Category Archives: Elections

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.

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· 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

Image: Gage Skidmore

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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.

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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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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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


Libertarians Nearly Cost Colorado Republicans the State Senate; Approval Voting Would Solve

In a year when Republicans made large gains throughout much of the nation, Colorado Democrats nearly maintained control of state government—thanks in part to Libertarians. As it was, Republicans squeaked by with a single-seat advantage in the state senate, while losing the state house and the governor’s race.

The Libertarian almost certainly cost the Republicans a state senate seat from District 20, where Cheri Jahn beat Larry Queen by 33,303 to 32,922 votes—a difference of only 381 votes. Meanwhile, Libertarian Chris Heismann earned 4,968 votes. (I’m relying on “unofficial results” from the Colorado Secretary of State throughout.)

Of course, there’s no reason to think that everyone who voted Libertarian would otherwise vote Republican, but in this case it’s hard to believe that Jahn would have won except for the Libertarian on the ballot.

Meanwhile, in District 5, Democrat Kerry Donovan beat Republican Don Suppes by 27,044 to 25,981 votes, a difference of 1,063. The Libertarian earned 2,339 votes (so it’s less clear the candidate cost the Republican).

In District 19, Libertarian Gregg Miller arguably nearly cost Republican Laura Woods her narrow victory; Miller earned 3,638 votes, while Woods won by only 689 votes. (However, Woods, a supporter of abortion bans and so-called “personhood” legislation, alienated many liberty-minded voters, including me.)

In District 24, Republican Beth Martinez-Humenik probably would have lost if a Libertarian had been in the race; she beat Democrat Judy Solano by only 876 votes.

Remarkably, Libertarians did not cost Republicans any state-wide races. Republican Cory Gardner won the U.S. Senate seat (although he got less than 50 percent of the vote), and Republican Bob Beauprez lost by substantially more votes than the Libertarian received. (Each U.S. House victor received over 50 percent of the vote.)

Claims that Libertarians cost Republicans races are nothing new; they crop up every two years. As another example, this year Libertarian Robert Sarvis most likely cost Republican Ed Gillespie a U.S. Senate seat in Virginia. “Spoilers” are an inherent aspect of single-vote, winner-take-all elections with more than two candidates.

Is there any alternative? To date, Republicans have attempted, without much success, to persuade Libertarians to stay off the ballot. Then, after elections, Republicans berate Libertarians for “costing” them races. This inevitably leads to nasty exchanges between Republicans and Libertarians, with the end result that Libertarians become angrier than ever toward Republicans and resolve to keep running candidates. Some Libertarians even argue that their source of power and influence is their ability to cost Republicans some elections.

There is a better way, and it is approval voting. Approval voting simply allows voters to vote for more than one candidate. So, for example, someone could vote for both the Republican and the Libertarian (or the Democrat and the Libertarian, or whatever combination). Then the candidate with the most votes overall wins. (Total votes exceed total voters, because many voters cast more than one vote.) There are no rankings and no runoffs; it’s a very simple voting system to understand and to implement.

With approval voting, it might still be the case that some Republicans lose by a smaller margin that the Libertarian’s vote total. If so, Republicans could not complain that Libertarians “stole” an election, because voters had an opportunity to vote Republican as well, yet chose not to.

Another advantage to approval voting is that it would provide a better indicator for how much support the victor actually has. Currently, it is common for candidates to win with less than 50 percent of the vote. Under approval voting, winning with less than 50 percent would indicate widespread dissatisfaction with the victor.

Approval voting obviously would be good for Colorado Republicans. The GOP often faces Libertarian competition, whereas Democrats rarely face left-leaning minor candidates.

Approval voting also would be good for third parties, I think. Rather than regard Libertarians as dangerous competitors, Republicans would see an opportunity to woo Libertarian votes.

Approval voting likely would be bad for Colorado Democrats electorally, at least in the short run, but it’s hard to see how Democrats can in good conscience oppose a voting system that is more democratic in important ways. If it’s good that people are able to vote for one candidate, as Democrats incessantly claim, then is it not better if people are able to vote for more than one candidate in a race? And it remains possible that Democrats will face stiff competition from a third party—remember Ralph Nader in 2000.

My aim, of course, is not to maximize democracy (e.g., mob rule), but to maximize government’s protection of individual rights. But I think approval voting likely would be, on net, both more democratic and (marginally) more supportive of rights-respecting government. Why not implement it?


Notice: I Did Not Authorize “Libertas Institute Colorado” To Reproduce my Content

This morning a user on Twitter asked me if I was involved with, the “Libertas Institute Colorado.” I was horrified to learn that the web site had stolen the last two years’ worth of my blog posts and was reproducing them in full. I did not authorize this reproduction of my content. (The site was also pulling in other content without permission.) After I notified the person to whom the web site is registered, he pulled down the page.

The same Twitter user said she received a late-night robocall on behalf of Libertarian candidate Gaylon Kent, and she thought that the robocall may have been associated with Libertas Institute Colorado.

I do not know if the robocall was associated with the same organization that stole my intellectual property, or if the robocaller is totally unrelated and merely used a similar-sounding name.

