Category Archives: Politics

Alex Epstein Testifies

Fossil Fuels Advocate Alex Epstein Denounces AG Subpoena: “F**K Off, Fascist”

When fossil fuels advocate Alex Epstein learned that his organization, the Center for Industrial Progress (CIP), was listed in a subpoena to Exxon from Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey demanding forty years of communications regarding climate change, Epstein sent Healey’s office a terse reply: “F**k off, fascist.”

CIP was one of “a dozen free market groups and universities” listed in the April 19 subpoena, the Washington Times reports.

That article continues:

ExxonMobil released a copy of the subpoena Wednesday [June 15] as part of its motion for an injunction filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, in which the fossil fuel giant accused Ms. Healey of waging a politically motivated fishing expedition aimed at muzzling her ideological foes. . . . The investigation centers on whether Exxon committed consumer and securities fraud stemming from the company’s challenging of the catastrophic climate change narrative.

Healey’s subpoena is part of an overtly political attack on Exxon and other energy producers in which “former vice president Al Gore and a coalition of attorneys general from across the country announce[d] historic state-based effort to combat climate change,” a March 29 news release from the office of New York AG Eric T. Schneiderman stated.

patreon-adThis “unprecedented coalition vows to defend climate change progress made under President Obama and to push the next president for even more aggressive action,” the release continues.

The organization exists not only to legally hound energy companies but to promote and defend new federal regulations of fossil fuel industries. Schneiderman’s release states:

Many of the states in the coalition have worked together on previous multi-state environmental efforts, including pressing the EPA to limit climate change pollution from fossil-fueled electric power plants, defending federal rules controlling climate change emissions from large industrial facilities, and pushing for federal controls on emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane emissions from the oil and natural gas industry.

The action by attorneys general coincides with a broader political movement seeking to publicly shame Exxon and other oil producers and to advocate that universities and pension funds divest from fossil fuel companies. Many of the related views have been expressed via the “#ExxonKnew” hashtag.

Epstein, author of the 2014 book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels (which I have reviewed positively), responded angrily to the news that his private, for-profit business had been named in the subpoena. On June 15, Epstein emailed Healey’s office, including the terse message “F**k off, fascist” in an email with the subject, “Your demand to seize my emails.”

The next day, Epstein also directly challenged Al Gore, Tweeting: “.@algore for 10 years you refuse to debate opponents. Now you prosecute us?? Enough. I will pay you $100,000 to publicly debate me. Deal?”

Epstein explained via email why he felt such a provocative message to Healey’s office was warranted:

Persecutors get away with violating rights in large part because the victims treat them as civilized. The Massachusetts Attorney General is demanding my emails at gunpoint because I have prominently voiced opinions that are contrary to hers. She is a fascist, acting profanely. “F**k off, fascist” was therefore the response she deserved.

For the general public, who may innocently misunderstand the issues regarding ExxonMobil, I explained them fully in a Forbes article. But I’m not responding to that thug (who calls herself an Attorney General) with an article.

Epstein also explained what he hopes will come of his efforts to criticize the attorneys general in question and to debate Gore:

Everyone involved in the persecution should be publicly shamed and resign. The climate fascists’ willingness to destroy free speech should be taken as evidence of their invalid position.

There should be massive public pressure for Al Gore to accept my $100,000 challenge to debate him, to the point where he actually accepts.

Once that debate occurs it will be clear that the benefits of using fossil fuels are incomparably larger and more important than the mild warming effects of CO2. More people will want to learn about the moral, pro-human case for fossil fuels and they will discover that the climate catastrophists have already been definitely refuted. Then the debate will be over—in the proper sense.

Once people understand how to think about the benefits and risks of fossil fuels in a careful, big-picture way, the catastrophists will keep losing and eventually move on to their next anti-industrial scare scenario. But they will be discredited from their previous sophistry and thus be unable to do anywhere near the damage they have done by demonizing CO2. Relieved of the burden of the anti-industrial movement, human progress will accelerate and human flourishing will proliferate.

How should we evaluate the related facts and claims?

The issue at hand is whether Exxon engaged in legally actionable fraud. Healey said, “Fossil fuel companies that deceived investors and consumers about the dangers of climate change should be, must be held accountable.” She referred to the “troubling disconnect between what Exxon knew, what industry folks knew and what the company and industry chose to share with investors and with the American public.”

In response to the fraud allegations, Epstein offers two basic counterarguments.

First, Epstein writes, fraud involves material misstatement or omission of demonstrated facts. But at issue are opinions:

The government has no right to demand a single email of mine or Exxon’s unless it has evidence that we are committing fraud by concealing or fabricating evidence. In the case of the climate impact of CO2, this is impossible–because all the evidence about CO2 and climate is in the public domain, largely collected and disseminated by government agencies or government-funded educational institutions.

What ExxonMobil is being prosecuted for is expressing an opinion about the evidence that the government disagrees with. Or, in the case of the #ExxonKnew meme, they are being prosecuted for failing to express an opinion the government agrees with. . . . There is a fundamental distinction in civilized society between fraud and opinion.

Second, Epstein argues, claims about catastrophic climate change are simply false, so Exxon cannot have committed fraud if the company expressed skepticism about impending catastrophe:

The “knew” in #ExxonKnew refers to the fact that certain Exxon employees, like anyone else who followed climate science, knew about and discussed the existence of speculative claims that increasing atmospheric CO2 would lead to runaway global warming and catastrophic climate change. As I document in “The Secret History of Fossil Fuels,” chapter 1 of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, many of these claims asserted that we would be experiencing catastrophic climate change today.

Apparently, Exxon was (rightly) suspicious of these claims and the Al Gore-led funding bonanza of scientists who agreed with them. Exxon refused to endorse climate catastrophism and funded alternative research–which they had every right to do even if they ended up being wrong.

But they ended up being right. The speculative claims turned out to be false. We have experienced mild (not runaway) warming that is only loosely correlated with CO2–and global fossil fueled development has helped bring climate-related deaths to an all-time low. How can you say #ExxonKnew about an imminent climate catastrophe that wasn’t real?

The fundamental issue is that fraud involves specific sorts of willful omissions or misstatements of demonstrated facts that specifically affect consumers’ decisions to buy or use a product or service. For example, if you roll back your car’s mileage and lie about it to sell the car for more, that’s fraud. If you say that your cigarettes are healthy but you know they cause cancer, that’s fraud.

Fraud does not encompass any possible statement that is or might be false. As Epstein says, fraud does not encompass the expression of opinions. And fraud involves clearly demonstrated facts, not speculative claims that might turn out to be true or false. Although the legal lines are not always obvious in a given case, properly these lines do and must exist. It is improper for government (or other parties) to claim fraud after the fact, if a once-speculative claim later is disproved.

A June 15 letter signed by thirteen attorneys general, led by Luther Strange of Alabama, outlines the key problems with the legal effort led by Schneiderman and Healey (see the original for references):

We routinely investigate fraud, and have done so with many of the states present at the press conference. But this investigation is far from routine. We are unaware of any fraud case combining the following three characteristics: 1) the investigation targets a particular type of market participant; 2) the Attorneys General identify themselves with the competitors of their investigative targets; and 3) the investigation implicates an ongoing public policy debate. . . .

[T]his fraud investigation targets only “fossil fuel companies” and only statements minimizing climate change risks. If it is possible to minimize the risks of climate change, then the same goes for exaggeration. If minimization is fraud, exaggeration is fraud. Some have indicated that Exxon Mobil’s securities disclosures regarding climate change may be inadequate. We do not know the accuracy of these charges. We do know that Exxon Mobil discloses climate change and its possible implications as a business risk. See Exxon Mobil Corporation SEC Form 10-k, FY 2014 (listing “Climate change and greenhouse gas restrictions” as an item 1A risk factor). If Exxon’s disclosure is deficient, what of the failure of renewable energy companies to list climate change as a risk? See, e.g., SolarCity Corporation SEC Form 10-k, FY 2014 (omitting from item 1A risk factors any mention of climate change or global warming). If climate change is perceived to be slowing or becoming less of a risk, many “clean energy” companies may become less valuable and some may be altogether worthless. Therefore, any fraud theory requiring more disclosure of Exxon would surely require more disclosure by “clean energy” companies.

Similarly, it has been asserted that “fossil fuel companies” may have funded nonprofits who minimized the risks of climate change. Does anyone doubt that “clean energy” companies have funded non-profits who exaggerated the risks of climate change? Under the stated theory for fraud, consumers and investors could suffer harm from misstatements by all energy-market participants and the non-profits they support. Yet only companies and non-profits allegedly espousing a particular viewpoint have been chosen for investigation. . . .

[Next], this investigation inescapably implicates a public policy debate and raises substantial First Amendment concerns. As our colleagues must know, a vigorous debate exists in this country regarding the risks of climate change and the appropriate response to those risks. Both sides are well-funded and sophisticated public policy participants. Whatever our country’s response, it will affect people, communities, and businesses that all have a right to participate in this debate. Actions indicating that one side of the climate change debate should fear prosecution chills speech in violation of a formerly bi-partisan First Amendment consensus. As expressed by Justice Brandeis, it has been a foundational principle that when faced with “danger flowing from speech . . . the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357, 377 (1927) (Brandeis, J., concurring). Here, the remedy chosen is silence through threat of subpoena. This threat distorts the debate and impoverishes consumers and the general public who may wish to better educate themselves by hearing and evaluating both sides.

Once the government begins policing viewpoints, two solutions exist. The first solution is to police all viewpoints equally. Another group of Attorneys General could use the precedent established by the “AGs United for Clean Power” to investigate fraudulent statements associated with competing interests. The subpoenas currently directed at some market participants could be met with a barrage of subpoenas directed at other market participants. No doubt a reasonable suspicion exists regarding a number of statements relating to the risks of climate change. Even in the press conference, a senior partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (“Kleiner Perkins”) identified “manmade global warming pollution” as “the reason” for 2015 temperatures, the spread of Zika, flooding in Louisiana and Arkansas, Super Storm Sandy, and Super Typhoon Haiyan. Some evidence may support these statements. Other evidence may refute them. Do these statements increase the value of clean energy investments offered for sale by Kleiner Perkins? Should these statements justify an investigation into all contributions to environmental non-profits by Kleiner Perkins’s partners? Should these questions be settled by our state courts under penalty of RICO charges? May it never be.

Epstein’s colleague Eric Dennis offers similar arguments in an article for the Daily Caller:

[T]he AG [Healey] has authored a novel constitutional theory: “The First Amendment does not protect false and misleading statements in the marketplace.”

