Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Democrats' Dilemma

Hello, operator? I'd like to make a collect call to Debbie Wasserman Schultz...

As Naked Dollar readers know, I am a big fan of prediction markets, where real people bet real money on political (and other) outcomes. They aren't fool proof, but they're better than polls, and they offer the best probabilistic look at the future based on the current fact set. And sometimes, they offer fascinating insights.

Take this one.

Right now, there is a an 86% chance that Hillary will win the nomination, meaning there's a 14% chance that she won't. (Interesting, given that she's already declared herself the winner.) But there's also a 34% chance that she will be indicted before the end of the year. That means, math fans, that there's a 29% chance (.86 x .34) that the Democrats will nominate someone who will then fall under indictment, or they will knowingly nominate someone who's already under indictment.

When they say there's never been a cycle like this one, they aren't kidding.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Solving Harvard's Club Problem

Sometimes, it's amusing to watch when the insane logic of today's liberalism trips up on itself, which is often. This Dixon Diaz cartoon offers a nice example:

Sometimes, a simple cartoon says as much as any 1,000 word editorial, doesn't it?

And now we have the progressive fiasco at Harvard, where President Drew Faust has decided that sexual assault is a huge problem. 

(Never mind that the rise in campus assault is directly correlated to the broadening of the definition of the word itself to include things like "unwanted staring.")

Her culprit? The final clubs, which tend to be all male. 

(Never mind that 75% of the "assaults" happened in dorms.)

Her solution? As much as she'd like to just ban the clubs, they are not officially part of Harvard, and they are not on college property. So, she has banned any member of said clubs from holding a leadership position on campus and will deny members recommendations for prestigious scholarships like the Rhodes. 

(Never mind that the clubs don't publish their member lists, so the school will have to rely on snitches. Holy Stasi, Batman! Modern liberalism requires a lot of never-minding, doesn't it?)

So, my Harvard friends, many of whom were in these evil clubs (along with two of my brothers), I have the solution. Actually, this comes from an old friend, who also attended:

Each club should have one member volunteer to identify as a woman.

This is bullet proof. Liberalism has decreed that you are what you feel, especially when it comes to gender. Just watch this video to see just how far this notion has spread on the typical college campus:

So, if a member of, say, the Porcellian Club says they're a chick, it can't be questioned. Presto, the whole club is off the hook.



Thursday, May 5, 2016

Republican Sophisticates: Time to Get Over Yourselves

"I could never vote for Trump."

I hear this a lot. I'm not talking about Democrats here, but Republicans, particularly of the educated, northeastern, country club variety. The sort that like Kasich. For this genus, voting for Trump is declasse, a lowbrow act. And they would rather see Hillary Clinton be the next President of the United States than have their sophistication be questioned.

I have one thing to say to these people, many of whom are my friends: get over yourselves.

Let me say first that at no point in the primary process did I support Trump. In fact, he wasn't even in my top ten. I am also well familiar with all the issues surrounding him. He's ideologically vacant. He cheats at golf. He's said a lot of awful things about women. He's a bombastic cartoon character. I know these things. But sometimes elections are the lesser of evils, and the alternative is far, far worse:

Here's what your pride will get you, my snobby friends:

  • the Supreme Court, lost for a generation
  • Obamacare, with us for good, with "fixes" that will cost even more
  • Obama's executive orders, untouched
  • higher and ever more complicated taxes
  • a continued growing of the state

I could go on, but do I need to? The first bullet point alone should stop you in your tracks. Hillary has suggested these two people would make just excellent Supreme Court justices:

But what will Trump do? Interestingly, he has provided more clarity than most give him credit for...

Taxes.  His tax plan is pretty damn good. Four brackets, maxing out at 25%. No Alternative Minimum Tax or marriage penalty. 15% business taxes. No more death tax. If Trump did nothing other than institute this plan, his presidency would be a success. Will he make it a priority? Hell if I know.

Obama's Egregious Executive Orders.  He's promised to rescind them.

Immigration.  We all know this one, but Trump's right, something needs to be done. My local school is being inundated with illegal children who don't speak English, and I live in the New York suburbs, not El Paso. I don't know of a single Republican who opposes robust legal immigration, but we're all tired of being called racists for opposing the illegal variety. Will a wall work? I don't know, maybe not, but it's for damn sure the entire issue will be addressed.

