.

For my own project, I’ve already written a preliminary draft of a little section on formatting. I might revise this text for my purposes, but I thought the draft might offer some ideas to other publishers struggling to figure out how to produce a book that translates well from the printed page to a free-flowing ebook. Here’s the relevant text:

Page Numbers: In free-flowing ebook versions (as opposed to the print version and the pdf), I have inserted page numbers in the text in subscripted brackets so as to allow for standardized citations. I find it extremely irritating that other publishers do not offer clear page breaks in ebooks. I realize that Kindle does offer a way to roughly track pages relative to the printed version; however, this does not clearly indicate where pages begin and end. (A representative from Amazon confirmed to me that this is the case; see our exchange.)

Citation Style: In all cases I include all of the relevant information (such as the publisher) in a citation. I realize this creates some redundancy; however, I find the alternatives even more annoying. I strongly dislike the practice of using abbreviated citations in the text and then listing all the works cited elsewhere. As a reader, that causes me to look in two different places to figure out how to run down a given reference—something that’s especially hard to do when using an ebook. I also dislike using “ibid” or truncated citations after the first reference; again, that causes me to waste time looking through the notes for what I need.

Citation Placement: In a pdf or on a printed page, I strongly prefer that endnotes appear at the bottom of the page, so that I do not have to continually flip back and forth. (This doesn’t work well for authors who run on in their notes.) However, with ebook versions in which text flows freely, it is not feasible to display the text and the citations simultaneously. My solution to this is to put the citations at the bottom of the page in print and in the pdf and at the back in free-flowing ebook versions. With free-flowing ebooks, then, readers can go back and forth between the text and the notes by using the internal links. In order to keep straight on which printed page an endnote appears, in the free-flowing ebooks I add the relevant page number in brackets next to the endnote. Again, this facilitates standardized citations.

Ebook Formats: This work is available for sale only through Amazon in print and Kindle. However, I recognize that some readers might prefer a pdf or epub version of the text. As a courtesy, when feasible and at my discretion, I will send purchasers of the print or Kindle version the other versions as well. If you would like me to consider emailing you a zipped file containing the various ebook versions, please email me at [omitted]; with your request, include proof of purchase from Amazon and a statement that you will not share the files with any other party without my explicit, written permission.

No Index: I am not including an index with this work, as I doubt indexes usually are useful given modern technology. As noted above, purchasers of the print book may request the ebook files as well, so they can use standard digital search functions to locate particular names and terms. Although I can imagine scenarios in which an index might be more useful than a simple digital search, I didn’t think it would be more useful here. Another reason not to include an index is that indexes do not translate well to free-flowing ebooks.

A Note to Other Publishers: If you read the remarks above, you’ll notice that I actually paid attention to the needs of ebook readers along with the needs of print readers and modified the text accordingly. I sincerely wish that other publishers would make similar efforts rather than waste my time (and other readers’ time) with stupidly formatted texts. Most publishers seem not to have figured out yet that it’s the Twenty-First Century.

Ted Cruz Touts Support of Anti-Gay Bigot Phil Robertson

“Bad company corrupts good character,” the Greeks observed (and the apostle Paul quoted). It also corrupts a political campaign. And Ted Cruz, in his zeal to win the support of evangelical voters, has kept terrible company.

First Cruz actively participated in an event at which the lead pastor openly discussed possible future government executions of homosexuals (among others), after they’ve had time to “repent.” At the same event, another pastor distributed literature advocating the death penalty for homosexuals. Then Cruz touted the endorsement of a man whose book sanctions government execution of abortion providers. (See my previous article, “Ted Cruz’s Dangerous Pandering to Theocrats.”)

By comparison, Phil Robertson is a lightweight bigot and theocrat. Still, it is disturbing that Cruz openly courts Robertson’s support and puts Robertson on stage at his political rallies to endorse him.

Robertson gained infamy in 2013 with his bigoted remarks about homosexuals in an interview with GQ. In describing what he regards as sinful, Robertson said:

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

So, according to Robertson, homosexuals should be lumped in with people who have sex with animals, people who cheat on their spouses, drunks, swindlers, and the like.

He helpfully added,

We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?

So homosexuals are also morally akin to people who commit mass murder, according to Robertson.

Remember, that was in 2013. A sober, responsible candidate for the highest political office in the land might think to himself, “Robertson has proven himself to be a bigot and a loose canon. I don’t think I want to actively associate with him for purposes of my political campaign.”

But Ted Cruz is not a sober, responsible candidate, and apparently he places no boundaries on the company he keeps—if he thinks it will get him votes.

Rather than keep a respectful distance from Robertson, on January 13 Cruz bragged that he had picked up his endorsement. Cruz even released a video of Robertson endorsing him, complete with the two duck hunting together. (Robertson is known for his role on the “reality” television show, Duck Dynasty.) Cruz said, “I am thrilled to have Phil’s support for our campaign. The Robertson’s [sic] are a strong family of great Christian faith and conservative values.”

Robertson’s “great Christian faith” was on full display on January 31, when he spoke at a Cruz rally, backdropped by a Ted Cruz campaign sign. Robertson said:

When a fellow like me looks at the landscape and sees the depravity, the perversion—redefining marriage and telling us that marriage is not between a man and a woman? Come on Iowa! It is nonsense. It is evil. It’s wicked. It’s sinful. They want us to swallow it, you say. We have to run this bunch out of Washington, D.C. We have to rid the earth of them. Get them out of there.

Now, it’s one thing to oppose gay marriage in law or to oppose the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage. But it’s another thing to declare that gay marriage is “depravity,” “perversion,” “evil,” and “wicked”; to declare that Christians should “rid the earth” of those who endorse gay marriage.

Given Robertson’s previous comments, his vile remarks at Cruz’s rally come as no surprise. Cruz knew the sorts of things that Robertson likely would say, and Cruz invited him to say them—because Cruz thought that Robertson saying them would attract a certain type of voter to Cruz’s side.

Of course, I recognize that Cruz himself would never say the sort of things that Robertson says about homosexuals. By leaving it to others to rile up the worst elements of his evangelical base, Cruz apparently hopes to keep his hands clean for the general election.

I also recognize that Cruz has come out strongly against Islamist regimes that execute homosexuals, calling that murder. (It’s not like it’s a hard sell among evangelicals to say that Islamic theocracies are bad.)

Cruz has a point about the the problem of drawing specious moral equivalencies, contrasting Christian bakers with murderous Islamist regimes. To extend his point, an Islamist theocrat who murders homosexuals certainly is orders of magnitude worse than a Christian theocrat who projects the possibility of a Christian government murdering homosexuals, who in turn is worse than a Christian theocrat who seeks to publicly shame homosexuals.

But the fact that the sort of people with whom Cruz chooses to associate politically are not nearly as bad as the worst scum now walking the earth is hardly a point in Cruz’s favor.

Ted Cruz is running for president of the United States, the most powerful political office on the planet. As an ally and a spokesman at his political rally, Cruz chooses Phil Robertson, knowing full well that he will spew anti-gay bigotry. This sort of pandering is the political strategy by which Cruz hopes to become commander of the most awesome military force in human history. I suggest that the opportunity for gay couples to get married is not the real problem here.

April 27 Update: Following is my entire “Ted Cruz and Religion” cycle. Please note that my views about Cruz evolved considerably over time. Although I’m still very concerned about Cruz’s positions on abortion (and related matters) and his alliances with theocratic-leaning conservatives, I’ve also come to appreciate more deeply his many virtues, including his partial endorsement of the principle of separation of church and state. I became active in Republican politics toward the end of 2015, and I came to support Cruz over Donald Trump for the nomination.
· Why I Will Vote for Any Democrat over Ted Cruz
· Voting, Political Activism, and Taking a Stand
· Ted Cruz’s Dangerous Pandering to Theocrats
· Yes, Ted Cruz’s Policies Would Outlaw Some Forms of Birth Control
· Ted Cruz Would Ban Abortion Even for Rape Victims
· Ted Cruz Touts Support of Anti-Gay Bigot Phil Robertson
· Republican Religion Undermines Capitalism
· Ted Cruz’s Remarkable Nod to the Separation of Church and State


Reason and Rights Republicans

Is political activism a total waste of time in today’s context, or is there something that reasonable, liberty-loving, reality-oriented people can do that might actually make a difference in the political realm?

Recently I’ve been made aware of the so-called American Capitalist Party, which, so far as I can tell, is like the Libertarian Party in purpose* except even more hopelessly inept and inconsequential. Minor-party politics in today’s context is a total waste of time. You’d be better off doing practically anything else than squandering resources on minor-party activism.

So what is my alternative? First, let me point out that political activism is not a mandatory activity. It’s far more important to educate people about individual rights and free markets than to engage in partisan politics. That said, I do think it’s possible to accomplish real and significant political goals and to use party politics as an educational tool.

I loathe today’s Republican Party—which is why I’ve recently rejoined it. I am sick and tired of theocratic conservatives and immigrant-hating, anti-market nativists ruining what used to be the party of Lincoln.

A big part of why the GOP has degenerated in recent decades is that many liberty advocates have abandoned it. Some joined the Libertarian Party (as I did), which is worse than useless, and some left politics altogether.

In today’s context, I think there’s really only one feasible political strategy for moving the country in a freer direction: Rejoin the Republican Party and turn it into the party of individual rights and free markets. No, this is not an easy task. But do not offer as an “alternative” a pie-in-the-sky fantasy that cannot possibly work (such as starting a new party without any resources or support by major political figures). There is no silver bullet. There is only hard work and countless hours of advocacy.

The alternative to my approach is to do nothing—or worse, to do nothing while pretending to do something. We are past the point in this country when self-delusion is an excusable political stance. We need to get serious, and we need to get serious now.

What I now call myself, having recently rejoined the Republican Party, is a “Reason and Rights Republican.” I think that name aptly captures the essentials of my political position. I hope you will join me. We’ve got work to do.

My article from December on “The Needed Political Realignment” has more of my thoughts on these matters. (Note: I originally wrote this post for Facebook.

* I’m aware that the Capitalist Party has a different ideological stance than the Libertarian Party, but the purpose is the same in terms of its basic political strategy of trying to create an alternative to the GOP.

Gary Kleck and John Lott Offer Closing Thoughts in Dispute over Gun Research

Recently I conducted interviews with two prominent researchers, criminologist Gary Kleck and economist John Lott, each of whose work routinely is cited by people who advocate the right of civilians to own guns for self-defense.

Both scholars discuss a wide range of topics related to gun ownership and crime, and I found both interviews to be enormously insightful.

