On the cusp of the Republican National Convention

This year’s presidential race – which could have crucial, long-term consequences for the country – has surely not unfolded in accordance with our vision of a rational, fact-based debate of policy issues. Both presumptive nominees have major shortcomings and high unfavorability ratings; the general election campaign figures to be heavy on negative attacks. This presidential race resembles reality TV, 5/9/16.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have weighed in on various issues, but it’s not easy to compare their respective positions. Clinton seems to focus on details that might please her supporters versus big problems; Trump speaks in generalities and has a tendency to “wing it.” So far, neither candidate has offered solid answers re the fiscal problem, Social Security, energy policy, or the economy (shorthand for achieving abundant jobs and rising pay levels). Our hope is that they will rethink and upgrade their respective proposals between now and November. SAFE newsletter,
summer 2016.

Two major uncertainties for Clinton were recently resolved. The report of the special House committee to investigate the Benghazi attack was published on June 27; Democrats spun it as offering “nothing new.” On July 5, FBI Director James Comey announced the findings of an investigation re Clinton’s e-mail practices while she was serving as Secretary of State and his recommendation that there be no criminal prosecution.

Neither of these reports exonerated Clinton (arguably the effect was to confirm bad judgment and an appalling lack of candor), but they ensured she won’t be forced to bow out of the race. Later on July 5, Clinton appeared on the campaign trail with the president, who apparently envisions her election as a confirmation of his own legacy. Obama campaigns with Clinton following FBI decision, M.J. Lee & Kevin Liptak, cnn.com,

Bernie Sanders finally threw in the towel and endorsed Clinton’s candidacy at a joint appearance on July 12. This outcome was facilitated by Clinton adjustments on policy issues (“free” college and a public option for GovCare healthcare insurance coverage) that moved her agenda further to the left. Bernie Sanders endorses Hillary Clinton, MJ Lee et al., cnn.com,

Meanwhile, GOP unity remains elusive. Year of the outsider or not, questions are being raised about whether Trump will buckle down and wage a disciplined and effective campaign. Enough of the snarky “tweets,” frequent use of labels like “crooked Hillary,” and failure to reassure legal immigrants that he isn’t proposing to make this country a closed society. Three things Trump needs to win in November, D.W. Wilber, townhall.com,

Recent events seem to have rejuvenated the Trump candidacy somewhat; it previously seemed to be slipping badly.

•Conservative Republicans applauded the July 15 announcement of Indiana Governor Mike Pence as Trump’s running mate.

•Recent attacks in Orlando, Dallas, and France (Nice) heightened concerns about whether current security policies are working – an issue that could play against Democratic candidates (although Trump has not exploited it successfully thus far).

•The buildup to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland (July 18-21) will presumably place Republicans at the top of the news cycle for several days. The Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia will be coming up the following week (July 25-28), however which should give the Clinton campaign a boost.

Discussion follows of some challenges Republicans face. We’ll end with a suggestion that might improve their chances and could also contribute to a better policy debate.

1. Ever Trump - There has been no shortage of predictions that if Trump is nominated, he will inevitably lose in November. Perceived problems include a late start in fund raising and building a nationwide campaign organization, an exodus of professional staff members, and Trump’s penchant for making dubious comments about controversial topics (e.g., Saddam Hussein was good at killing terrorists).

Trump has made little effort to mend fences with leaders in the Republican establishment after a bruising primary season, instead claiming that he can win on his own if necessary. Yet he continues to trail Clinton in most polls:

•Clinton is up by an average of about five percentage points in national polls. Election 2016 presidential polls, realclearpolitics.com,

•However, swing state races seem much closer. A recent brace of polls had Trump leading Clinton in Florida & Pennsylvania; they were tied in Ohio. Quinnipiac University,

Some observers have concluded that the GOP is in for a crushing defeat if they don’t dump Trump at the Republican National Convention (RNC) and nominate a candidate who can run a stronger campaign. The only way to stop Hillary Clinton, Erick Erickson, townhall.com,

No amount of calls for rallying to Trump's banner will help him. The Republican Party is already the smaller of the two major political parties. Even if all the Republicans who oppose him -- myself included --should suddenly support him, it would not be enough. His negatives are over 70 percent. He hovers around 30 percent in the polls. His fundraising is anemic. He is prone to gaffes of extraordinary size. He has no campaign apparatus to turn people out in November and his campaign surrogates have no compelling message to convert the undecided to supporters.

There has been talk about mounting a last ditch challenge to Trump at the RNC. The opening move would be to line up enough support to force a floor vote on a rule change that would release delegates to vote for their personal favorites on the first ballot. Anti-Donald Trump foes see convention coup as within reach; Backing of 28 Rules Committee members would allow a floor vote, Reid Epstein, Wall Street Journal,

Alas, there was no alternative candidate that delegates would instinctively rally to support – despite polls showing other candidates might fare better against Clinton than Trump. Mitt Romney lost in 2012; Jeb Bush and John Kasich made their case to Republican voters around the country during the primaries but neither caught on as a serious contender. Anti-Trump Republicans polling best against Clinton, Ryan Lovelace, Washington Examiner,

Donald Trump trails Hillary Clinton by 5 percentage points, 43-48, in a new Survey Monkey Election Tracking survey, and is out-performed by other leading Republicans tested in the poll. Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, polls even with Clinton, 45-45, in a hypothetical matchup, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who pulled out of the 2016 race more than two months ago, has an 8-point advantage, 50-42.

