The Huge Wildcard of the 2016 Election

I subscribe to the ecclesiastical wisdom that “there is nothing new under the sun”, which is a different way of saying that whenever someone says that all of a sudden something is totally different than it has ever been before, it probably isn’t. It would have been hard to sit back over the last ten years and deny that the American electorate, largely for understandable reasons, was “war-fatigued”. And so it should be – war is a fatiguing thing, particularly with all the baggage and controversy associated with the two that were being prosecuted over the last ten years. Political calculus understandably has leaned towards the notion that “he (or she) who runs most in the lane of foreign policy dovishness has the best chance to win”. On its face, reasonable and logical.

Something strange has happened going into the 2016 Presidential season, and that is the time-tested wisdom of not believing that “this time it’s different”. Indeed, Americans have ALWAYS been repelled by war right after fighting one, and they have ALWAYS dialed up their hawkishness when forced to. In a perfect world, would this sort of cyclicality to mood and sentiment level out and not fluctuate as it does? I have no answer to that question, because in a perfect world there wouldn’t even be the need for vigilant national defense. But alas, there is, and I would argue that we are going to see the real American DNA on these very challenging issues resurface in a big way entering 2016.

There has not been a time since 9/11 that I have doubted America’s commitment towards a strong national defense IF another attack were to take place on America’s homeland. Thankfully, and the Patriot Act is probably the single biggest reason for this, no such attack has happened in the 13.5 years since 9/11. I pray for a continuation of such protection, but I am not optimistic. The enemy is committed, and the opportunities simply vast. However, I am both detecting and forecasting a changing of the guard in the political winds right now – a trend that will agitate the Blame America First crowd, the radical isolationist crowd, and the “if we just leave them alone I have to think they will leave us alone” crowd. Those three different crowds have a lot of overlap at points, and there is certainly a spectrum of both moral clarity and intellectual capability amongst the respective groups, but at the end of the day, I think the “peak” for this group’s popular appeal has come and gone. A more enlightened (but not new) perspective is resurfacing just in time for the 2016 election.

Part of this post is mere political handicapping, but part of it is also intense prescription. A poorly prosecuted Iraq war is not the foreign policy zenith, and neither is thoughtless intervention. On that, nearly all Americans agree. But the worldview that denies we are under attack by a radical group of Islamofascist madmen (not a small group, but a massive one) is the worldview that has no traction whatsoever in the lexicon of reasonable grown-ups. The present administration’s efforts to parse words have repulsed the American people who have eyes, have ears, and frankly, don’t buy what they have been sold. From the recent shootings in France to the frequent flow of ISIS beheadings, the idea that Al Qaida has been neutralized, or that the enemy is on equal moral ground to the Americans, has been debunked (and more so, serves as a source of ire to most reasonable people). The political legs to Bush administration inadequacies and exhaustion with foreign “interventions” has run its course. What we face now is rather vanilla.

And it is now that I put aside the politics and polling and mood discussion, and just focus on the vanilla reality we face. American people ought not have any tolerance for refusing to name and claim the enemy we face. They ought not live in denial about the vigilance necessary to exterminate this threat. And they ought not deny the sustainability and longevity of the ISIS threat (and other bacterial spawns of ISIS) if it is not exterminated. The capability necessary to launch a significant attack on American soil is not a hard one to come by., We have been protected by a handful of factors so far which are by no means surefire or foolproof. The great and legitimate task of federal government is to protect citizens from psychopathic movements like ISIS etc. There should be no fluctuation in this objective.

And this brings me to 2016. A hawkish and childish foreign policy looking to get in a gun fight with anyone who looks at us funny is not going to resonate with the American people, but the utter incompetence of a Secretary of State who proclaimed Putin in a reset mode, Assad of Syria a good guy, and fumbled so badly in Libya, Iraq, and Iran is not the 3am phone call TV commercial stuff you dream about. The Ron Paul wing of the right will have to keep their foreign policy wingnutness hidden, as it is now a liability, not an asset. The need is for a sensible, mature, proficient candidate to speak to the threat we face with moral clarity, and understand the 21st century realities of how the threat is growing (which is to say, understands the homegrown domestic threat of radicalization taking place with select American-born sociopaths). There will always be a Michael Moore extreme on the left and a Ron Paul extreme on the right (if that is where you want to locate it), but the vast majority of Americans will enter 2016 fully aware that the Obama administration is delusional or deceptive if they claim the war is over. We are in a war that we did not start. The winning candidate in 2016 needs to be someone prepared to take the necessary steps to end it.