Gaylon Kent says he did not authorize the robocalls. See also the 9News story on the matter. I contacted 9News, and reporters there were not sure who originated the robocalls. I have not obtained or heard any audio recording of the robocalls. [See below.]

Obviously I had nothing to do with the robocalls; prior to this morning, I had never heard of Gaylon Kent or of Libertas Institute Colorado or any like-named group. (I probably saw Kent’s name on my ballot, but I paid no attention to it.)

All in all, this has been a frustrating morning, first to have to deal with the theft of my intellectual property, and then to be associated with a dubious campaign effort (even if by accident) of which I had no knowledge.

October 20 Update: I just realized that 9News includes the audio of the call in question. It ends, “This message brought to you by the Libertas Institute.”

Will Tracy Kraft-Tharp Condemn Effort to Turn Horrific Murder into a Political Stunt?

October 13 Update: Although I still have not personally heard from Kraft-Tharp, 9News reports that she stated, “I publicly denounce this ad” (see below for details). Christine Ridgeway, Jessica’s grandmother, told 9News, “I am just totally disgusted by this [set of ads]. When I first saw this I was speechless for like four hours. I was just so angry and so upset that I just couldn’t speak.” Good for Kraft-Tharp for condemning the political mailers in question. However, I’d still like to know her answers to my questions regarding the Fourth Amendment. –AA

Tracy Kraft-Tharp

Tracy Kraft-Tharp

I’ve seen nasty political ads, as have we all. But a recent set of mailers in my Colorado state house district are beyond nasty; they are reprehensible. An independent expenditure committee, Priorities for Colorado (“Jim Alexee, registered agent”) has turned the horrific murder of a little girl into a political stunt.

The ads target Susan Kochevar, the Republican candidate running against Tracy Kraft-Tharp, state representative for District 29. One ad states, “Susan Kochevar refused to cooperate with the FBI in the Jessica Ridgeway case.” The relevant fact, as Kochevar confirmed via email, is that the FBI requested to search her home on three different occasions, without a warrant, and she declined the warrantless searches—as is the Fourth Amendment right of every American. But the smear campaign treats her sensible actions as somehow sinister, asking, “What kind of person refuses to cooperate when a 10 year old girl goes missing?”

But the appropriate question is, what kind of person turns the horrific murder of a little girl into a political stunt? The answer is Jim Alexee and Julie Wells do. They are the “registered agent” and “designated filing agent” for Priorities for Colorado IE Committee. (I will email copies of the ads on request.)

What Kochevar did precisely is follow the advice of the ACLU:

If the police or immigration agents come to your home, you do not have to let them in unless they have certain kinds of warrants.

Ask the officer to slip the warrant under the door or hold it up to the window so you can inspect it. A search warrant allows police to enter the address listed on the warrant, but officers can only search the areas and for the items listed. An arrest warrant allows police to enter the home of the person listed on the warrant if they believe the person is inside. . . .

If an FBI agent comes to your home or workplace, you do not have to answer any questions. Tell the agent you want to speak to a lawyer first. If you are asked to meet with FBI agents for an interview, you have the right to say you do not want to be interviewed. If you agree to an interview, have a lawyer present.

Apparently Alexee and Wells need a refresher on the text and significance of the Fourth Amendment. We’ll start with the language itself:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Quite simply, the Fourth Amendment is our basic protection against living in a police state.

This is a very personal story for me. I live within a few minutes’ walk of Ketner reservoir, where the murderer in question once (before he killed) attempted to abduct a woman who was out for a jog. My wife and I walk the very trails where this murderer walked; the woman he attempted to abduct might as easily have been my wife or someone I know in the neighborhood. My theory is that, after the murderer failed to abduct an adult woman, he turned his sights to a younger, smaller victim in the neighborhood. Before I heard about the girl’s disappearance, I saw crews of people sweeping a local field, so I knew something was up. It was as though a black cloud descended on the entire neighborhood, as first we waited and hoped, then we wept in sorrow and outrage. It was a horrible time, and obviously unspeakably horrific for the friends and family of the victim.

Everyone in the neighborhood was relieved when the perp was caught, and I’m very glad the FBI participated in the investigation. However, despite the fact that the FBI did some great work, the FBI also arguably violated people’s rights in my neighborhood by harassing them if they did not consent to warrantless searches or warrantless collections of DNA. (See my write-up.) In my view, the FBI did these things, not primarily to collect evidence, but to “sweat” people and see what might crack open. Looking at this from the perspective of law enforcement, I kind of understand the tactic. When you’ve got little to go on, and there’s a brutal child killer on the loose, I’m sure it can be very tempting to cut some constitutional corners.

However, nothing about the story justifies American citizens consenting to warrantless fishing-expedition searches. We do not live in a police state. Law enforcement ought not go door to door searching houses without cause, and certainly FBI agents, who have sworn to uphold the Constitution, ought not harass citizens for invoking their Fourth Amendment rights.

We already know where Jim Alexee and Julie Wells stand. They are perfectly happy to turn a vicious murder into a sick political game.

