Time For Republicans to Rally Around an Experienced Candidate

I wrote my first analysis of the 2016 Republican Primary race back in early August, when most Americans were still getting to know the candidates in the respective fields. In the roughly ten weeks since then, we’ve seen three debates: two Republican and one Democrat. Two Republican candidates have dropped out of the race, including an old favorite (Rick Perry) and an early leader (Scott Walker). Now there are reports that Jim Webb is bowing out of the contest for the Democratic nomination.

Yet for all the ups and downs of the campaign, there has been remarkably little movement in the polls. Hillary Clinton continues to tower over the rest of the Democratic pack, despite her many scandals and complete lack of authenticity on the campaign trail. In the recent CNN debate, she made her competitors seem small. None would challenge Her Highness, save the embarrassing and ineffective Lincoln Chafee. On the Republican side, Donald Trump continues to lead the still-overcrowded Republican field, to the bewilderment of the pundits and the dismay of the Republican establishment. Party insiders who scoffed at a Trump candidacy weeks ago are now beginning to entertain the possibility that he just might win. In fact, he will win unless Republicans can rally around a compelling alternative.

With that being said, I’d like to offer my thoughts on the best course of action for Republicans, as well as some general observations on the current state of American politics.

First, the political landscape has changed over the past decade. We used to have a center-left Democratic Party and a center-right Republican Party. The Democrats’ embrace of socialist Bernie Sanders and rejection of centrist Jim Webb is proof that the center-left element of the Democratic Party is gone. In 2008, Barack Obama became the most liberal politician to ever occupy the White House. In 2015, Democrats are debating whether to run slightly to his left (the Hillary approach) or way to his left (the Sanders approach). Keep in mind that Clinton ran to Obama’s right in 2008, just seven years ago.

Three factors help explain this change. First, Obama’s failed policies have been disastrous for centrist Democrats, now an endangered species. After disastrous midterms in 2010 and 2014, most of them are gone. In fact, Joe Manchin of West Virginia may be the last one standing. Second, the only remaining Democrats represent reliably liberal districts or states where they have more to fear from a primary challenge than a candidate from the other party (the same being true for most Republicans). Politicians can now take what would have once been considered extreme positions without fear of voter reprisal. In fact, they have more to fear from appearing too eager to compromise with the opposition. Remember when politicians used to brag about “reaching across the aisle?” Yeah…

Third, Democrats have stopped even competing for working class whites without college degrees, the party’s former bread and butter. They have surrendered the political center in favor of a demographic strategy that relies on rising numbers of Hispanics, African-Americans, Asians, and young people, cobbled together with urban-dwelling, over-educated white liberals, to carry them at the national level.

But while the Democrats’ identity as a hard-Left party is settled, the Republican future is less certain. Moderates like John Boehner and Jeb Bush would like to see the Republican Party remain center-Right or center-center-Right: rejecting the Democrats’ identity politics and European-style socialism, but not the premise of big government intervention in areas like the economy and education. On the other hand, conservative insurgents would like to do to the Republican Party what the Democrats have done to theirs, eschewing centrist compromise in favor of ideological purity. Conservative frustration with the Republican establishment is certainly warranted, and this intra-Republican rivalry is in many ways a sign of health, but it carries its share of risks. If Republicans can find a way to bridge the right wing of their party with what remains of the political center, while making modest inroads with Millennials and minorities, they beat the Democrats in a landslide. If not, the Republican Party may be headed for a messy divorce.

This brings me to my second point – the state of the Republican race. In August, I wrote favorably about the inclusion of “outsiders” Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. Since then, I’ve had a bit of a change of heart that I think is (or will soon become) fairly typical of Republican primary voters. I now believe that in order to beat Hillary Clinton—who, barring the late entry of Joe Biden, will be the Democratic nominee—Republicans need to nominate someone with political experience. I was never a fan of Donald Trump, and that much has not changed. But if I can rationally conclude that Ben Carson, a man I personally respect and admire, is not qualified to be president, can Trump supporters not do the same?

Don’t get me wrong; I love the idea of a non-lawyer, non-politician running for office. If a successful businesswoman, doctor, teacher, or actor wants to run for senator or governor or delegate, more power to them. This is government of the people, by the people, and for the people, as envisioned by our founders. From there, they can move up to the national stage, like Ronald Reagan did in 1980.

But when you are seeking the highest office in the land, isn’t it nice to have at least some experience running a government? Isn’t it important to have at least some record that voters can judge against the soaring rhetoric of the campaign trail? Expertise in one area does not necessarily translate into expertise or even competence in another. Michael Phelps might be the best swimmer of all-time, but there’s a reason he’s not pitching in the MLB. Tom Brady might be an elite quarterback, but no one is asking him to run the point in the NBA.