Like hell it doesn’t. Let us momentarily ignore the fact that Exxon’s stated position is actually true. . . .

Imagine a world in which someone could be convicted for simply making a false statement in the course of marketing his product. The History Channel (producers of “Ancient Aliens”)—in jail [as one example]. . . .

Every judge in every court in the United States could be consumed 24 hours a day for a century by all the abstract, philosophical, political statements made by businessmen and disagreed with by someone else. Fraud is not any false statement. It is the knowingly false assertion of specific, concrete things about one’s product on which the seller can be reasonably assumed to have special expertise.

The only sensible conclusion is that the sorts of views allegedly expressed by Exxon simply are not the sorts of views relevant to any possible, legitimate claim of fraud.

(All that said, Exxon hardly argues that global warming isn’t real, anyway; one Exxon spokesman said, “[W]e’ve acknowledged the risks of climate change for more than a decade, have supported a carbon tax as the better policy option and spent more than $7 billion on research and technologies to reduce emissions.” I disapprove of a carbon tax, but that’s an issue for another day.)

There is yet another problem with the persecution of Exxon: Even if Exxon’s disclosures could in any context be deemed fraudulent, action by attorneys general is not an appropriate way to address the matter.

Consider this statement from Schneiderman’s release:

The participating states are exploring working together on key climate change-related initiatives, such as ongoing and potential investigations into whether fossil fuel companies misled investors and the public on the impact of climate change on their businesses. In 2015, New York State reached a historic settlement with Peabody Energy—the world’s largest publicly traded coal company—concerning the company’s misleading financial statements and disclosures. New York is also investigating ExxonMobil for similar alleged conduct.

The New York Times reports about the Peabody case:

Peabody Energy . . . has agreed to make more robust disclosures to its investors about the financial risks it faces from future government policies and regulations related to climate change and other environmental issues that could reduce demand for its product.

The coal giant’s concessions came in response to a two-year investigation by the New York attorney general that found that Peabody had not been forthright with investors and regulators about threats to its business that the company projected in private.

There is no possible reason why regulators would need to know about potential threats to Peabody’s business, so that’s a red herring.

Schneiderman’s core claim, then, is that his office needed to protect Peabody’s investors from Peabody’s misstatements or omissions of relevant facts.

Even if fraud were at play, the proper legal mechanism to address it would be for Peabody’s investors to demand changes in the company’s leadership or to sue the company in regular court proceedings. Interfering in contractually established interactions among a corporation’s participants is not normally a proper function of an attorney general’s office.

More significantly, Schneiderman’s position is laughable on its face: Obviously he wishes to destroy Peabody’s business, not protect its investors. This attorney general misused the fraud laws—the purpose of which is to protect a business’s participants and customers from material deceit—for the political purpose of subjecting Peabody to two years of legal proceedings, which Schneiderman got to pursue with taxpayers’ funds while Peabody defended itself out of its earnings.

And the allegation, in large part (as the Times article reveals), was that Peabody failed to adequately state the possible future impacts of regulations on its business—as though any business leader could predict the whims of politicians and bureaucrats.

Regarding potential investors, they have the same access to the facts and claims about climate change and regulatory conditions as do Peabody’s leaders. Obviously the legal action was about legally damaging Peabody, not about making a good-faith effort to assist investors.

As Schneiderman feigns concern for Peabody’s investors, consider the impact that the sorts of regulatory burdens actively supported by Schneiderman’s alliance have had on Peabody: “Shares of Peabody, which is based in St. Louis, have lost more than 90 percent of their value over the last year as the entire industry has been overwhelmed by crippling debts and more stringent regulations on coal burning by electric utilities,” the Times reports.

I suspect that many of Peabody’s investors have some well-developed attitudes regarding Schneiderman’s efforts to “help” them.

Of course, the issues at stake are much broader regarding the case of Exxon and the wider effort by these attorneys general to target producers of fossil fuels.

If any parties should now be under legal investigation in this matter, they are the attorneys general who abused their offices and violated citizens’ civil rights in the pursuit of politically-motivated witch hunts designed to publicly shame and financially drain their ideological adversaries. Epstein should be applauded for standing up to these bullies—as he rightly calls them, these fascists.

Please help me continue and expand my work defending liberty and individual rights by becoming a contributor via Patreon.

· Resolve to Expand, Use, and Produce
· Lessons from Martian Climate Change

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Debate over “Radical Islam” Misses the Key Distinction between Theocratic and Secularized Islam

Donald Trump is wrong about nearly everything, but he is right about this: America’s political leaders properly may refer to the movement motivating terrorists to act in the name of Muslim beliefs as “radical Islam.” However, as we’ll see, Trump misses the key distinction between theocratic Islam and substantially secularized Islam, and he therefore draws the wrong policy conclusions related to Muslims.

First let’s briefly review recent discussion on the matter. On June 12, following the murderous jihadist assault on the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Trump said:

In his remarks today, President Obama disgracefully refused to even say the words ‘Radical Islam.’ For that reason alone, he should step down. If Hillary Clinton, after this attack, still cannot say the two words ‘Radical Islam’ she should get out of this race for the Presidency. . . .

We need to protect all Americans, of all backgrounds and all beliefs, from Radical Islamic Terrorism—which has no place in an open and tolerant society. Radical Islam advocates hate for women, gays, Jews, Christians and all Americans.

In response, Clinton essentially agreed with Trump, saying “you [can] call it radical jihadism or radical Islamism, I’m happy to say either. I think they mean the same thing.”

Obama struck a similar note as Clinton regarding the significance of the terminology, although he used the phrase “radical Islam” only to discuss why he normally does not use it (or the related term “radical Islamist”). After describing the various concrete actions his administration has taken against Islamic State (he uses the acronym ISIL), Obama directly confronts Trump’s criticism and explains why he doesn’t use the term “radical Islam”:

What exactly would using this label . . . accomplish? What exactly would it change? Would it make ISIL less committed to try to kill Americans? Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that is served by this?

The answer is none of the above. Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away. This is a political distraction.

Since before I was president, I have been clear about how extremist groups have perverted Islam to justify terrorism. As president, I have called on our Muslim friends and allies at home and around the world to work with us to reject this twisted interpretation of one of the world’s great religions. . . .

Groups like ISIL and Al Qaida want to make this war a war between Islam and America, or between Islam and the West. They want to claim that they are the true leaders of over a billion of Muslims around the world who reject their crazy notions.

They want us to validate them by implying that they speak for those billion-plus people, that they speak for Islam. That’s their propaganda, that’s how they recruit. And if we fall into the trap of painting all Muslims as a broad brush, and imply that we are at war with the entire religion, then we are doing the terrorists’ work for them.

Where Trump and Obama agree (and where Clinton disagrees) is that there is a substantive issue at stake with whether we refer to terrorists who claim to be motivated by their Muslim beliefs as “radical Islamists.”

For Obama, Islam properly understood is a “great religion” that does not inspire terrorism. He sees a sharp dividing line between Muslims and terrorists; once a person becomes a terrorist, he no longer acts on genuinely Muslim beliefs, whatever his claims. If Obama drew a Venn diagram, the circles of “Islam inspired actions” and “terrorism” would not overlap. Thus, he concludes, it makes no sense to equate (Muslim) terrorism with Islam, “radical” or otherwise.

For Trump, Islam can be “moderate” or it can be “radical,” but it is still Islam. If Trump drew a Venn Diagram, the circle of “radical Islam” would be inside the circle of “Islam.” Thus, he implies, terrorists who claim to be motivated by their Muslim beliefs are part of “radical Islam” and therefore part of Islam, and to avoid the phrase is to avoid the essential nature of what motivates these terrorists. (Please, no one ask Clinton to try to come up with a Venn diagram here.)

As Clinton might ask, what difference does it make?

Whether one sees “radical” jihadism as an aspect of Islam or a perversion of it very much influences how one evaluates the religion as a whole and how one views America’s “moderate” Muslim allies.

In Obama’s view, Islam is a fundamentally wholesome and peaceful religion, and generally we should consider Muslims and Muslim-led nations as trusted allies of the West. Moreover, we need to go out of our way to build bridges with “true” Muslims so that fewer Muslims jump the wall between Islam (properly understood) and terrorism (which is antithetical to Islam). I think this view helps explain Obama’s attempts to make nice with the Iranian regime, for example.

In Trump’s view (at least the view his statements seem to imply), Islam is a fundamentally troublesome religion, and the difference between nonviolent and violent Muslims is one of degree, not category. In this view, a Muslim is more likely to be nonviolent the less Islamic he is, and a “radical” Muslim is violent precisely because he takes his religion very seriously.

Notice that the terms “radical” and “extremist” in this context imply that Islam can be embraced to various degrees. The idea that terrorists are “radical” and “extreme” implies that they embrace their religion in a full-throttled way; they are “extremely” religious as opposed to “moderately” religious.

What is Obama doing, then, when he uses the term “extremist” to refer to terrorists who say that they are Muslim but who (in his view) are not truly Islamic? What is it that they are “extreme” about, in Obama’s view? It can’t be their religion, because an “extremely” Islamic person is an extremely good one, in Obama’s view. (By the same token, an “extremely” Christian person is an extremely good one.)

What are the premises that seem to underly Obama’s choice of terms? When Obama talks about an “extremist,” he is not thinking about religion at all. Rather, he seems to be thinking something along the lines that many people around the world are pissed off at the West (and at America in particular), and the people who are “extremely” pissed off tend to resort to “extreme” measures and become terrorists. Thus, the term “extreme” as Obama uses it seems to refer to a person’s level of anger (or something like that), not to a person’s level of religiosity.

Back to Trump—not only does Trump see “radical Islam” as part of Islam, he sees the lines between them as very porous. That explains, for example, why he wants to restrict all immigration from Muslim nations, irrespective of the background and expressed beliefs of particular potential immigrants.

I think Trump is right, and Obama is wrong, about the relationship between violent jihad and Islam: The former is an authentic expression of the latter (although obviously not the only possible expression). It is no accident (for example) that the Islamic regimes of Iran and Saudi Arabia promote violent jihad around the world.

But something clearly is missing from Trump’s account. (Partly I’m using Trump here as a proxy for the beliefs of many conservatives, particularly evangelical conservatives.) As is obvious to anyone who has actually read the published comments of Muslims in the West (and even in the Middle East), there is a vast difference between Muslims to whom terrorist violence is unthinkable and Muslims to whom it is thinkable. So what is the essential difference that Trump misses?