Moreover, it was tellingly argued that a convention coup would split the Republican Party, dashing whatever hopes the GOP might have for November. The downside of dumping Trump, James Antle, Washington Examiner,

I am deeply aware of all Trump's specific flaws that make many Republicans say yes. Most any other presumptive nominee would likely be able to capitalize on Clinton's travails. But would they be able to do so in [a] climate where millions of Republicans believed the nomination had been stolen from their preferred candidate?

The rules committee considered the “conscience clause” last week – with only 12 members (versus the required 28) voting in favor – so the revolt has apparently been put down. GOP rules committee fends off “Never Trump” proposal, Eric DuVall, upi.com,

2. Maybe this time is different – Notwithstanding predictions based on conventional political strategies, some observers believe Trump has tapped into powerful sentiments among American voters that could offset some of his weaknesses and enable him to defy the conventional wisdom on how to win political campaigns. The rationale: many Americans feel they have been patronized and deceived by the nation’s political leadership and intellectual elite – resent this deeply – and will in the end reject the establishment candidate (Clinton).

Here’s a video that conveys this idea. The specific grievances mentioned aren’t important; what matters is the sense of being ignored and/or betrayed. “I’m mad as hell,” Network (1976), video (4:12).

As for evidence of growing pushback against self-serving elites, look not only to the Trump (successful) and Sanders (near miss) candidacies, but also to other developments such as the Brexit vote in the UK. It’s the freedom, stupid, Monica Crowley, Washington Times,

The desire to restore freedom and independence is a powerful force. The British people finally realized that the ultimate power to achieve it rests with them. They have exercised that power. Next in line: the American people.

3. Some flexibility wouldn’t hurt – Donald Trump is a businessman with no government experience, who is running for the highest political office in the land. While clearly entitled to offer whatever policy proposals he sees fit, one might think he would appreciate some input from seasoned GOP leaders. In any case, the policy proposals of the Trump campaign need to be vetted and organized into an attractive alternative to the left leaning Democratic agenda.

House Republicans under the leadership of Speaker Paul Ryan have been working on a suite of policy proposals called “
A better way.” Proposals are included in six areas: alleviation of poverty, national security, the economy, the Constitution, healthcare, and tax reform. Ryan’s video (2:30) provides an overview and argues that Americans deserve a clear choice. To navigate through the proposals, click the menu icon in the top hand corner and then go from there.

The “better way” package is far from a panacea. It doesn’t come to grips with the fiscal problem, for example, or propose needed changes in Social Security. And instead of coming up with new ways for the federal government to wage the “war against poverty,” we think the federal government should phase out its involvement in this area and leave welfare assistance to be provided – as it was traditionally - by state & local governments and voluntary associations.

That being said, there may be some good material in the House package that could be used to upgrade or supplement the Trump policy agenda. For example, according to the Tax Foundation – using dynamic scoring in both cases – the House tax cut plan would result in far smaller net reductions in government revenue over the next 10 years than Trump’s plan ($200 billion versus roundly $10 trillion). Analysis: GOP tax plan would boost growth, bet big on dynamic scoring, Joseph Lawler, Washington Examiner,

Instead of insisting on his tax plan, wouldn’t it make sense for Trump to embrace the House tax plan as a better alternative or at least revise his plan to eliminate some tax preferences so as partially recoup the tax rate cuts he proposes? The upshot would be to avoid offering a tax plan that is obviously infeasible, and therefore vulnerable to attack from the Clinton camp (which will attack the use of dynamic scoring in any case, but has a weaker argument on that point).

At the end of the day, congressional Republicans and Trump don’t necessarily have to be in synch on policy proposals, but an effort to minimize their differences wouldn’t hurt – either substantively or politically. With many other matters vying for his attention in coming months, why wouldn’t Trump want to take advantage of the high class staff work that is being offered to his campaign?

As a move in that direction, Trump has recruited some new advisers who are reworking his tax plan. Indications are that it will entail far less revenue loss than his initial proposal, presumably as a result of making tax rate cuts affordable by eliminating some tax preferences. A Trump economy beats Clinton’s, Andy Puzder & Stephen Moore (both now advising Trump), Wall Street Journal,

Don’t believe the phony claim that [Trump’s tax plan] will cost $10 trillion over a decade. As Americans will see when he reveals the entire plan in the next few weeks, any revenue loss would be a fraction of that amount.

To the extent that the Clinton campaign might choose to borrow some ideas from the House Republican package, that would be fine with us. This isn’t likely to happen, however, as the Democratic Party seems irrevocably committed to a big government agenda. The Democratic platform’s sharp left turn, William Galston, Wall Street Journal,

In [certain respects], the draft [Democratic 2016 platform] is truly remarkable—for example, its near-silence on economic growth. The uninformed reader would not learn that the pace of recovery from the Great Recession has been anemic by postwar standards, or that productivity gains have slowed to a crawl over the past five years, or that firms have been reluctant to invest in new productive capacity. Rather, the platform draft’s core narrative is inequality, the injustice that inequality entails, and the need to rectify it through redistribution.
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