What I want to know is, where does Tracy Kraft-Tharp, my representative in the legislature, stand on these issues? Does she stand with the ACLU in support of the Fourth Amendment, or does she believe that people ought to submit to warrantless, fishing-expendition searches and DNA collections? In short, does Kraft-Tharp support the Bill of Rights, or not?

I asked Kochevar and Kraft-Tharp about their views on the Fourth Amendment; so far, I have heard from Kochevar, but not Kraft-Tharp (I emailed her and left her two voice messages). Here are my questions and Kochevar’s answers:

1. Do you believe the government has a moral or legal right to search people’s homes or collect their DNA without a warrant or probable cause?

No, the government must show probable cause to a judge and a warrant must be granted.

2. Do you believe that citizens have a moral and legal right to refuse the request of a government agent to conduct a search or to collect DNA, when such agent has neither a warrant nor probable cause?

Yes, citizens do have a moral and legal right to decline a search or the collection of DNA without a warrant.

3. Do you believe that government officials properly are bound by the Bill of Rights?

Yes, I do believe government officials are bound by the Bill of Rights. Government officials swear an oath to the Constitution.

4. In your opinion, what is the significance of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution?

The Fourth Amendment is a limitation on the government to protect the people from unreasonable searches and seizures.

I asked Kraft-Tharp an additional question via email: “Do you condemn the effort by an independent expenditure committee to smear Susan Kochevar by turning the horrific murder of a little girl in my neighborhood into a political stunt?”

Regarding the Bill of Rights, if Kraft-Tharp cannot plainly state that she supports the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, then she has no business serving in government at any level.

Regarding the smear campaign, Kraft-Tharp’s answer—or, if I do not hear from her, her lack thereof—will say a great deal about her character.

Why I Cannot Vote for “Personhood” Supporter Laura Woods

I confess that I tried not to look too closely at the Republican candidate for my Colorado senate district (number 19), Laura Woods, because I was afraid of what I might find. After gleefully witnessing the fall of Evie Hudack following her reckless, Bloomberg-inspired campaign against peaceable gun owners (after which Democrats replaced her with Rachel Zenzinger, now the Democratic candidate), I really wanted the seat to turn Republican.

After the fiascos of ObamaCare (implications of which played out in the state legislature), the Democrats’ persecution of gun owners, the Democrats’ war on energy producers and consumers, and other matters, this would have been an excellent year for the GOP to punish the Democrats and win back some seats. But, Republicans being Republicans (aka “The Stupid Party”), Republicans in my district nominated a candidate I cannot possible vote for.

Thus, just a couple of weeks after announcing I planned to vote a straight-Republican ticket, I now have to make an exception and declare that I cannot and will not vote for Laura Woods. The basic problem is that Woods enthusiastically endorses total abortion bans, including the insane and horrific “personhood” measure on the ballot this year.

(I won’t vote for Zenzinger either. I’ll probably just blank that vote, unless I can figure out how to write in “Turd Sandwich.”)

So congratulations to Mainstream Colorado, “Ashley Stevens, registered agent,” for prompting me to take a closer look at Woods and to thereby change my vote. (This is the first time I can recall in which a political ad has actually had any influence whatsoever on my voting.)

I’ll begin by reviewing a couple of campaign mailers I received from Mainstream. One ad cleverly borrows the language of the right by touting, “Freedom. Responsibility. Hard Work. These are the values Coloradans have cherished for generations.” The ad continues (in part), “Rachel Zenzinger believes women have the right to make their own health care decisions [but not their own self-defense decisions] with their family, their doctor and their faith—without government or bosses getting in the way.” Of course, the bit about “bosses” is a reference to the ObamaCare requirement forcing insurers to cover birth control. Although I don’t agree with Zenzinger on that issue, I definitely agree with her that women have a right to get an abortion.

Then comes the ad’s attack on Woods:


Laura Woods would take away a woman’s freedom to make her own health care decisions. . . . Laura Woods doesn’t think women are responsible enough to make their own decisions [except regarding their self-defense]. Woods supports an extreme plan that would ban all abortions, including in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is in danger. The plan would criminalize doctors who treat women and allow law enforcement to investigate women who suffer miscarriage. She even supports a constitutional amendment that could ban common forms of birth control.

Although some of that language is imprecise and incomplete, it is essentially correct.

A second ad from the outfit makes the same basic claims.


So what are the facts behind the claims in question? Colorado Campaign for Life claims, “Laura Woods answered her Colorado Campaign for Life Survey 100 pro-life (sic).” (The organization also likens Woods’s opponent, Lang Sias, to the baby murderer Kermit Gosnell.) And Colorado Right to Life, which asks candidates if they “oppose all abortion,” affirms that Woods “has rigorously affirmed she is pro-life (sic).” As CBS Denver reports, Woods is a “staunch supporter of the Personhood ballot issue.”

As for why women have a right to get an abortion (and to use the birth control and in vitro fertility treatments of their choice),  and for why the “personhood” measure is not about personhood and is indeed anti-life rather than “pro-life,” see the detailed paper on the matter by Diana Hsieh and me.

