Why Betsy DeVos Excites Me

As somebody who is married to a teacher, has a registered disability and has a Master’s degree I should be vehemently opposed to a Betsy DeVos nomination. I’m not. Instead I’m excited.

Why? After all, detractors point to her lack of experience on crafting education policy or education in general. And, of course, Elizabeth Warren thinks she supports gay conversion therapy.

So, again, why? Because I move beyond that. Context is important here. She’s not applying to be a teacher, a principle or a superintendent. If that was the case I’d want her to have a background in education. But she’s not. She’s heading a byzantine bureaucracy not a school.  At some point it simply becomes impossible for somebody to relate their experience as a teacher into national policies that impact all schools.

Now, with that out of the way I am excited about DeVos for three reasons. First, she’ll bring an outsider perspective to education policy. Second, she has promised to obey legislative and executive edicts. Lastly, she is a rabid supporter of choice and charter schools.

When you operate so long in a certain setting you tend to mimic that setting. Likewise the policies and rules from that setting. For example, Arne Duncan, Obama’s Secretary of Education mimics the top down approaches of liberal policy experts. It’s about control.

Duncan hails from the Chicago School District where he was Superintendent.  In that district rules and policies are crafted based on standardization and simply getting students up to a minimal standard.  This one size fits all approach has been mimicked in federal education policy since Obama took office.

In contrast, DevVs, does not have this problem. She might be a novice on policy but that is what staff is for. And let’s be honest, lower-level staff at the Department of Education implement actual policy.

Secondly, she grasps her role in the system. Since 2009, Obama and Duncan have ignored congressional wishes in education. In particular, the ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act), passed in 2015 by bipartisan majorities.  The president has largely ignored the parts of the law he did not like as has Duncan. In her confirmation hearing, Devos said she would implement it as Congress intended. Finally, somebody who understands their role.

Finally, she is a real, honest to god supporter of choice. She doesn’t just talk about it but practices it. Her foundation has given millions to charters and private schools in Michigan and nationally.

We actually have an Education Secretary who understands and supports choice. This might actually mean national policy is crafted to allow states to spend more money on charter schools.

Charter schools and choice is a tricky issue. Many teachers, my wife included, see them as a threat. Others, including minority families trapped in failing schools see them as godsends (NYC and New Orleans).

Depending on the state many charter schools suffer in ways traditional public schools do not.  For example, charter schools in many states cannot collect property taxes or pass supplemental levies.  They are funded solely through private donations and state general funds.  This puts them, oftentimes, in troubling financial situations on a consistent basis.

Additionally, depending on how policy is crafted and what decisions are made down the chain you can have strong charter schools in poor districts and alternatively, charters doing little but catering to affluent white areas.

Fortunately, as a proponent of choice she seems to understand the concerns and alternatives. Still, even so, she iterated in her hearing that states and localities should decide where and how they spend money. Not the Department of Education.

I can hear the gasps now about my excitement. How can I overlook all her flaws?  Why, she can’t even decide whether she supports proficiency or improvement. Well, her strengths outweigh her weaknesses.

Obama promised to be a champion for the urban kid and yet appointed a life long union bureaucrat to implement change.  That bureaucrat wasted billions trying to force schools to change in exchange for some federal cash.

For all the talk of Trump being a racist he appointed somebody who wants all kids to succeed whether white, brown or black. That is exciting in itself.

The Democratic Party Just Proved How Left They Are

Democratic-National-ConventionThe “moderate” Democratic Party died last week.  The Platform Committee of the Democratic National Committee ratified the most liberal draft policy platform in the history of the party and it looks likely the party will move even further left in the coming years.

This can be summed up due to 3 random factors converging.  The first represents Sanders transformation of the Democratic Party.  Sanders campaign successfully integrated many liberal activist groups and voters over the course of the campaign.  For example, in NY State he courted anti-fracking activists and in Washington State garnered the endorsement of environmental groups.

