Somewhere in this great land there is a psychiatrist or a marriage counselor, or maybe just a Dr. Phil, who can help us get through this election season. It really isn't about Hillary or the "out of gas" Democratic Party. The presidency was the Republicans' to lose and they are on the brink of seizing the chance: seventeen choices - more if they needed them; a legitimate undercurrent of rejection of the political establishment of both parties which has lost track of working class America and has created chaos in the Middle East; a candidate with media skills who caught the mood. But good faith conservatives have been caught in months of cycling between an abhorrent statement, a week of individual rationalization - what did he really say?; is there an underlying truth? what if Hillary wins?; maybe he'll grow into the position - and then another abhorrent statement. Some were crassly-stated repudiations of political correctness, but the spiral is downward. What is the committed conservative to do?
There are two answers:
1. Forget the presidential election and concentrate on other campaigns.
- Most of us are engaged in politics because we believe in a set of principles, and that our participation in the process can help advance our community, the state, or the nation. Writ large, it is not clear that Donald Trump adheres to the same set of principles, that his election would serve their furtherance, or that he is capable of running a successful national campaign.
- Since the advent of President Obama the Republican Party has achieved astounding electoral success - strong control of the House; control of the Senate; 31 governorships; over two-thirds of the state legislatures. Voters across the country have rewarded Republican candidates with down-ballot success when they have advocated for financial prudence, limited government, individual liberty, and respect for their fellow citizens.
- Over time, the Republican Party reflects those principles. A party united behind Trump, as currently manifested, must abandon key principles. It's soul is lost, and with it, its legitimacy. The answer is to separate the party from Trump - he has won the nomination, but the party needs to protect itself.
- The quixotic search for a third party candidate has confused the issue. The better answer is that of the Koch brothers and the Chamber of Commerce - devote your emotional energy and resources in a positive fashion to electing Republicans to other offices, particularly the Senate.
- Firm control of Congress would serve as a brake on a President Clinton. It would be able to put forward Paul Ryan's budget and tax agenda as well as generally conservative policy initiatives. The worst of Supreme Court judges and others requiring Senate confirmation can be defeated.
- Now that the primaries are over, most polling will show a rising Hillary and a declining Trump. Only Trump can change that trajectory. Beyond the public positioning, Trump needs to quickly build a campaign organization - fundraisers; field staff; public relations experts - and he has done little of that to date. If he does not change his tone and develop a campaign organization, those engaged in conservative politics owe him nothing.
2. Pray for redemption.
- Trump's underlying themes of "America first" and support for the middle class resonate. It is the tone of the messenger that is the problem.
- Beyond the need to just behave presidential, it would be impactful to make and adhere to a few simple policy pronouncements:
-- America's trade, tax, and regulatory policies must be restructured to foster the development of well-paying middle class jobs. Fill in the details or let Paul Ryan do it. The tone must not be about punishing people for past wrongs; it is about building a better future.
-- Immigration must be managed for the benefit of the people of the United States. The greatest nation on earth is made up of immigrants seeking opportunity and liberty who have chosen to assimilate.
-- Our foreign policy - economic, political, military - will be based on what is good for the United States and our strategic allies. We will not try to right all of the wrongs in a turbulent world.
- If Trump can stay with these themes he deserves the support of Republicans and will receive the support of a large number of independents and Democrats. If not, he will lose and risk substantial damage to the Republican party.
As we enter the next phase of the campaign, Clinton's many advantages will be obvious - her prodigious fundraising capability, her well developed national campaign organization, an adoring media, her gender. It is a critical moment for Trump's amateur "outsider" campaign. Reince Priebus might be able to get him home, but Trump urgently needs to get on the reservation. Otherwise, legions of loyal conservatives will choose Option 1 above.
This week's song, "I Think My Dog's a Democrat" by Bryan Lewis, offers a lighter moment - courtesy of a regular San Francisco reader and friend.
bill bowen - 6/10/16