The Denver Post’s Ridiculously Biased Story on Bob Beauprez and IUDs

If there’s one thing that makes me more angry than politicians endorsing stupid policies, it’s journalists writing biased and fact-distorting “news” stories. Frankly I usually don’t expect any better from politicians. But I do expect better from journalists, who are supposed to be the defenders of truth, justice, and America’s constitutional republic.

John Frank’s recent article in the Denver Post, “Bob Beauprez’s IUD Remark in Debate Generates Controversy,” represents the worst kind of biased (and frankly partisan) “reporting.”

By way of background, it is no secret that I advocate a woman’s right to get an abortion and that I strongly oppose the so-called “personhood” ballot measure. Indeed, I’ve spent many hours researching and writing about the “personhood” efforts over the years (see the paper I coauthored with Diana Hsieh). In 2006, the last time Beauprez ran for governor, I endorsed Democrat Bill Ritter over Beauprez, largely over “Beauprez’s religious stand against abortion.” This year, I have (tentatively) endorsed Beauprez over incumbent John Hickenlooper, partly because Beauprez has substantially run away from his efforts to outlaw abortion, and largely because I’m sick of Hickenlooper’s antics.

But whatever my personal positions, and whatever Frank’s personal position may be, intellectually honest people can at least be open and candid about the facts. On that score Frank has failed, miserably.

Frank correctly notes that, in a recent debate, “Beauprez suggested that intrauterine devices, known as IUDs, cause abortion.” Specifically, he said, “IUD is an abortifacient.”

Then Frank writes,

Beauprez drew a rebuke from experts in the medical community who called his assertion false. . . . The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and 10 other physician organizations, as well as the Federal Drug Administration, define IUDs as contraceptives that prevent a pregnancy. . . . Dr. Daniel Grossman, an ob/gyn who does reproductive research and who practices in San Francisco, said the definition of a pregnancy as the implantation of a fertilized egg is an established scientific standard. He said IUDs are not abortifacient.

But the relevant debate is not whether an IUD can kill a zygote once it has implanted in the uterus; rather, it is whether an IUD can kill a zygote before it implants in the uterus—and for Frank to ignore that issue is journalistic incompetence (or else intentional fraud). Basically, Frank is trying to trip up Beauprez on a definition, rather than address the substantive underlying issues.

So what are the facts? In 2012, Pam Belluck wrote for the New York Times:

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

A web site for Paragard, a brand of copper IUD, states, “The copper in Paragard . . . interferes with sperm movement and egg fertilization. Paragard may prevent implantation.” Implantation of what, you may ask? Obviously, of a zygote. And what happens if a zygote does not implant in the uterus? It dies. The FDA-approved prescription information for Paragard states, “Mechanism(s) by which copper enhances contraceptive efficacy include interference with sperm transport and fertilization of an egg, and possibly prevention of implantation.”

In other words, the copper IUD can work by preventing fertilization, and it can work by preventing the implantation of a (fertilized) zygote. If it works by the first means, it is a “contraceptive,” meaning that it prevents conception. But if it works by the second means, calling it a “contraceptive” is misleading, which is why the so-called “pro-life” crowd calls it “abortifacient.” But, by the definition of Frank’s “experts,” it’s not an abortion if it kills a zygote before it implants in the uterus. Well, they can define it that way if they want, but the definition used does not alter the underlying facts.

Let’s use another example to illustrate the point. I could define a “journalist” as a writer of news stories who gets his facts straight and who does not omit relevant facts. By that definition, John Frank is not a “journalist” (“hack” might be a better descriptive, at least in this case). But another common meaning of “journalist” is simply anyone who gets paid to write for a news organization. By that definition, Frank is a “journalist.” But real journalists (in the first sense of the term) do not play “gotcha” games with definitions as a way to obscure the relevant issues.

I believe the editors of the Denver Post do have integrity and do try to publish good, factually complete stories, so I call on them to issue a correction to Frank’s story.

Of course, as a matter of policy, it should matter not at all whether an IUD can act to prevent the implantation of a zygote. Women have a moral right to use the birth control methods of their choice and to seek an abortion if they wish to do so. A zygote is not a “person” and does not have rights. Frank does helpfully report that Beauprez said “in an interview after the debate” that “the use of IUDs [is] a ‘personal choice.'” Indeed it is—and it should continue to be.

Why I’ll (Probably) Vote Straight Republican This Year

dems-blew-itYou want to talk about a “war” on certain segments of voters?

I am not among those who think the “Republican War on Women” is entirely a Democratic fabrication; the existence of the “personhood for zygotes” measure on Colorado’s ballot this year (again) is evidence that such a war exists (using the term “war” metaphorically, of course).

But the Democrats have waged their own wars on other blocks of citizens—and those are the wars driving the 2014 elections. Mainly, these are the war on gun owners, the war on energy producers and consumers, the war on doctors and patients, and the war on taxpayers. At the national level, you can add Obama’s war on self-respecting and security-conscious Americans—he has almost single-handedly turned the United States into an object of ridicule among Islamic jihadists and Communist throwbacks around the world—and Obama’s late-term malaise will almost certainly impact numerous state and local elections.

Here in Colorado, I will never forgive Mark Udall (aka Marack Obama Udall) for supporting ObamaCare and for throttling the Keystone Pipeline (an indicator of his general hostility toward fossil-fuel energy producers).