In part, the interviews evolved into a debate between Kleck and Lott regarding Lott’s work on the concealed carry of handguns. In brief, Lott argues that state laws liberalizing concealed carry increased that practice and decreased violent crime. The logic behind this claim is straightforward: When would-be criminals fear that their potential victims might be armed, they commit fewer crimes. But Kleck is not convinced that the laws resulted in more concealed carry or in less crime. Lott and Kleck also disagree about a number of other issues.

I did not initially envision these interviews as a debate, so I did not plan for how to wind the debate down. I asked Kleck for an interview as a follow-up to an article I wrote in reply to some of Michael Shermer’s claims in which I cite some of Kleck’s work, and my query about Lott’s work was only one question out of eleven. But then, having asked Kleck about Lott’s work, I figured I owed it to Lott to see if he wanted to reply. While I was at it, I asked Lott to comment on a number of other issues as well.

Wanting to bring the conversation to a close, I asked Kleck for his final remarks. Because those remarks are somewhat detailed, I asked Lott to issue his final reply. Both sets of remarks are presented below.

Readers should bear in mind two points: First, the two scholars agree on much more than may be immediately obvious by reading their remarks here, I think; and, second, the claims presented last should not be presumed to be true or beyond rebuttal elsewhere.

The discussion has shed light on a wide variety of issues surrounding guns and crime, it has helped frame the terms of the debate insofar as Kleck and Lott disagree, and it has offered many leads for those who wish to further explore possible effects of gun laws and gun possession on crime. I deeply appreciate the time that Kleck and Lott have given to help make their views and research more accessible to the general reader. —Ari Armstrong

Gary Kleck

John Lott can’t refute the evidence that right-to-carry laws did not increase either gun ownership or frequency of carrying, so he instead invents a distorted straw man version of my arguments.

He presents a fantasy version of the supposed contrast between sociologists or criminologists and economists, claiming that the former do not think criminals respond to increasing the costs of crimes, whereas economists wisely do.

In fact, criminologists subscribe to a more sophisticated version of Lott’s simple idea: They believe that criminals respond to their perceptions of the costs of crime, including the risks of legal punishment and the risks of confronting armed victims.

The idea that I deny the possibility of criminals being deterred from crime due to the fear of victims having guns is especially absurd in light of the fact that I introduced this possibility to the scholarly world in a series of articles in the 1980s, most prominently in Social Problems in 1988 (volume 35, number 1)—long before Lott had published a word on the topic. He has merely followed a well-grooved path laid down by me.

Lott’s version of economic theory is one that has been dead for decades, superceded by behavioral economics. This version of economics states that increases in the cost of a behavior, such as criminal behavior, does not have a simple easily predicted effect on that behavior, and that it is perceived costs that affect behavior, not necessarily actual costs.

One of Lott’s many errors is to blindly assume that higher actual costs of crime invariably result in higher perceived costs of crime—something we know is not true (Kleck et al., Criminology (2005) vol. 43, no. 3). Lott has never presented a single scrap of evidence that criminals’ perceived risks of confronting armed victims increased after right-to-carry laws were enacted—he simply assumed that it had happened.

In his efforts to distort my positions, Lott goes so far as to state a blatant falsehood: “Gary claims that while the number of concealed handgun permits has soared from 4.6 to 13 million over the period from 2007 to 2015, no more people are legally carrying guns than they did previously.”

This is pure invention—I never said or even implied any such thing. The number of people legally carrying obviously did increase, but that is irrelevant to how much risk criminals faced from armed victims. A victim with a gun and a carry permit is no more of a threat to a criminal that a victim with a gun and no permit. The number of prospective victims with permits simply has no bearing on the issue of deterrence; it is the number of prospective victims who carry guns, with or without permits, that could affect criminals.

Again, Lott’s error was in simplistically assuming that if more carry permits were issued, the total number of prospective crime victims who were carrying guns must have likewise increased. Lott has never presented a scrap of empirical evidence that the total frequency of gun carrying (with or without permits) among prospective crime victims increased after right-to-carry laws were enacted. Instead, he merely assumed that total carrying frequency (with or without permits) must have increased. Survey evidence on carry permit holders, however, indicates that they did not, on net, increase their frequency of carrying after getting permits. The carry permits merely legitimated the carrying they were already doing before getting permits. Lott ignores the empirical evidence and substitutes his preferred assumption about carry permit holders: “I have to believe that when they can’t legally carry they don’t carry.” The key word is “believe.” I prefer hard empirical evidence to beliefs and assumptions.

Lott tells another especially bizarre whopper about me: “Gary feels very strongly that gun ownership doesn’t make people safer.” This one is especially weird because I am usually attacked by pro-control people for my research showing the defensive gun use is both frequent and effective; i.e., having a gun does make crime victims safer (see the aforementioned Social Problems article; Kleck and DeLone1993, Journal of Quantitative Criminology vol. 9, no. 1; and Kleck and Tark 2004, Criminology vol. 42 no. 4). In contrast, Lott himself has contributed nothing to the empirical literature on whether defensive gun by crime victims affects their risk of injury. (Research on the impact of right-to-carry laws has no bearing on this topic.)

The rest of Lott’s comments are filled with misinformation that betrays an extraordinary ignorance of the research literature. He claims that “countries with the lowest gun ownership rates do tend to have higher homicide rates.” There is no empirical evidence whatsoever to support this claim, and Lott does not cite any. He tries to head off critics who would cite cross-sectional evidence that indicates he is wrong by assuming it is likely to be “misleading,” but withholds from readers the facts that (1) this is the only kind of evidence we have on the relationship between national gun ownership rates and national homicide rates, and (2) all of the evidence indicates either that national gun ownership rates have no net effect on national homicide rates (the position I endorse) or that they increase homicide rates (only poor quality studies support this position). None of the studies that actually measure gun ownership levels support Lott’s claims. His views are supported only by anecdotes about supposed increases in national gun levels that were assumed rather than empirically documented.

Finally, Lott claims that “the vast majority of” studies of the impact of right-to-carry laws indicate that they reduce crime. Unlike Lott, I do not believe that truth is determined by majority vote. It is not the most popular conclusion that is most likely to be correct; it is the one supported by the methodologically strongest research, no matter how numerous or rare the technically stronger studies may be. Lott’s primary research, and that of others who drew the same conclusions, relied on county crime data that were essentially worthless for tracking crime trends before and after right-to-carry laws were passed, because they did not correct for widespread failures of law enforcement agencies to report their crime data to the Uniform Crime Reporting program. The technically soundest studies that were not afflicted by this problem have found that right-to-carry laws have no net effect one way or the other on crime rates.

John Lott

Material from Gary Kleck is provided in block quotes.

John Lott can’t refute the evidence that right-to-carry laws did not increase either gun ownership or frequency of carrying, so he instead invents a distorted straw man version of my arguments. . . .

This is pure invention—I never said or even implied any such thing. The number of people legally carrying obviously did increase, but that is irrelevant to how much risk criminals faced from armed victims. A victim with a gun and a carry permit is no more of a threat to a criminal that a victim with a gun and no permit. The number of prospective victims with permits simply has no bearing on the issue of deterrence; it is the number of prospective victims who carry guns, with or without permits, that could affect criminals. . . .

Survey evidence on carry permit holders, however, indicates that they did not, on net, increase their frequency of carrying after getting permits. The carry permits merely legitimated the carrying they were already doing before getting permits. . . .

Relying on survey data always has its risks. There are good reasons to believe that surveys on general gun ownership by law-abiding citizens have problems. But the problem is particularly true if one is asking people to reveal information about unlawful activity, in this case carrying a gun without a concealed handgun permit.

Hard data doesn’t just consist of the soaring number of concealed handgun permits and that these permits holders are extremely law-abiding, indicating that they were unlikely to be carrying when they didn’t have a permit.

Take the number of firearms found in carry-on bags at airport checkpoints. At an annual rate, this year the US is on track to have 2,624 firearms found in carry-on bags at airport checkpoints, an 18.6 percent increase over the previous year. This is fairly close to the 15 percent increase in the number of concealed handgun permits, and that this doesn’t count that there are three more states that no longer require permits to carry concealed in their states.

From 2007 to 2015, the number of firearms in carry-on bags increased from 803 to about 2,624—a 227 percent increase. Meanwhile the number of concealed handgun permits increased from 4.6 to 12.8 million over that same time period—a 180% increase. But this increase ignores the fact that the number of states where you can carry a permitted concealed handgun any place in the state rose from three to eight. Again the change in firearms found in carry-on bags is very similar to the increase in concealed handgun permits.

In addition, while Gary doesn’t seem to believe that the changes in the percent of adults who are legally carrying deters criminals, there is considerable evidence that criminal behavior changes, with violent crime rates falling as the percentage of people with permits increases.

Finally, with the huge percentage increase in concealed handgun permits, it is hard to understand why all or even most of those individuals were previously carrying illegally. Concealed carry permit licenses clearly increased when Obama became president and when there are terrorist and mass public shooting attacks. But the question is why does Gary believe that people stop carrying illegally and get a permit just because Obama became president or there has been an attack.

Lott tells another especially bizarre whopper about me: “Gary feels very strongly that gun ownership doesn’t make people safer.” This one is especially weird because I am usually attacked by pro-control people for my research showing the defensive gun use is both frequent and effective. . . .

Take this quote from Gary’s initial interview with Ari: “across areas, there is no effect of gun ownership rates on crime rates, including homicide rates.” And in his last posting he makes the claim: “national gun ownership rates have no net effect on national homicide rates (the position I [Kleck] endorse).” But Gary has been making this claim even more broadly for some time.

Similarly, this past summer, Gary told Mother Jones magazine: “Do I know of anybody who specifically believe with more guns there are less crimes and they’re a credible criminologist? No.” Gary is saying clearly the debate isn’t just about whether guns are increasing. He is claiming that even if gun ownership is increasing, there won’t be reduced crime.

Everyone knows of Gary’s work on guns being used defensively, but there is a contradiction here. While Gary points to guns being used defensively and those defensive uses exceed the number of times guns are used in the commission of crime, he repeatedly says that increased gun ownership doesn’t reduce crime.

I don’t understand why Gary claims that more gun ownership doesn’t mean less crime, and I have asked him about this in multiple conversations, but whenever I have asked him to explain how these different claims could be reconciled he has declined to do so.

One of Lott’s many errors is to blindly assume that higher actual costs of crime invariably result in higher perceived costs of crime—something we know is not true. . . .. Lott has never presented a single scrap of evidence that criminals’ perceived risks of confronting armed victims increased after right-to-carry laws were enacted—he simply assumed that it had happened.

There is a large economics literature showing that higher arrest and conviction rates as well as punishment, such as the death penalty, deter criminals (a survey is provided in Chapter 4 in my book Freedomnomics).