In 2008, America was so disgusted with George W. Bush and “politics as usual” that we elected a man who just a few years before was a back-bencher in the Illinois state senate. But lest we heap all our scorn on Democrats, let’s not forget that Republicans also celebrated the nomination of Sarah Palin, an obscure governor who turned out to not have a clue about anything beyond the narrow range of issues affecting Alaskan politics. Both cases were the equivalent of promoting jayvee quarterbacks straight to the NFL. To use Bill Clinton’s term, we put a complete amateur in the Oval Office, trusting that his inspiring biography and professorial eloquence would compensate for a complete lack of experience or accomplishment.

The results speak for themselves: disaster for the economy, which would be much worse if the Fed hadn’t kept interest rates at near zero for his entire term; disaster on healthcare, as Obamacare enters its predicted “death spiral;” disaster for average Americans who have seen their jobs disappear or their wages drop, and disaster in foreign policy as the Middle East falls apart, threatening to take the rest of the world with it. America appears weak and indecisive on the world stage, complacent and divided at home. Yes, we face significant challenges that would exist with or without President Obama, but it didn’t have to be this way. Not only has our country fallen deeper into the hole, we have lost precious time to right the course.

So, let’s consider the Republican candidates.

Fiorina and Carson, while compelling, are not qualified to lead the free world. This should go without saying, but neither is Donald Trump. Of the three, I would trust Fiorina the most to stand up to Vladimir Putin, but I have no idea how she would actually implement her domestic agenda, as there is no political record available for me to scrutinize.

Pataki, Graham, Santorum, and Gilmore remain irrelevant. Jindal has the vision and experience, but not the gravitas or political savvy. Huckabee was never a great national candidate, and his time has passed.

This leaves John Kasich, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio as the only five serious contenders. But Kasich, Bush, and even Christie are unlikely to inspire the conservative base, while Cruz is unacceptable to the establishment center. I would put any of these four men against Hillary Clinton, but with reservations in each case. Kasich has nothing to offer social conservatives at a time when they are on the ropes. Cruz has alienated his own party, not a recipe for success for any candidate. Christie has Bridge-gate, and Bush carries more baggage than the rest of the field put together on account of his brother. In this anti-establishment climate, America’s appetite for political dynasties is greatly diminished; Republicans should leave this liability to the Democrats.

Now we’re down to one man: Marco Rubio. He is young, but experienced. He has had enough time to make mistakes (immigration reform), and the humility to learn from them. He can excite conservatives without frightening the establishment class, whose support will be needed to take down Clinton. He is not the perfect candidate, but such a man does not exist. The best the Democrats have been able to dig up so far against him is that his wife got some parking tickets and he bought an expensive boat. This, compared to a Democratic frontrunner whose spouse associates with known sexual predators and who would likely be facing jail time for violating federal law if her last name didn’t place her beyond its reach.

Rubio is likeable and competent: a good fundraiser, debater, and campaigner. He might not be your favorite candidate, or occupy the top slot of your “dream ticket,” but is there anyone you would rather pit against Hillary in a one-on-one debate? Would you rather Donald Trump insult her appearance, or Ben Carson put her to sleep?

No other candidate can articulate an optimistic, conservative agenda with Rubio’s combination of nuance, clarity, and passion. If Republicans are going to win in 2016, they need to unite the political right and center against a Democrat who will be running to the Far Left. Trump, Carson, and Cruz supporters can throw up their hands and say “it shouldn’t be this way,” but that doesn’t change the fact that it is this way. Politics is about more than lofty rhetoric and personality; it is the art of the possible. Our Founding Fathers devised a political system in which compromise is necessary to accomplish anything; whatever our personal beliefs, we should have the maturity to accept this. The contrast between the two parties has never been so clear, and the stakes have never been so high.

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A Question for Atheists

In 2012, a Gallup International poll found that 12% of global respondents identify as “convinced atheists.” In China, the figure is 47%, followed by Japan at 31% and France at 29%. In the United States, self-identified atheists have risen from 1% in 2005 to 5% in 2012. While this is still a very small figure, atheism predominates in certain metropolitan areas and career fields. A friend of mine living in Seattle recently expressed her frustration over the intolerance of the secular Left: “Up there, people think you’re an idiot if you believe in God.”

Make no mistake, even the historically religious United States is becoming increasingly atheistic. Since 2005, America has seen best-sellers on atheism by Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and others. Religion is routinely mocked on social media and television, while atheism is portrayed as mature, rational, and tolerant.

America’s religious divide is also generational. Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) are the least religious demographic in America, and they are bucking past trends by becoming less religious as they age. Even writing from the Bible Belt, I have observed signs of a rising atheism amongst my high school students. A couple years ago, I was surprised when nine or ten students in a single class decided, unprovoked, to proclaim their atheism (I would never question students about their personal religious beliefs; we happened to be discussing the role of religion in early societies). Their line of reasoning went something like this: “Religion is great for people who find comfort in all that ‘God’ stuff, but as an educated person, I know better.”

Which leads to my question for atheists: where do you get your faith?