I will never forgive John “What the F**k” Hickenlooper (aka Michael Bloomberg) for supporting the idiotically drafted, rights-violating gun-restriction laws.

I will never forgive Colorado’s Democratic legislators for passing the so-called “Amazon tax” pertaining to online sales—a measure that Hickenlooper defended—and other tax measures. (Yes, I have a long memory on that one. These are just a few indications of the types of issues bothering me.)

I am seeing red this year—and so are a lot of other voters. Obviously Colorado’s Democrats had no idea how deeply they would anger large blocks of voters by pursuing their leftist policies.

I was frankly surprised—although not as surprised as the Democrats were—that the gun-driven recall elections resulted in three turnovers in the legislature. Remember, those were the first recalls in the state’s history.

I was even more surprised to see Quinnipiac polls showing Bob Beauprez up ten points over Hickenlooper and Cory Gardner up eight points over Udall. I don’t know polling well enough to know which polls to trust and which to distrust, but for the Republicans even to be at a dead heat against the incumbents—as other polls indicate may be the case—is remarkable. Just three months ago I predicted that Hickenlooper would easily best Beauprez.

This year, as is the case every year, many outcomes will hinge on voter turnout. In recent election cycles Democrats floated on the Obama Bubble, but now that bubble has burst. Younger voters, I think, are starting to figure out that maybe “hope and change” depends on something more substantial than velvety rhetoric, that maybe we don’t want government continually spying on us (Udall’s work in this area is his main redeeming virtue), and that maybe a Kumbaya foreign policy doesn’t work when the other guy wants to cut your head off. Meanwhile, a variety of indicators, including the recalls and the recent polls, indicate that the right may be especially motivated this year. I for one am spitting mad.

I’ve long described my attitude toward Colorado politics this way: “Which party do I hate the most? It depends on which one I’m thinking of at the moment.” Recently Democrats have given me plenty of reasons to think about them, and, surprisingly, Republicans haven’t.

Both Beauprez and Gardner have more-or-less successfully defused the “war on women” bomb, mainly by running as fast as they can away from the so-called “personhood” measure. I was pleasantly surprised to read these recent remarks from Beaupurez: “Nobody’s taking that [the right to get an abortion] away—that’s a false argument. That’s the law of the land. Some like me are personally pro-life, but I’m not going to deny what the law provides you.” (For once Beauprez’s tendency to “squish” is working to his advantage.) And of course Gardner came out with a proposal to legalize over-the-counter birth control—which is not only the right position policy-wise but a genius political move. Although Gardner is a cosponsor of a national “personhood” proposal, it’s hard to believe he takes that too seriously given his other proposal.

Although I reserve the right to change my mind and to make some exceptions, my default stance toward this year’s election is “vote straight Republican.” I even had a sign made up: “Dems BLEW It: This Year Vote Republican.” (Attention CEW: I did not spend over $200 on this sign, and I did not coordinate with others about it, so you can keep your attack dogs on their leashes.) At first I considered having it read, “In 2014 Vote Republican”—but then I thought I might need to use it again sometime down the road.

I end with a special plea directed at Colorado Republicans. If you do manage to pull off some electoral successes this year, please don’t screw everything up the way you almost always do. Don’t make me replace this year’s sign with one stating: “GOP BLEW It: This Year Vote Democrat.” But if I have to I’ll just get both signs and keep alternating them. Such is nature of Colorado politics.

Who Is Justin Amash?

Justin Amash, Congressman from Michigan, handily beat his primary opponent Brian Ellis. So who is Amash? You can get a feel for him by watching his victory speech (posted at the Blaze). Here are a few excerpts:

  • “People want us to stand up for liberty, the Constitution, and economic freedom.”
  • “I want to say to lobbyist Pete Hoekstra [who supported Ellis]: You’re a disgrace, and I’m glad we could hand you one more loss before you fade into total obscurity and irrelevance.”
  • “To Brian Ellis, you owe my family and this community an apology, for your disgusting, despicable smear campaign.”
  • “I’m proud to stand up for the American people. And I’m going to go back to Washington, and I’m going to continue to fight for liberty, for the Constitution, and for you.”

One extraordinary thing about Amash is that, not only does he participate in every vote, but he explains his every vote on his Facebook page.

I have two open questions about the “libertarian-minded” Amesh: First, does he support strong national defense, or does he follow Ron Paul’s blame-America-first line? Second, does he want government to outlaw abortion? On this latter point, it’s interesting to note that, although Amash claims to be “100 percent pro-life,” Michigan Right to Life endorsed Ellis, partly on the grounds that Amash declined single out Planned Parenthood for defunding, as MLive reports.

Two things seem clear. Amash is serious about advocating economic liberty. And, whatever his possible shortcomings, he is a man to watch.

Pat Roberts Bests Milton Wolf for Senate

Frankly I’d never heard of Senator Pat Roberts, but I had heard of his challenger, Milton Wolf, because Wolf frequently writes about health policy and related matters (see his op-eds for the Washington Times). So I was interested to learn that Wolf was running for U.S. Senate, because I agreed with various articles he’d written.