Consider an example that points to the relevant distinction. A recent article at Reason reviews polls indicating that American Muslims are more likely to support gay marriage than are American Protestants. Of course, most people who do not support gay marriage never would become terrorists. Yet it seems glaringly obvious that support for gay marriage is the sort of commitment indicating that a (psychologically normal) person could not possibly do anything other that consider religiously motivated terrorist acts with revulsion.

The key difference is not between Islam and “radical Islam,” but between theocratic (or traditional) Islam and secularized (or Enlightened) Islam. Theocratic Islam and secularized Islam are different in kind, not in degree.

This is odd terminology in a way; “secular” means non-religious, so no religious person can be considered fully secular. Yet religious beliefs can be relatively secularized when they are subverted to the universal liberal (Enlightenment) values of individual liberty and the separation of church and state.

Roughly, secularized Islam is comparable to the sort of secularized Christianity prominent during America’s founding. Sure, Thomas Jefferson admired Christian teachings—and he also felt at liberty to cut apart the Bible and throw out the parts he didn’t like. Today, most Christians in America and around the world are secularized to a substantial degree—which is why (as examples) hardly any American Christians call for laws to punish homosexuality and no Christian nation executes people for their sexual orientation or religious beliefs.

I am not claiming here that religion and secularism ultimately are logically compatible; they are not. Yet people seldom are logically consistent, and billions of people in our world manage to hold ultimately incompatible beliefs.

For a given person, the break between theocratic Islam and secularized Islam may not be a clear line. Undoubtedly lots of people have some theocratic tendencies and some secular tendencies, and they may go back and forth in the relative strength of their loyalties.

Yet, even if we cannot exactly place the line, there is a vast difference between a fundamentally theocratic Muslim (or Christian) and a fundamentally secularized one.

So what difference does all this make in terms of policy? Consider three examples involving major debates.

1. Obama, self-blinded to the dangers of theocratic Islam, appeases the Iranian regime; Trump distrusts Iran because it is Islamic; I distrust it because it is theocratic.

2. Obama thinks America should accept immigrants regardless of their religious beliefs; Trump wants to ban Muslim immigrants because (he thinks) they might be or become violent; I want to distinguish between theocratic Muslims who sanction terrorist violence and secularized Muslims—many of whom are brutally victimized by the theocratic regimes under which they survive—who do not.

3. Obama thinks American Muslims, as practitioners of a “great religion” comparable to Christianity, should receive no greater police scrutiny; Trump thinks Muslims automatically should receive greater police scrutiny; I think only those Muslims who express support for the tenets of theocracy (particularly violent jihad) should receive greater police scrutiny. (I point out here that the Orlando murderer gave out all sorts of warning signs that he sanctioned violence in the name of religion; here the problem is that he was not investigated intensively enough.)

In terms of cultural activism, how one views the relationship between Islam and violent jihad greatly affects how one approaches the religion. Obama thinks that Islam is great and that Muslims should be encouraged to celebrate their faith; Trump thinks that Islam is inherently suspect and that all non-Muslims can do is try to keep Muslims from radicalizing; I think that theocratic Islam is inherently evil and that Muslims should be encouraged to abandon it in favor of secularized Islam (if they will not abandon their faith outright).

Ultimately, I see the secularization of religion as an important step on the pathway to the eventual cultural abandonment of religion. But the secularization is critically important even if the full abandonment never takes place.

So, yes, call it “radical Islam” when Muslims turn to violent jihad. But remember that distinguishing between “moderate” Islam and radical Islam isn’t what most matters. What matters for the future of human civilization is the difference between theocratic Islam and secularized Islam.

When the worst that homosexuals worldwide have to fear from Muslims is that they may resist baking a cake for a gay wedding, that will be a good indicator that the shift among Muslims from theocracy to Enlightenment is well under way. Frighteningly, at least in many parts of the world, that seems a very long way off.

· Why James Taranto is Clueless on Mohammed Drawings
· ‘Only’ 90 Million Islamic Supporters of 9/11?
· Trump, Cruz, and Freedom of Speech

Image: Orlando Police Department

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An Open Letter to the Colorado Elections Study Group

Dear Members of the Elections Study Group,

Thank you for taking up the important matter of how to properly handle the caucus-primary season for major parties in Colorado.

Due to time constraints in juggling career and family, I do not plan to attend your July 11 meeting. (Other readers may note that the meeting is at 1:00 pm at the Capitol’s Old Supreme Court Chambers. The Jefferson County Republican Party reports that citizens will be allowed three minutes each to offer comments.)

However, I wanted to make my views known to you in this open letter. I hope you will seriously consider my distinctive views on the matter.

The main question on the table is whether to keep the caucus system for nominating presidential delegates to national conventions (possibly with modifications) or to adopt a primary system (presumably with mailed ballots).

I suggest to you that that question, although important, is not the fundamental question we should be asking. The fundamental question, in my view, is whether government should be involved in the business of political parties, which at least nominally are private organizations. I think the answer to that clearly is “no,” and I don’t see how any limited-government conservative could logically reach any other conclusion.

Before detailing my views on the fundamental question of government involvement, I do want to briefly outline my views on the question of caucuses versus primaries. I (re)joined the Republican Party last year so that I could be involved in this year’s caucus system. I saw first-hand how useful the caucus is for bringing together Republicans for face-to-face discussions and fostering networks of activists. I think it would be a big mistake to give up or undermine that process. I do think the caucuses can be better marketed and otherwise made more inviting to members. I think it would be okay (but not ideal) to implement a primary system for presidential races (to bind delegates), so long as it is open only to party members, with the proviso described below.

Whether the Republican Party adopts a caucus or primary system properly is up to the Republican Party, not the Colorado government. (As with all my related points, the same goes for the Democratic Party.) By the same token, whichever system the Republican Party embraces, it should have to organize and finance.

Quite simply, it is morally wrong to force taxpayers to fund the primaries of the major parties, especially given that many taxpayers are not even members of those parties and do not wish to participate in them.

More broadly, it is morally wrong and contrary to the principle of equal protection of the law for state government to regulate parties in any way that benefits some private organizations (namely, the two major parties) over others.

Ultimately, I do not think government should even place party affiliation on general-election ballots (which properly are organized and financed by government). When government decides to list party affiliation, it inevitably sets the rules for which parties may be included and by what terms—thereby improperly interfering with the operation of private organizations.

Meanwhile, independent candidates face very different—and I think unjustifiably disparate—legal hurdles to obtain ballot access. I say let every candidate get on the ballot in the exact same way (by petition), don’t list affiliations, and let every organization (including political parties) endorse candidates as they see fit. (For example, a party could distribute its endorsed list of candidates prior to an election.)

Although this is not fundamental to the issue, a side-benefit of my proposal would be that voters could no longer blindly vote party line based only on ballot-listed affiliations. Rather, voters would have to make some minimal effort, even if only to look up a party’s endorsements online before voting, to learn something about the candidates. I see this as a benefit, not a bug.

I appreciate you taking the time to think more carefully about the fundamental issues involved in the rules surrounding caucuses and primaries.

Ari Armstrong

CC Laura Woods, Ray Scott, Jerry Sonnenberg, Kevin Grantham, Kevin Lundberg, Sean Paige

· Get Government Out of Political Parties: How to Resolve the Primary-Caucus Debate
· Setting the Record Straight about Colorado’s Republican Caucus

Image: Ari Armstrong

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Should Liberty Advocates Support Gary Johnson for President?

For those who advocate liberty, this is a frightening election year. The next president is likely to be Hillary Clinton, who as Secretary of State played fast and loose with sensitive government information, who seems to have used her official position to generate “Clinton cash,” who parrots the anti-producer rhetoric of “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders, and who wants to radically weaken the First and Second Amendments—or Donald Trump, whose loutish, anti-capitalist nativism almost makes Clinton seem like the voice of reason by contrast.

Given the sorry state of the major parties, and given that the Libertarian Party has nominated someone eminently more qualified than Trump for the presidency, the question naturally arises: Should liberty advocates support the Libertarian, Gary Johnson? We begin to answer this question by evaluating the candidates in terms of policy.

The Candidates on Foreign Policy

In my view, Johnson is the strongest candidate now in the race for the presidency in terms of qualifications and platform. Trump has almost no relevant qualifications and a largely horrid platform. Johnson, a two-term governor from New Mexico, has the only serious executive-level experience of any of the candidates.

On paper, Clinton looks highly qualified, with experience in the Senate and as Barack Obama’s Secretary of State. Obviously Clinton beats out Johnson in terms of experience dealing with foreign policy; there Johnson has no relevant experience.

Clinton’s experience in foreign policy, however, cuts against her, too. I’m extremely skeptical of the Obama administration’s deal with Iran, which Clinton strongly supported. And Clinton’s work in Libya hardly counts in her favor. As the New York Times reported earlier this year, the Obama administration’s 2011 intervention in Libya, promoted primarily by Clinton, went disastrously wrong, destabilizing the region and empowering terrorists. And Clinton’s handling of the 2012 attack on the Benghazi diplomatic compound and its aftermath are extremely troubling. That Clinton blamed the attack on an “internet video” is shameful.

If Johnson has no accomplishments to speak of regarding foreign policy, at least he hasn’t left any foreign policy situation FUBAR.

How Johnson might govern with respect to foreign policy is largely a matter of guesswork. Obviously he would be much less inclined than Clinton to intervene militarily in affairs of foreign nations. How he would govern would depend largely on the military experts with whom he surrounded himself, and I have no idea who those people might be.

Johnson has said mainly what he is against regarding foreign policy—nation-building and the like—not what he is for. For example, his web page states:

As President, Gary Johnson will move quickly and decisively to refocus U.S. efforts and resources to attack the real threats we face in a strategic, thoughtful way. The U.S. must get serious about cutting off the millions of dollars that are flowing into the extremists’ coffers every day. Relationships with strategic allies must be repaired and reinforced. And the simplistic options of “more boots on the ground” and dropping more bombs must be replaced with strategies that will isolate and ultimately neuter those who would, if able, destroy the very liberties on which this nation is founded.

So he’s going to be “strategic” and “thoughtful”; how insightful. What would his strategies be? How would he “repair” alliances, and what good would that do? How would he “neuter” Islamic State and other terrorist organizations without using military force? How would he keep potential aggression of Russia and China in check?