As the Sanders campaign probably started to sense it could not win the election it began to foment more of a revolution through the party platform.  Sanders and his allies used their leverage (millions of voters strong) to push for a more progressive and ideological agenda.

Secondly, the timing worked out.  In 2009, the Democratic coalition was an unwieldy alliance of progressive and conservative legislators.  But fast-forward to the results of the 2010 and 2014 midterms and many of those conservative to moderate members of Congress and legislators are gone.  There is now less resistance in the party to a more progressive platform.

Lastly, Clinton and Sanders are far more ideologically in sync than many individuals honestly think.  So are their supporters.  Clinton backers might be more upscale and politically savvy but they largely want to achieve the same goals as Sanders supporters.

Of course, there were disagreements within the party.  Labor unions strongly opposed the TPP but not necessarily anti-fracking amendments.  Likewise, environmentalists only opposed TPP because of a lack of environmental safeguards but were fervently opposed to fracking.  As a result, many “unity amendments” that tried to unify various positions were proposed and failed.

Even so, the party platform is the most liberal in history.  The party called for tuition free college (which Clinton backed last week) and extremely strong anti-trust laws, strong support for wind and solar power at the expense of much cheaper and more useful natural gas and a trillion dollar infrastructure plan.

But, by far, the biggest shift was the party’s open adoption of support for a “Public Option”” in “Medicare for all.”  Notably, the platform makes no mention of how to pay for such a massive entitlement (just like free college) but its adoption is a sign that the Democratic Party is becoming more of a European style center-left welfare party.

The party used to defend gun rights (even as it banned assault weapons).  No reference to gun rights is to be found on the draft platform.  On a host of racial and social issues the platform moves left.

The platform calls for the abolition of the death penalty at all levels.  No language is found on how government can work with faith-based institutions to better people’s lives (this was in the 2012 platform).  However, the document does call for overturning decades of Supreme Court decisions regarding campaign finance.

Race is placed front and center in the platform.  The document pledges the Democratic Party to promote racial justice as well as environmental and climate justice.  In addition, the document reads like a manifesto with its call for criminal-justice reform and push for societal transformation to make it clear “black lives matter and there is no place for racism in this country.”

Bernie Sander’s helped pushed the party to the left and it is possible that at the Convention the party could move even further.  But, for right now, it stands ready to adopt the most liberal platform in America’s history.

 

 

 

What Trump Can Teach The GOP

160224112545-trump-nevada-victory-speech-780x439The Republican National Convention is less than 10 days away.  Talk continues to persist of a coup, yes another one, to overthrow Trump at the Convention.  Or at least to stage a public protest.

These actions might appeal to the ideological diehards in the party but in reality the activists and writers fomenting this resistance are in denial.  The insurrection is likely to fizzle and gloss over the issue that Donald Trump has exposed the GOP must fix.

Since the Bush years, the GOP has made a business out of putting ideology over meeting the needs of voters.  Sure, calling for tax cuts and fewer regulations sounds good.  But, in reality, some regulations are better than others and not everybody should get a tax cut according to the public (rich people, anybody).

Say what you will about Trump, the trash talking nominee of the party, but he recognized the economic needs and concerns of voters.  He didn’t luck into the nomination.  He defeated 16 rivals, many of them up and coming stars in the party.  He assembled a broad coalition of voters ranging from evangelicals in Mississippi to secular moderates in Massachusetts to retired suburbanites in Florida.

Mr. Trump’s appeal is simple.  He recognizes peoples need to belong.  To have sovereignty and control over their destiny.  Witness his comments after Brexit when he said  “People want to see borders.  They don’t necessarily want people pouring into their country that they don’t know who they are and where they come from.”

Thus it is Mr. Trump who is echoing the nationalist themes and worries of many voters not just confined to the US but many Western Democracies.  Yet, many GOP elites and elders continue to be blind to his appeal.  To be fair though, many of these leaders have found success in promising smaller government and less taxes in the Obama years.  Why should they think voters don’t support their agenda (well, ask Mitt Romney)?

