Friday, June 19, 2015

The Coming Republican Free-for-All

I still suspect that if Democrats could find another viable candidate for 2016 they would quickly jettison Hillary Clinton.

As of now, they cannot, so, as Peggy Noonan writes this morning, Hillary will “glide” to the nomination.

In principle, Hillary should be easy to beat. Her favorability and trustworthiness ratings have been dropping in the polls. She trails several Republican candidates in swing state polls.

Her one great hope is that the Republicans will beat themselves. How so? By turning the nomination process into a free-for-all where each candidate sets out to destroy the others. It happened in 2012 and it looks like history might repeat itself.

Noonan’s analysis rings true:

Mrs. Clinton is almost certainly about to glide to her party’s nomination. There will be a few bumps. She will occasionally be pressed and challenged on various questions. There will be back and forth. But her Democratic opponents will not attack her character, her history, her financial decisions, her scandals. They will not go at her personally. She will emerge dinged but not damaged. No one will ravage the queen.

The Democratic Party keeps the debate within bounds:

The Democrats have an enforcement mechanism to keep all their candidates in line. Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley know without being told that the party will kill them if they tear apart the assumed nominee. Their careers will be over if they go at her personally.

In the other corner we have the Republican field. I have in the past noted the presence of far too many vanity candidates. The risk with having vanity candidates is that you start looking like the vanity party. That is, you start looking like you do not take the presidency seriously.

And then, Noonan explains, Republicans have been known to engage in the famous circular firing squad:

The Republican primary, on the other hand, will be all hell bursting loose. The candidates will spend the next year tearing each other apart on everything and anything. Super PACs are furiously raising money, some of which will be used to take down and slam GOP opponents in negative ads and videos.

She continues:

Half a dozen candidates are clustered near the top, so the fight this year will be fierce. The Republicans have no old-style enforcers—no establishment figures everyone is afraid of crossing. Republicans are by nature entrepreneurs—they’ll do a lot not to lose market share.

So Republicans this cycle will likely go after each other in a personal, rough way, bloody each other, and damage the eventual nominee, while Mrs. Clinton will glide along relatively untouched. Democrats will watch the fisticuffs, determine what line of attack worked best on the GOP nominee, and mine it deeper in the general election.

Noonan is not optimistic:

Is the GOP thinking about setting 2016 ground rules? Is it thinking about penalties—publicly warning candidates that if they go at contenders on anything but the issues they’ll face the wrath of the party? Is there any way to put teeth in such a threat?

Perhaps the Republicans are not well enough organized to enforce such discipline. Perhaps they do not believe in such discipline anyway. Many of them will declare themselves to be too principled to limit their criticism to policy.

In the end politics is about winning and governing, not about making a point. Winning requires focus and concentration. It demands that candidates not destroy each other, not weaken their nominee before the general election:

Here it should be noted that Republicans often speak of Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment, “Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican.” He didn’t mean don’t attack them. He himself tried to take out a sitting Republican president and went at Gerald Ford hammer and tongs—on the issues. It was never personal, and it had nothing to do with “oppo.” It was about great questions, not small people. That’s not only how to win, it’s how to win with meaning.

But it’s also about the general confusion over the meaning of the word “free.”

Free will does not have the same “free” as free-for-all.

And free trade does not have the same “free” as free lunch.

Free elections do not have the same “free” as free verse or free love.

Also, free and easy is not the same as free and clear.

Being free to take responsibility, Isaiah Berlin famously noted, is not the same as being free from responsibility. By extension, freedom of religion is not the same as freedom from religion.

This is advanced philosophy, via Wittgenstein, but we do need to correct that common error of believing that the different kinds of freedom are the same. If you believe that a free market is like a free-for-all you might also believe that the person who emerges victorious from a free-for-all will be in the same condition as the person who wins out in a free market.

If so, you would be making a serious mistake.

Language being what it is, over the centuries words collect subtle variations of meaning. Many of them depend on usage and context. We err if we act as though the word “free” has a single, fixed meaning.