As to evidence that armed victims deter criminals, there is a wide variety of evidence:

  • States that issue the most permits have the biggest drops in violent crime and as the percentage of the adult population with permits increases you see further drops in violent crime.
  • Concealed carry permits have different effects on different types of crime. For example, violent crimes fall relative to property crimes for the simple reason that violent crimes involve direct contact between the victim and the criminal where the presence of a concealed handgun might make a difference. Or mass public shootings fall relative to murder rates because the greater the probability that someone can defend themselves, the greater the drop in crime. When you are talking about a shooting in a public place where there a large number of adults, the probability that at least one adult out of many will be able to defend themselves is much greater than when you are dealing with a criminal attacking a lone victim.
  • If you look at adjacent counties on opposite sides of a state border, the county in the state adopting a right-to-carry law sees a drop in violent crime at the same time that the adjacent county across the state border in a state without a right-to-carry law sees and increase in violent crime. The increase in the neighboring county is about 20 percent of the size of the drop in the country with the law.

If Gary is correct that passage of right-to-carry laws have no impact on the number of people who carry, how can he explain all these different changes in crime rates? Why would crime rates change in these adjacent counties so differently? Why would violent crimes go down relative to property crimes? Or mass public shootings go down relative to other types of murders?

[Lott] claims that “countries with the lowest gun ownership rates do tend to have higher homicide rates.” There is no empirical evidence whatsoever to support this claim, and Lott does not cite any.

Well, if Gary wants some evidence on that score, he can look at some evidence available here.

[Lott] tries to head off critics who would cite cross-sectional evidence that indicates he is wrong by assuming it is likely to be “misleading,” but withholds from readers the facts that (1) this is the only kind of evidence we have on the relationship between national gun ownership rates and national homicide rates, and (2) all of the evidence indicates either that national gun ownership rates have no net effect on national homicide rates (the position I endorse) or that they increase homicide rates (only poor quality studies support this position).

Cross-sectional evidence is not particularly useful in accurately determining relationships, simply because purely cross-sectional doesn’t allow one to account for all the differences in crime rates across places. A detailed discussion is available here.

Take a simple example, many point out that compared to the US the UK has relatively low murder rates and very restrictive gun control. They then attribute the lower homicide rate in the UK due to its gun control regulations. But the problem is that the UK’s homicide rates went up by 50 percent for eight years after the handgun ban was imposed in January 1997, and it only stopped going up and started going down after a large 18 percent increase in police.

That said, despite Gary’s claim, cross-sectional data isn’t the only data that we have “on the relationship between national gun ownership rates and national homicide rates.” One very simple example is that every single place in the world that has banned guns has seen an increase in murder rates. It isn’t just places such as Washington, DC and Chicago that banned handguns and saw increases in murder rates. Gun control advocates claim that bans can’t work in those cities because criminals can still get guns in neighboring areas or states. While this explanation might explain why crime rates don’t fall as much as gun controllers predicted, this can’t explain why the murder rates soared. In addition, even when island nations have adopted gun bans, you see large increases in murder rates.

Thus Gary is incorrect on all these counts.


The Needed Political Realignment

My son is now five months old. I worry about the country he will grow up in, considering the deep problems of modern American politics. What we need—and what I intend to do my part to help achieve—is a political realignment that will move back to the political forefront the deepest American values of liberty and prosperity.

The main political problem today is that the Democratic Party increasingly is driven by the deeply statist ideologies of egalitarianism and environmentalism, while the Republican Party increasingly is driven by the equally statist ideologies of theocratic religion and nativism. Political room is diminishing for those of us—I think the majority of Americans—who advocate a broadly rights-respecting government that promotes a free-market economy, national security against foreign threats, the separation of church and state, and individual liberties as articulated most prominently by the Bill of Rights.

Start with the Democrats. Remember the days of free trader, welfare reformer, “the era of big government is over” Bill Clinton? He has been replaced by Hillary Clinton, whose litmus test for Supreme Court nominees is that they agree to weaken the First Amendment’s protection of political speech; who suggests the federal government consider confiscating guns from peaceable Americans; who panders to the worst eat-the-rich elements of her party; and who wishes to use “climate change” as a pretext to establish massive command-and-control bureaucracies to micromanage industry and siphon wealth to eco-cronies. It is not without reason that liberty advocate (and lifelong Democrat) Dave Kopel calls Clinton (along with Donald Trump) a proto-fascist.

Continue with the Republicans. No sensible person could claim that Donald Trump promotes free markets or civil liberties without erupting in sardonic laughter. He and Ted Cruz, currently leading the Republican field in the presidential race, draw much of their support from nativist xenophobic protectionists. Even the relatively market-friendly Cruz sounds like a market-hating union thug when it comes to immigration. Then there is the religion, with Republicans debating whether to criminalize all abortion or to permit an exception for women who are raped. Although Cruz is the worst of the bunch when it comes to pandering to theocrats, on the plus side he does sometimes support free markets, and he does outline a foreign policy alternative to the destructive “nation-building” neoconservatism of George W. Bush as well as to the “blame America first” inclinations of Rand Paul.

One notable feature of the political scene is that candidates largely seek to define themselves as alternatives to their opponents. When recently I criticized Cruz’s open alliance with theocrats, the most common response I got was, “But surely you couldn’t support Hillary!” To a large degree, Democrats run against the the faith-based statism of Republicans, while Republicans run against the egalitarian statism of Democrats.

Before we consider what is to be done (at the level of practical politics), we need to reflect a bit on the coalitions of interest groups that currently drive the two major parties. The Republicans have the nativists, the evangelicals, the more-rural gun owners, the security-firsters, and (at times) the capitalists and libertarians. The Democrats have the egalitarians and multiculturalists, the environmentalists (so called), the unionists, the central planners and “nudger” busy-bodies, the secularists, the cosmopolites (who are more open to immigration), and the urbanites (who tend to be anti-gun). Both parties are overrun with protectionists and cronies.

Neither party offers a welcoming home to a pro-capitalist, gay marriage promoting, gun toting, immigrant friendly, defense conscious atheist such as me.

The coalitions that comprise the two major parties are marriages of convenience and historical accident, not of love. If I could reassemble the factions as on a chess board, I would create a freedom party and a statist party, and assign each faction its appropriate slot. But obviously that is not possible.

What, then, can we do? To my mind, the best way forward is to expunge from the Republican Party (or at least to marginalize within it) the nativists and theocracy-leaning evangelicals. That would make a lot more room within the party for secularists, champions of church-state separation, gays and immigrants and their supporters, women who don’t think they should be charged with murder for getting an early-term abortion, and liberty-minded urbanites.

To help pursue this goal, I am registering Republican at my earliest convenience. I was Republican long ago, then (foolishly) Libertarian, then unaffiliated. Part of my reason for registering unaffiliated is that I did not want to get drawn into time-sucking party activism. But at this point I see no other feasible way forward, other than to work within the Republican Party (here addressing only the level of on-the-ground politics, not other sorts of activism).

I urge capitalists, libertarians, Objectivists, and liberty-minded secularists to also register as Republican voters and to participate, at least to some extent, in the Republican primary system. It is time to right the Republican ship, to save it from the rocky shores toward which it is careening dangerously.

Very briefly, here is the main constellation of positions I’d like to see the Republican Party come to take:

Free Markets: Producers should be praised, not demonized and looted. At least presumptively, consumer choice and reasonable torts, not bureaucratic regulations, should hold businesses accountable. Government spending should be tightly constrained. Business subsidies and rent-seeking regulations should be eliminated. Taxes generally should be low, and corporate taxes should be reduced at least to make them globally competitive. Presumptively, the welfare state should be simplified and at least reduced, although (within the bounds of the party) we can debate its proper size and scope.

Free Speech: Freedom of speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment is a bedrock principle of our free society. If a person or group wants to finance and create a film or other work about Hillary Clinton or anyone else during a political season, such is that person or group’s right. Government’s proper role in this field is to consistently protect the right to freedom of speech–especially when some find that speech offensive. If you don’t consistently defend the right to freedom of speech, you don’t belong in this party.

Self-Defense: The Founders included the Second Amendment for a reason, and it wasn’t just for duck hunting or for arming a standing military. In general, government should take action against those who, through their actions or explicit threats, pose an objective danger to others; government should not punish peaceable Americans for the crimes of others. We can debate with our new skeptical friends what are the outer limits of the right to keep and bear arms, but we’re not going to entertain (within the confines of the party) nonsensical proposals such as gun confiscation or sales bans based on cosmetic features.

National Defense: The twin errors are “nation building” without a clear and direct advantage to Americans, and failing to take decisive action against those who attack or threaten to attack America and Americans. We want a strong military, narrowly focused on the task of defending Americans from objective threats. Within that general framework, of course there is much room for reasonable discussion and disagreement.

Religion: We welcome people of all religions. We oppose efforts to use government force to institute the sectarian beliefs of any particular religion.

Gay Rights: Gay people have a civil right to get married. Get over it. Government must not discriminate against people on the basis of sexual orientation. However, private business owners also have rights, including the freedom of contract and association.

Abortion: The notion that a just-fertilized zygote is the moral and properly the legal equivalent of a born infant is faith-based fantasy. We can, within the party, argue about certain possible restrictions on abortions in the later stages. But the ideas that abortion should be treated as murder from the moment of conception, that birth control methods should be banned if they might prevent a zygote from implanting in the uterus, and similar absurdities have no place in a modern political party.

Immigration: Yes to peaceable immigrants, yes to free markets, yes to freedom of association; no to demonstrably dangerous immigrants; no to automatically giving immigrants the ability to vote. At least presumptively, Americans should be able to invite onto their property and into their businesses people of their choosing. Our goal is to normalize the lives of peaceable people currently in the country illegally, not to send out squads of armed men to round up those people and forcibly remove them. We should loosen immigration restrictions, not tighten them, at least by expanding worker visas. Our country was built by immigrants, and every one of us is an immigrant or the progeny of immigrants.

Climate: We all agree that carbon dioxide emissions affect the climate; the important questions are, what will be the long-term consequences, and what should government do about them? Government should protect the rights of producers to develop energy, including nuclear energy. Government should not arbitrarily regulate energy producers, nor confiscate people’s wealth to subsidize cronies at home or corrupt governments abroad. We can debate whether government should take other legal actions as consistent with a rights-respecting society.

The Republican Party I envision will rightly and proudly bear the mantles of reason, of science, of progress, of prosperity, of common sense, of decency, of optimism, above all of individual rights.

Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican politician of consequence. I think it is no stretch to say that Lincoln would be ashamed of what his party has become. I say it is once again time to make the Republican Party the proud party of rights and of reason.