Such a theme was common among many GOP Presidential contenders.  Marco Rubio is remembered for his robotic talking point of how Obama is systemically changing the country.  Most Republicans agreed with one addition.  America is already changed.  It is a nation buffeted by globalization and the aftershocks of the Great Recession.

It’s an argument Trump consistently echos.  In Appalachia, Trump talks of how free-trade policies have moved jobs overseas and taken the US’s wealth and factories to Mexico.  He talks about the repercussions of these policies where inner cities continue to lack jobs and the factories continue to remain closed.  In something new for the GOP, Trump talks about how big business and the special interests dominate while the average American struggles.

It’s a message reminiscent of Bernie Sanders and might explain why Sanders has been lukewarm in his support of Hillary.  Bernie may dislike Trump’s bluster and dislike of Latinos but the message Trump echoes is a message Sanders disseminates.

Trump’s appeal is thus bipartisan in nature.  He would not be the first Republican to try such a message.  Eisenhower, a nonpartisan former general until he ran for President, built bridges with House and Senate Democratic majorities which boosted the economy and led to successful Civil Rights legislation being passed.

Eisenhower’s understudy, Richard Nixon did the same.  He crafted an agenda that appealed to the growing bloc of conservatives in the party but also the public with the creation of OSHA and the EPA.  Even Ronald Reagan and HW Bush made concessions to Democrats to craft successful legislation.

But the ghost of Barry Goldwater came back to haunt the party, especially during the time of Bill Clinton.  The party became more ideological and unwilling to try new ideas to solve problems.

Take the case of Marco Rubio in the primary as an example.  To combat poverty the junior Senator suggested tripling the EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit) for low income families.  Such a plan actually had the support of the President and Hillary Clinton but was pilloried by GOP elites because it increased the deficit and used government to help solve a problem.

This is a cycle Trump’s candidacy could potentially break.  As a result it worries many establishment Republicans.  Trump’s white identity politics narrative is troubling but it is no worse than the kind of identity politics Democrats have fostered.

Democrats let the GOP integrate many former Southern Democrats into their ranks as long as they benefited from the integration of blacks into their ranks.  Likewise, Democrats were silent as whites migrated to the suburbs of Detroit, Milwaukee and elsewhere as long as these cities remained under their control.

The conservative beef against Trump goes beyond the talking points (he doesn’t lay out policies, he insults everybody, he can’t speak in complete sentences).  No, it is that he does not recite conservative boilerplate ideology.  Trump rarely talks about liberty or the Constitution.  He doesn’t specifically say America is exceptional.    This is heresy to many true believers.

As a conservative this is certainly a worry of mine.  But these points do little to address the needs of voters.  Ideological certitude can often mask the cries of what voters really need.  If Republicans had really wanted to understand voters they would have noticed polls that showed Tea Party supporters (for example) supported smaller government but wanted Social Security and Medicare strengthened.

It was inevitable that Trump would be pushed to the right.  But he has also maintained his moderate edge by refusing to promise tax cuts for the wealthy and fighting gay marriage.  Indeed, he has positioned himself as a compromiser which is why even moderates Trent Lott and Bob Dole preferred him over Ted Cruz.

Trump’s primary issue is not convincing his loyal following that he would help them.  He has to broaden his appeal to the middle and upper middle class and convince them his Presidency would also benefit them.  If he can do so and start to bring the party along he could be a formidable foe to his already damaged opponent.

Perhaps the best poster child for a Trump candidacy would be Nixon.  He ran a polarizing, law and order campaign that divided the nation along economic and racial lines.  Yet, he won a landslide reelection in 1972 and guided the nation out of Vietnam, normalized relations with the Soviet Union and opened talks with China.  He appointed Democrat Patrick Moynihan to spearhead his urban policy which showed he was no ideologue.

Trump has shown similar tendencies.  He has refused to pick a true believer conservative for his VP choice.  Most notably, he has avoided taking strong stances on hot button social issues like abortion, gay marriage and transgender bathrooms.

Of course, Trump could give us the self-destructive Presidency of we’ve witnessed with the Trump Institute and Trump University.  One would hope the people he appoints would be able to head this off however.

