I 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.
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.
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.
Image: Marc Nozell
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.
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.
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