Paris Agreement Is Worst Way for Government to Approach Climate Change

Governments can approach the potential harms of climate change caused by carbon dioxide emissions in three general ways. It can take no direct action but unshackle energy producers and private organizations to take whatever actions they deem appropriate; it can treat carbon emissions as a type of property right; or it can engage in Soviet-style micromanaging of the economy, complete with national and international subsidies and industrial planning.

The command-and-control approach is the worst possible one. So of course that’s the one governments currently are pursuing in Paris. To the extent the United States pursues the agreement, we can expect the federal government to subsidize hopelessly infeasible forms of energy; to confiscate wealth from U.S. citizens to subsidize corrupt foreign governments; and to throttle producers and consumers of fossil fuels through bureaucratically imposed regulations. The result is that government will slow economic growth relative to what it could and should be, and we will be poorer for it.

There’s a lot to be said for the “do nothing” approach—which really means that government should get out of the way and let innovators innovate. Simple economics dictates that people will stop burning fossil fuels when they can get cheaper electricity from other sources. Except in special circumstances (such as where a large river can be dammed), the only feasible way to get inexpensive, large-scale energy is via nuclear power, as far as I see. Arguably, but for government throttling the development of nuclear power, we’d already live in a mostly emissions-free world.

Of course, in a free society, private organizations also are free to fund research of their choosing; to engage in public education campaigns; to buy up mineral rights for conservation purposes; and so on.

Although I cannot at present offer anything other than a tentative sketch of the proposal, I’m also interested in the possibility of treating carbon emissions as a type of property right. (Please note that my views in this area are tentative and subject to change.)

Obviously we already deal with other types of pollution via property rights. For example, I can emit a certain amount of odors and toxins from my property (such as a certain amount of smoke from fires), but beyond a certain amount my emissions interfere with my neighbors’ use of their property. We handle many kinds of pollutants, ranging from toxins to noise to light, via property rights. I see no reason, in principle, why this could not be extended to carbon emissions.

Of course, it is an open question whether increased emissions actually will cause substantial harm, relative to the clear and immediate harm of throttling energy production. Matt Ridley argues that slightly warmer average temperatures might even be beneficial on net. In his book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, Alex Epstein argues that the effects of carbon emissions are “decelerating” and “logarithmic,” meaning that the more carbon dioxide we emit, the less additional impact each unit of emissions has.

But, for a moment, let’s assume that the mildly alarmist view of climate change is correct, and that if we more than roughly double our total cumulative carbon dioxide emissions, we’ll get ourselves into some serious trouble. As Ronald Bailey explains, the typical thinking along these lines is that “humanity has already used up 515 billion tons of its carbon budget, which means that there’s only 485 billion tons left.” (Bailey further explains that to “get carbon dioxide equivalents, multiply by 3.67.”)

If it could be objectively proven that total emissions of (let’s round) 500 billion tons of additional carbon is the most we could safely handle (and that’s a big “if”), then one obvious approach would be to recognize property rights in that amount of emissions, if the legalities of such could be worked out (another big “if”).

It’s unclear to me how governments should pursue a property rights regimen in this area, or if it can even be done. But one hypothetical possibility would be to simply give each living person one equal share of the emissions. The problems of enforcing such a thing globally are enormous, but the matter potentially could be handled through treaty. If such a thing were possible, obviously the result would be the immediate creation of a market by which energy producers bought up rights to emit. In practice, producers in the U.S. and in other wealthier regions would pay out individuals (not governments) in poorer regions, resulting in higher fuel costs at home.

Notice that one result of a property rights system in carbon emissions would be that some people would think seriously about how to “farm” emissions. For example, if I could remove a billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere, I could sell the right to emit that much to a producer of fossil fuels. I haven’t looked into the science of this, but my guess is that it would be a lot better to use solar energy to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere so that we can burn more cheap coal.

Notice also how a property rights system would result in market innovation that government regulators otherwise would squash. For example, the current government strategy is simply to outlaw coal. But, in a property rights system, it might make sense to burn coal in a cleaner plant.

The broader point is, government planners cannot possibly know the best ways to generate energy and control carbon emissions, and they’re extremely likely to direct funds and regulatory controls to favor the politically powerful.

Here’s another wrinkle that could be built into a property rights plan, to handle the uncertainty of future problems. Let’s consider one possible scenario. We could say that we’re going to burn through another 200 billion tons of carbon without limits, then check to see what the results are. If the results are milder than expected, then we could ditch or revise the property rights rules as needed. On the other hand, if the first 200 billion additional tons of carbon strongly indicated that 500 billion total tons is indeed the responsible limit, then we could implement property rights for the additional 300 billion tons.

Again, what I’m offering here is merely a sketch. I don’t know if property rights in carbon emissions can be sustained in legal theory or as a practical matter of international politics. But what is clear is that the command-and-control approach will be disastrous. Certainly government should unshackle energy producers and other innovators. That alone may resolve the problem. Beyond that, a property rights approach is the only other potential strategy that governments should pursue—if it can be established that such can be practically established within the boundaries of justice.

Hickenlooper, Concealed Carry, and the Planned Parenthood Murders

Colorado’s governor John Hickenlooper chose the immediate aftermath of the Planned Parenthood murders to insult and demean peaceable gun owners in the area. Today the Colorado Springs Gazette and the Greeley Tribune carried an op-ed by Dave Kopel and me titled, “Hickenlooper’s shots at law-abiding gun owners don’t help.” From the op-ed:

Hickenlooper told CNN: “In Colorado Springs, it’s one of the more conservative parts of the state, we probably have more people that have licenses for concealed weapons, probably more guns around. That didn’t help.”

Hickenlooper’s gratuitous insults are baseless. The only person with a concealed carry permit who had anything to do with Planned Parenthood was the clinic’s armed security guard. Apparently deterred by the armed defender, the criminal did not attack the clinic until after the guard had left for the day.

The op-ed goes on to discuss the heroism of Jeanne Assam, who previously used her concealed handgun in Colorado Springs to successfully defend a church full of people from a mass murderer.

The op-ed continues:

The mass shootings you’ve never heard about are the ones that were stopped by lawfully armed citizens, so the number of fatalities did not become “mass.” Recent ones include Logan Square, Chicago (2015, Uber driver), a West Philadelphia barbershop (2015, passer-by intervened), and Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital in Darby, Pa. (2014, armed doctor). [Read the entire piece.]

Here I want to mention some additional notes about the case and the op-ed, in no particular order.

Although my name appears first and I wrote some initial text, Kopel took the piece over and contributed most of the interesting material.

It is not entirely clear whether the guard on duty at the Planned Parenthood office prior to the attack was armed that day, nor whether the perpetrator intentionally waited until the guard left to attack. Here’s what KKTV reports:

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains President and CEO Vicki Cowart told 11 News over the weekend that safety measures are already in place. . . .

Cowart said the Planned Parenthood clinic off Centennial Boulevard in Colorado Springs had one security guard on duty that day.

“He had finished his duties and he was gone by the time the individual showed up,” said Cowart.

Cowart said no one replaces that security guard. Most of the time, she said security guards are armed.

For more regarding Hickenlooper’s remarks, see CNN’s blog, related video, and an article by Valerie Richardson for the Washington Times. I called Hickenlooper’s office to ask for clarification; I left a message but my call was not returned.

Ted Cruz Would Ban Abortion Even for Rape Victims

Of the four Republicans currently leading the pack in the presidential race—Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and Marco Rubio—one candidate would ban abortion even in cases of rape and incest. That candidate, it should surprise no one, is Cruz.

As I pointed out yesterday, Cruz signed Georgia Right to Life (GRTL) PACs’ “Statement of Principles.” Those principles state: “GRTL opposes abortion for pregnancy resulting from rape or incest.” Cruz signed his name agreeing “to uphold these principles and positions.” (Note: GRTL’s web page is down as of this writing; I’ve archived copies of the relevant documents.)

Just to be clear: Ted Cruz signed a document declaring that abortion should be outlawed even if a woman is brutally raped and does not wish to carry her attacker’s child to term.

Apparently, Cruz and his supporters live under the delusion that he can win the general election with that position.

Not even Marco Rubio shares Cruz’s position here. True, reports the Associated Press, previously Rubio denied that he’d allow exceptions for rape and incest. However, more recently, he has said, “I, as president, will sign a bill that has exceptions” for rape and incest.

Ben Carson advocates the use of the “abortion pill” RU-486 in cases of rape and incest.

Perhaps we should congratulate Cruz for making Trump appear to be the voice of reason on an issue (comparatively speaking); even Trump advocates an abortion ban with exceptions for “rape, incest, if the mother is going to die.”

Lindsey Graham bluntly points out the political problem for Cruz:

Anybody with that position [against abortion in the case of rape and incest] will get creamed. I would never tell a woman who’s been raped she’s got to carry the child of the rapist. . . . I appreciate your passion for the pro-life issue but you’re outside the mainstream and you cannot get elected.

(See also’s report on Graham’s remarks on the matter elsewhere.)

Recently I described how Cruz is actively allying himself with religious conservatives, including some outright theocrats. Add that to his backing of “personhood” legislation, with its total ban on abortion, and I just don’t see how Cruz is electable.

An aside: As my long-time readers are aware, I have an affinity for Ayn Rand’s work. Rand called her philosophy Objectivism. What might Rand have made of the fact that there currently is an “Objectivists for Ted Cruz” Facebook community? We can get some idea from the fact that Rand denounced Ronald Reagan on the grounds that he opposed “the right to abortion” and allied himself with those who sought the “unconstitutional union of religion and politics.”

When it comes to allying with theocratic conservatives, Ted Cruz makes Ronald Reagan look like a piker.

April 27 Update: Following is my entire “Ted Cruz and Religion” cycle. Please note that my views about Cruz evolved considerably over time. Although I’m still very concerned about Cruz’s positions on abortion (and related matters) and his alliances with theocratic-leaning conservatives, I’ve also come to appreciate more deeply his many virtues, including his partial endorsement of the principle of separation of church and state. I became active in Republican politics toward the end of 2015, and I came to support Cruz over Donald Trump for the nomination.
· Why I Will Vote for Any Democrat over Ted Cruz
· Voting, Political Activism, and Taking a Stand
· Ted Cruz’s Dangerous Pandering to Theocrats
· Yes, Ted Cruz’s Policies Would Outlaw Some Forms of Birth Control
· Ted Cruz Would Ban Abortion Even for Rape Victims
· Ted Cruz Touts Support of Anti-Gay Bigot Phil Robertson
· Republican Religion Undermines Capitalism
· Ted Cruz’s Remarkable Nod to the Separation of Church and State


Yes, Ted Cruz’s Policies Would Outlaw Some Forms of Birth Control

Does Ted Cruz want to ban birth control? Stated so broadly, the answer obviously is no, he does not wish to ban all forms of birth control. However, if Cruz takes seriously the policies he explicitly endorses, then, yes, he does want to ban some types of birth control.