Many conservatives in the halls of academia and political power spitting out the same old talking points and views have contributed to the rise of Trump.  If not for demographic factors Trump might be the favorite this November.  These individuals are loathe to admit it though.  George Will (who I like) has said he is leaving the GOP to become an Independent.  In reality, Will’s vision of what and who the GOP should represent is vastly different than most Republicans (few of us live in the DC bubble).

Win or lose, Trump’s candidacy will have a lasting impact on the GOP.  Future Republican contests might feature more centrist conservatives vs. the Ted Cruzes of the party.  It is possible this could broaden the GOP and start to shift, even if slightly, the continued polarization of the US electorate where 90 percent of liberals vote Democrat and 80 percent of conservatives vote Republican.  Mr. Trump probably summed it up best in May when he said, “This is the Republican Party, it’s not called the Conservative Party.”  Trump certainly is leading this transformation of the GOP.

 

 

 

 

Brexit Is A Sign That Culture Is Replacing Ideology As The Key Political Divide

brexit-beckons-as-97-of-britons-think-david-cameron-cant-get-a-better-eu-deal1Barely a week ago the voters of the United Kingdom narrowly approved a referendum to leave the EU.  The result underscored how economic pressures and demographic change is shifting the political paradigm in much of the industrialized, Western world.

Initial speculation on the result of the referendum somewhat favored how it benefited Trump.  In reality though, while Trump mimics many of the anti-globalization and nationalistic trade tendencies of the “Leave” campaign it underscores just how much tougher a road Trump has to travel to succeed with the same theme in the US.

Brexit did crystallize the deepening political fault lines in UK politics though.  It also highlighted some of the factors driving the Trump-Clinton contest.  More importantly, it foreshadowed a likely long-term realignment of the electoral base of both Republicans and Democrats and perhaps a reshuffling of critical swing states.

Unsurprisingly, UK politics tends to correlate with American elections.  That’s why the Brexit election day surveys mimicked the results of a US election.  The Leave campaign carried over 60 percent of those without college degrees, a majority of seniors and whites overall.  The Leave campaign was strongest in rural areas outside of major cities.  The Remain camp won a majority of college graduates, the young, ethnic minorities and urban voters.  Short of Northern Ireland and Scotland, the only other region to vote to Remain was London with almost 60 percent support.

This voting pattern replicates many American elections.  Republicans are increasingly becoming the party of older, non-college educated whites, men and the religiously devout.  The Democratic Coalition is growing among single women, the urban, the young and minorities.  Obama won in 2012 by amassing a 5 million vote advantage in the country’s most urban areas.

British voters pessimistic abut the economy and next generation’s chances, hostile to unchecked immigration and multiculturalism as well as changing cultural norms were most likely to support Leave.  A full 80 percent of Leave voters said immigration negatively impacted the UK.  That closely mimics the number of Trump supporters in a new survey.

Brexit showed the power of anti-immigration, anti-globalization, older whites who are rural and non-college educated.  The problem for Trump in replicating Brexit is that these voters are less of the American electorate.  In the UK, about 90 percent of referendum ballots cast were from whites.  In November, most experts predict whites will cast just over 70 percent of ballots.  In the UK, 53 percent of whites voted to leave.  Due to racial and ethnic cleavages in US politics Trump will likely need 60 percent or more of whites support to win.

Resistance to the Leave campaign came strongly from college-educated and urban UK whites.  It is hard not to see a similar dynamic playing out in the US.  The loss of the GOP’s managerial wing is not a new phenomenon.  Since 2000, Democrats have carried more college educated voters than non-college educated.  But, historically, Democrats have struggled to hold a majority of college-educated whites in Presidential elections.

There is evidence this election could see that change.  Numerous national surveys have shown Clinton leading among these voters.  However, Trump leads among white men and Clinton among white women and with fewer men attending college it is likely this is benefiting Clinton.