Obamacare.  He says he'll repeal it. Hopefully, he means it. Hillary will only double down as the scope of the disaster becomes clear.

Trade.  I don't like Trump on trade, not one bit. Nobody wins in a trade war. A few years ago, I would have taken Hillary on this one, but like on so many things, she's shifted positions, and now she's about where Trump is...No winning on this one.

Entitlements.  Here's another one where I think Trump is nuts. He says he won't touch Medicare or Social Security. Well, someone will have to, because they're going to be insolvent. Problem is, Hillary will be even worse on this one.

Foreign Policy.  Trump seems to be following Cruz's lead here: intervene only when there is a critical national interest at stake. No more nation building. Seems fairly sensible. Hillary, on the other hand, will likely follow left's instincts of late, which is to intervene only when there isn't a national interest at stake.

The trick here is figuring out what Trump will make a priority, other than immigration. I'm not sure even he knows. But, on balance, there's some good stuff. He could - could - make a good president. What are the odds? Certainly less than 50%, but Hillary is 100% guaranteed to be a disaster, and not simply on policy grounds. There's the sheer weight of her corruption, the personal and professional conflicts, the shrillness, the...oh, you know, Clintonness

She said this a couple of days ago to an out-of-work coal minor, who brought up her promise to eviscerate the coal mining industry and the jobs that go with it:

"What I said was totally out of context from what I meant."

Only a Clinton could dream up a phrase like that. What does it even mean? Taking something out-of-context is something other people do to you; you don't do it to yourself! The sheer national exhaustion that will ensue as the months roll by of a Hillary administration is depressing to contemplate.

I don't know how we got here, either. This was supposed to be the year that conservatives won their party back. Instead, nationalism trumped conservatism. (See what I did there?) Part of me is pleased to see that it's possible in modern America for a non-politician - in particular, a businessman - to become president. But did it have to be this particular guy?

No matter, this is the choice we have, and sorry, there's no sitting it out because that's half a vote for Hillary. So, my erudite friends, suck it up and pull the lever. 

You can tell us all you held your nose.

UPDATE: Trump just said he want to raise taxes and raise the minimum wage, reversing earlier statements and undermining the tax plan that's actually on his website. Not promising, but, again, Hillary will do both those things too. Also note that a GOP Congress will never agree.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Coming Wonkasm

I'm a spreadsheet guy, and I just went through a little exercise. I wanted to see how close Trump may come to nailing down the nomination on the first ballot. I went through the remaining states and tried my best, using a combination of polls and educated guesses, to allocate the remaining delegates. This also involved sifting through the primary rules for each state, which are complicated to say the least.

Here's where I came out: Trump wins 1227 delegates, 10 short of the number he needs. 

Holy crap.

Mind you, the Trump campaign has blundered lately, and I didn't fade his numbers accordingly, so I'm guessing my projection is slightly optimistic for Trump.

So here comes a contested convention. Here comes the Wonkasm.

Sober voices said it could never happen. Hah! This is the day for which political wonks and pundits have pined like teenage boy for Miss April.

It's understandable, of course. Conventions have become such dull affairs, at least since 1976. The media wants something to do other than search for good bars in Cleveland. 

They want something fun to write about while they search for good bars in Cleveland. 

Then, there's the fact they want the GOP to crash and burn. A crazy-ass convention increases the odds. Their dream scenario is an tumultuous battle royal, punctuated with some old fashioned violence perpetrated by paid agitants from the left (shh!).

They will likely get their way. Here's what likely happens at a contested convention: 
  1. Trump falls slightly short on the first ballot
  2. all hell breaks loose inside the convention hall
  3. liberals break things outside the convention hall
  4. Cruz wins
  5. Trump loses
That last part deserves some explanation. 

There are those that still have this fantasy that Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney will descend, all deus ex machina, to save the day. Or maybe what' me out here...oh, yeah, Kasich. A lot of people are buying this. In fact, there's actually a one-in-three chance in the betting markets that one of these three guys will be the nominee.