An Evening with Rick Perry

One of my life mentors and good friends, Larry Kudlow, invited my wife and I to join him and a small group of folks here in New York City last evening for a small roundtable with Gov. Rick Perry. Larry along with pro-growth champions Steve Forbes and Stephen Moore are launching a Committee on Growth and Prosperity in the same vein as the dearly missed Jeane Kirkpatrick’s Committee on the Present Danger which proved so valuable in assessing the cold war for what it was decades ago. The idea behind this dinner last night was to put a few pro-growth proponents at the dinner table with Gov. Perry and have an open discussion about his economic message.

I have been commenting and noting for at least a couple years now that Governor Perry is an entirely different person from the one the country got briefly introduced to in the 2012 campaign. There are a lot of reasons for this, but at the end of the day Perry is a tremendous communicator and has a deeper command on issues than most politicians you will get to meet in your life. He has embarked upon a tour of sorts between CNBC, Fox News, the Sunday morning talk shows, etc. where his ideological bona fides and his intellectual gravitas are clearly on display. Americans love a comeback story. As far as I am concerned, he is as viable as anyone.

Speaking of which, I do believe it is safe to frame the Republican 2016 field as follows: (1) The group of three solid men who will unfairly be branded moderates, and would prove unable to build the necessary coalition to win (Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, Chris Christie); (2) The group of two men who have plenty of good to say (one more than the other), but would never build coalitions outside of their own base (Ted Cruz, Rand Paul); and then (3) The group of four or five solid conservatives who both possess the needed leadership traits to govern the country and the capability to build coalitions within their own base and outside of it (in this group I include Rick Perry, John Kasich, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, and potentially Mike Pence). Anyone of those names from group #3 I see as viable. Anyone in groups 1 or 2 I do not. Moving on.

Gov. Perry can let much of his track record speak for itself. From 2009-2012 Texas created more net new jobs than 49 other states combined. The only problem with that stat is I don’t know how many people will even believe it; it is just overwhelming (but true) on its face. Because the Governor and I share a deep appreciation for the shale revolution, it is deeply satisfying to hear the real life accolades of what their natural gas accomplishments have meant to the state as well (23% reduction in ozone levels, 62% reduction in nitrogen oxide levels, dramatic % drop in their carbon footprint, etc.). Readers are free to have their own opinions on what environmental feats are and are not important to them, but the facts should still be presented as they are. At the end of the day, Governor Perry served 14 years in the Governor’s mansion and did not merely oversee a renaissance in the energy industry of Texas (though he certainly did that too). Texas is now the largest exporter of high tech product in the country. The economy of Texas as seen massive diversification over the last 10-12 years, so much so that despite the explosion of the oil and gas business behind the shale revolution, the energy sector is a lower percentage of Texas GDP than when the Governor took office. Companies from Toyota to Apple to Oracle to Facebook to Ebay to a plethora of pharmaceutical companies and even food businesses have planted a flag in Texas in recent years, taking advantage of the state’s extraordinary friendliness around tax and regulation for businesses. A friendly business climate is a friendly jobs climate, and the result has been the magical word guys like Kudlow and Moore care so much about: Growth. The beauty of growth is that it transcends class warfare, and lifts all boats. The 1% is not a phrase used in Texas, because the 100% have enjoyed the fruits of economic growth in Texas. So much of this can be a model to the entire country.