With respect to the potential of a Johnson presidency, my fear is the same as it is with Bernie Sanders. I worry that, with a president perceived as inexperienced and slow to act, America’s enemies and antagonists quickly would step up to the lines in the sand and see how fast those lines can be redrawn. Paradoxically, the candidates who least want to deal with foreign policy might, by virtue of that fact, turn foreign policy into an explosively dangerous situation and become consumed by it. I think the candidate in the race most likely to give Vladimir Putin and his ilk a moment’s pause is Clinton.

My sense of Johnson is that he does have the mental and emotional maturity to handle foreign policy. I think that, if he immediately surrounded himself with serious people and communicated that he’s serious about commanding the military might of the United States, he could potentially move America’s foreign policy in a better direction.

Contrast Johnson with Trump, to whom no sane person would entrust leadership of the most powerful military force in human history. Seriously, who the hell knows what Trump might do with respect to foreign policy? Clinton’s evaluation of Trump is exactly right: “This is not someone who should ever have the nuclear codes—because it’s not hard to imagine Donald Trump leading us into a war just because somebody got under his very thin skin.” I’m not sure there has ever been a president who has been more spectacularly out of his depth with respect to foreign policy than Trump would be.

The most notable thing about Trump’s speech on foreign policy is how much of it is rambling, incoherent nonsense—in a speech written down for him by others. Anyway, we always have to doubt how many of the talking points delivered to him by advisors Trump actually believes or even cares to understand.

It’s worth noting that, ideologically, Clinton, Johnson, and Trump are closer regarding foreign policy than might be immediately apparent. Essentially, they are all of a pragmatic bent, with Clinton more likely to intervene for the sake of (hoped for) global stability, Trump more likely to intervene because his taco salad was too spicy, and Johnson less likely to intervene than the others. No candidate advocates the sort of aggressively pro-American foreign policy that, say, Craig Biddle advocates. Whereas Clinton wanted to cut a deal with Iran and Johnson wants to freeze Iran’s assets, Biddle would “eliminate the Iranian regime” with an all-out military assault. Arguably, Johnson’s foreign policy would be most similar to Obama’s of any of the candidates.

Given that former Republican Johnson is on the Libertarian ticket, we can ask how he reacts to the usual Libertarian stance of non-intervention. Brian Doherty’s review gives us some indication. Doherty notes that Johnson strays from “the general ‘no intervention outside the national borders ever’ Libertarian consensus.” Although Johnson will not sanction the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, neither will he condemn it, as many Libertarians do. Johnson says he’s not sure whether the United States should have entered either World War. In short, Johnson is out of his depth when it comes to foreign policy but not a hardline Libertarian.

Johnson’s Domestic Policy

I think most people have a pretty good idea of what the domestic policies of Clinton and Trump would look like. Clinton would try to raise taxes, expand social programs, pass whatever anti-gun laws she could manage, and enable censorship of political speech. Trump would try to build a wall along the boarder of Mexico, restrict trade, restrict immigration, maybe lower taxes here or there while increasing spending (but who the hell really knows), maybe nominate “conservative” Supreme Court justices (and maybe not), and (in case you forgot) build a wall, an absolutely yuge wall, to be financed by the Mexican government (yeah, right).

Johnson likely would accomplish very little regarding domestic policy with zero Libertarian members of Congress to work with him. He could wield his veto pen to stop or hinder legislation he doesn’t like. He could rescind executive orders and issue new ones. Importantly, he could nominate various judges and fill various bureaucratic positions. Johnson’s Supreme Court picks very likely would be genuine constitutionalists who would stand up to abuses of government power.

I think Johnson’s suggestion to replace the income tax with a consumption tax is dangerously naive; almost certainly the consumption tax would be added to an income tax.

Oddly, Johnson fails to defend liberty on just the issue that might have gotten him a second look from religious conservatives: discrimination by private businesses against homosexuals. I think Johnson can be partly excused for this stance because, first, it’s not anything over which a president has control and, second, the so-called “religious liberty” laws in question give a specific group (the religious) special legal protection, rather than protect every business owner’s rights equally.

In general, I agree with maybe 90 percent of Johnson’s domestic agenda. He has described himself as fiscally conservative, socially liberal, and I think that’s exactly how he’d govern. What you see is what you get: He’ll seek to lower taxes, cut regulations, scale back the drug war, and generally try to refasten the chains of the Constitution to the federal government.

There’s a decent chance that, if elected, Johnson would easily become the best president in my lifetime.

An Unelectable Libertarian

Johnson is in my view clearly the superior candidate now in the race. He’s a decent person, which puts him head and shoulders above his competitors; his foreign policy would be certainly better than Trump’s and likely no worse than Clinton’s; and his domestic policy would be dramatically more pro-liberty.

But none of this indicates that a liberty advocate should support Johnson for president.

The first fact with which we must grapple is that Johnson is unelectable. It’s sad, but the best candidate in the race will come in third, and a very distant third. But might he have momentum? After all, he is polling at 10 percent. True, this year Johnson might pick up quite a few discontented Republicans. But, judging from 2012, when Johnson polled as high as 5.1% yet earned only 1 percent of the final vote, he likely will pull fewer votes than what he is polling.

If Johnson manages to get himself into the debates by polling more than 15 percent, which I doubt he can do, he might start to earn some serious media attention and become a widespread protest vote. But even if that happens, the final result will be the same: a distant third-place finish, only slightly less distant. (It has occurred to me that Clinton might do well to shun Trump and offer to debate only Johnson, but surely that won’t happen.)

A second important fact here is that Johnson is a Libertarian. If he were running as an independent, I’d have no problem whatsoever voting for him as a protest.

But, because he is running as a Libertarian, to the extent that Johnson is successful, he will advance that party. And that’s a bad thing.

The Libertarian Party should be allowed to die off, hopefully with its better members joining liberty groups within the major parties. Indeed, if true liberty advocates had abandoned the Libertarian Party years ago and become active in the Republican Party, maybe today we’d be talking about someone like Johnson or Ted Cruz (who at least is pro-liberty on economic issues) leading the party, rather than Trump.

Besides being a minor party in a two-party system, the Libertarian Party is now and always has been deeply influenced by horrible ideas, most importantly moral subjectivism and political anarchism. This is the party, for example, that not once but twice ran an anarchist (Harry Browne) for president.

As I summarized in 2012:

[I]t is impossible to support Johnson as a Libertarian candidate without promoting the Libertarian Party itself, and that party undermines the very foundation of individual rights. . . . By lending his credibility to a party that often tolerates (or even glorifies) anarchism, blames America for Islamist assaults against us, and embraces moral subjectivism and outright craziness, Johnson sullies the case for liberty by muddying it with antithetical ideas.

Although many Libertarians (including Johnson) favor the existence of government (how odd to have to write those words), the pervasive sentiment coming out of the Libertarian Party (and the broader libertarian movement) is that government is always bad, to be restrained wherever possible if it cannot be abolished. That is why, for example, Libertarians can so rarely find an example of military action of which they approve. It is no exaggeration to say that Libertarians frequently sound exactly like the Ward Churchill left, blaming the United States for jihadist attacks on Americans (and the like).

Because Libertarians tend to see and describe government as inherently evil, they open themselves up to all sorts of legitimate attacks by their critics. On issues including intellectual property and the use of military force, Libertarians seem either crazy in rejecting government or defensive in accepting it piecemeal. That’s the essence of why I think the Libertarian Party in the main never will be anything other than a party of kooks and cranks.

The fact that Johnson is an unelectable Libertarian raises important questions about whether liberty advocates should support him, even though otherwise he is far and away the best candidate in the race from a liberty perspective.

To Support or Not to Support

Unless something near-miraculous happens, Hillary Clinton will be the next president of the United States—and she will win by a large margin. Trump piles fiasco on fiasco—the latest is him calling a judge in the case of Trump University a “Mexican”—and I think this will sink his candidacy. So I don’t think it really matters, at least in terms of the outcome in November, which candidate liberty advocates support or whether they support any candidate.

What matters, then, is the future influence of one’s current political activism.

Arguably, this year Johnson is bigger than the Libertarian Party such that he largely escapes its problems. I think a liberty advocate can reasonably argue, “I’m voting for Johnson because of his record and policy positions, not because he’s a Libertarian, and voting for him this year as a protest will send a strong message to the Republican Party that it needs to shape up—or be replaced by a viable liberty party.”

But I think voting for Clinton, voting for another minor-party or independent candidate, or not voting in the presidential race would send a similar message.

The key is for people who cast a protest vote, whatever its form, to clearly and publicly articulate why they are casting a protest vote. It is the public articulation, not the vote itself, that is most important in terms of influencing the future direction of American politics.

Of course, some liberty advocates will hold their noses and vote for Trump, because “Hillary!” and “Supreme Court!” I don’t think such a vote is defensible, but such voters can mostly expiate their sins by declaring publicly that they condemn Trump and are pulling the lever for him only to avoid (they think) even worse problems.

A Missed Opportunity

On December 28, 2011, after flailing in the Republican race for the presidency, Johnson announced he was leaving the GOP to run for president as a Libertarian. Imagine if instead he had joined or formed an independent or Republican-affiliated pro-liberty organization to promote the sort of policies that made Johnson a successful Republican governor. He might have been able to help push the GOP in a better direction such that it avoided this year’s catastrophe. He could have threatened an independent run and pursued it assuming Trump still got the nomination.

In that scenario, Johnson still would not have positioned himself to become president of the United States. But he would have been able to seriously influence the future of the Republican Party for the better, rather than continue to help drain liberty activists out of it.

But the past cannot be changed, and Johnson apparently sees no problem with riding the Libertarian horse.

The rest of us must play with the cards dealt. Regardless of how and whether one votes and otherwise participates in party politics this year, Johnson’s run offers a good opportunity to point out the serious defects of Clinton and Trump, to discuss what genuinely pro-liberty policies would look like, and to advocate a new direction for the Republican Party (or else its replacement).

I suspect it will be a long five months until the election, and then a long four years until the Republicans have an opportunity to do better. For liberty advocates, the only solace to be found is that crisis is opportunity.

· Donald Trump: Anti-Capitalist
· Why Liberty Advocates Should Join the Republican Party, Not Abandon It, Despite Trump
· Why I’m Not a Libertarian

Image: Gage Skidmore

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Donald Trump

Donald Trump: Anti-Capitalist

One of the great dangers of the 2016 election is that many Americans will mistake Donald Trump for an advocate of capitalism. Although he is a wealthy businessman, Trump is anti-capitalist in ideology.