Not going to happen. Rule 40, passed in 2012, says you can't be the nominee unless you win the majority of delegates in at least eight states. Does anyone think this year's delegates will revoke this rule to anoint a guy who didn't run in a single primary or participate in a single debate? Not a chance. (Irony alert: it was Mitt and his people that actually jammed this rule through in the first place.)

So, it's Trump or Cruz. And I can tell you that while Trump is out there playing the media game, the Cruz ground game specialists are working the inside game hard, specifically the actual delegates. Many of Trump's, when released, will switch to Cruz. It's hard to imagine many at all going the other way. 

Plus, Rubio will likely throw his 149 delegates to Cruz. (Probably Kasich, too, although who knows what goes on in his head.) Plus, the establishment now seems to have settled for Cruz. They hate him, and they certainly tried to rationalize Trump (he knows how to make deals!), but Trump's unpredictability, particularly of late, makes him untenable. They can at least understand Cruz.

So look for all forces to be aligned against Trump.

While the punditry will be writing about this for years, it's hard to argue that any of this is good for the GOP. Cruz may very well make a fine candidate, but that doesn't change the fact that Trump's voters will be pissed. Best case, lots of them sit out the general. Worst case, they go vote for Trump as an independent. 

But just when you think all is lost, there's this...

EDIT: Cruz just won 36 of Wisconsin's 42 delegates, which is exactly what I had in my spreadsheet. More importantly, though, he won by an astonishing 13 points. This gives Cruz considerable momentum, making a contested convention even more of a sure thing.

Monday, March 7, 2016

The GOP Race: Making Sense of It All

Holy crap, did I just hear that right? Did Donald Trump actually talk about the size of his penis? With his kids in the audience?

Yes. Yes, I did, and yes he did.

Decades from now, they will write books about this campaign, and study it in school. We just don't know how the story ends. One thing is clear, though: Trump has lowered the bar on accepted discourse, much as shows like The Jersey Shore lowered the bar on our culture. Can we ever go back? Is this a pendulum, or an endless trend line? Judging from the perspective of my lifetime, it seems the latter. My daughter is working on a paper for school on Calvin Coolidge, and one can only imagine the horror with which Silent Cal, a man for whom reticence was an essential virtue, would have have reacted to all this.

Still, here's where I come out on Trump. Despite his bombast, ego-centrism, puerility, and, well, hair, I think there's a slight chance he might make a good president. I'm told he surrounds himself with good people and much of this is for show. Maybe. His tax plan is actually quite good, but who knows, really, if he'd make it a priority, or even remember what it was. But if he did, that alone might make a Trump presidency worthwhile. Let's put the odds of his being a good president at 25%.

There's an equal chance he would be a complete disaster. I don't think I need to expound on all the ways it could go wrong. 

Then there's a third scenario, the one no one talks about because it's less interesting, which is that he's an inconsequential celeb-president, a la Arnold or Jesse Ventura. Lots of talk, little action. I give this a 50% chance. Feel free to fiddle with my numbers.

So here's the thing. If I'm right, it means there's a better than even chance Trump won't be a disaster, at least from the perspective of a conservative. Hillary, on the other hand, is a sure-fire lock, a 100% chance of being a horror show of corruption, mindless progessivism, and just Clintonism

Trump appalls me, but Hillary does the same and more. A thousand times more. Like a super nova of awfulness next to a red dwarf. We may face the worst choice of candidates in my lifetime, eclipsing some other bad vintages like Nixon/McGovern and McCain/Obama, but a vote for Trump is an easy decision.

Which brings me to Romney. Some of what he said was on-the-money, and some was way over the top. Either way, he had no business saying any of it, certainly not this late in the process. We need to beat Hillary (or, God help us, the angry Marxist from Burlington). We need to beat her with whomever the base nominates. I don't need to tell you all the reasons why. Obamacare, the Supreme Court, tax policy, etc. Romney just made one long commercial for Hillary's campaign. Hell, she can call off the oppo research, because our own guys are doing it for her!