The same is true of the highly promiscuous use of the word “equal.” Two people who have equal rights do not necessarily have equal strength, equal ability, equal aptitude or equal weight. The “equal” that exists in the phrase equal work is not the same “equal” as exists in the phrase, equal pay.


Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

"I still suspect that if Democrats could find another viable candidate for 2016 they would quickly jettison Hillary Clinton."

Agreed. But this highlights the core problem for Democrats: lack of bench depth.

By the close of the Democrats' 2016 nominating "process" (complete with the nutty idea of a "superdelegate" within a party screeching about equality), Hillary Rodham Clinton will have been the "inevitable" nominee for more than a decade... and then some. Probably the last "inevitable" winner other than Hillary lost the general election as a result of Clinton fatigue: Al Gore.

Hillary is vulnerable. And what does Bernie Sanders have to worry about in "going after her"? He's an Independent (Socialist) from a loony state where cows outnumber people. What leverage does the party have over him? O'Malley has a bright, shirtless future in a party that values taxes over citizens; and Chafee will pick another party before the 2020 primary. So the rest of the field is moot. It's like Ralph Nader... there's little they can do to shut Sanders up or shut him down. Hillary's camp knows this, which is why her opposition to the Obama trade deal (which she participated in designing through statecraft while SOS) was inevitable. She needs the unions and unpaid interns as volunteers, which is par for the course for a party carping incessantly about a "living wage." This is our future... Democrats want us all to volunteer for "the common good," as determined by them, of course. The State is the solution to everything, that mysterious jackpot (Obama's "stash") we are all entitled to... the rich bounty that comes from the ether.

The Republicans are vulnerable in the way(s) Noonan suggests, but they can do better by making these candidates work their asses off. I mean like having all the candidates up in the dais for these initial debates and subject them to a cruel, 4-hour debate where people get the opportunity for long-form answers in a grueling exchange designed to show depth of understanding on issues and ability to think in their feet. A monkey can provide 90-second answer to a question he/she has been prepping for over a year on the stump. I suggest the debate process be long, arduous and cruel to those who are throwing their hat in who have no business doing so (e.g., Lindsay Graham). If it's so easy to become a candidate, make it brutal to remain one. And that goes for all of them, not just 1st- and 2nd-tier candidates, as judged by FOX News for the purposes of this first debate.

Among all the candidates, there are a solid number of good, qualified and young candidates. This bodes well for the Republican future. The party needs a leader. The best thing that could come out of this crazy "free for all" is to find an articulate leader who represents the party's ideas and connects with Americans. I don't know who that person is, but hopefully we are setting up a process that will bear that out. Otherwise, it'll be a circus.

Ares Olympus said...

Free-for-all is a fun term, definition being "a disorganized or unrestricted situation or event in which everyone may take part, especially a fight, discussion, or trading market."

And like "equality", Orwell's animal farm we know "We're all equal, but some are more equal than others", like Trump's major talking point of his declaration for his candidacy sharing his account's "net worth" statement of 6 billion or something like that. So he literally could completely fund any major party candidate or independent all by himself, and who does he think is best for the job of president, of 100 million potential candidates (35yo+)? Himself of course! Really?!

It would be fun to see how many donations he gets from his website. Perhaps along with having paid actors to cheer for him at his announcement, he might as well pay people to donate to his campaign, so at least it looks like someone wants to give money for a billionaire to promote himself.

If we want to put some structure to this "free-for-all", I'd like to know on what grounds we can censor attention to "celebrity" big-mouth candidates like Trump.

Or maybe we should use a "100 million dollars to play" entry fee, paid to a party? Maybe if the GOP made Trump put down his own money to open his mouth, knowing his money would be going towards one of his rivals in the general election when he loses, would that lower his enthusiasm?

Then a 20-candidate free-for-all field (at $100 million a piece) would give the GOP 2 billion dollars to spend in the general election.