On Tuesday, Wolf lost the primary to Roberts, as MSNBC reports. As Politico explains it, Roberts won through a combination of hard work, party support, and (of course) incumbency. Then there’s this: “Roberts . . . trained the spotlight on an embarrassing professional scandal. . . . Wolf was discovered to have posted patient X-rays on Facebook, sometimes accompanied by morbid jokes.” (I’m not sure any radiologist’s campaign could survive similar scrutiny.) Still, Wolf did relatively well, earning over 40 percent of the vote.

Top Six Reasons I’m Glad the Recall Pushed Evie Hudak to Resign

The three successful recall efforts in Colorado politics this year are unprecedented. On September 10, voters recalled Democratic state senators John Morse and Angela Giron and replaced them with Republicans. On November 27, the third target of a recall election—my state senator Evie Hudak—resigned rather than face the voters and risk the Democrats’ advantage in the state senate. (With Hudak’s resignation, a vacancy committee will replace Hudak with another Democrat, maintaining the party’s 18-17 member advantage.)

In an article for Complete Colorado, I point out the absurdity of Hudak’s supporters claiming that the recallers—the very people engaged in democratic action to gather signatures and seek a recall vote—are somehow undemocratic. I note, “Although lawful, Hudak’s decision to resign replaces a democratic recall election with a profoundly anti-democratic decision by party elite.” Read the entire article.

There is more to say, however, about why it’s a wonderful thing that Hudak is no longer my state senator—even though she has denied me a voice in choosing her replacement. Here are my top six reasons.

1. Hudak supported the rights-violating, badly drafted anti-gun legislation heavily promoted in the state by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Obama administration.

2. Hudak heartlessly insulted a rape victim on the floor of the state senate—while invoking bogus statistics to browbeat the poor lady.

3. Hudak suggested that another legislator should “flip a coin” to decide a vote. State Senator Owen Hill asked Hudak, “How can I vote on it if we can’t have a little bit more discussion?” She replied, “Take your best shot… Here’s a coin you can flip.” Hill sensibly responded, “I didn’t knock on 20,000 doors so I could flip a coin.”

4. Hudak supported the Amendment 66 tax-hike proposal, a measure that voters thankfully rejected by wide margins.

5. During important legislative hearings, Hudak spent her time on social media.

6. Hudak’s supporters distributed a nasty, misleading flyer in an attempt to suppress the democratic recall effort, and, to my knowledge, Hudak did not condemn the flyer or those responsible for it.

Hudak was arguably the least competent legislator in Colorado. I for one rejoice that she’s out of office.

Democrats Versus Democratic Recalls: My Complete Colorado Article

On September 10, voters in Colorado recalled two state senators, John Morse and Angela Giron. The next day, I Tweeted, “The reason Dems hate Constitutional recalls in CO: Recalls favor those with deep convictions over those with shallow, transitory opinions.” My suggestion was met a quick rebuke from someone I know and respect, who called my claim “intellectually dishonest” and “vapid.” But, as I replied at the time, “Clearly recalls favor the most committed voters.” And even various Democrats admit as much.

I wrote up a much longer version of my argument, and Complete Colorado published the resulting article on September 18. I argue that Democrats didn’t criticize the recalls merely as a matter of partisan cheerleading or because recalls are somehow an “abuse of the political process.” Instead, I argue,

The reason Democrats dislike recall elections—particularly when they involve a clash over guns—is that fewer people tend to vote in them. Thus, recall elections tend to favor voters with deeply held beliefs and strong political commitments—the type of voters who will go out of their way to participate in an election on an unusual day involving a single race.

Along the way, I show that the recalls involved no “voter suppression.” (I had also Tweeted that, to today’s Democrats, “voter suppression” seems to mean “That nefarious force always and everywhere at work whenever Democrats lose.”)

Read the entire article.

Did Colorado Senator John Morse Claim that Gun Owners Have a “Sickness” In Their “Souls” that Needs to Be “Cleansed”?

In my latest Complete Colorado op-ed, I argue:

In context, [State Senator John] Morse does seem to imply that gun owners—at least those who robustly campaign for gun rights—have sick souls. If he meant something different from that—if he is prepared to say that rights-respecting people who own their guns of choice and who campaign for gun rights are perfectly moral to do so—now would be a great time for Morse to clarify his remarks.

I quote extensively from his March 8 comments in that article. If you still wonder about the complete context or the tone of his remarks, I have now put his entire speech on YouTube.

August 1 Update: Complete Colorado has published my follow-up article about Morse’s remarks. Morse did offer additional comments about his March 8 “sickness” speech with a March 13 release of the video of that speech. I summarize: “Although these additional remarks clarify that Morse was not claiming that all gun owners have a sickness in their souls, they do not retract Morse’s insinuation that many gun owners—namely, those who own the types of guns and gun magazines of which Morse disapproves and who campaigned against the Democrats’ anti-gun legislation—do have a sickness in their souls, in Morse’s view.” Read the complete follow-up for details.