A lot of our dialogue last night is not for mass distribution, but I will say that he is going to need to better polish his delivery on the crucial issue of immigration. I am firmly in the Governor’s camp on the policy side of the issue, but I am not convinced that a mere focus on securing the border will be enough to pacify the far right fringe on this issue (where someone like Laura Ingraham can get away with saying that we should be going door to door finding illegals to deport). Perry has the right policy prescription (secure borders and a guest worker program) and it surely will be the right message in a a general election (Perry always won a minimum of 40%+ Hispanics in his three gubernatorial races), but I am not sure the primary message where candidates will be vying to carve out the silliest message possible on this pivotal human and economic message has been fully developed yet.

What I am sure of is this: Picking a primary horse this early has not been a good strategy for quite some time as those with a Hillary 2008 sticker can attest. Perry will need early good luck to get in the top five of candidates once this thing gets underway. He is a solid fundraiser and a compelling candidate. If he can break into that top five, I am convinced he can become a serious contender in the primary. And I will close with this: Should he survive what I expect will be a grueling primary, and end up in a one-on-one race with Hillary Clinton, there is no doubt in my mind that the great feats of the Texas Governor’s mansion over the last 14 years will be coming to The White House.
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Why Mitt Romney Should Not Run

The Wall Street Journal editorial page ran a compelling piece yesterday entitled Romney Recycled in which it laid out all the reasons a third Romney campaign may not be a very good idea. It was not stating that Romney would be a bad President; it was making the case that Romney would be a bad candidate. I believe most objective followers of the political world would be forced to agree with its conclusions.

I believe the country made a mistake of incalculable proportions when it elected Barack Obama to a second term over Mitt Romney in 2012. I further believe despite the rather unfounded and dubious thinking of many of my conservative brethren that he would have been a great, not just good, President. The context of my sentiments in this article are not driven by a dislike of Mitt Romney the man, whom I hold in very high regard as a family man and businessman, or a belief that he would be a weak-kneed middle-of-the-road, unprincipled moderate of a President. I don’t believe he would have been. But it is a waste of energy to make the case for what it is both an unprovable thesis and a non-falsifiable one now. He was not elected, and besides, I’ve learned that there is a brand of folks on the right (some well-meaning, many not) for whom logic and reasoned discourse are as foreign as maybe Hayek and Kirk would be for Gov. Romney.

So with that backdrop I do still feel the need to echo what the WSJ laid out yesterday. I simply do not believe an additional effort by Gov. Romney will end well. And I believe that for no other reason than his flaws as a candidate, not fears of flaws as an actual President.

It is important to note that Gov. Romney essentially has a 20% LIFETIME success rate in elections. His 1994 loss to Ted Kennedy for Senate is rather forgivable. His 2002 gubernatorial win is the only reason any of us have heard of Mitt Romney, and that was about as fertile of a year for Republican candidates as 2014 was. But Romney chose not to run for re-election in 2006 because he was going to lose by 20 points. That is incontestable. And then we know about his 2008 and 2012 Presidential losses. I realize most people elected President have at one time or another in their political careers suffered a painful loss (Bill Clinton had one, Reagan had a couple, Nixon obviously had a couple, etc.), but in those high profile cases a loss (or two) is up against a plethora of wins that far outweigh the losses. A candidate who has only won one race he has ever been in has a big hurdle to get over in defending their viability as a candidate. It is not unfair for an objective political enthusiast, one who actually likes Romney as I do, to simply point out that maybe, just maybe, there is some reason this candidate struggles to close the deal with voters.

But a past win-loss record of 1-4 notwithstanding, there is a more fundamental reason I believe Gov. Romney would be wise to re-think this decision. The GOP faces a race in 2016 that one way or the other is going to delve into issues of class. The far left and neo-Marxian wing of the democratic party led by gifted orators but Che Guevara type ideologues like Elizabeth Warren are going to make this a more populist election than we have seen in our country’s history. The Dems will have a problem of their own to deal with in that because they will nominate the uber-wealthy and hyper-elitist Hilary Clinton as their nominee. It does not matter that Romney and the right have the far superior solutions for dealing with issues on class, poverty, education, and economic growth, and it certainly doesn’t matter that Elizabeth Warren and her ilk have absolutely nothing new to offer on the subject (eliminating ATM card fees is not a profound policy objective in case you were wondering, and further steepening the disgusting progressive tax code is not exactly new school thinking). This is politics, and for the GOP to nominate their wealthiest candidate is a bad idea – even a candidate who loves his family, and who has been beyond generous with his hard-earned wealth. Romney (or his 2012 handlers) allowed himself to be branded as a daddy warbucks Gordon Gecko symbol in the last race. It was wrong. It was unfair. But he will not be able to shake it. And that brings me to my final point.