Cruz’s policies do not imply any restrictions of true contraceptives—forms of birth control that prevent sperm from fertilizing an egg, such as a condom—but they imply that any form of birth control that does or can act as an abortifacient—preventing an embryo from implanting or growing in the uterus—should be banned. That includes the copper IUD, among other things.

Arguably, Cruz’s policies imply that the hormonal birth control pill and hormonal IUD should be banned as well, because those things might sometimes act as abortifacients. It is unclear (to me) whether Cruz thinks the hormonal birth control pill and the hormonal IUD can act as abortifacients. The FDA thinks that they can, and many of Cruz’s allies claim that they can and that therefore they should be banned (details below).

Certainly Cruz’s policies would ban “the abortion pill” RU-486, brand named Mifeprex, which can be used “in the first 49 days of pregnancy.” We can pick nits over whether we should call drug-induced abortion a form of “birth control.” I think the way most people use the term “birth control,” and the most sensible use of that term, is to refer to any method that prevents a pregnancy from occurring or proceeding, except for a surgical abortion. Thus, birth control includes some methods that act exclusively as contraceptives and some methods that do or can act as abortifacients.

There is another problem with the language we must address: Most doctors consider a “pregnancy” to begin after fertilization, when an embryo implants in the uterus. So is it accurate to call a form of birth control that prevents implantation an “abortifacient,” even though pregnancy has not yet begun? I think it makes sense to use the term “abortifacient” in this context; otherwise, there’s no word to describe a form of birth control that acts after fertilization to prevent implantation. Certainly it makes no sense to refer to something that prevents implantation of an embryo as a “contraceptive”; it’s not preventing conception. By my schema, then, “contraception” and “abortifacient” cover all possible types of birth control (where some types can act as either a contraceptive or an abortifacient).

Before picking back up with the technicalities of birth control, let’s turn to recent discussions about Cruz’s views on on the matter. On November 30, someone asked Cruz about birth control. Cruz’s reply was both rhetorically masterful and deeply evasive. Here’s what he said (relying on ABC’s transcription):

Last I checked, we don’t have a rubber shortage in America. Look, when I was in college, we had a machine in the bathroom, you put 50 cents in and voila. So, yes, anyone who wants contraceptives can access them, but it’s an utter made-up nonsense issue.

Now, listen, I have been a conservative my entire life. I have never met anybody, any conservative, who wants to ban contraceptives. As I noted, Heidi and I, we have two little girls. I’m very glad we don’t have 17. . . .

So what do you do [if you’re Hillary Clinton], you go, “Ah ha, the condom police. I’m going to make up a completely made-up threat and try to scare a bunch of folks who are not paying a lot of attention into thinking someone’s going to steal their birth control.” What nonsense.

On December 1, Clinton’s team replied with an article titled, “Ted Cruz says no one’s trying to ban contraception. Here are 5 times Ted Cruz tried to ban contraception.”

Note how both Cruz and Clinton rely on confusion about the terms at hand. Cruz says conservatives don’t want to “ban contraceptives”—ignoring the fact that many conservatives want to ban abortifacients and consider the pill and IUD to be abortifacients. And Clinton misuses the term “contraception” to refer to all types of birth control.

Clinton also promotes the confusion between banning something and declining to subsidize it with tax dollars or otherwise promote it with government force. I agree with Cruz that people should not be forced to subsidize birth control and that government ought not interfere with freedom of contract (which can involve employment policies regarding birth control). Three of Clinton’s five points pertain not to proposed bans but to taxes and employment regulations.

Clinton’s fifth point claims that Cruz wants to “try to ban emergency contraception.” But nothing in Clinton’s piece, or in the Salon article that Clinton references, support her claim.

Clinton’s remaining point, her first one listed, is that Cruz “supported a so-called personhood amendment, which could criminalize abortion and could ban some forms of birth control.” On this score Clinton is absolutely right—except that “personhood” not merely “could” but certainly would ban some forms of birth control (if implemented fully).

Let’s establish the facts showing that Cruz supports “personhood.” Georgia Right to Life PAC endorses Ted Cruz for president. The organization clearly lays out its “criteria for consideration of candidate endorsement” in its “endorsement guidelines.” Candidates must read proclaim that they agree with the organization’s “GRTL PAC Pro-Life Principles.” Those principles state, among other things, that RU-486 should be banned (except for possible “non-abortion related purposes”). This document also states that “personhood begins at the moment of fertilization” and that, by signing the document (as Cruz did), candidates agree to protect the “civil rights” of embryos from fertilization. Thus, the document implies, but does not explicitly state, that any form of birth control that may act as an abortifacient should be banned.

A media release from Georgia Right to Life confirms: “Senator Cruz received the endorsement after reviewing his activities supporting personhood and receiving his signed GRTL PAC Personhood Affirmation, which asks that candidates support a personhood amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

I don’t think anyone was confused about whether Cruz wants to ban Mifeprex; obviously he does. The major remaining question is whether he wants to ban the birth control pill or IUD.

So far as I’m aware, Cruz has never explicitly stated whether he wants additional legal restrictions or bans on any form of hormonal birth control pill or IUD. (I contacted Cruz’s campaign asking for clarification but never heard back.)

There are two related issues involved. First, does the pill or IUD, in fact, ever act as an abortifacient, or does it always act only as a contraceptive? Second, does Cruz believe that it does? If Cruz doesn’t think the pill or IUD acts as an abortifacient, then he can coherently claim he doesn’t want to ban them as a supporter of “personhood.” On the other hand, if Cruz concludes that the pill or IUD can act as an abortifacient, then, logically, by supporting “personhood” he has committed himself to seeking a ban.

Georgia Right to Life clearly states its view of the matter:

GRTL takes no position on birth control methods, which are contraceptive rather than abortive in their actions. We are opposed to those birth control methods which act as abortifacients. These could include forms of the pill which act to prevent implantation of the newly formed human into the lining of the womb; forms of the IUD, which can act the same; and prostaglandin suppository drugs, which act to cause delivery of whatever size baby the uterus contains.

Georgia Right to Life, then, certainly thinks that the “personhood” statement that Cruz signed does (or at least “could”) entail a ban on the pill and IUD.

Now, some people on the left ridicule conservatives who claim that forms of birth control that prevent implantation are “abortifacients.” For example, the Salon article that Clinton references in turn cites a document published by Princeton and the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, which says this:

[U]sing emergency contraceptive pills (also called “morning after pills” or “day after pills”) prevents pregnancy after sex. It does not cause an abortion. (In fact, because emergency contraception helps women avoid getting pregnant when they are not ready or able to have children, it can reduce the need for abortion.)

Emergency contraceptive pills work before pregnancy begins. According to leading medical authorities—such as the National Institutes of Health and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists—pregnancy begins when the fertilized egg implants in the lining of a woman’s uterus. Implantation begins five to seven days after sperm fertilizes the egg, and the process is completed several days later. Emergency contraception will not work if a woman is already pregnant.

That line of argument is deeply dishonest (and also deeply stupid, insofar as it ignores the obvious literal meaning of “contraception” as preventing conception). For religious conservatives who care about these issues, the entire discussion hinges on whether a form of birth control prevents fertilization or acts to destroy an embryo—whether or not it has implanted in the uterus. The document cited essentially plays a word game to artificially define “contraceptive” to include something that causes the destruction of a pre-implanted embryo.

The stronger argument is that “emergency contraception” is just that—contraception—and that it acts to prevent fertilization. That’s what Planned Parenthood maintains happens: “Emergency contraception pills work by keeping a woman’s ovary from releasing an egg for longer than usual. Pregnancy cannot happen if there is no egg to join with sperm.”

The main official page for Ella, a major brand of emergency contraception, claims the same thing, that the drug “works by preventing ovulation, even during the time in your cycle when you’re most fertile, for five full days following unprotected sex.” If that’s all that “emergency contraception” does, then there’s no reason to ban it according to to the commitments of “personhood.”

However, the FDA-approved prescription information for Ella claims that its methods of action are broader: “The likely primary mechanism of action of ulipristal acetate for emergency contraception is therefore inhibition or delay of ovulation; however, alterations to the endometrium that may affect implantation may also contribute to efficacy.”

In other words, if the prescription information is accurate, then Ella can act either as a contraceptive or as an abortifacient (in the sense that it can prevent implantation of an embryo).

So what about the standard birth control pill and the IUD? Here again, the official prescription information claims that they can act as an abortifacient (as defined here).

For example, the prescription information for Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo states: “COCs [combined oral contraceptives] lower the risk of becoming pregnant primarily by suppressing ovulation. Other possible mechanisms may include cervical mucus changes that inhibit sperm penetration and endometrial changes that reduce the likelihood of implantation.”

The prescription information for the Mirena IUD states: “Mirena may work in several ways including thickening cervical mucus, inhibiting sperm movement, reducing sperm survival, and thinning the lining of your uterus. It is not known exactly how these actions work together to prevent pregnancy.”

Obviously if the lining of the uterus thins, that could prevent implantation of an embryo. The language that it is “not known exactly” how the device works is not likely to comfort most advocates of “personhood,” who regard a just-fertilized egg as the moral equivalent of a born baby.

Nevertheless, writing for the Federalist, David Harsanyi confidently proclaims that, while “personhood” bans abortion in principle, “it certainly doesn’t ban condoms or the birth control pill.” But, somehow, I suppose that advocates of “personhood” measures will be more impressed with the official, government-approved prescription information than with Harsanyi’s groundless certitude.

But maybe the FDA-approved prescription information is wrong: Maybe the pill and IUD never act by preventing implantation. That’s what many people argue, at least regarding the pill and hormone-based (as opposed to copper) IUD.

Pam Belluck’s 2012 article for the New York Times argues that the pill and hormonal IUD, along with emergency contraception, don’t prevent implantation (or at least that there’s no reason to think they do).

She adds:

By contrast, scientists say, research suggests that the only other officially approved form of emergency contraception, the copper intrauterine device (also a daily birth control method), can work to prevent pregnancy after an egg has been fertilized.

So, by the logic of “personhood,” at least the copper IUD should be banned, along with the abortion pill, even if the regular pill and hormonal IUDs are found not to prevent implantation. (As Belluck adds, “Despite the accumulating evidence” about hormonal pills and IUDs, “several abortion opponents said they remain unpersuaded.”)