The Democrats often are explicitly anti-capitalist; they represent the soft-socialism of so-called progressivism—the “democratic socialism” that Bernie Sanders loudly trumpets and that Hillary Clinton defensively parrots. This camp advocates redistributive taxation and heavy regulations on businesses to fight income inequality and other alleged economic injustices.

It is convenient for leftists to brand Trump’s racially tinged, nationalistic policies as “capitalist.” In reality, Trump’s proposals are diametrically opposed to capitalism. The “debate” between the democratic socialism of the left and Trump’s nationalism is really one between two forms of statism. Indeed, in many ways Sanders’s brand of statism and Trump’s brand of statism converge; consider, for example, the two candidates’ advocacy of restraints on international trade.

Before reflecting on some of the ways that Trump is an anti-capitalist, we should review briefly what capitalism is, so that we can tell what it is not.

In its narrow economic sense, capitalism refers to the development of capital—tools, factories, ships, software, and so on—that vastly expands people’s productivity and makes possible unlimited increases in standards of living. In this sense capitalists are those who invest the resources on which capital formation depends.

Here we are interested in the broader meaning of capitalism, as a political-economic system of liberty, including rule of law and property rights, that enables individuals to pursue their own values by their own judgment and, consequently, to pursue the heights of economic prosperity. In this sense, capitalism has never existed in pure form; where it has existed it has always been mixed to a lesser or greater degree with rights-violating practices; it is, as Ayn Rand puts it, an “unknown ideal.”

It is possible for someone to invest in capital, and to be a capitalist in that narrow sense, but to be ideologically mixed or antagonistic with respect to capitalism as the political-economic system of liberty. Rand dramatized the worst sort of such “capitalists” as many of her villains in Atlas Shrugged. In our world, people such as Michael Bloomberg, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and George Soros have been enormously successful in business and yet have supported rights-violating, statist policies to various degrees.

Ideologically, Trump is nearly as antagonistic to capitalism as is Sanders. At least in some ways (and arguably on net), he is even more stridently anti-capitalist than is Clinton. Trump occasionally mouths rhetoric somewhat friendly to capitalism only when he praises individuals and nations for achieving great wealth or picks up free-market-leaning talking points from conservatives (which he almost certainly does not genuinely understand or embrace). In almost all of his rhetoric, in all of the policies that animate him, and even in some of his business practices, Trump stands opposed to capitalism. Let us count some of the ways.

1. Trump threatened Amazon with political reprisals via tax and antitrust enforcement.

This point shows Trump’s anti-capitalism in three distinct ways: He threatened a business owner with political reprisals; he threatened to use the tax code specifically for this purpose, thereby sanctioning the existence of such tax laws; and he threatened to use antitrust law for this purpose, thereby sanctioning the existence of antitrust laws.

Here is what Trump said:

[The Washington Post] is owned as a toy by Jeff Bezos who controls Amazon. Amazon is getting away with murder tax-wise. He’s using the Washington Post for power so that the politicians in Washington don’t tax Amazon like they should be taxed. [Bezos is] worried about me . . . [because] he thinks I would go after him for antitrust because he’s got a huge antitrust problem. Amazon is controlling so much of what they’re doing. . . . What he’s got is a monopoly and he wants to make sure I don’t get in.

Obviously threatening to unleash government force against political opponents is anti-capitalistic; capitalism is based on individual rights and a government based on rule of just law.

Just as obvious, seizing producers’ wealth by government force is anti-capitalistic; producers have a moral right to their wealth, and it is a violation of their rights to confiscate it.

Perhaps less obvious to some but just as important, passing or enforcing antitrust laws is also anti-capitalistic, because such laws interfere with consensual relationships on a free market, instead imposing government dictates for how businesses must operate. (Antitrust is a complex topic; for more information see Rand’s remarks and the books The Abolition of Antitrust and The Causes and Consequences of Antitrust.)

2. Trump praises eminent domain, and his businesses have threatened to use it.

In capitalism, property rights are inviolate; no one may seize the property of another. But Trump does not believe in private property rights; he believes in government power to redistribute property via eminent domain.

As David Boaz relates, not only have Trump’s business concerns threatened to pursue eminent domain on at least two occasions, Trump has explicitly praised the use of government force to take property from some people and transfer it to others.

Government does play a proper role in resolving property disputes over abandoned properties and in addressing property uses that harm others’ enjoyment of their property. But that’s not what Trump advocates; he advocates taking people’s houses so that developers can build “beautiful fountains” and the like.

3. Trump has threatened a “trade war” with other nations.

Donald Trump has called for tariffs on goods from other nations, and he has explicitly threatened a “trade war.”

Trump’s policies would increase costs for U.S. producers and consumers and risk throwing the U.S. economy into recession.

Here, too, Trump is anti-capitalist. In capitalism, producers and consumers may buy and sell goods and services with whomever they please, anywhere in the world, excepting only some highly delimited cases (such as the selling of military goods to hostile nations).

Notably, Trump treats trade essentially as collectivistic, rather than as something to which individuals have a right. He talks about national trade as though it were something above and beyond the trade of all the individuals here. He talks about “American jobs,” as though the jobs an employer creates somehow belong to the nation and its government. He talks about the nation “losing” in trade, regardless of the individual choices that traders and investors voluntarily make.

Trump deserves a little credit for allowing his handlers to add language to his web site about cutting U.S. corporate tax rates, which indeed would partly unshackle U.S. producers, but on the whole Trump is strongly anti-capitalist with respect to international trade.

4. Trump wants to restrict immigration on explicitly protectionist grounds.

It’s one thing to say the U.S. government should more proactively screen immigrants for violent tendencies and more proactively deport or imprison violent immigrants. It’s quite another to say, as Trump does, that the U.S. government should forcibly restrict U.S. employers from hiring peaceable immigrants.

In capitalism, employers may hire any peaceable persons they choose; they have no obligation to hire someone just because they were born in one place rather than another. Similarly, under capitalism, property owners may invite any peaceable person onto their property that they choose.

Dangerously, Trump scapegoats immigrants, wrongly blaming them for high unemployment rates among certain segments of American workers and other for ills—even though rights-violating U.S. policies, not immigrants, demonstrably are to blame for those problems. For example, minimum wage laws, laws that interfere with employer-union contracts, licensing laws, and many other sorts of interventions drive many Americans into the unemployment lines.

At one point, Trump promised to forcibly deport some eleven million peaceable immigrants who are in the country illegally. (Trump seems not to really believe his own statements in this regard, as he seems not to really believe many things he says, but nevertheless he said it.) Not only would such a policy blatantly violate the rights of U.S. employers to hire immigrants and of peaceable people to live and work where they want, it would require the creation of a full-blown fascist police state to implement.

5. Trump relied on subsidies and discriminatory taxation to get ahead in business.

In capitalism, producers bear their own costs and operate on a level legal playing field. Trump operated his businesses by securing government subsidies and tax favoritism—thereby counting on government to throttle his competitors by taxing them more.

As the Los Angeles Times reported in 2011, Trump “built his empire in part through government largesse and connections.” The article continues: “In New York, Trump was the first developer to receive a public subsidy for commercial projects under programs initially reserved for improving slum neighborhoods.” Trump also benefitted from generous “tax abatement” programs, meaning that government taxed him at much lower rates than it taxed his competitors.

This is a tricky issue because, as I’ve explained elsewhere, business leaders morally may take advantage of certain government programs which they did not create and which they explicitly oppose, if for the sake of partial restitution for government seizing their wealth elsewhere.

But Trump did not take advantage of subsidies and tax favoritism for the explicit purpose of mitigating his long-term tax burden, nor did he explicitly call for an end to subsidies and for equitable tax cuts for all. Rather, he actively sought subsidies and tax favoritism and sanctioned their existence, as the Times‘s article makes clear.

6. Trump financed anti-gambling campaigns in New York to protect his gambling operations in Atlantic City.

In capitalism, business leaders must compete in a free market; they may not use government force to harm competitors. Trump intentionally advocated government action to throttle his potential business competitors.

As the New York Times reported in 2000, “Donald J. Trump and his associates . . . secretly financed newspaper advertisements opposing casino gambling in the Catskills.” Why? “Trump has long feared that competition in the Catskills would undermine the gambling industry in Atlantic City, where he owns three casinos.” (I first learned of this story from Politico. Note that I don’t approve of the lobbying regulations or fines discussed by the Times.)

This is a perfect case of what Bruce Yandle calls the “bootleggers and baptists” phenomenon, when supposed do-gooders (in this case members of an anti-gambling group) team up with interests who do the very thing the supposed do-gooders oppose, to forcibly restrict competition in the field.

Although hardly the worst of Trump’s offenses, this case clearly illustrates Trump’s antagonism toward capitalism.

* * *

Here I have outlined only some of the major ways that Trump is by practice and by ideology anti-capitalist. But mine is not too difficult a case to make. Trump has never pretended to advocate capitalism; it’s not as though he punctuates his public speeches with references to individual rights and free markets. Nor do Trump’s supporters pretend that he advocates capitalism.

No honest, informed person can reflect on the matter for more than a few minutes and conclude that Trump is anything other than anti-capitalist in basic orientation.

But I do think there is value in drawing attention to this fact and in reviewing some of the relevant details. After all, leaders of the Republican Party especially since Reagan often have voiced support at least for aspects of capitalism, even when Republican politicians often have acted by statist rather than capitalist principles.

With Trump now at the top of the Republican ticket, no one may now pretend that the GOP is any longer or in any way the party of capitalism—at least for now. Some Republicans continue to advocate capitalism, and many more unseriously mouth support for aspects of capitalism, but they are now outcasts riding in the box cars of the Trump Train.

Those of us who understand and advocate capitalism would do well not to let others forget that Trump is anti-capitalist—this goes for the left, Trump’s supporters, and other members of the Republican Party. Under Trump, the Republican Party even more than before stands for statism, not capitalism, and hence is competing with the Democrats merely over which brand of statism to impose.

· Donald Trump Would Be the Least-Qualified Person Ever to Be Elected President
· Why Liberty Advocates Should Join the Republican Party, Not Abandon It, Despite Trump
· Still, Never Trump

Image: Gage Skidmore

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I Came to the Same Conclusion

Great article, Ari. Your evaluation of Trump as anti-capitalist is very similar to my own, though expressed much more clearly. I do think that a significant portion of the population are unlikely to take the few moments necessary to see that he is not a capitalist. After all, many will think, he is rich so he must be a capitalist.