The Trump-Clinton contest is certain to accelerate the party’s long term resorting and shift it from a primarily geographical and demographical shift to a cultural one as well.  Democrats will increasingly become the party of urban cosmopolitanists comfortable with cultural and economic changes while the GOP coalition will become more traditionalist and resistant to change.  We could see this immediately in the 2016 contest’s swing states.

Historically, Democrats have run extremely well in the older, more white Rust Belt.  This has occurred even as the heavily white South has shifted firmly to the GOP.  Since 1992, Republicans have only carried Rustbelt states 3 times out of 30 chances.  Contrast this with the GOP carrying Sunbelt States 17 times out of 30 chances.

However, these results do not tell the whole story.  Since 2000, GOP vote totals have increased in the majority of Rust Belt states while Democrats were able to carry many Sun Belt states in 2008 and 2012 including GOP bastions such as North Carolina and Virginia.  This has occurred as globalization has benefited many Sun Belt states and caused many Rust Belt voters to feel globalization has left them behind.

Party and ideological loyalties were scrambled during the Brexit vote.  A full third of Labour voters (far more than initially thought) voted to Leave.  A majority of Conservatives voted to leave but the breakdown of their votes was interesting.  Labour dominated London overwhelmingly voted to stay but rural, labor strongholds voted to leave.  Likewise, Conservative suburban and urban enclaves voted to remain but were overwhelmed by Conservative votes to Leave.

Much as Labour has done since the 90’s to pivot to a more urban, inclusive, demographically welcoming party Democrats have done the same.  The result has been domination in the US’s urban enclaves.  But, in doing so, they have ceded their ancestral base to the GOP.  To incorporate these voters the GOP may be sacrificing many of its college educated supporters.

Brexit points towards a reshaped UK political order that revolves more around cultural affinities and values-particularly immigration and globalization-than economic class.  Trump’s campaign has mimicked this shift and doubled down on it.  As a result, the Clinton-Trump race could usher in a new, defining divide in American politics.

 

 

 

Post Scalia Supreme Court Drifts Left

SCOTUSbuilding_1st_Street_SE.JPGConservative hopes this session were high.  After-all, the cases on the docket ranged from abortion to unions to immigration reform.  With a 5-4 majority on the Court it seemed conservatives could shift the legal landscape of this country sharply to the right.

What a difference six months makes.  In February, conservative lion Antonin Scalia died and left the court with a 4-4 split. Or more accurately, a 3-4-1 split. Suddenly, the dreams of conservatives upending decades of liberal precedence were up in the air.

Still, there was hope.  In the form of swing vote Anthony Kennedy and probably the most conservative liberal member on the Court, Stephen Bryer.  Also, the Roberts Court had been known for its caution in crafting sweeping rulings and this limited any damage that could occur to conservative causes if things went south.

With the term over it is clear just how much the death of Scalia has turned the court to the left.  The 4-4 deadlock on union dues allowed the 9th Circuit Court’s ruling on dues to continue unabated.  This was the first major debate for conservatives of the term but it would not be the last.

In a 4-3 decision, with Kennedy siding with the court’s liberals, the affirmative action policies of the University of Texas-Austin were upheld.  But, by far, the biggest defeat was the 5-3 decision in Whole Women’s Health vs. Hellerstedt.  The ruling, penned by Bryer, shot down TX and 2 other states restrictions on abortion.  Kennedy, known for his moderate positions on the issue, had again, created a liberal majority.  Worse, Kennedy again sided with the court’s 4 liberals to deny an appeal from a group of Washington state based pharmacists who objected to being forced to provide emergency contraception more recently.

Without Scalia on the court it has inevitably drifted left.  But, it has only drifted as far left as Kennedy has wanted it to go.  A full-bore liberal Kennedy is not.  Remember, he sided with conservatives in Citizens United, tried to overturn Obamacare, he issued an emergency stay on the White House’s Clean Air Plan and has sided with conservatives on every campaign finance case.  So calling Kennedy a liberal is a stretch.