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Colorado’s “Personhood” Candidates Take a Beating

In the previous two election cycles, Colorado voters defeated so-called “personhood” measures—intended to outlaw all abortion from the moment of conception and also restrict birth control and in vitro fertility treatments—by overwhelming margins. In 2010 the measure went down 71-29; in 2008 it lost 73-27. If failed to make the ballot this year, but it was still very much a live issue in the 2012 elections. Democrats used the issue effectively to push its allegations that the GOP wages a “war on women.”

Paul Ryan took continual heat for his support for “personhood”; for but one example see an article by Colorado Pols. And Democrats hammered down-ticket Republicans relentlessly on the issue.

Joe Coors, who challenged incumbent Democrat Ed Perlmutter, got badly beat, 53-41 percent. Now, I don’t think Coors would have won even had the “personhood” issue not been on the table, and elsewhere Mike Coffman won despite his support for “personhood.” Nevertheless, the Democratic Party distributed the following mailer knowing it would move votes:

In my state house district, the Democratic challenger trounced the incumbent, Robert Ramirez, 51-43 percent. The left hit Ramirez with a relentless onslaught of mailers hammering him for supporting “personhood,” of which the following, distributed by an outfit called Fight Back Colorado, is an example:

There is no doubt that “personhood” shifted votes to Democrats up and down the ticket in Colorado, though of course it’s hard to say if that one issue made the difference in any given race.

Democrats honed this campaign strategy in 2010, when it defeated Ken Buck in the U.S. Senate race by attacking his abortion-banning stance.

As I’ve been pointing out for some time, Colorado demographically tends to be the type of place where people want government out of our wallets and out of our bedrooms. Unfortunately, the Republican Party in this state is dominated by a religious right that wants to outlaw all abortion and discriminate against gays—and that explains to a large degree why Democrats now control the entire state government, again.


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Congressional Challenger Kevin Lundberg Discusses Political Activism

Months ago I interviewed Congressman Jared Polis about activism related to congressional politics. Although he replied promptly, I delayed in publishing his answers until yesterday. (Sorry!) Because Polis now faces a challenger for his seat, Kevin Lundberg, I thought it was appropriate to ask Lundberg a comparable set of questions. His answers follow.

Disclaimer: Those I interview do not necessarily endorse any of my views or writings. (Nor does this interview imply I agree with Lundberg’s positions.)

Please see my “activism” category for additional interviews and discussions about political activism.

Ari: In general, how much do members of Congress tend to bow to party politics, and how much to they tend to make up their own minds based on their independent research and ideological convictions? How do you intent to deal with party pressures should you win the seat?

Kevin: My experience is at the state legislative level, and that is enough to know that the normal trend is for legislators to go with most of the flow. I have spent ten years resisting that trend. It is not a good idea to be a lone ranger, for all legislative issues require a lot of group effort, but one must find likeminded people to help withstand the pressures of establishment politics. In Colorado I helped found and run the Republican Study Committee of Colorado to provide a viable alternative to the establishment trends that inevitably grow more government. In Washington I intend on joining the Republican Study Committee, and similar alliances. I also have learned that it is essential to know what is negotiable, and what are non-negotiable principles, and stick with those principles.

Ari: By the time somebody gets to Congress, many of his or her views and commitments are already set. To what degree is it worthwhile for somebody trying to advocate a set of ideas and policies to interact with members of Congress? Should they instead focus on educating other activists, the general electorate, and lower-level candidates still formulating their worldviews? Obviously you have expressed strong convictions on various matters. How to do plan to weigh the views and advice of constituents in light of your established views?

Kevin: It is always a balance between one’s personal ideals and the district’s overall needs and opinions.

The best way to influence elected officials is before the election. I am honest and forthright with the voters before and after the election, but that is not always the case for every candidate. Before this election is over I trust careful voters will examine my principles for good government and weigh it against the values of my opponent. Remember, now is the time for this conversation.

After the election I will not change my tune. I intend to listen as carefully as I can and then cast my votes according to that information I have gathered and the principles of good government I have clearly outlined during the campaign season.

Ari: How do you plan to interact with constituents?

Kevin: Even as I have tried to do in Larimer county with my state legislative duties, I need to spend as much time here in the district and not in D.C.. I also will make constituent services a high priority for my staff.

Ari: What are the best forums for somebody to interact with a member of Congress? Town halls? Letters? Phone calls? Fundraising events? What are the best ways to interact with you now and should you win the seat?

Kevin: Town halls, and other public meetings are the most effective, but letters, calls, and to a lesser extent, emails all have an impact. I have attended a Monday morning breakfast in Larimer county just about every week of the year for all of my legislative career. It was the event Congressman Bob Schaffer started when he ran for Congress. He attended most weeks while in Congress. I hope to continue that tradition. In addition, I know I must conduct town halls all around the district, and keep an open door policy, even as I have as a state representative and state senator.

Ari: What approaches and arguments work best with a member of Congress? Which ones prove ineffective?

Kevin: For me the most effective arguments are: Is it constitutional? Will it really be in the best interest of the people in the district? Will it reduce government and enhance liberty? Telling me that some big contributor wants something is about the last thing I want to hear and has little effect on my opinion.

Ari: “Public Choice” economics talks about the problem of “concentrated benefits, dispersed costs.” How will you distinguish between special-interest appeals (at the cost of everyone else) and policies truly in the best interests of the country as a whole? How do you hope other members of Congress do that? Or is the problem intractable?