It is this mistaken attribution of him as a capitalist which puts Trump at the top of my “people I will not vote for” list. To be fair, Hillary and Bernie are on the same list.

Again, I very much enjoyed your article.

—Patrick L. Black
May 31, 2016

Donald Trump, photo by Gage Skidmore

Donald Trump Would Be the Least-Qualified Person Ever to Be Elected President

Donald Trump’s leading competitors for the presidency during the last few months in both major parties—with the exceptions of Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina—are far better-qualified than Trump for the position.

Even more remarkable, for the first time in its history, the Libertarian Party is set to nominate a candidate for president more qualified—and eminently so—for the office than the Republican. Gary Johnson, the likely LP candidate, served eight years as governor of New Mexico after building a successful construction company. Trump has never served in public office, although he has operated a largely successful real estate business.

This got me wondering: Has any major candidate for the office ever been less qualified than Donald Trump? Certainly voters are skeptical about his qualifications; although Trump has taken a two-point lead against Hillary Clinton in a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, 65 percent of registered voters think Clinton has the “experience to be president,” versus 26 percent who think Trump does. The question of presidential qualifications is worth exploring.

Presidential Qualifications

We should start with the question of what qualifies a person to be president. This in turn depends on what it is the president is called on to do.

As Article II of the Constitution lays out, the president’s main responsibilities are to serve as chief executor of the laws, to be commander in chief of the military, to “make treaties” with the Senate’s approval, and to appoint Supreme Court justices and the like (again with the Senate’s approval). In a way the president serves as the nexus between Congress and the courts; the president not only appoints various judges but provides the “state of the union” to Congress.

The president’s job, then, largely involves knowledge of the law, particularly the Constitution; familiarity with the military; familiarity with foreign policy; and a working knowledge of how federal government operates. Nothing in Trump’s background indicates that he has mastered any of these fields. Indeed, in myriad ways Trump has demonstrated that he is largely ignorant about all of them; for example, he recently suggested that Supreme Court justices sign “bills.”

Johnson, to continue with the contrasting example, although weak on military and foreign policy experience, has held an important executive position in government (albeit in a low-population state). Holding a governorship typically is considered good experience for the presidency. In our federalist system, successful governors must be intimately familiar with federal policy and how it affects state governments. As the president interacts with Congress and with federal courts, so a governor interacts with state legislatures and with state courts.

Trump as Businessman

The one area in which Trump arguably outshines Johnson and many major-party candidates for president is in business. Certainly running a successful business should be counted a qualification for the presidency, as it involves managing many other people—a skill important to the presidency. And the negotiation skills involved with running a business presumably carry over in some ways to matters of domestic and foreign policy.

But Trump’s business experience is not a very good qualification for the office of the presidency, for several reasons.

Although Trump does not seem to understand this point, government is fundamentally different from private enterprise. Government necessarily and always involves the use or threat of force. Private enterprise, when it is not marred by the cronyism of government controls and subsidies, involves consensual relationships. Treating government as a business is disastrous (as is treating a business as a government). So while experience in a governorship or a Senate committee involving foreign policy (for example) obviously is relevant experience for the office of the presidency, running a business, however successful, is far less relevant.

Besides, Trump is hardly the only person to succeed in running a business. At least hundreds of people now living have been more successful or about as successful in business; many thousands have been successful at a level that would similarly qualify them for the office of the presidency. (I think even Johnson fits this category; he’s worth millions compared to Trump’s billions, but Johnson built a large business without the family money and ties that Trump had.)

Then there is the problem of the quality of Trump’s business dealings. Trump’s use of eminent domain illustrates his cronyism and indifference to individual rights. Trump’s businesses also have declared bankruptcy four times. Whether or not Trump abused the bankruptcy laws, Trump’s views about bankruptcy in business seem to taint his views about how to handled the U.S. debt—Trump has suggested government might partly stiff its holders.

The Economist makes a couple of relevant points about Trump’s business success. For one thing, “Trump’s performance has been mediocre compared with the stockmarket and property in New York.” For another, Trump’s “clannish management style suggests he might be out of his depth if he ran a larger organisation.” No doubt he would be out of his depth trying to run the executive branch of the federal government.

Still, it would be a mistake to dismiss Trump’s business experience as a qualification for the presidency. For a while I wondered whether we’d be better off just choosing a president randomly from among all registered voters, rather than electing Trump or Hillary Clinton. I think Trump really is a better pick for president than the average person. My best guess is that Trump is in something like the top five percent of registered voters in terms of capacity to serve as president. I guess that ain’t bad, but it still means I think something like fifteen million people could do a better job. So I have to wonder how in the hell we ended up with two leading candidates that most Americans despise and rightly distrust to serve as president.

Does Experience Really Matter?

It is worth pausing to note that many Americans these days see experience in government as a disqualifier, not a qualifier, for the office of the presidency. Have our “experienced” presidents really done such a great job? Have our other “experienced” elected officials?

I am very sympathetic with the view that the “political elite”—here meaning the officeholders of high rank within the Democratic and Republican parties—largely have failed the American people. Republicans talk about blocking or reforming such things as ObamaCare and the Obama administration’s dangerous deal with Iran, but they don’t seem very serious about making headway on such issues. Leaders of both parties have failed to address such large, long-standing problems as the national debt and entitlement spending. It feels very much like the country is off the rails and our supposed leaders are playing power games in the tax-funded luxury of the dining car.

But experience does matter, especially for the office of the presidency. Relative to a member of Congress, the president has enormous power. And an executive position is inherently different from a legislative one. For legislative offices, ideology matters much more than background experience, I think. Not so with the presidency. It’s pretty hard to desperately screw up the job of legislating (many of our legislators especially at the state level are not exactly the brightest bulbs).

But someone with an ideology I regarded as perfect could still be a disastrously bad president. The president is commander in chief of the most powerful military force in the history of the world, for God’s sake, and a lot of people are treating this year’s election like a joke.

Trump Would Be the Least-Experienced President of All Time

If you review the list of United States Presidents, you will observe that everyone who has become president served as governor of a state, a member of the U.S. Congress, a high-ranking member of the federal executive, or a military leader.

Many presidents had experience in two or more of those areas and then some; for example, Teddy Roosevelt was a state assemblyman in New York, a police commissioner, a distinguished military veteran, an Assistant Secretary of the Navy under McKinley, governor of New York, and Vice President under McKinley. I disapprove of many of Roosevelt’s political stances, but I can’t argue that he lacked experience to serve as president.

Donald Trump, by contrast, has accomplished none of those broad categories. He has never held political office, never served in the federal government’s (or in a state government’s) executive branch, and never served in the military. If elected he would be the least-qualified person ever to hold the office.

Perhaps the least-qualified person ever to serve as president was Herbert Hoover (incidentally, a Republican and successful businessman who played a major role in tanking the economy). Yet Hoover was vastly more qualified for the position than is Trump. Hoover headed the U.S. Food Administration during World War I and served as Secretary of Commerce under Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge. So at least he had some experience in the federal executive branch.

I reviewed the major candidates for the presidency going back to 1892, and I couldn’t find even a major losing candidate for the office with less relevant experience than Trump.

The only two losing candidates to stand out, in terms of lack of qualifications, are Wendell Willkie (who lost to FDR in 1940) and Ross Perot (who came in a distant third in 1992 and 1996). But even Willkie and Perot were far more qualified for the office of the president than is Trump.

Willkie was a lawyer and successful business executive, so in that way comparable to Trump. Unlike Trump, Willkie had at least a little military experience, having volunteered for World War I (he made it to France, but the war ended before he saw action). Although Willkie had no experience in elected or appointed government office, he had extensive experience interacting with government as a political activist; as the leader of an electric utility, he (unsuccessfully) led the fight against the federal takeover of part of the electric-generation industry. Willkie got trounced by ten points, by the way; essentially he was the Republicans’ sacrificial lamb to go against the mighty FDR.

Ross Perot doesn’t count as a major candidate; at best he was a spoiler in 1992. Even so, he was far more qualified for the office of the presidency than is Trump. Perot’s success in business is comparable to that of Trump. Unlike Trump, Perot had some military experience, having attended the Naval Academy and served in the Navy.

Given the above, it’s shocking that enough Republican primary voters supported Trump to turn him into the presumptive nominee. The idea of Donald Trump as president rightly should be considered a joke, and nothing more. Yet here we are.

I keep expecting Ashton Kutcher to show up with a video camera and tell us we’ve all been “Pun’k.”

Beyond Experience

So far I have focused on the sort of qualifications that one might expect a candidate to list at the top of a resume—positions in government or in business. Obviously if we consider qualifications more broadly, then other, less-tangible qualities matter very much. How does Trump fare under such review?

The four things that most matter in a president, I think, are these: experience, integrity, competence, and ideology.

Clinton definitely has the experience, having been an active First Lady, a U.S. Senator, and a Secretary of State under Obama. But she totally fails on the other three standards, by my lights. The events in Benghazi, Clinton’s mishandling of her official emails, and the events revealed by Clinton Cash are, to me, more than adequate to show that Clinton lacks both the competence and the integrity to ably serve as president. Ideologically, Clinton wants to gut the First and Second Amendments to the Bill of Rights, impose higher taxes, impose more regulations, and in general move the country further away from the principles of individual rights. My only hope is that she’d be somewhat better than Trump on matters of trade and immigration.

Bernie Sanders has the integrity in some sense (at least he takes his ideas seriously and is true to them), but he doesn’t have much relevant experience regarding the military or foreign policy. I don’t think his legislative experience would translate to competent handling of the executive branch, and his ideology is largely the opposite of mine. (At a deeper level, I think Sanders lacks integrity, too, because he promotes socialism while ignoring or downplaying its horrific history and ideological failures.)

What about Trump? I have already outlined the reasons why I think Trump largely fails in the matter of experience and totally fails with regard to integrity and ideology. To summarize briefly, Trump is an enemy of free trade, free speech, and freedom of association; a cronyist; an aspiring strong-man; a conspiracy loon; and a mean-spirited bigot. I’d say Clinton is the more despicable human being, but Trump is a strong competitor.

What about competence? As is obvious from Trump’s handling of most American media, he is a master manipulator of media and of (some) public sentiment. The fact that he beat far more qualified candidates for the Republican nomination and is now in a position to give Clinton a serious run speaks to his competence in certain areas.

Trump definitely has the gravitas to serve as president. Of course, lots of political leaders have had plenty of gravitas and, largely because of that quality, have led their nations to complete disaster.