It is more accurate to say he is a libertarian/moderate on social issues and a conservative on the scope of governmental power.  For example, in the rulings regarding affirmative action and abortion, the rulings were tailored specifically to the cases.  This means that while liberals may be hailing the rulings as giving them precedent to continue such policies or limit restrictions on abortions that is all they do.  They simply stake a line in the ground saying that their are limits to religious freedom, abortion restrictions and the like.  Indeed, Kennedy joined with the court’s then 4 conservative justices in 2013 to uphold Michigan’s 2012 vote banning affirmative action policies.

Of course, this is not what conservatives envisioned with majorities in Congress.  Arguably, the 2016 election could have the biggest impact on the court.  If Clinton is elected it is very likely she could replace Ginsburg as well as Kennedy or a conservative justice.  The line staked in the ground via recent rulings would not be viewed as precedent for how far states can go to limit abortions or preserve affirmative action, but rather as a starting point to expand them exponentially.

Trump, if for no other reason he lacks ideological underpinnings of any type, could probably be swayed into appointing conservative justices.  They probably would not be pure on every issue but more in line with the mold of Roberts vs. Alito or Thomas.  Conservatives could probably live with that trade-off.

 

 

 

The Media Really Has No Idea What the Public Wants After Orlando

160612211418-29-orlando-shooting---restricted-super-169
Friends and family of the victims of The Pulse Massacre mourn.

Sunday morning, most Americans woke up (myself included) to hearing about a gunman opening fire on a crowded gay nightclub in Orlando.  The death toll currently stands at 49.  Not content to merely slaughter members of the community, the gunman took hostages and held out for 3 hours until he was killed by SWAT members.

The gunman, positively identified as Omar Mateen,was college educated, an American citizen and Muslim.  He had twice been investigated by the FBI for having terrorist ties but both times was deemed no threat.  The firearms he used, a pistol and a semi-auto AR-15 (the media thinks any rifle is a full-auto) were both purchased legally and he passed background checks with flying colors.

By all accounts, Mateen was clearly radicalized at some point (his father disagrees).  He made a call to the Islamic State during the attack and posted supportive posts of ISIS on Twitter and Facebook before the attack.  It has come out he visited Saudi Arabia twice before the attack.

Such a heinous attack could not be left alone by talking heads or politicians and sure enough the two biggest headliners of 2016, Clinton and Trump, waded in.  Clinton took to issuing a statement of condolence and waiting for more of the facts to come out.  Trump, well, he was Trump.

Trump used his Twitter to congratulate himself on the fact he was right that terror attacks by Muslims will continue.  Soon after though, he issued several follow-up tweets focused on sounding tough on national security and terrorism.  Ironically, the President agrees with Trump for once and said, “Although it’s still early in the investigation, we know enough to say that this was an act of terror and an act of hate and as Americans, we are united in grief, in outrage, and in resolve to defend our people.”

Unsurprisingly, the media condemned Trump’s self-congratulatory comments and came down on the side of Clinton.  Trump’s lack of empathy seemed to be many outlets primary concern.  They appreciated Clinton’s nuanced statements vs. the Donald’s “reckless” calls for banning Muslims and saying the President should resign for not saying this attack was due to Radical Islam.

Here’s the thing.  I don’t think the media has the faintest clue what the public wants or how it will react.  They can read polls and interview people until they are blue in the face but there is limited precedent for what the public will do or how it feels.

However, some observations can be gleaned.  More likely than not the public will gravitate towards the candidate that sounds tougher on terror and Radical Islam (Trump wins there).  A cool and calm approach, manifested over and over by Obama, has been praised by the media but rarely has the public given him high marks on handling a crisis.

This is not an assumption made in a vacuum.  Political scientists have studied the impacts of terrorist attacks on elections and discovered it makes the public act in 3 relevant ways.  First, the public becomes less trusting of each other.  Second, they rally around a sitting executive (witness Bush and 9/11 and Clinton and the Oklahoma City Bombing).  Lastly, they tend to become more hawkish at the expense of civil liberties.