Kevin: From my vantage point I cannot judge other members of Congress, but, as I answered in question five, special-interest appeals do not hold much weight with me. Ask any full-time lobbyist in Denver, they can confirm that I do not bend to accommodate some special interest if it is not first, and foremost, the best choice for the people in my district.

Congressman Jared Polis Discusses Political Activism

Last year I asked Congressman Jared Polis to answer some questions about politics and activism, and he was kind enough to reply. Unfortunately, I got behind on my projects and kept delaying the publication of the interview. I am pleased to make it available now. Obviously, I am aware of the fact that Polis is now locked into his next reelection campaign, so, I will pursue the possibility of asking Polis’s opponent, Kevin Lundberg, a comparable set of questions. (Incidentally, with the recent redistricting, I was drawn out of Polis’s district and into that of Ed Perlmutter.)

Over the next few days I’ll release several other interviews about activism. I have already published an interview with Melissa Clouthier about Twitter activism. Please see my “activism” category for more.

Disclaimer: Those I interview do not necessarily endorse any of my views or writings. (Nor does this interview imply I agree with Polis’s positions.)

Ari: While you’re a “Boulder Democrat,” you also show an independent streak, in that you criticized the auto bailout, you’ve attended free-market events, and you’ve suggested liberty-oriented solutions to immigration and drug policy. But obviously there’s a lot of pressure to conform to the party line in DC. In general, how much do members of Congress tend to bow to party politics, and how much to they tend to make up their own minds based on their independent research and ideological convictions?

Jared: Currently, all members of Congress are nominated by parties in their districts. In most districts, selection by the majority party is tantamount to election due to the gerrymandering. In more competitive seats, the champions of both parties battle it out in a general election.

Most behavior I see is less about towing the “party line” than it is about the fact that members of Congress are products of the districts that elect them. Members are a product of the communities they hail from, and have similar values to most members of those communities.

With resources like the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, my staff and I have access to a significant amount of independent research to help us inform decisions, but we are also avid consumers of media, as well as students of public opinion.

Ari: By the time somebody gets to Congress, many of his or her views and commitments are already set. To what degree is it worthwhile for somebody trying to advocate a set of ideas and policies to interact with members of Congress? Should they instead focus on educating other activists, the general electorate, and lower-level candidates still formulating their worldviews?

Jared: We are far from experts on every topic, so most likely if a constituent approaches us about a policy or idea it will be one worth considering. I sign onto bills frequently that are brought to my attention by constituents and that I might not know about otherwise. Obviously a visit with a member of Congress will not likely result in them changing their value system, but try to pitch the policy based on their existing value system. For instance, if the member is extremely religious, theological arguments may be most effective. If the member makes decisions based on science, use science and data in your presentation. It always helps to show how an issue directly affects a member’s constituents.

On most issues, politicians are followers of the general electorate so surely moving the general electorate is the most effective way to move elected officials.

Ari: How many letters do you receive on average during a month? How many of those does a typical member of Congress actually personally read?

Jared: I have received anywhere from 100 (slow month) to over 1,000 (in the midst of health care debate) per month. A summary of what the letters are about is prepared including a tally on each issue and presented to me weekly (including phone calls to the office and emails from constituents). If the letter has a new legislative idea or relates to something important in the district, I generally see it.

Ari: What are the best forums for somebody to interact with a member of Congress? Town halls? Letters? Phone calls? Fundraising events?

Jared: All of the above. Activists shouldn’t limit themselves. Most members will schedule a meeting with constituents who are visiting DC. Showing up at town halls and other public events can also be effective but not as much if the same person shows up at five town halls. For it to look like a movement it has got to involve different faces and voices.

Ari: What approaches and arguments work best with a member of Congress? Which ones prove ineffective?

Jared: It is best to research the member of Congress you are approaching so you understand their values and decision-making process. The wrong approach can backfire and move the member in the opposite direction.

Ari: “Public Choice” economics talks about the problem of “concentrated benefits, dispersed costs.” How do you and other members of Congress distinguish between special-interest appeals (at the cost of everyone else) and policies truly in the best interests of the country as a whole? Or is the problem intractable?

Jared: Let me know if you figure this out! One example is tax reform. The vision is that a revenue neutral reform that eliminates loopholes and limits deductions could bring would create a substantially lower, flatter and simpler income tax rate for individuals and corporations. The difficulty in getting there is that, while most people would appreciate a lower rate and not having their decisions centrally incentivized out of Washington, each one of those loopholes and deductions has its own constituency that tries to preserve it. Thus the only likely approach is all or none, once some exceptions are made for tax expenditures then it is harder to make excuses about why others are not included. Tax reform was successfully accomplished in 1986 but the tax code has grown by leaps and bounds since then.

The challenge to free market conservatives is to attack tax expenditures—the loopholes and deductions—as vociferously as they do traditional spending. Whether you’re giving someone a special benefit through the tax code or through a direct flow of cash, they’re both spending. They both come with a cost to the Treasury. Yet many conservatives insist that there’s a distinction.