Republicans

What the Georgia Runoff Told Us

by D.J. McGuire

Tuesday night was Election Runoff Night in Georgia. The results give some hope – and some concern – to both parties.

For the Republicans, victory was sweet for Brad Raffensperger, who held off a strong challenge from Democrat John Barrow to win the Secretary of State position. For Democrats upset at how Raffensperger’s predecessor (Governor-Elect Brian Kemp) handled the job, the defeat was bitter.

That said, it wasn’t all good news for the GOP. Republicans usually do better in runoffs than on Election Day in Georgia, and this was no exception. However, Barrow’s margin of defeat was more than a percentage point lessthan Clinton’s in 2016.

If the Democratic nominee in 2020 merely repeats that one-percent-plus improvement across the nation, then Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and the presidency goes to them – while Florida would be close enough for another of those hand recounts. If Republicans were hoping this election showed a post-midterm return to normal for them, they’re in for a disappointment.

For the Democrats, the loss was painful, but instructive. Barrow, a former Congressman from east Georgia, actually outdid his former running mate Stacey Abrams in rural vote share, but he underperformedin the Atlanta suburbs. Gwinnett County, which went to Abrams by more than 12 points, went for Barrow by barely more than one. Cobb County actually flipped back to the GOP (Abrams won it by nearly 10 points).

Then there was turnout, which wasn’t even 40% of what was seen on Election Day.

Now that we have Barrow’s defeat to add to the story, some things stand out.

First, Stacey Abrams was a better candidate than initially recognized.Conventional wisdom says Barrow, a white male with rural ties, should have done far better than Abrams. He didn’t – even on Election Day it was the performance of the Libertarian in his race that forced the runoff; his share of the vote was lower than Abrams’ share up-ballot. The fact that the Georgia Chamber of Commerce stayed neutral in the race should have been a clue. As it is, now we have some data behind it.

Secondly, the suburbs matter everywhere. Even GOP-leaning states saw their suburban areas pull away from them. They just had enough rural voters to make up the difference. In Georgia, though, they managed to stem some of their losses here, which was enough to counter a weaker rural presence against Barrow. Democrats clearly saw that appealing to rural voters at the expense of the suburbs has consequences – and not good ones.

Finally, African-American candidates help Democrats. One could call Georgia 2018 a microcosm of the Obama 2012 to Clinton 2016 turnout effect. African-American turnout fell from 2012 levels, enough not just to lower Clinton’s popular vote margin but also to turn the Electoral College against her. Now, we saw an African-American “progressive” (I use the quotes because what most conservatives think a “progressive” is and a candidate who doesn’t earn the opprobrium of the local Chamber of Commerce are two very different things) still do better in Georgia than a moderate white ex-Congressman.

I don’t think it’s just about turnout, though. Democrats are caught in an argument about how to rebuild their coalition. Do they attempt to win back “white working class” voters in rural areas? Or do they look to growing their already large margins about racial minorities and younger voters?

For yours truly, neither is as important as winning over center-right independents and moderate Republicans who stuck to Trump in the hope of getting a standard Republican administration and are struck with horror at the rampant trade warrior instead. Those voters are far less likely to cross over to a Democratic Party trying to outdo Trump on protectionism or isolationism – the kinds of things that obsess Democrats worried about “white working class” voters.

It might just be that African-American, Hispanic, or other non-white Democrats – who are spared the advice about “white working class” voters because (1) too many people shallowly assume they can’t win those voters over or (2) many assume that said voters also have serious racial animus behind their support for Trump – can spend more time appealing to supporters for freer trade and genuine internationalism. Whether those candidates themselves appreciate that in 2020, of course, remains to be seen.

In short, Republicans have reasons to be happy and worried, while Democrats have reasons to be frustrated just hopeful, about the elections to come over the next two years.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

No, my fellow conservatives, the regulation rollbacks aren’t worth supporting Trump either

by D.J. McGuire

The standard defense a Trump supporter uses – well, the ones not wholly subsumed by racism or by authoritarian cultism – involves three political issues: the federal judiciary, the 2017 tax “reform”, and regulation rollbacks. I’ve already discussed why the 2017 tax law should bring no smile to a conservative’s face; I’ve also explained how fleeting “control” of the judicial branch really is. That leaves the regulation issue.

Theory versus Practice

In theory, fewer regulations is a standard supply-side economic policy: regulations increase costs on businesses and make it harder to smaller firms to compete with larger ones. In practice, it’s a bit less clear. None other than Charles Koch himself funded a study by Mercatus economist Alex Tabarrok that revealed the effect of regulation on American entrepreneurship to practically nil (Washington Post). Mercatus itself is of two views on the subject (others at the institute came to a different conclusion), but my point is that we’re not talking about something as cut and dried as most Republicans believe.