This should benefit the bombastic Trump despite the overwhelmingly negative perception of the media regarding his response.  Empathy is great and all, but empathy does not keep the public safe from external threats.  Nor does it make the threats go away.

Another observation, perhaps more obvious than the first, is that the tragedy will be used as a political tool by both pro-gun and pro-gun control groups.  The Daily Mail, New York’s hometown newspaper, printed a paper with the headline, “Thanks NRA.  Because of your continued opposition to an assault rifle ban, terrorists like this Lunatic can legally buy a killing machine and perpetrate the worst mass shooting in US history.”  Never-mind, he passed background checks and used a semi-automatic rifle, not a full out assault rifle making the Mail’s rant of an article irrelevant.

Pro-gun advocates have not been as stupid in their responses and have kept a low profile since the incident.  At least as of yet they have not blamed the nightclub being a gun-free zone as the culprit.

The Daily Mail is not widely representative of the media but combined with the responses of the many media elites (like Chris Cillizza here) it does form a pattern.  A pattern where their personal opinions bias their responses and their judgement.  In turn, they show they have no idea what the public thinks, will do, or respond when the time comes to vote due to tragedies like Orlando.  As I said before, empathy is great and voters want their leaders to have it, but they also want their leaders to be strong and able to defend them and their loves ones.

 

 

 

How Intellectual Conservatives Have Failed The Average Conservative

Panel left to right:  Margaret Hoover - Political Contributor, CNN, Author, American Individualism, President, American Unity Fund; Bill Kristol - Founder/Editor, The Weekly Standard, Contributor, ABC News;
In this image released by HBO, host Bill Maher, right, talks with Margaret Hoover, left, and Bill Kristol, center, during “Real Time With Bill Maher,” in Los Angeles Friday, Feb. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/HBO, Janet Van Ham)

It’s hard not to notice the level of vitriol from conservative think-tanks, pundits and white-collar conservatives, directed at Trump supporters.  I mean, how can you support such a big government, socially liberal, build a wall, tariff supporting candidate?

Well, the answer is pretty simple.  Trump supporters can because all those think-tanks, conservative media types and white-collar conservatives have failed to make their lives better.  For the purposes of this article the individuals in these groups are what I characterize as the “intellectual conservative” movement.

It is perhaps the ultimate irony that the intellectual conservative movement, the movement that so despises Trump, actively fueled his rise.  Their lack of understanding of not just the issues, but also the very voters who kept them in the halls of power, is personified by Trump’s rise.

Trump’s entire candidacy represents their failure and his success is their shame.  The failure of intellectual conservatives is so complete that conservative voters did not just fall for a moderate to liberal nominee pedaling nationalism but also a nominee who barely put together a single, complete policy (minus build a wall and supporting tariffs against Mexico and Russia).  In fact, Trump ran roughshod over Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, arguably the 2 candidates with the most detailed policy positions.

Indeed, the entire intellectual conservative moment, which was arguably founded by William F. Buckley, was based on  on making the lives of the average American better.  From Buckey’s original pieces to the writings of modern day Grand Masters like Charles Krauthammer, Pete Wehner and David Harsanyi, their ideas are centered around making the ideas of the average American better.  Yet, none of their ideas have become reality.

But let’s back up for a second.  Pundits and talking heads don’t have the power to enact policy.  Like everybody else they can vote in the people they want and write their leaders, but they do not set policy nor direct it.  But think-tanks can.

In the 60’s conservative think-tanks proliferated.  Indeed, they fueled the rise of the right in the early 70’s and through the 1980’s.  These think-tanks, some most cherished like the Heritage Foundation, the CATO Institute and the American Enterprise Institute, formed ideas of economic growth through deregulation and a robust investment in infrastructure.  Voters responded by giving Reagan 2 terms and HW Bush a single term.

Fast-forward to today and you are forced to ponder what any of these thinks have done of late.  Not even of late, but since the new millennium.  Wages have been stagnant since Y2K, economic inequality has risen, fewer people of working age as a percentage are employed than at any time in history, Medicare and Social Security are unsustainable, health insurance premiums climb year over year and the debt is increasing every second of every day of every year.  For all the laws that have been passed since 2000, none have solved any of these issues.