It isn’t necessary this time around. The 2012 field was a walking Saturday Night Live skit. The idea that Herman Cain or Michelle Bachman or Rick Santorum were ever going to be elected President is so silly it is embarrassing to think about as a devoted conservative enthusiast. Romney was a flawed candidate (for a handful of reasons) but clearly had the most gravitas and compelling case to make. And he couldn’t close. A lot of mistakes were made by his team, but he couldn’t close. In 2016, if it were a matter of Romney, Rand Paul, or Ted Cruz running, yes, I would think Mitt Romney want to consider entering the race. If it were just Chris Christie in the field, yes, I would hope Mitt Romney would consider running. Rand Paul is not going to be your President and if you don’t know that yet you soon will. Neither is Ted Cruz, though I believe that is because of mistakes Ted willingly made, not because of an intrinsic flaw or ideological kookiness. Christie is really, really not going to be your President. I’ll save character spaces in defending that assertion. However, a field with Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, and Mike Pence does not need the oft-failed candidate with the best name recognition to come in and save the day. We will see what happens with Jeb Bush. My own guess is that, as a candidate, he faces a lot of the same problems Mitt Romney would face with an even worse last name (though like Romney, I believe Jeb would actually make a fine President, imperfect as he may be). But Walker, Perry, Rubio, Jindal, Kasich, Pence is a field that does not need Romney to find someone outside the fringe of conspiracy lunacy (Paul), with inadequate credentials and gravitas (Bachman, Cain). Whether we like it or not, we need a real Republican who has not isolated his coalition to a narrow group that lacks the ability to win an election. The men I have identified all of strong points and maybe some flaws, but it is an exponentially better field than it was in 2012. Period.

I want Mitt Romney to play a role in American politics for the rest of his life. I want him to enjoy his beautiful family, and enjoy the fruits of his labors. If this thing shakes out in such a way that he ends up one-on-one with Hillary Clinton, he will have my support. But I echo the WSJ yesterday, that I simply believe the third time will not be a charm if he goes down this path.

A Quick Election Postmortem – A Wave by Any Other Name

There is a danger in two things the day after an election: Excessively mourning the results, and excessively celebrating the results. No election, ever, means nearly as much as we want to think it does. Culture trumps politics. For a conservative Republican to believe that America woke up Wednesday morning more personally responsible and interested in limited government than they were a few days ago is insane. Now, the good news there is that America was never as interested in a statist society as the doomsdayers portend either. At our core, we are a center right country, and I am quite confident we will remain such. Only professional fundraisers have a right to say that a given election means the end of the Republic, and only fools believe that with 54 Republican senators we can now get on to the business of fixing all that ails the world. In reality, some very, very good things took place Tuesday night, and a lot of work remains to be done.

I believe NBC, the WaPo, you, me, and anyone else knew that the GOP would take the Senate Tuesday night. I believe we were in danger of losing either KS or GA (probably not both), and that didn’t happen. I believe we could have lost one of CO, AK, or IA on the day of. But the polls were clear as can be (aggregate, composite polls like what RCP offers): Seven states were coming, and eight/nine were a possibility. We got nine. (I am counting Alaska and Louisiana and assuming the Dem, Warner, holds in VA if they recount). So really, the mere sending of Harry Reid to the irrelevant pile where that unpatriotic windbag belongs is not a surprise, though I concur it is a victory. But just like stock prices only respond to good news when it is a surprise, I want to focus on unexpected good news.