It's interesting how in years where the GOP establishment gave us dogs like Dole, McCain, and Romney, we were told to suck it up and get in line. Now, tables turned, the mandarins have no interest in returning the favor. They scream at the base, but the base is screaming back a thousand times louder. The death throes of the elite are not pretty to watch, and it appears they would rather burn down the whole house rather than let Trump have a shot of beating Hillary. Screw them.

Which brings me to Cruz, the only other viable candidate at this point. There was an interesting development Romney's screed when he said he would support Rubio, Kasich, or...Cruz. Not a lot of people took notice, but this is the first acknowledgement by the establishment that they could support Cruz, albeit if Trump was the only alternative. The feckless Lindsey Graham also conceded, grudgingly, that he would choose Cruz over Trump. This is a change.

Cruz campaign, are you listening? Now is the time to mend bridges with the establishment. Your man's anti-establishment cred is well earned and will not be tarnished for a little outreach. Embrace me, you will say, for I am the guy you hate less.

The race is far from over. Trump has 391 delegates to Cruz's 303. 1237 are needed to win, so we're only in the second or third inning. Cruz slightly outperformed on Super Tuesday and significantly outperformed on Saturday, even picking up Maine, about the last place one would expect. Momentum is on his side.

Still, if Trump wins the winner-take-all states of Florida and Ohio, he will be difficult to stop. Let's hope he doesn't.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Myth of the Underpaid Teacher

This is a letter I sent to my local paper yesterday that I thought I would share:

To the Editor:

I am writing in response to Mr. Monchinski’s letter asserting that Bedford Central teachers are not overpaid. A couple of years ago, I did something I wouldn’t wish on anyone: I read through the entire 115-page teachers union contract. I wanted to understand why my property taxes were so extraordinarily high relative to the rest of the country. I found out.

Allow me to lay out the facts, and then you can decide for yourself. For starters, it’s not difficult to make six figures a year – simply hanging around will get you the necessary raises, which come every six months, regardless of performance. Teachers are also only contractually required to work only 181 days a year, versus about 240 for the rest of us. But they also get 15 sick days, four personal days, and five bereavement days. Unused sick days go into a “bank” which pays out on retirement.

There is extra pay for everything imaginable. Coaching sports, monitoring recess, helping with plays, etc. (all the things private school teachers are expected to do as a normal part of their jobs). My personal favorite: $1,339 for monitoring the juggling club.

The big enchilada, though, is retirement.  Teachers get 70% of their peak base for life, which typically works out to about $85,000 a year (not taxed by the state, incidentally). Retirees also get excellent family health benefits, worth at least another 16k a year. To get all this, they are only required to cover 15% of their health.

Live another 25 years, and that’s a cool $2.5 million. They have an excellent chance of living that long, too, because they get to retire at age 57, Discounted at 4%, the package is worth a cool $1.6 million. It’s the same as being handed a $1.6 million fully-funded IRA on the day you retire, courtesy of the taxpayers.

These are the facts. They are purposefully buried in a complicated contract that few ever read. Mr. Monchinski’s primary argument seems to be that there are teachers in other New York District paid even more than here. Notice he says nothing of, say, nearby Connecticut where teachers – and taxes – are significantly lower.

We were trained for decades to think that teachers were underpaid, largely because they were. That time has passed.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The SCOTUS Vacancy Will Become the Defining Issue of this Cycle

To say that politics is inherently unpredictable is an understatement, but it's never more so than this cycle, where we may actually be staring into the face of a Sanders/Trump election. And just when we thought that national security would be the cycle's defining issue, it isn't. The unfortunate death of legal giant Antonin Scalia leaves us with an open Supreme Court seat, and the battle over this will be huge. 

And it won't favor Republicans.

If the vacancy had been, say, Ruth Bader Ginsberg's seat, this would all play out differently. There has been a tendency in recent years to view certain seats as "owned" by one side or the other, and by tendency, I mean that Republicans totally roll over when the vacancy is owned by the other side.

But this is the seat vacated by a giant of Constitutional conservatism. The left can hardly contain its excitement. And make no mistake, Obama will nominate someone of the Sotomayor/Kagan ilk. Those suggesting he might pick a moderate for the sake of an easy nomination process have surely been asleep for the last seven years.