So, although I think Trump is masterfully competent in certain ways, I don’t think most of the things he is competent at doing would make him a good president—quite the opposite. “Quiet Cal” Coolidge is far closer to a model president for me. Trump’s competency in demagoguery is not a point in his favor.

Barring something close to a miracle, it appears that January 20, 2017, will be a very bad day for either of two reasons. On that day, either the deeply flawed Donald Trump, the least-qualified person to be elected president in the nation’s history, will begin his term—or else Hillary Clinton will begin hers.

· Still, Never Trump
· Why Liberty Advocates Should Join the Republican Party, Not Abandon It, Despite Trump
· When and How to Be a Political Activist for Liberty

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Trump Might be Influenced by Better Minds

Good summary of the two candidates remaining. Perhaps overlooked is the following.

Hillary is a known quantity: She has always been after power and will continue as president in the worst of Statist ways.

Trump, despite being such a pragmatist and lacking qualifications, could be influenced by better minds and develop somewhat of an ideology by end-of-year that he would be bound by. And he and would lead to much less harm to our economy and foreign relations than would Clinton.

Some focus on Supreme Court appointments might favor Trump. In the worst case for each of them, I think I would rather take my chances with overturning Roe v. Wade than with the banning of guns.

—Tom DeChaine
May 24, 2016

Ari Armstrong replies: The article speaks specifically to the qualifications of the candidates; it is not a definitive answer to which candidate one should support. Certainly I think it would be very bad to have a president who is basically unqualified for the position; however, arguably other possibilities would be even worse.

I don’t believe that Trump is capable of changing his ideology at this point. He is driven by a combination of nationalism, pragmatism, and self-promotion. Because of that, he cannot be trusted to keep any promise or adhere to any stated position for longer than five minutes. That Trump would be a bad president I have no doubt; but what exactly he would do, and how bad he would be, is anyone’s guess. He’s a crap-shoot.

I do think the possibility that Trump might choose less-bad, and maybe even good, Supreme Court Justices is, to my mind, the best reason to consider voting for him. But no one knows whom he’ll actually nominate. At any rate, the Court will not overturn Roe v. Wade nor ban guns into the indefinite future; however, it might allow much more restrictives laws on abortion or guns.


When and How to Be a Political Activist for Liberty

Recently I argued that liberty advocates should remain or become active within the Republican Party rather than join a minor party (unless a viable new party can replace the GOP, which I doubt). This gave rise to a number of questions: Does that mean everyone should be a Republican? Should everyone be active at the level of party politics? Do people even need to be active in politics at all?

My answer is that most liberty advocates should indeed be active in politics at some level—not as some alleged moral duty, but as a means of protecting their values. Only for some people does this mean activism at the level of party politics.

My previous article addressed the choice of whether to be active in the GOP or in a minor party; the article took for granted that a person had chosen party activism. Now I want to back up and look at the broader questions. When should people become active in politics, and how should they do it in broad terms?

Liberty as a Value

The context here is people with the philosophic maturity to understand what liberty is and why it matters. Here Ayn Rand articulated the essential issues: To consistently pursue our values by our own judgment, we need to be free from the coercion of others, whether street crime or rights-violating government actions. Proper government exists to protect people’s rights and morally may not seize their wealth, throttle their productive activities, or the like.

Liberty is critically important in an advanced economy such as ours, in which we rely on an intricate network of producers to trade the goods and services we need to live and prosper. Rights-violating government actions undermine the pursuit of values in a market economy and thereby threaten our prosperity, our health, and sometimes our very lives.

Consider just a few examples. When government forcibly restricts people from earning a living by offering car rides, they are less able to support themselves and travelers are less able to get where they need to go quickly, economically, and comfortably. When government forces parents to finance schools that serve their children poorly, they have fewer resources and fewer options for educating their children as they judge best. When government forcibly prevents doctors from offering and patients from trying path-breaking medicines and procedures, it undermines medical advances and takes many people’s health decisions out of their hands. When government throttles reliable energy and subsidizes unreliable energy, consumers must sacrifice part of their wealth and pay higher energy prices.

Most people do not make politics part of their careers. But just because your profession does not involve political activism, doesn’t mean that politics does not involve your profession. Whether you work in banking, health care, energy, auto repair, or any of countless other fields, you spend your professional time producing and trading the goods and services people need to live and thrive, not engaged in politics. But, given the alphabet-soup of federal regulatory agencies, the reams of federal and state regulations, and the massive tax burdens now imposed on producers, politics almost certainly has a major influence on how you spend your productive hours.

Politics even heavily controls your recreation, whether by forcing you to pay heavy taxes on beer or by regulating the ebooks you buy and the internet services by which you stream movies. A modern American simply cannot escape the pervasive economic influence of politics.

Regarding so-called “social” policy, government within the United States has in fact murdered people for selling the “wrong” drugs or doing so in the “wrong” way; locked countless people in cages for doing the same; threatened to punish doctors for offering medical services in a politically disapproved way; sought to punish people for speaking about politics in the “wrong” way or at the “wrong” times; and in countless other ways unleashed government force against those violating no one’s rights.

Because government in the United States routinely violates people’s rights and often fails to protect people from other sorts of violence, we are less prosperous, less wealthy, less healthy than we otherwise would be; less able to produce and use life-advancing goods and services; and more prone to suffer violence at the hands of government agents, criminals, and terrorists.

Obviously people who do not grasp the above will not become advocates for liberty and a government that consistently protects individual rights.

People who do grasp the nature and importance of liberty will thereby understand the value of protecting the liberties we still enjoy and working toward the expansion of liberty.

So should people who understand the value of liberty work to advance liberty? Put that way, the answer is obvious: Yes, except in unusual circumstances, such as when an individual suffers a crisis of finances or health (or the like) or works in a career (such as the military) that precludes political activism. Assuming you do value liberty and are willing and able to help advance it, how can you effectively do so?

There are, of course, many ways to actively promote liberty, and different individuals will find that different sorts of activism mesh better with their broader values. Here I will summarize some major forms of political activism. My ideas in these matters are drawn partly from Friedrich Hayek’s essay, “The Intellectuals and Socialism,” and Ayn Rand’s essay, “For the New Intellectual.” Incidentally, a few years ago I gave a talk based partly on those essays:

Incorporate Intellectual Activism in a Career

Some people make intellectual activism an essential part of their careers. They become university professors in the humanities (who properly may advocate their views in appropriate ways), work for think tanks and legal groups, or work in advocacy journalism. Consider, as examples, the books of Thomas Sowell, the efforts of the Foundation for Economic Education and the Ayn Rand Institute, the legal suits of the Institute for Justice, and the columns of George Will.

Support Professional Liberty Advocates

If your career and other values leave little time for politics, you can still play a crucial role in political advocacy by financially supporting people you trust to work for liberty. To be effective in this, you need to discover the essentials of the types of political ideas and actions worth supporting, find people who effectively advocate your shared beliefs, and support those people when and how you can. You can contribute funds to university programs, think tanks, publishers, writers (ahem), and others who support your values in the realm of culture and politics.

Financially supporting professional liberty advocates is a little like investing in businesses. You don’t engage in the primary activity yourself, but you do sufficient research to know your resources are used well. Just as you look for a financial return on your business investments, so you should look for a cultural-political return on your activist investments.

Advocate Liberty Part-Time

If you enjoy writing or speaking and want to take the time to master one or more areas of policy, you can write op-eds, issue papers, and letters to the editor, or produce podcasts or the like, on a part-time basis.

A great example of this sort of activist is Paul Hsieh, a full-time radiologist who writes about politics (and other cultural matters) on the side. Hsieh has a regular column at Forbes, and he is now the main force behind Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine.

If you want to write on a less-ambitious scale, you can write letters to newspapers and other publicans. (Some years ago I gave a talk on writing letters to the editor.) And of course you can advocate your ideas via social media (just avoid flame wars and the like).

Share Ideas with Peers

If you enjoy social engagement but want something less confrontational than party politics, you might consider starting or joining a liberty-oriented reading group, speaking group, or meeting group. The purpose of these, in terms of activism, is to help yourself and your allies better understand and advocate the principles of liberty.

Here are a few examples. I helped to lead an Atlas Shrugged reading group near Denver (and Diana Hsieh later wrote up extensive study notes), and I ran Liberty In the Books (and developed study notes) for several years. Quite a few Colorado activists are now involved in Liberty Toastmasters groups, Liberty on the Rocks groups, and other social networking and education groups.

Get Involved in a Party

All the political theorizing in the world makes no practical difference until it is reflected in public policy. In today’s world, political parties are the primary way that political ideas make their way to legal application.

As a party activist, you have many opportunities to articulate your views to others in your party, influence your party’s platform, seek to persuade office holders, support candidates who share your views, and network with other activists.

For most liberty advocates, I think getting involved with the Republican Party is the way to go. Recently I discussed my participation in this year’s Republican caucus system in Colorado.

If you think you will have an immediate and large impact on a political party, you are setting yourself up for failure. The idea here is to join with other like-minded activists and slowly push your party in a more liberty-oriented direction. This is not an easy task, but it is, I think, a necessary one.

Joining a political party is not for everyone. If you enjoy public meetings, debates, and the thrill of the campaign, you’ll fit right in. If not, you’ll probably want to migrate toward other forms of activism.

Incidentally, I do think that some people might do better in the Democratic Party, especially if they live in an area dominated by Democrats or are most concerned about issues (such as abortion) where Democrats tend to be better. By contrast, I think third-party participation is a complete waste of time.

Look to the Future

Regardless of how you get involved, if you hold liberty as a value, it is probably in your interests to take action to support it. How you do so depends on your other interests and values. If you enjoy writing in solitude, perhaps you should consider writing op-eds or blog posts over joining a political party. If you have little time to spare, you might focus on finding worthy recipients of your financial support.

You might long for an imaginary world in which you didn’t have to devote much time to politics in order to protect your values from rights-violating policies. But we don’t live in that world.

Even if in the future we achieve a world in which government consistently protects people’s rights, it will still be important to keep advocating the right ideas and fighting the wrong ones.

Unfortunately, the fact that previous Americans in many cases did not do their “due vigilance” means that we have to pick up the slack now. We have to fight for everything we’re worth to keep our nation from sliding into the muck of Venezuelan-style or nationalist-style socialism.

Imagine the future we can have if we achieve a government that protects the rights of producers rather than continually assaults them, that spends its resources checking initiatory violence rather than fanning it, that offers individuals true security to pursue their values rather than security theater and the surveillance state, that protects what you earn rather than loots it.