Of course, it would be very easy for Cruz to issue a statement along these lines: “I, Ted Cruz, believe that the abortion pill [should / should not] be banned; that emergency contraception [should / should not] be banned; that the hormonal birth control pill [should / should not] be banned; that hormonal IUDs [should / should not] be banned; and that copper IUDs [should / should not] be banned.”

If Cruz would issue such a statement, as I’ve asked him to do, that would count as definitive evidence of his views in these matters. (Of course, depending on Cruz’s answers, one might argue that they either comport or conflict with his stated position on “personhood.”)

I would be shocked if Cruz in fact issued such a clear-cut statement. After all, politics today is not about clearly articulating one’s views on the issues; it is about obfuscating one’s views in order to pander to as many voters as possible. And Cruz can obfuscate with the best of them.

Regardless, given Cruz’s explicit commitment to “personhood,” he has also logically committed himself to trying to ban the abortion pill and copper IUD—and, if they are found to sometimes act as abortifacients (a big “if”), the birth control pill and hormonal IUD.

Let’s see Cruz try to parse all that going into the general election, if he makes it that far.

April 27 Update: Following is my entire “Ted Cruz and Religion” cycle. Please note that my views about Cruz evolved considerably over time. Although I’m still very concerned about Cruz’s positions on abortion (and related matters) and his alliances with theocratic-leaning conservatives, I’ve also come to appreciate more deeply his many virtues, including his partial endorsement of the principle of separation of church and state. I became active in Republican politics toward the end of 2015, and I came to support Cruz over Donald Trump for the nomination.
· Why I Will Vote for Any Democrat over Ted Cruz
· Voting, Political Activism, and Taking a Stand
· Ted Cruz’s Dangerous Pandering to Theocrats
· Yes, Ted Cruz’s Policies Would Outlaw Some Forms of Birth Control
· Ted Cruz Would Ban Abortion Even for Rape Victims
· Ted Cruz Touts Support of Anti-Gay Bigot Phil Robertson
· Republican Religion Undermines Capitalism
· Ted Cruz’s Remarkable Nod to the Separation of Church and State


Ted Cruz’s Dangerous Pandering to Theocrats

As a free-market secularist, I see Ted Cruz, politically, as a split personality. On one hand (to list a few examples), he speaks eloquently for freedom of political speech,1 he opposes politically controlled health care (at least as manifest in ObamaCare),2 and he used his tenure with the Federal Trade Commission to move that agency in a direction less hostile to free markets.3 On the other hand, he makes religion a centerpiece of his politics; for example, for religious reasons he advocates various restrictions on abortion (although he has been remarkably cagey about how far he’d prefer to go with such restrictions).[Update: See my December 4 article about Cruz’s support for abortion bans.]

What most worries me about Ted Cruz as a presidential candidate are not those explicit elements of his platform that clash with the principles of liberty, but his open pandering to evangelical voters, even to outright theocrats. This matters, not only because Cruz will be beholden to the voters who elect him (if he wins), but because Cruz is actively supporting and helping to organize a religious-conservative movement likely to play a major role in American politics for many years. To those who, like me, worry that the Republican Party began to slide toward faith-centered politics many years ago, Cruz’s acceleration of that trend is frightening.

From the beginning, a centerpiece of Cruz’s strategy has been to win evangelicals to his side. In March, Cruz delivered his campaign announcement at Liberty University, a Christian institution (which, incidentally, features the “Center for Creation Studies” that promotes a “young-earth creationist view”).5 During his faith-heavy remarks, Cruz said, “Today, roughly half of born again Christians aren’t voting. They’re staying home. Imagine instead millions of people of faith all across America coming out to the polls and voting our values.”6 This is a theme that Cruz has emphasized repeatedly.7

The fact that Cruz is so actively and thoroughly tying his campaign to the evangelical movement is by itself alarming. Cruz’s campaign has (as examples) issued news releases announcing the formation of a “national prayer team” and bragging that Cruz’s “Faith Leadership Team [includes] more than 200 faith leaders from around the nation.”8 When it comes time for Cruz (should he win) to nominate Supreme Court justices (among other things), it’s pretty clear where his loyalties will lie.

But Cruz has done far more than ally himself with mainstream evangelical voters; he has openly pandered to outright theocrats. Anyone who thinks my use of the term theocrat is hyperbolic or exaggerated is welcome to try to explain how treating abortion legally as murder, from the moment of conception, as many of Cruz’s allies wish to do, or arguing that states justifiably execute homosexuals or abortion providers at least in some circumstances, as at least two of Cruz’s allies do, is not theocratic in nature.

I must pause to distinguish my approach here from that of leftist provocateurs. (I consider myself to be on the political right, as Craig Biddle defines it, which I consider to be the natural home of rational secularists of the broadly Enlightenment tradition.)9 I am well aware of the Saul Alinsky-inspired techniques of character assassination10—indeed, I and my friends have at times been the targets of such attacks. My criticisms here include rather than exclude the relevant context, and I blame people only for what they have demonstrably said or done. I do not blame Cruz for the remarks that his allies make; I blame him only for actively allying himself, in the context of a presidential campaign, with people who express frankly horrific views. It is intellectually dishonest of leftists to make spurious character attacks on their opponents—and it is also intellectually dishonest of conservatives to rationalize away well-grounded criticisms of a conservative. Hopefully readers can bear that in mind as we proceed.

Troy Newman on “Bloodguilt”

First consider the case of Troy Newman. On November 19, Cruz’s campaign issued a news release bragging that Cruz picked up Newman’s endorsement. The release states:

Today, Presidential candidate Ted Cruz secured the endorsement of leading pro-life activist Troy Newman—a driving force in the recent effort to expose Planned Parenthood’s alleged sale of baby parts in a series of undercover videos. Newman is the President of Operation Rescue, one of the most prominent pro-life Christian activist organizations in the nation. . . .

“I am grateful to receive the endorsement of Troy Newman,” Cruz said. “He has served as a voice for the unborn for over 25 years, and works tirelessly every day for the pro-life cause. We need leaders like Troy Newman in this country who will stand up for those who do not have a voice.”11

Remember, then, that Cruz and Newman are not connected merely in some casual way; Newman has openly expressed his support for Cruz’s presidential bid, and Cruz has publicly welcomed that support and touted his political alliance with Newman.

So what does Troy Newman advocate? Consider some of Newman’s views as expressed in his book Their Blood Cries Out, which he coauthored with Cheryl Sullenger. That book states (among many other bizarre things): “[T]he United States government has abrogated its responsibility to properly deal with the blood-guilty. This responsibility rightly involves executing convicted murderers, including abortionists, for their crimes in order to expunge bloodguilt from the land and people.”12

Newman claims that this passage has been taken out of context. So what is the context? Here is how Newman’s own organization, Operation Rescue, explains it:

In that book, which was a theological study of the Biblical doctrine of bloodguilt, Newman and Sullenger discuss the Old Testament principle that required those who commit murder should be sentenced to death by a court of justice. They surmised that if indeed abortion is murder, then it would be acceptable, based on the Old Testament teachings, for governments to treat it as it does any other murder with those convicted through a court of law subject to the same punishments other murderers would face, including capital punishment.

Yet, not surprisingly, [Terri] Butler [an Australian critic] neglected to mention that later chapters in that now out of print book referenced the New Testament concept that mercy is preferable to judgement, and that repentance and restoration is available through Jesus Christ to all men who seek it.13

Notice that this is the explanation that’s supposed to make us feel comfortable with Newman’s remarks and persuade us that Newman is a perfectly reasonable fellow.

So is Newman’s organization claiming that state executions of abortion providers was justified only in Old Testament times, and that, today, “mercy” always should push aside “judgment”? No, it is not. Newman leaves open the possibility that “Old Testament teachings” might still be relevant for modern governments—and his book explicitly mentions the United States in the context of a government that may properly execute abortion providers.

The same release quotes Newman’s coauthor Sullenger, now Senior Vice President of Operation Rescue (under Newman): “There is a distinct difference between saying that the Bible gives the authority to governments to execute justice, as we explained in the book, and advocating that individuals commit murder of abortion providers.” Yes, there is a distinct difference. Newman and Sullenger advocate only state executions of abortion providers, not vigilante executions. So helpful of her to clear that up.

Incidentally, Sullenger herself did not always so keenly recognize the distinction between state-sanctioned violence and individual violence. The same Operation Rescue statement discusses “Cheryl Sullenger’s conviction in 1988 of conspiring to bomb an abortion facility in San Diego, California the previous year.” She “expressed remorse” for her actions, and she now works “within peaceful and legal means” to ban all abortion from the moment of conception and to empower government to execute abortion providers.

The same statement by Operation Rescue explains Newman’s earlier remarks about the Reverend Paul Jennings Hill, who murdered an abortion provider and his bodyguard in 1994 and who was subsequently executed for the crime.

At the time, Newman stated, “A Florida judge denied Rev. Hill his right to present a defense that claimed that the killing of the abortionist was necessary to save the lives of the pre-born babies that were scheduled to be killed by abortion that day.”

That was a perfectly reasonable position for Newman to take, Newman’s Operation Rescue assures us:

This statement has been frequently misinterpreted as “evidence” of Newman’s support for the position that murdering abortion providers is justifiable homicide. That is a gross mischaracterization of his statement.

Newman deplored the fact that Hill had murdered two people, but felt the need to express disappointment that the court refused to allow Hill to use the defense of his choosing. . . .

Do you see the distinction? Newman was not claiming that Rev. Hill’s execution of two people constituted “justifiable homicide”; he was merely claiming that Rev. Hill should have been able to argue in court that the executions were justifiable homicide. (Readers of Newman’s original 2003 release, with its language about “the innocent victims of abortion that Hill endeavored to rescue” and the “many examples where taking the life in defense of innocent human beings is legally justified,” might forgive Newman’s critics for thinking that Newman was defending Hill’s actions.)14

Bearing these background facts about Newman in mind, recall that Ted Cruz, currently one of the Republican frontrunners in the race to become the next president of the United States, said on November 19: “I am grateful to receive the endorsement of Troy Newman. He has served as a voice for the unborn for over 25 years, and works tirelessly every day for the pro-life cause. We need leaders like Troy Newman in this country who will stand up for those who do not have a voice.”

Contra Cruz, we do not need such leaders—nor do we need leaders who count such people as allies.

Kevin Swanson on “The Death Penalty for Homosexuals”

During the “Freedom 2015 National Religious Liberties Conference” held November 6–7 in Des Moines, Iowa, Ted Cruz appeared on stage with Colorado pastor Kevin Swanson to discuss religion in America. Swanson’s appearance at the conference was not incidental; Swanson’s organization Generations with Vision organized and sponsored the conference.15 Moreover, Swanson is listed as one of six “keynote speakers” for the conference, and, according to the schedule listed, he offered the introductory remarks, the “closing keynote,” and other talks—in addition to his interview with the three presidential candidates who attended (Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal joined Cruz there). It’s fair to say that Swanson hosted the conference and was its driving force.