This is going to get really, really ugly, and every presidential candidate will be drawn in. There has never been a presidential election with an open seat on the line, and this seats holds the balance of the court. Cruz has already said he will filibuster any nominee. It will come down to the GOP Senate, a ship captained by Mitch McConnell, someone who has shown no appetite for conflict with the White House. For now, he says he will block a vote. We'll see how he holds up when the left turns up the volume, and Obama uses the bully pulpit to gin up outrage. Unions will do their part also, as there's a huge case pending that affects their power to collect dues for political advocacy (Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association).

McConnell will be under massive pressure from all quarters, which doesn't bode well for those who want the next president to choose Scalia's successor.

How does this affect the presidential race? In my view, it's a slight advantage for Democrats. Most people think of the Supreme Court in terms of social issues, and sure enough there are pending cases on things like abortion and affirmative action. Look for the Dems to key off these issues, particularly abortion. The abortion case pending (Whole Women's Health v. Cole) rules on a fairly technical issue, but that won't matter. Look for Dems to turn the vacant seat into a social issues referendum. This is bad for Republicans, who would much rather see this cycle be about national security and the economy.

This is just getting started.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Emerging, Populist, Cruz Narrative

One of the more remarkable, and under-reported, political developments this campaign season is that Ted Cruz is actively opposing ethanol subsidies. Philosophically, of course, Republican should oppose subsidizing any industry. Subsidies mean your playing favorites in the marketplace, something no Republican, at least no conservative, should ever do.

And yet, almost all do, because they like to buy votes. To be fair, the GOP isn't a party entirely based on vote-buying, like the Democrats, but that doesn't mean they are guilt free. In particular, Republicans with presidential aspirations have always shown enthusiastic support for ethanol, a circumstance rising from the fact that ethanol comes from corn, and Iowa grows lots of corn.

No one can ever win Iowa without sucking up to the farmers, the conventional wisdom goes. So, every four years, a parade of GOP hopefuls sell their free market souls on the cheap to a single industry in a small Mid-Western state. If they're willing to do that, what other conservative principles are they willing to sell out once they get in office? Lots, if recent GOP history is a guide.

No wonder the base is as angry as a hornet's nest at its own party. The Karl Roves and Jeb Bushes are still getting their arms around this.

Enter Ted Cruz. He is visiting every county in Iowa, and he is actively opposing the very issue Iowans are said to hold most dear. And he's winning. A van full of protesters, paid for by the ethanol lobby, harasses Cruz at every campaign stop, but no matter. Previous presidential hopefuls were unwilling to trust that Iowa Republicans value a principled position more than another four years of the government teat. It appears they are. How wonderful is that?

Should Cruz win Iowa, he will have a powerful case that he won't sacrifice principle for political expediency. He will further say that he opposes oil & gas subsidies, something that hurts him in his home state, sugar subsidies, something Marco Rubio supports because he takes money from the sugar barons, and all the stupid, market-distorting green subsidies favored by Obama. In fact, no subsidies of any kind. The government shouldn't play favorites.

All this ties into a bigger narrative: anti-cronyism. When the government plays favorites in the marketplace, the winners of federal largess turn out to be - hold on to your hats - big campaign contributors. Ending subsidies will do away with all that. Want to succeed? Produce something that people want.

Let's take it a step further. Cruz wants to eliminate our current tax code. As I've written about before, the tax code is our nation's single biggest source of corruption. In short, companies donate money to politicians and get favorable tax treatment in return, always buried deeply somewhere in the code's 75,000 pages. (This is called crony capitalism, but I hate that term, because playing favorites has nothing to do with capitalism, which is all about a level playing field. It should be called crony federalism.)

Do you see where this goes? Cruz can then unite his tax policy and his anti-subsidies policy under one theme, one that favors the little guy over fat cats and special interests. It's very populist, and it's one that should appeal to the Occupy types as much as the supply-siders. Yes, I know, it's a theme that almost sounds trite because just about every politician tries to sound this way.

But here's the thing: none of those politicians went to Iowa and opposed ethanol subsidies. You have to walk the walk.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Why I Love the Cruz Tax Plan

Note: The following is an email I wrote to a liberal college classmate who asked my why I liked the Cruz tax plan. He did some research himself, and cited this New York Times article, which I refer to in my response.