In answer to these vexing issues what has the intellectual conservative movement offered as a solution (crickets)?  Nothing.  While they may have ideas they do not seem to have a clue how to get them enacted.  Indeed, when a conservative Republican actually wants to get one of these problems solved (be it Boehner or Ryan) they are attacked by the very movement that should be promoting their cause.  Witness their response to the Doc Fix.  Or Ryan’s long-term transportation bill.  Both have a direct impact on the average American.  But no, let’s quibble over $30 billion in a single year budget.

Certainly, it makes sense to debate the size of the US budget.  Conservatives elected Republicans to trim the budget down to size.  But the intellectual conservative movement forgets the world they live in is a world different than the average conservative.

The average conservative does not debate the merits of a Healthcare Co-op vs. allowing insurance companies to offer plans across state lines.  Likewise, they don’t debate the finer points of a payroll tax cut vs. taxes on the rich.  But, note a key variable here.  The above are not purely left or right ideas.  A Healthcare Co-op for certain individuals and higher taxes on the wealthy are left of center ideas.  A payroll tax cut and allowing insurance companies to trade across state lines are right-wing ideas.

Now compare this to the world of an intellectual conservative.  They probably qualify as having a white-collar profession, have time to debate the finer points of Healthcare policy and have the luxury of not being impacted by an overburdened Medicare or healthcare system.

In this is the beauty of Trump’s appeal.  Yes, it has nationalistic overtones and the bombastic style of the candidate is a turnoff.  But, when he talks about a set of concrete ideas voters can picture he actually manages to have more credibility than the intellectual conservative movement does.

It does not matter that none of these ideas will come to fruition.  There will not suddenly be tariffs against Mexico.  We won’t build a wall on the border.  We won’t halt immigration for Muslims or establish a database of their whereabouts.  Rather, Trump is an expression of the average conservative’s frustration.

At this point to the average conservative ideology is not a major factor.  Sure, it is to the intellectual conservative (you can’t raise taxes on the wealthy), and younger conservatives brought up to believe it is heresy to suggest otherwise (I was canned for saying this at Red Millennial).  But not to the majority of conservatives (who support Trump).

The failure of intellectual conservatives to understand this fact is compounded by their incredulity that the average conservative could support Trump.  The #Nevertrump movement is full of intellectual conservatives.  But this just shows they have left the conservative rank and file behind.  Conservatives are so desperate for somebody to fight for them that they are overlooking ideological loyalty.

Consider the numerous issues that Trump has broken with ideology on and it has cost him little, if any, support.  On infrastructure spending, Trump laments the despairing state of America’s infrastructure.  On taxes, he supports hikes on millionaires.  Gay marriage, so what?  Abortion, I don’t like it but I won’t fight over it.  He stated such themes numerous times over the course of the primary and he only grew stronger.  True believers like Ted Cruz, Rick Perry and Scott Walker fell by the wayside.

Whereas the intellectual right is shocked that Trump could win a campaign with these views the average conservative (myself included) is not.   It makes sense to secure the border (sorry big business).  We don’t need to fight endless wars overseas for little or no return.  We don’t need to endlessly re-litigate gay marriage.

But where the intellectual movement has failed the worst is culturally.  Intellectual conservatives carry cosmopolitan values on issues like LBGT rights and religious liberty.  They seem shocked conservatives are worried over bathrooms and religious liberty.  Due to their shock perhaps. Trump has filled the vacuum by promising to fight against government overreach forcing people to violate their religious beliefs or letting the Department of Education bully school districts into compliance with veiled threats of withdrawing funding.

It goes without saying that an entire book could be written on how the intellectual conservative movement has failed conservatives.  The refusal of them to acknowledge this fact has only added fuel to the fire.  Ultimately, it led to Trump’s rise and could easily lead to the party conservatives call home becoming inhospitable to the intellectual movement.