At this very conference, Swanson said the following (you can watch the video of him):

Yes, Leviticus 20:13 calls for the death penalty for homosexuals. Yes, Romans, chapter one, verse thirty-two, the Apostle Paul does say that homosexuals are worthy of death. His words, not mine. And I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. . . .

And I know, I’ve taken the counsel, many have told me this weekend, “You be careful. You choose your words carefully. We have presidentials coming down to this conference this weekend.” I understand that. But I am not ashamed of the truth of the word of God, and I’m willing to go to jail for it.

Then they ask me, “Yes, but do you advocate for our civil leaders to do this today?” And my answer is no. But why? Here’s why, because that’s not such a big deal. We are not to fear those who can kill the body. Yea, Jesus says, fear rather the one who can cast body and soul in hell forever.

The discussion concerning the capital punishment of homosexuals is nothing, is not all that important when contrasted with hellfire forever. You say, “Why wouldn’t you call for it?” I say it’s because we need some time for homosexuals to repent, that’s why.

He goes on to say that “there’s not much difference between adultery and homosexuality,” morally speaking; that he considers adultery to include “illegitimate” cases of divorce and remarriage; and that pornography is equally bad. He says (referring to others asking him the question), “Why don’t you call for it?”—with “it” referring to execution for “crimes” such as homosexuality. He answers, “America needs time to repent, of their homosexuality, of their adultery, and their porn addictions.”16

Quite obviously, here Swanson is calling for the future execution of unrepentant homosexuals by the state, after America has had “time to repent”—and only by the most fantastic act of evasion can a listener pretend that he said otherwise. He says that “civil leaders” should not execute homosexuals “today . . . because we need some time for homosexuals to repent” first. Then, after they (and the vast numbers of other “guilty” Americans) have had “time to repent,” government should execute unrepentant homosexuals (and apparently other “sinners” as well). That’s what Swanson clearly says and clearly means to say.

Notice the structure of Swanson’s argument. He claims that, today, American government should not execute homosexuals, because today American culture is too evil for that to happen. But, in the future, when America becomes morally virtuous (by his perverted religious understanding of the terms), then America will be ready to institute the death penalty for homosexuality.

Even those who pretend that Swanson did not really mean what he said still are left with the uncomfortable fact that the potential execution of homosexuals was a serious part of the discussion at this conference. The best-case scenario is that attendees seriously discussed whether government officials, in America, should execute homosexuals, and, if so, whether they should do so immediately or at some point in the future. That’s the sort of conference that Ted Cruz chose to attend and address as part of his political campaign for the presidency.

But did Cruz, despite the existence of the Internet, not know what he was getting into? Did he have no idea what sort of views Swanson espouses? No, Cruz knew exactly what sort of views Swanson espouses.

Before Cruz attended Swanson’s event, Cruz appeared on television with CNN’s Jake Tapper. Tapper said to Cruz:

You are speaking at a conference this weekend, the National Religious Liberties conference in Des Moines. It’s organized by a guy named Kevin Swanson. You’ve been very outspoken about what you deem liberal intolerance of Christians. But Kevin Swanson has said some very inflammatory things about gays and lesbians. He believes Christians should hold up signs at gay weddings, holding up the Leviticus verse, instructing the faithful to put gays to death because what they do is an “abomination.” I don’t hold you responsible for what other people say, but, given your concern about liberal intolerance, are you not in some ways endorsing conservative intolerance?

Cruz began his answer, “Listen, I don’t know what this gentleman has said or hasn’t said”—and then he proceeded to completely evade Tapper’s question.17 Even if Cruz was not aware of Swanson’s views prior to the interview with Tapper—which is wildly implausible—he certainly was aware of some of Swanson’s views prior to the conference, because Tapper told him about them. Cruz obviously was aware of Swanson’s views by the time of the conference and probably well before that (unless Cruz wishes to argue that he did not hear what Tapper said and that his campaign is run by idiots who do not watch his television interviews and do not know how to conduct simple Google searches).

Here is the most plausible interpretation of the facts: Swanson organized the event in question, Cruz knew that Swanson organized it, Cruz knew the sorts of views that Swanson espouses, and Cruz went to the event anyway in order to pander to the evangelical voters that Swanson attracts. Put bluntly, Cruz calculated that his political gain from rubbing shoulders with Swanson and his acolytes would outweigh the political damage of, well, rubbing shoulders with Swanson and his acolytes.

Incidentally, Swanson’s tirade about homosexuals was not the only lunacy on display at the conference. Another speaker at the event, a pastor, distributed literature calling for the death penalty for (you guessed it) homosexuals.18 Less horrific but also bizarre, another speaker explained how the Disney film Frozen encourages children to turn away from God and follow Satan.19 That’s just a taste. Given that Swanson’s organization planned the event, the fact that it attracted some of the most fanatical representatives of modern American Christianity (in addition to Swanson) should surprise no one.

Note that I am not claiming that Cruz agrees with Swanson; obviously he does not (because Swanson is a bloodthirty fanatic). What I am claiming is what is true: that Cruz intentionally sought an alliance with Swanson and with Swanson’s acolytes by attending and speaking at Swanson’s hate-filled event, even talking with Swanson on stage about religion in the context of Cruz’s political campaign. Is that not sufficiently damning?

It isn’t according to Cruz’s campaign spokesperson, Rick Tyler. In reply to Rachel Maddow, Tyler first claimed that Swanson’s remarks were “not explicit” enough to justify the concerns expressed (!), then claimed that Cruz should not be held “accountable for something he did not say nor believes.”20

But Tyler misses the point. Cruz should not be held accountable for what Swanson says; Cruz should be held accountable for actively allying himself with Swanson, considering what Swanson says. If that is not obvious to a man seeking to become president of the United States, it’s obvious that that man is unsuited to the position.

As Ted Cruz himself openly acknowledges, religious faith is a centerpiece of his campaign for the presidency. A major part of Cruz’s political strategy is to ally himself with evangelical leaders and voters—including the outright theocrats Troy Newman and Kevin Swanson. Anyone who takes seriously Jefferson’s “wall of separation between church and state” must condemn Cruz for these tactics and alliances.

April 27 Update: Following is my entire “Ted Cruz and Religion” cycle. Please note that my views about Cruz evolved considerably over time. Although I’m still very concerned about Cruz’s positions on abortion (and related matters) and his alliances with theocratic-leaning conservatives, I’ve also come to appreciate more deeply his many virtues, including his partial endorsement of the principle of separation of church and state. I became active in Republican politics toward the end of 2015, and I came to support Cruz over Donald Trump for the nomination.
· Why I Will Vote for Any Democrat over Ted Cruz
· Voting, Political Activism, and Taking a Stand
· Ted Cruz’s Dangerous Pandering to Theocrats
· Yes, Ted Cruz’s Policies Would Outlaw Some Forms of Birth Control
· Ted Cruz Would Ban Abortion Even for Rape Victims
· Ted Cruz Touts Support of Anti-Gay Bigot Phil Robertson
· Republican Religion Undermines Capitalism
· Ted Cruz’s Remarkable Nod to the Separation of Church and State



1. “Sen. Ted Cruz Objects to Democrats Attempt to Repeal Free Speech Protections,” Senator Ted Cruz, September 9, 2014,

2. “Senate Session, Part 2,” C-SPAN, September 24, 2013,

3. Asheesh Agarwal and John Delacourt, “What No One Seems to Know About Ted Cruz’s Past,” PJ Media, September 30, 2015, Ted Cruz’s campaign web site lists a number of other issues on which Cruz is friendly to freer markets; see “Jobs & Opportunity,” Ted Cruz 2016, (accessed November 30, 2015). By contrast, Cruz’s positions regarding immigration are decidedly protectionist in nature; see “Cruz Plan to Top Illegal Immigration Highlights,” Ted Cruz 2016, (accessed November 30, 2015).

4. See “Life, Marriage & Family,” Ted Cruz 2016, (accessed November 30, 2015); see also Peggy Fikac, “Ted Cruz Says Questions about Mourdock Rape Comment Are ‘An Unfortunate Distraction from the Issues that Matter,’” Chron, October 31, 2012, and Lisa Desjardins, “What Does Ted Cruz Believe? Where the Candidate Stands on 10 Issues,” PBS News Hour, July 1, 2015,

5. “Center for Creation Studies, Liberty University, (accessed November 30, 2015).

6. Ryan Teague Beckwith, “Transcript: Read Full Text of Sen. Ted Cruz’s Campaign Launch,” Time, March 23, 2015,

7. See, for example, Abby Livingston, “Cruz to South Carolina Evangelicals: I’m One of You,” Texas Tribune, November 16, 2015,

8. “Ted Cruz Announces Formation of National Prayer Team,” Ted Cruz 2016, November 19, 2015, (accessed November 30, 2015); “More than 200 Faith Leaders Endorse Ted Cruz for President,” Ted Cruz 2016, November 20, 2015, (accessed November 30, 2015).

9. See Craig Biddle, “Political ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ Properly Defined,” Objective Standard, June 26, 2012,

10. Linn Armstrong and Ari Armstrong, “The Saul Alinsky Connection: Obama’s Unprincipled Class Warfare Threatens the Nation,”, September 16, 2015,

11. “Troy Newman, Activist Behind Planned Parenthood Videos, Endorses Ted Cruz,” Ted Cruz 2016, November 19, 2015, (accessed November 30, 2015). Newman’s work with the undercover videos of Planned Parenthood is not at issue; in my view those videos raised some important questions about some of Planned Parenthood’s practices, leading to reforms within that organization.

12. Miranda Blue, “Anti-Planned Parenthood Activist Troy Newman’s Terrifying, Woman-Shaming, Apocalyptic Manifesto,” Right Wing Watch, September 14, 2015, Those who do not trust Right Wing Watch as a source should notice that the author of the piece obviously obtained a copy of the book in question and quoted directly from it. In any event, I have ordered my own copy of the book. Rachel Maddow also published a piece about Newman and Sullenger; see “Ted Cruz embraces religious radicals with violent message,” MSNBC, November 24, 2015,

13. “Operation Rescue’s Non-Violent History is a Matter of Public Record,” Operation Rescue, October 16, 2015,

14. “Execution of Paul Hill Nothing Less than Murder,” Operation Rescue West and California Life Coalition, September 3, 2003, archived at; this document lists Troy Newman as “Director, Operation Rescue West” and Cheryl Sullenger as “Director, California Life Coalition.”