A Lack of Political (or any) Precision

Of course, most Republicans themselves are not fond of throwing every federal regulation ever written on a massive bonfire. The reason for the regulation also has an impact. Just as those of us who prefer limiting government’s size, scope, and cost take issue with “across the board spending cuts” – which make no accounting to necessary versus unwise expenditures – any trimming of regulations should have some form of precision or priorities. This is not the case with President Trump’s attacks on red tape. There appears to be no rhyme or reason to it whatsoever – save that Trump will go after any regulation brought to his attention. Not only is that poorly thought out, it also exacerbates the influence problem that many Republicans have with excess regulation in the first place: the politically connected game the system. Thus does an exercise in apparent government scope reduction turn into the figurative “swamp.”

The Lack of Staying Power

This fuels the same problem that the “courts” argument has – a lack of longevity. In this case, regulation rollbacks will be even more fleeting than judicial appointments. The next Democratic Administration could reinstitute much of the rollback (as there is little to no change in actual law involved). Even during this Administration, a Democratic House could insist on regulation resurrections in their budgets.

In short, Trump’s moves against regulation are too unpopular and unplanned to survive a change in the political winds (including perhaps one of gale force coming within the next two months). It is yet another false benefit to be weighed against the ever increasing cost to American political and economic health inflicted by this president.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015

To My Fellow Conservatives: The Judiciary is NOT Worth It

by D.J. McGuire

The behavior and policies of the president continue to shock and to dismay – especially for conservatives such as myself (yes, I still use the noun). Freer trade is tossed aside for crippling tariffs amid complaints over “bad deals.” The dynamic information technology sector has become a target for nationalization among screaming heads such as Laura Ingraham. Allies are smeared where hostile tyrants are feted. Yet through it all, a large chunk of right-wing and center-right voters are, for now, staying with the withering husk that is the Republican Party for one reason and one reason alone – “the courts.” This post is my attempt to persuade them why this argument is a profound error.

Today’s Issues v. Tomorrow’s Issues

The first problem with the assertion that control of the judiciary branch is worth the exponentially increasing damage of the Trump presidency is that such control is specious at best. The issues that divide “liberal” (or if you prefer, “progressive”) and “conservative” in 2018 are not likely to be the issues that divide them in 2030, or in 2040, or in 2050. Unlike financial investment, past performance is an excellent indicator here.

Dwight Eisenhower selected as Chief Justice one of the most conservative office holders in the Republican Party – California Governor Earl Warren. Known at the time as a strike-breaker and a firm supporter of limited government, Warren’s libertarian outlook was given an entirely different label as social issues and law enforcement matters crashed into the public realm in the 1960s. Ike’s own Vice President became one of Warren’s top political critics. Nixon replaced Earl Warren with Warren Burger, who became one of the five Republican appointees to the Court to side with the majority in Roe in 1973The author of the dissent in that case was Byron White – the lone appointee of John F. Kennedy. Thirteen years later, Berger would change his own mind on the subject (yet another sign that ideological consistency on the Court doesn’t survive the passage of time).

The intervening decades have seen similar acts of temporal confusion. Donald Trump spent his campaign praising the late Antonin Scalia – the justice who cast the fifth vote the declared burning the American flag as constitutionally protected speech. While Bush v. Gore has become a bete-noir for much of the left in America, it’s not remembered that half of the Democratic appointees to the Court agreed to invalidate the Florida recount on which Gore’s last gasp depended (although none agreed with the smaller majority that insisted there wasn’t enough time to conduct a more proper recount there). Five years later, conservatives were thrilled when President Bush appointed John Roberts as Chief Justice. He was considered a sure-fire conservative…who cast the fifth vote to declare that the Affordable Care Act was constitutional – over the objection of “moderate” Anthony Kennedy.

What issues will drive conservatives in the 2020s and beyond? We really don’t know. As noted above, the right seems much more willing to regulate cyberspace today than even five (or two) years ago. Any attempt to nationalize Google will likely run into trouble from the very conservative court appointments that the right champions today. If the president attempts to exit trade deals without Congressional agreement (and largely in violation of the law), conservatives eager to rebuild Fortress America will find Bush and even Trump appointees in their way.

In other words, past and present “betrayals” of conservatives came not merely from judges and justices changing their minds (although that does happen), but also from electorate redefining what “conservative” means. Thus we find Reagan appointees invalidating laws against marriage equality in California and allowing charges against Paul Manafort to go forward (to conviction) in Virginia, among other things. I am all but certain Trump appointees will disappoint future conservatives, in part because they will take position that would make present conservatives (myself included) blanche.

The one exception to this may be the abortion issue. Indeed, nearly every conservative who still calls themselves a Republican cites it as the one reason they stay in the GOP. There is a problem with that, however.

Reversing Roe/Casey is a defeat disguised as a victory

As I was a politically precocious teenager, I’m in an increasingly unique position among any American under 50 – I remember what it was like when the judicially-imposed right to an abortion appeared to be coming to an end. It was after the Webster decision of 1989 weakend Roe, but before Casey v. Planned Parenthood reaffirmed it. Keep in mind, this was less than two decades after Roe, when the status quo ante was a real memory for most Americans.