Dear Xxxx,

The first thing you should know is that we're on the same side, in the sense that we want the same basic things. No one wants to see people suffer, although my guess is you would make the social safety net a bit bigger than I would. (Mine is smaller not out of meanness, but because I worry about how moral hazards can keep people poor.) Where we differ is that I don't see the government as an effective solution to just about anything. It's inefficient, and has its own agenda. It's poorly incentivized, and rarely accountable. If anything, it tends to only worsen problems it tries to solve. There are other, better, ways, none of which involve coercion, as government solutions must. You fear any Republican will dismantle the New Deal and Great Society, but you should want them dismantled because they have been failures at the very things they set out to do. And yet, we still have the TVA, the FCA, etc. (The FDIC can stay, that one's good.) Think of the good those trillions of dollars could have done had they been better allocated.

On to taxes. I love Cruz's plan for many reasons. It massively shifts incentives towards work, savings and investment. These things increase economic growth and nothing is better at solving societal problems, particularly poverty, than economic growth. It eliminates the estate tax. I'm sure you like that one, but it collects relatively little money, breaks up family businesses, and causes the wealthy to jump through ridiculous legal hoops to minimize its impact - a huge waste of time and resources, where society is concerned.

I used to live in Hong Kong, where they have a 15% flat tax. It is wondrous. I literally spent 5 minutes on my taxes. Places like Singapore and Russia (the irony!) are also having great success with flat taxes. (It works because it's simple. And because of the lower nominal rates, compliance goes through the roof.) Last year, I had almost no taxable income (such is the startup life!), and yet my tax return was 113 pages. What a phenomenal waste of time and money! A flat tax will save millions of hours and billions of dollars in preparation work. And imagine the psychic benefit to our nation of not having an IRS. Cruz is proposing a 10% rate, but I suspect that is a starting point for negotiation. Most countries that have a flat tax are in the 12-15% range.

The 10% tax on repatriating foreign cash for corporations will bring trillions of dollars back home, a win for everyone as that money gets reinvested in America. It's doing no one any good right now, and the only reason it doesn't come home is that we have one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. Capital flows to where it is well treated, and it always will.

One of my favorite things, and one where you might agree, is that eliminating traditional corporate income taxes will eliminate our country's biggest source of corruption, which is the tax code itself. This is something Cruz always points out. There's a reason the tax code is 75,000 pages long - companies hire expensive lobbyists who get legislators to carve out special exemptions in the code, all in exchange for campaign contributions. And this is all legal! Most call it crony capitalism, but I don't like that term because there's nothing capitalistic about it. Rigging the game is precisely the opposite of free enterprise. It strikes me that this is where economic conservatives, like me, and Occupy types might have common ground. The only way to get rid of this plague on our society is to scrap our current code. It can't possibly be repaired.

Cruz's plan is radical, indeed, as the Times points out, if one's starting point is our current code. It's not radical at all to the many countries that do something similar. The Times author seems to be singularly focused on the corporate VAT part of the plan. I will admit, that I have always been leery of the VAT, but only because it represented a second tax regime. The last thing we need is a VAT and an IRS. To me, that doubles the potential for political chicanery. But, Cruz's plan eliminates the IRS entirely, so the VAT becomes palatable. I like the VAT, because like any cost you impose on a business, it tends to be spread around to a lot of parties - shareholders, management, employees, and consumers. This is true because it's unlikely that businesses will be able to pass through 100% of the costs. They rarely can, as the market won't bear it. But yes, it tends to be a consumption tax.

But, in trying to think why a liberal might like the VAT, I would say it's because it taxes the very activities by the 1% that they might find objectionable - the yachts, the fast cars, and the like. The more you spend, the more you're taxed. On the other hand, if you don't spend, the money is invested into the economy where it creates growth and jobs. It's numbers on a brokerage statement to you, but a job to someone else. Culturally, the VAT will incentive the rich not to act like assholes. I like that part too.