15. See the web site for the conference at; see a page for Generations with Vision discussing the conference at; and see a page about Kevin Swanson’s role with Generations with Vision at

16. Miranda Blue, “Kevin Swanson: No Death Penalty For Gays . . . Until They Have Time To Repent,” Right Wing Watch, November 7, 2015, I’ve written about the conference in question before, but I wanted to offer more details in this piece; for the earlier pieces see Ari Armstrong, “Why I Will Vote for Any Democrat over Ted Cruz,”, November 25, 2015, and Ari Armstrong, “Voting, Political Activism, and Taking a Stand,”, November 25, 2015,

17. Curtis Houck, “Tapper to Cruz: Are You ‘Endorsing Conservative Intolerance’ by Attending Event with Activist Pastor,” Newsbusters, November 5, 2015, Regarding the signs that Kevin Swanson encourages his followers to hold at gay weddings, see Brian Tashman, “Swanson: Tell Gay Couples To Die On Their Wedding Day,” Right Wing Watch, September 5, 2015,

18. Brian Tashman, “‘Death Penalty For Gays’ Literature At Right-Wing Conference,” Right Wing Watch, November 6, 2015,

19. Brian Tashman, “GOP Confab Ends With Call To Execute Gays Who Don’t Repent, Send Queen Elsa Back To Hell,” Right Wing Watch, November 10, 2015,

20. “Rachel Maddow Show 11/26/2015,” November 26, 2015, Maddow, with whom I often disagree on political matters, has done some hard-hitting work regarding Cruz’s association with Troy Newman and Kevin Swanson, and she provided a number of leads for my research.

How You Can Stop Voting Naively and Start Voting Strategically

Some people are naive voters, their votes accomplish nothing, and, for them, voting is a complete waste of time. Many people are strategic voters at a gut level, but they don’t understand how their voting is strategic or how they might pursue more complex voting strategies. My goal here is to turn naive voters into strategic voters and to turn gut-level strategic voters into self-consciously strategic voters with greater political influence.

But why would I want to help make other voters, including my political opponents, more strategic in their voting? It’s not like I can publish my advice and hope that only my allies will read it. Aren’t I just encouraging both sides to up their games, resulting in no net gains? I think not.

A major problem with politics today is that egalitarian “eat the rich” primary voters largely drive the Democratic party, while theocratic primary voters largely drive the Republican party. That is, both parties are disproportionately driven by ideologies that most Americans do not share. I think that if more voters become more strategic, that will help diffuse political influence and improve both parties over time. Or so one can hope.

I’m writing this article  partly in response to feedback, much of it explosively angry, that I’ve received via email and social media regarding two of my recent articles about Ted Cruz.

Here’s the backstory in brief: I like many of Cruz’s policies and pronouncements, but I’m more than a little irritated with him for lurching hard toward theocratic conservatism. I’m so irritated over one particular incident (his dalliance with Kevin Swanson) that I declared I’ll vote for any Democrat over Cruz, unless Cruz apologizes.

Even though I wrote a follow-up piece explaining some of the reasoning behind my political strategy, various respondents continued to basically misunderstand what it is that I’m up to. A typical response amounted to (and I exaggerate only very slightly), “Oh my God! You mean you’d actually support the dastardly Marxist Islamofascist-loving Hillary Clinton, who will leave America in smoldering ashes, over the shining knight of reason and liberty Ted Cruz, who will lead America to renewed greatness? You are evil.”

I ruminated over how such respondents could be so dense as to totally misunderstand the nature and purpose of my political stance. Then it occurred to me: Such people have actually never thought seriously about political strategy, and they have no grasp of it. To the degree that they’re strategic voters, it’s by accident, not conscious design.

Obviously political strategy is an enormously complex topic, so here I want to narrow the discussion only to basic voting strategies. I want to discuss naive voting, which here I call “duty voting,” and five types of strategic voting.

Duty Voting

A naive voter looks at voting as a social duty. A duty voter will examine the candidates, pick a slate of candidates, quietly fill out the ballot, and consider the duty fulfilled—all without giving any thought to the impact of the vote.

A duty vote has no impact. Duty voting is a total waste of time, at least in the context of large-scale (national) elections in which one’s vote will almost certainly never impact the outcome of any election. (By contrast, individual votes actually have some realistic chance, however remote, of making a difference in very-competitive regional races.)

In all seriousness, duty voters would be better off staying home (or leaving their mailed ballots unopened) and doing something else. So let’s turn to the various types of strategic voting.

Social Pressure Voting

Most people, at some level, understand that their purpose in voting is not merely to cast a single ballot in a large-scale election. Rather, their purpose of voting is to mutually encourage their allies to vote, too, and thereby to achieve an outcome they favor. Such social pressure voting is the most widely practiced form of strategic voting.

To put the matter in terms of public choice economics, voting is “irrational” for the individual voter, because an individual vote will not sway the outcome of the election. However, if I and all of my allies sit home, and our opponents show up to vote, then we will all lose out. So voting becomes what the economists call a “free rider problem”—individual voters are tempted to free ride on the efforts of other voters, but, if all the voters of a given camp free ride, none of those voters get what they want. In these terms, social pressure voting is a way to overcome the free rider problem in voting.

As a matter of strategy, social pressure voting is very simple. It amounts basically to publicly making it known what political team you’re likely to support, publicly announcing that you’re going to vote, and suggesting that you might be irritated with those of your allies who don’t vote. This could be as simple has having a water-cooler discussion about the election or posting a remark on Facebook.

Social pressure voting is the most widely practiced form of strategic voting, and it’s important. It does not, however, exhaust the forms of strategic voting. Other forms of strategic voting can have even more impact in an election, for those who wish to pursue them.

Endorsement Voting

I suppose that the second-most common form of strategic voting is endorsement voting. Here the idea is that, not only do you encourage “your team” to go out and vote, you publicly articulate a case for voting for a particular candidate. This type of strategic voting often is more important during primaries, when many candidates with similar views vie for a chance to appear in the general election.

The purpose of endorsement voting, quite simply, is to try to persuade people sitting on the fence, whether they are other primary voters or swing voters in the general, to embrace your candidate of choice.

The public pronouncement is an essential element of endorsement voting. Whenever you promote a candidate on social media or among your friends, in the context of explaining your pending vote, you are practicing the strategy. Of course, you could endorse a candidate without voting at all, but the idea here is that, by endorsing a particular candidate and publicly declaring your intention to vote for that candidate, you help drum up support for the candidate in terms of voter turnout. (There are many other ways of supporting a candidate that I won’t discuss here.)

Lesser of Evils Voting

If you openly declare, “I’m voting for Candidate A over Candidate B, not because I like Candidate A but because I regard that candidate as somewhat less-bad than the other,” that is the essence of strategically voting for the lesser of evils.

Again, the public pronouncement is the key to this sort of strategy. Electorally, the outcome of actively endorsing a candidate, versus declaring you’re voting for the candidate only as the lesser of evils, is identical (and totally irrelevant, because your single vote doesn’t matter). The purpose is to put the candidate and that candidate’s party on notice that you’re not happy with your choices, and they better shape up in the future if they want your continued support.

NOTA Voting

Threatening to vote for “none of the above” (NOTA) rather than the candidate you’d normally be presumed to support is a very powerful political tool. Among Republicans, two groups routinely use this strategy to great effect: Religious conservatives and gun owners. Groups that advocate abortion bans routinely threaten candidates in this way. I’ve heard it plausibly argued that gun owners sitting home out of a sense of Republican betrayal has swung at least one presidential election (although Dave Kopel argues Bush the Elder still would have lost to Clinton, just not as badly).

The strategy of NOTA voting essentially communicates, “My candidate or party has betrayed me so badly that I’m willing to sit on the fence this cycle, even if the other candidate wins.” NOTA voting takes the long view: The goal is primarily to alter the course of one’s favored political party long term, not influence the current election.

Punishment Voting

NOTA voting is one method of punishing one’s candidate or party, but there’s an even more powerful method of punishment voting: Threatening to vote for the opposing candidate rather than merely not vote. If you want to call this the “nuclear option” of voting, that’s probably apt.

The electoral reasoning behind this is straight-forward. To create a simplified scenario, let’s assume there are one hundred voters in a particular race, and that the predicted outcome would be 52 votes for Candidate A and 48 votes for Candidate B. But then let’s say three of Candidate A’s supporters become very annoyed with something their candidate does or proposes. How do they get the candidate to shape up?

If they threaten merely not to vote, then Candidate A still wins, only by a narrower margin of 49 to 48. (Voting for a minor-party candidate yields the same numbers.) Candidate A, if he can predict this, might say, “I realize you three are angry, but so what? I’m still going to win, so screw you.” But if the three angry voters threaten to exercise the “nuclear option,” then Candidate A faces the real risk of losing the race by a margin of 49 to 51. What do you think Candidate A’s attitude will become with respect to those three voters, even though they constitute a tiny three percent of the electorate in this example? That’s pretty obvious.

Notice that punishment voting has nothing to do with “supporting” the opposing candidate, in the sense of expressing positive approval or moral sanction of that candidate. Punishment voting is essentially communicating to a candidate (and the candidate’s supporters), “Yes, I hate the opposing candidate, but I’m so pissed off at you over the matter at hand that I’m threatening to ‘go nuclear’ on your ass to try to get your attention.”

Punishment voting is an extreme and uncomfortable move, which is why most people never even consider it as a possibility, much less execute it. But I’m not most people, and I think that Cruz’s open pandering to theocratic conservatives completely merits the threat of punishment voting.

As with NOTA voting, punishment voting takes a long view. The idea is that, even if we (the punishers) end up throwing the upcoming election, we’re going to work toward the long-term improvement of our political candidates. Maybe a candidate we hate will win this time, but hopefully next time, and on into the future, we’ll get a candidate that we like.

Of course, there are two types of punishment voting, absolute and conditional. If you’re so upset with a candidate that there is no way that candidate could find redemption in your eyes, you might just want to announce a firm punishment vote. But if you still think there’s hope for your candidate, you might want to announce conditional punishment. That is, if the candidate shapes up, you will rescind your threat of voting for the opposing candidate. (At this point, that’s my position with respect to Cruz.)

I can understand if people want to criticize a threat of punishment voting in a given case: As noted, it’s an extreme move. But it does annoy me when people pretend that a punishment vote is something other than what it is. If you want to argue I’m wrong, great, but don’t be a complete idiot about it by ignoring the hard realities of strategic voting in our winner-take-all system.

At any rate, I sincerely hope that my allies, my critics, and my opponents all adopt more strategic voting, as I think that will make some headway toward improving the American political scene over time.