I understand people who believe in God, but have been turned off by organized religion. Periodic scandals, perceptions of moral hypocrisy, and revulsion over past misdeeds may be enough to discourage potential followers. On the other hand, a culture steeped in secularism or just general apathy might prevent someone from going to church, though they still believe in God and even pray on occasion. These are the unaffiliated believers, and their position (though not one I would endorse) makes a certain sense. It offers a starting point, at least, from which to move towards a deeper encounter with God.

I also understand people who feel that we humans simply cannot reach definitive conclusions regarding the divine, including some agnostics. Catholicism teaches that the exact nature of God is a mystery beyond humanity’s power to fully comprehend. The Trinity and the Incarnation cannot be rationalized without losing an essential part of their Truth. This makes some people uncomfortable, and they would rather not even attempt to understand something beyond the limits of human reason.

But to look out at creation and proclaim: “I know there is no Creator!” is beyond me. How do you know?

Imagine that I were to place a sealed up cardboard box in front of you and ask you what was inside it. You could shake, smell, and feel the box, but not open it.

If you were to hear clucking and the flutter of feathers, you would rationally suspect that the box contained a chicken. Even if no noises were to come from the box, you would be unable to rule out the possibility that it contained something very light or inanimate.

An atheist is someone who looks at the box and confidently proclaims: “There is nothing inside that box!”

Really? How do you know?

Merriam-Webster defines atheism as “a disbelief in the existence of divinity” or “the doctrine that there is no deity.” Both positions contradict logic and experience, but the latter is just absurd. How can one ever be 100% convinced that God does not exist?

Here’s another popular thought experiment. Imagine the world is made up of little cardboard boxes. You open the first to discover a red ball. You open the second and find another red ball. This goes on for hundreds and even thousands of boxes—all contain red balls. Just as you are about to open the millionth box, I ask you what it contains. “A red ball,” would be your likely answer. But what if the millionth box contains a white ball? You have no way of knowing until you open it.

Atheism is thus unscientific. It presupposes not only that mankind has never discovered support for the existence of a Creator, but that it will never discover evidence of a Higher Power at any point in the future. In fact, much of science already points to the existence of God. The most persuasive of these arguments is the sheer improbability of life in the universe. Scientists used to believe that the only necessary conditions for a planet to support life were size and distance from a star of sufficient warmth. But they have since discovered a multitude of other conditions, the absence of any one of which would render life on Earth impossible. It’s almost as if Earth was designed for life.

Atheists cannot explain the origin of the universe. The Big Bang theory supports the idea of a Creator by positing that all matter originated from a single point. In fact, if one little thing had gone differently at the moment of the Big Bang, none of the elements would have been able to form.

Atheists cannot explain the origin of life. They would rather believe that life originated from an improbably lucky accident or outer space (which, if so, how did it get there?) than entertain the possibility of a creator God.

Ironically, atheism is not without its crowned saint – Charles Darwin. His theory of evolution has long been atheism’s best argument or most cherished dogma, depending on your point of view. Never mind that atheists cannot explain how the universe or life originated; they claim to know that human life evolved from the most basic single-celled organism over millions of years by pure chance.

While persuasive on some level, this argument still has several holes. We can observe natural selection at work, or the process by which a species better adapts to its environment. But, to use the classic example, the fact that more black moths survived to reproduce that white moths in industrial Britain does not in any way refute the existence of God. What we have never observed is a species becoming another species. Currently the best theory as to the mechanism of evolution on a macro scale is random genetic mutation. But this explanation cannot account for the fact that most genetic mutations are harmful and/or can’t be passed on to offspring. The theory of Intelligent Design seems a persuasive alternative to me, but to many atheists this position is no better than Creationism; to be taken seriously, one must deny any role for God at the outset.

So what explains atheism’s appeal, especially among the young, urban, and educated?

My guess is that some people are just confused. They would like to believe in God, but falsely believe God has been disproved by science. Others are apathetic; they just don’t care. But for others, atheism fits nicely into their secular worldview. If there is no God, then I get to be my own god. If I was made not by a Creator, but by a series of lucky mutations, then there is nothing to keep me from remaking myself in the image of my choosing. I get to set my own rules, unconstrained by divine teaching or natural limits. Furthermore, I get the elitist’s satisfaction of believing myself superior to the ignorant masses, along with the occasional chuckle at their expense.

Atheists like to point to all the wars that have been fought over religion, but they ignore the far greater number that have been fought over just this sort of hubris, including the worst tragedies of the 20th century. The Nazis and the Soviets both rejected God, whether explicitly or implicitly, and decided to take human evolution into their own hands. They sought to remake not just society but mankind himself, with disastrous consequences. In the case of the Nazis, they even quoted Darwin in the process.

This is not to say that atheists are bad people—far from it. There can be and have been many good atheists or agnostics, just as there have been religious people who nevertheless committed heinous crimes. To worship is natural, and so is to doubt. But to categorically deny the existence of a Creator is unscientific, and atheism requires far greater faith than Christianity. My question once again for atheists is: where do you get your faith?