The Governor seats were simply extraordinary Tuesday night. Deep blue states going red, and deep blue states ALMOST going red, is a big deal. The wave of people who doubt the efficiency of government, if not its morality or legitimacy, must be converted from the state house to the White House. This election may not have been a rejection of nanny state government (I wish it were), but I do believe the failed ObamaCare website, the VA hospital debacle, the pension crisis countless states face, and the foreign policy miscalculations of this administration all serve up a highly skeptical omelette about the COMPETENCE of big government. I make a moral argument against big government (or rather, for individual freedom), but voters are content to ride along side me with an efficiency argument against big government (right now). The GOP would be wise to message this immutable law into 2016: Big government will always mess it up, always (when the task in question is outside the scope of their legitimate power).

I am mystified why so many on the right are skeptical about what this GOP majority will do. I challenge the haters to name one single malignant law that the post-2010 Republican House has allowed to enter the fray. I get that there are still pouty children in our party wondering why we can’t pound our fist and get everything we want, but from a checks and balances standpoint, this GOP has held the line. We did not elect bad Republican senators on Tuesday night. Gardner, Cotton, Sullivan, Cassidy, Ernst, and Tillis are conservative stars. They are grown-ups. They are ready for the task at hand. Unlike 2002, we scored in both quantity AND quality Tuesday night. For this we should be grateful.

Scott Walker’s re-election is a big deal. The public employee unions are losing their power in much of America (not in California). They are the demon of American politics and they have shown more contempt for the good of the American people than any other force or special interest in American history. This battle is not over but we are making incremental progress (not in California). We have more work to do.

The Virginia Senate seat is the biggest surprise of the election, and obviously us Monday Morning quarterbacks now wish we had supported Gillespie. I’d love to know who is polling that state so I could fire them (right, Eric Cantor?), but I suspect it reinforces the thesis that a lot of purples are just not happy being blue right now.

The Republicans will win the 2016 Presidential election if they nominate a likable and charismatic and competent candidate who can avoid being polarizing (sorry Cruz and Paul) and also hold the line of ideological solidity and political competence. We have folks on the bench who can do that. I’ll address this more as time goes by.

The GOP does not have a mandate now to start acting stupid. The American people want to see action, but they also want to see maturity, poise, and sobriety. We do not need to go along to get along, and we do not need to come off like radicals and flamethrowers jockeying for a plug from Rush Limbaugh. The GOP ought to rule for the next two years the way they got elected two days ago. They nominated sensible and impressive candidates, and they ran disciplined campaigns. Let’s go work for two years with sensibility and discipline. Good things will happen.

I agreed with leadership’s decision to not attempt a Contract with America II in advance of this election. This was a referendum on the failed Presidency of Barack Obama and the American people’s dissatisfaction with governmental incompetence. But now, it is imperative that we proactively lead with issues. We may not override Presidential vetoes, but corporate tax reform, the Keystone pipeline, energy export allowances, school choice, and a host of pro-growth, pro-jobs issues exist that we can and should push, promote, and fertilize. As Thatcher said to Bush Sr., now is not the time to get wobbly.

State of the Senate

It is fascinating to me how these Senate races have turned. RCP now has the Senate going GOP even giving Georgia to Nunn (the Dems) and NOT counting Kansas at all (so if KS goes Dem it would be 51-49 Repub). This also assumes NC stays with Hagan, where most do believe Tillis has a CHANCE to pull that off for the Republicans. So how is this math even possible? Colorado, Iowa, and Alaska all going Repub (along with, of course, Arkansas, Louisiana, and the obvious ones).

Bottom line: We can still fail to cross the finish line. And if we do need Louisiana to do it (vs. having it regardless) we probably are going to need until December to know. Pat Roberts should be utterly ashamed of himself for leaving us in this position in Kansas. I would rather talk about age limits than term limits, but I don’t really mean that. Kansas. Can you believe this? Kansas. Of all states, Kansas might keep us from a GOP Senate majority. Dear Lord.

Iowa is not out of the woods (could go against us) and Georgia is not a lost cause (I still believe Perdue could protect that seat). I’m optimistic enough to say we could win with 53 and I’m pessimistic enough to say we could be stuck at 49. This is going to be a wild ride for the next ten days. At stake is the role of Harry Reid in the governance of this country. No intelligent or decent human being could be comfortable with that kind of implication.