For pro-lifers, it was a disaster. Pro-life Republicans were vanquished in 1989 elections, and pro-lifers in both parties were banged up in 1990 (as an example: a pro-life Democratic Governor in Minnesota was defeated by a pro-choice Republican challenger who had only been on the ballot nine days). Conservatives ran to the safety of economic issues in 1991 (and recovered nicely in the 1989 states’ legislative elections). George Bush the Elder went from 53% of the vote in 1988 to 38% in 1992 (and his two opponents – Ross Perot and Bill Clinton – were not pro-life by any stretch).

A quarter-century later, there are far fewer voters who remember the pre-Roe era, let alone look forward to it. Even if the Supremes reverse Casey, far fewer states will attempt to ban abortion than people realize. If anything, pro-choicers vocalizing their worst fears (albeit understandably so) are providing pro-lifers with their most perverse hopes. Odds are, both are wrong. For too long, abortion opponents have focused on changing a Supreme Court decision instead of saving children. The rest of the country has noticed, and is not happy.

The Benefits of “winning the courts” are ephemeral, but the cost is sure to be permanent.

Is this truly worth the damage Trump has wrought, my fellow conservatives? Is the chance to be disappointed by judges who change their minds (or by those who don’t when you do) truly worth the rupturing of our alliances? Is the erection of damaging barriers to trade really an acceptable price for the opportunity to be caught completely flat-footed due to forty years of political atrophy and neglect on the one issue that you claim is so important?

Before you answer, consider one more piece of historical evidence. The most politically charged Court decision of the 19th century was Dred Scott v. Sanford.

How well did that turn out for the victors?

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015

John McCain is no longer with us. We are different country today.

by D.J. McGuire

Yesterday afternoon, Senator John McCain passed away. Personal tributes are pouring in, as one would expect from his record of service and sacrifice for his country. Many Americans admired him. For some of us, however, it was much more than that. I am among those who voted for John McCain; in fact, I voted for him three times (2000 Republican primaries, 2008 Republican primaries, 2008 general election). I am convinced that it would have been a better nation had he won in 2000 or in 2008. As such, I am more focused on the exit of John McCain, the political force.

Many of McCain’s admirers disagreed with him, strongly, on foreign policy. I was not among them. With McCain’s passing, the number of us who believe liberating Iraq was the right thing to do has likely fallen from six to five (I still think we few are right). McCain was always more willing to see America – and the American military – as a potential force for good in the world. For those of us who recognized “neoconservative” as an actual set of beliefs rather than a convenient anti-Semitic dog whistle, John McCain may have been the last, and was certainly one of the most vocal.

As such, his passing will have political consequences. Contrary to what the president and his sycophants would have us believes, there are still millions of Republicans for whom John McCain is far more the model than Donald Trump. I left the Republican Party earlier than most of them – and I think I joined the Democratic Party sooner than any others – but with McCain’s passing, I won’t be the last. The next time Trump undermines NATO, or attacks our allies, or cozies up to dictators, John McCain will no longer be there to remind those voters what their Republican Party was – but is no more.

So, we can expect the Republican Party to get smaller and more devoted to Trump, but the Democrats may experience some growing pains, as their coalition expands to include – well, to include more voters like me.

John McCain never assumed America was perfect. He was an active and avid reformer at home, but he knew that even as America strove to make itself better it could also make the world better. For those of us who agree with him, he will not only be mourned, but deeply missed.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015

On the Republican Tax Deform

by D.J. McGuire

Taxes: the one issue where – as an economic conservative – I would be more sympathetic to my old party (the Republicans) than my new one (the Democrats). As I awaited the Republican tax reform plan, I even recommended Democrats find a way to work with the GOP to improve it.

Well, the plan was at last revealed today, and about the only link this fiasco has to actual tax reform was Congressman Brady quoted Ronald Reagan from 1986 (CNN).

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Lindsey Graham’s Economic Illiteracy and Why It Dooms His Health Care Policy

by D.J. McGuire

As of this morning (the 25th), the Senior Senator from South Carolina is still pushing  for the woeful health care bill that bears his name. In his latest attempt to win over conservative critics, he exposes himself as being largely illiterate on the microeconomic reality behind health insurance and health care, providing yet another reason for Senators to vote down his bill.

From Rinse and Repeat to Reshuffle and Redeal: The Problems with Graham-Cassidy

by D.J. McGuire

Republicans keep telling me that being a conservative Democrat will be difficult, and yet they continue to make it easier. The latest example of this is the Graham-Cassidy bill, which is ostensibly the latest Obamacare “repeal and replace” effort coming from the GOP.

Will the Democrats Continue to Go the Wrong Way on Economics?

by D.J. McGuire

The events of this week in Washington do not bode well for the Democratic Party. The combination of Democratic senators openly endorsing government monopoly health insurance and the Republican president making a move toward immigration reform, however small, puts the GOP in a better position to hold the Free Marketeers in 2018 and 2020.