Imagine a future in which individuals consistently interact and trade by consent, not force.

Imagine a future in which the political ideal of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is fully realized.

I hope you agree this is a future worth fighting for.

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· Why Liberty Advocates Should Join the Republican Party, Not Abandon It, Despite Trump
· Reason and Rights Republicans

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Why Liberty Advocates Should Join the Republican Party, Not Abandon It, Despite Trump

Disgusted with Donald Trump’s success within the Republican Party, some Republicans are burning their party registration cards. More people are checking out Libertarian Gary Johnson, who is actively seeking the support of disgruntled Republicans.

I too am disgusted with the state of the Republican Party. Although I continue to disapprove of Johnson’s Libertarian affiliation, this year it’s hard to criticize any vote made in protest of the “choice” between Trump and Hillary Clinton. I’ve thought maybe people should start a write-in campaign for Boaty McBoatface. I’ve thought about putting up twin yard signs for Giant Douche and Turd Sandwich. Absent a viable independent run (possibly throwing the race to the House of Representatives), it seems like this year the American people are just hosed.

But, paradoxically, the fact that the Republican Party is in such a sorry state is a reason for liberty advocates to stick with the Republican Party (or join or rejoin it), not abandon it.

Please note that I am calling on liberty activists to officially join the Republican Party and become active in it, not necessarily to always vote for Republican candidates. (Certainly I will not vote for Trump.)

Sometimes, the most effective way to participate in a party is to refuse to support its unworthy candidates, so as to encourage the selection of more-worthy candidates down the road.

More broadly, people have got to get off of the idea that voting counts as serious activism. How you vote matters barely or not at all. The ideas and strategies you publicly advocate matter; your participation in Republican caucuses and networking events matters; your beating the pavement and making phone calls for candidates you support matter. How you vote is irrelevant unless how you vote influences how many others vote.

I sympathize with the impulse to break up with the GOP. I did that myself, long ago. I first got involved in party politics by supporting George H. W. Bush (George I); I even adorned my truck with a Bush sign. At the time, I was part of a Reagan family, so it seemed natural to support Reagan’s vice president.

But within a few years I abandoned the GOP and joined the Libertarian Party. I was even a board member for the Colorado LP, and I produced its newsletter for a few years. Eventually, I figured out that the Libertarian Party is even more dysfunctional than the Republican Party. For me, tensions came to a head when the state party nominated Rick Stanley for U.S. Senate in 2002. He was disastrously bad; Donald Trump looks sane and thoughtful by comparison. (Stanley eventually went to prison for threatening a judge.)

The Libertarian Party is unsuccessful not only because America’s electoral system favors a two-party setup, but because the LP is an ideological basket-case, an organization littered with anarchists, militia kooks, America haters, conspiracy theorists, and the like. There are also many good people in the LP, but the anti-government thrust of the party attracts plenty of crazies and always will do so.

The LP has never been successful, having never elected a single person to the U.S. Congress. Currently the LP boasts 144 office holders, only 38 of which are for partisan offices. These positions are for city councils and fire district boards and the like; hardly earth-shaking.

Johnson, having served as a governor (as a Republican), is probably the best, most viable candidate the LP has ever run for president. This year, he might even break double digits. But regardless of how well Johnson does, he will never win major office as a Libertarian, and the Libertarian Party will never build on whatever success he might have to become a serious political player.

In practice, the Libertarian Party has one and only one significant political result: It drains the Republican party of its liberty advocates, thereby leaving the GOP to the John McCains and Donald Trumps of the world.

Put simply, if you think that “voting your principles” means you should support candidates with zero chance of winning office or significantly influencing the political landscape, you don’t understand what principles are or why they matter. It is not a betrayal of principles, but rather a manifestation of proper principles, to become politically active in a way that actually matters.

That is not to say that a new party can never be achieved. Even constitutional scholar Randy Barnett, who has “long vocally opposed third parties as irrational in our two-party system,” thinks that the Trump fiasco could lead to a viable new party.

America’s original parties, the Federalist and the Democratic-Republican Parties, no longer survive. The Democrats came on the scene around 1828, with the now-defunct Whigs; the Republicans arrived with the national crisis over slavery. But today’s major two parties, through their changes, have remained stable for well over a century. It’s foolish to think that will change absent some major crisis or realignment.

I do not think the arrival of Trump will be an extinction-level event for the Republican Party. But it could mark a significant turn for the party; it could morph from the anti-slavery party of Lincoln and the free-market party of Reagan into the xenophobic protectionist party of Trump. If that happens, even more people will find themselves without a party home.

The alternative is to let Trump be a wake-up call to liberty advocates. Rather than sit on the Libertarian sidelines or the like or take the feckless “bitch and moan” approach, liberty advocates could begin the hard work of reshaping the Republican Party into their image.

But, as I’ve Tweeted, some people want to leave the Republican Party because it’s hard to reform, to join a third party that is impossible to reform. It’s like saying that passing the mountain is hard, so we’re going to sit on the side of the trail play with pebbles.

What would a new party take even to have a chance of replacing the Republican Party? I’d say that, at a minimum, it would have to have a half-billion dollars in resources and three major Congressional leaders to come aboard. If you can’t get at least that—and preferably more like a dozen Congressional leaders out of the gate—then all you’re doing is diverting precious resources to make-believe politics.

Absent a real, truly viable new party, all available resources (starting with time) are far more effectively spent reforming the Republican Party.

It is too late in the game for liberty advocates to “play house” in the political arena. Libertarians and other minor-party activists are like preschoolers who “cook” prefabricated plastic “foods” in unworking plastic “stoves” as their mother bakes bread in adult-land nearby.

It’s time to grow up and get serious about the future of our country—before it is too late.

May 12 Update: I discussed these ideas further with Andy Hooser of 1480 KQAM; I’m on for the first eighteen minutes.

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· Still, Never Trump
· Reason and Rights Republicans
· How You Can Stop Voting Naively and Start Voting Strategically

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I’ve Given Up

After 19 years trying to pull the republican party in a more libertarian direction, I’ve mostly given up on the project. I’ve spent money going to their state conventions, and time going to the caucuses, and they just seem to keep getting further and further from both liberty and sanity. My confidence in ever being able to pull them in a liberty direction was shaken by the 2012 state convention where the Log Cabin Republicans were getting booed at the convention, but I stuck it out for another 4 years.

I’m out now though.

Those local offices may not seem like much, but that’s really the only way to try and build a party. Trying to take the presidency without building up support locally is probably impossible.

May 10, 2016

Ari Armstrong replies (May 12): Again, I sympathize with the sentiment, but by giving up on the Republican Party absent a viable alternative, you are only helping to guarantee that the Republican Party will continue to get worse over time. I acknowledge that reforming the GOP is a monumental task, and one that requires extensive grass-roots activism. But I think that’s the only viable path toward restoring a party that champions individual rights and constitutional government.

A Few People Can Make a Difference

Good article.

I learned several years ago (with your help) that a few people can make a difference at the state level in the Republican Party by taking one state issue and fighting for more liberty on that issue, be it health care (my issue in the years before ObamaCare), education, gun control, or whatever.

What if every state had a few good people fighting passionately for a handful of issues pushing for more freedom every year within the party?

I think the party platform could change for the better a lot faster than one might imagine. And we could have real advocates for liberty leading those changes.

—Lin Zinser
May 12, 2016

Actually Vote for Liberty

Can you avoid the voting for the lesser of two evils error? Some say you should vote for Trump because it would be worse to have Hillary. And this is repeated throughout all levels of political office. You vote for a anti-liberty Republican because you don’t want the Democrat to win. The result is the current anti-liberty Republican party. Are you willing to let the Democrat win and actually vote for liberty? If there are more and more votes for Libertarian candidates, won’t the Republicans (and the Democrats) try to court this vote? Voting for the status quo continues the status quo.

—Mike Spalding
May 13, 2016

Ari Armstrong replies (May 14): As I’m sure you know, I made essentially the same argument for years. But it’s just a bad argument. First, I’m saying liberty advocates should get active in the GOP, not that they should vote for every Republican candidate. Second, consistently voting for Libertarians has the opposite effect of what you suggest. If a Republican (or a Democratic) candidate knows a voter will pull the LP lever no matter what, that candidate will pay zero attention to that voter. On the other hand, a GOP activist who strategically threatens to vote for no one or for a non-Republican can wield disproportionate influence (as I’ve discussed).

Retrench and Continue the Fight

That was a very nice analysis of the state of the principles and practicalities involved in reforming the political landscape. It would be easy to throw up our hands in disgust at the current Republican Party, but I think it is more a reflection of the state of our culture than a problem with the party per se.

I also thought that the Republican Party was making progress before this year. Recently, there have have been a number of principled constitutional conservatives elected to Congress. Although I understand the impatience of voters with the Republican Congress, the fact of the matter is that with Obama is still in the White House coupled with the fact that a two thirds vote of both houses is required to overturn a presidential veto means that the Democrats actually retain more power in Washington than the Republicans have.

Some people have argued that Congress should have used the power of the purse more forcefully, but that is basically a game of brinkmanship which has trade-offs. House members serve for only two year terms, so anything that they do that is unpopular is going to subject them to the wrath of the voters almost immediately. Unfortunately, brinkmanship and gridlock are the only real tools that Congress has, absent a super-majority, to use as negotiating levers when the government is divided. I just hope people who are throwing in the towel understand that fact.

This could have been a very good year for Republicans, but the voters chose another course. Now is not the time to give up, but time to retrench and continue the fight.

—Darrell Hougen
May 13, 2016

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 viruses “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.”

And, as Jonathan Hoenig points out, “Donald Trump is explicitly anti-capitalist on issues ranging from taxes to anti-trust to trade.”

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 predicted that his supporters would riot (thereby promoting such action) if the Republican convention were contested.
  • 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

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?

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.

May 27, 2016, Update: Originally, before the phrase “minor party politics,” I had included the sentence, “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.” I included this note at bottom: “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.” But I was wrong in my characterization of this effort. Through Twitter exchanges with one of its cofounders (Mark Pellegrino), I gleaned that it’s more like a “model party,” not with the purpose of running candidates or drawing liberty activists out of the Republican Party (at least at this point), but of helping to educate people about the nature of capitalism. That’s an effort I can totally get behind; read about it online.

See also my follow-up articles “Why Liberty Advocates Should Join the Republican Party, Not Abandon It, Despite Trump” and “When and How to Be a Political Activist for Liberty.”

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.