Where I will disagree vehemently with most liberals is this: the tax code is not there to carry out anyone's views of social justice. It is there to raise money for the operation of the government. Social engineering is a dangerous and ultimately corrupt game. But, really, if you want to rich to pay more, you should cheer lower rates. This is the part the drives me nuts about liberal logic. Did you know that after Reagan cut rates (from 70 to 28!), and after Bush II did the same, the rich paid both a higher percentage of tax receipts as well as more absolute dollars that everyone else? This happened because growth accelerated, they worked harder, and they shifted assets away from tax shelters. There was also likely far less cheating, although that's harder to document. Hurrah, right? Isn't having the rich pay more what the left wants?

Nope. The left only seems to focus on what rate people pay, not the amount of dollars they pay. This is because they are focused on their perception of social justice, not the actual results.

Sorry for how long winded this was, but as you can tell, I'm fairly passionate on the subject. Not because I want to save money on my taxes next year, but because I feel strongly there is a moral imperative to do something like what Cruz is suggesting.

And, the person who authored Cruz's plan is none other than (another college classmate). He and I have been talking about this stuff for years. You know both of us, so I assume/hope you know that we are not animated greed on this subject. Nor are other conservatives I know, for the record.



Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Rubio vs. Cruz (Oh Yeah, and Trump)

Barring something shocking, the race for the GOP nomination, having started with every known (and unknown) Republican, is really down to three people: Trump, Rubio, and Cruz. This is an interesting outcome, because none of these guys is AAA-Certified by the establishment. (Rubio may be closer than any, but I'm sorry, no.) The establishment, normally a king-maker in GOP primaries, has already lost, which is quite delicious. Heads are exploding.

Trump continues to lead in the polls, although real-money prediction markets have Rubio and Cruz ahead. Personally, I have no idea at all whether Trump can prevail. Anyone who tells you otherwise should be banned from punditry.

How to sum up Trump? His demeanor is highly unpresidential, which frankly appeals to a lot of people right now. We've had some pretty bad presidents with very presidential demeanors, but personally, I don't think that presidents should make faces and use the word schlong. Plus, the man is ideologically scattershot, and I'm just not willing to gamble on his policy preferences. Perhaps most importantly, I have more than one source that say he cheats at golf. Golf is the only sport where you call infractions on yourself, so cheating is held in the worst possible regard. Presidents should not be cheaters.

I will concede that I wish there was some parallel universe where Trump was president and I could go live there for a few months, just to see. But I'd have to be able to come back. Pretty sure I'd want to. 

Trump, to me, represents a primal scream from the base. It feels good, let it out. Move on.

Which brings us to the two candidates most people I know are wrestling with, Rubio and Cruz. What an interesting coincidence that both are Cuban-American, not that this fact will count for much with the left. It counts about as much as it counts that Clarence Thomas is black. It does, at least, negate the diversity argument, and undercuts the history-making aspect of Hillary Clinton's candidacy.

Both men are quite conservative. You'd have to go back to Reagan to find a GOP candidate as conservative as either. There are differences, though, and Cruz is the more perfect fit for me, ideologically. His tax plan is better (awesome, to be precise), he vows to eliminate five entire federal departments (be still my heart), and his foreign policy views are a welcome departure from recent GOP history. Further, one senses he's less prone to Beltway Disease, that strange affliction to causes politicians to seek encomium from the New York Times (he's grown in the office...).

My hesitation over Cruz, until recently, was born of the fact that he seemed less electable than Rubio. In my liberal part of the country, even some of my moderate GOP friends get a viscerally negative reaction when Cruz comes up in conversation. I always challenge them as to why, and they never really have a specific reason, not anything to do with policy, anyway. They just don't like him.

I attribute this to two things. First, the media has done an excellent job of casting Cruz as some kind of right-wing lunatic. Mind you, all Republicans have to be either stupid or crazy, and since Cruz can't plausibly be called stupid, they're running with crazy. "He's the most hated man in Washington," a friend of mine, who's editor of a major political journal, told me.

The other reason is a bit more base, which is that Cruz has a nasal speaking voice and looks a bit hang dog, particularly on television. People think they're above judging candidates this way, but I think it's just human nature. (In person, he's much better, but that matters not.)

But back to the media. To borrow from Obama, let's be clear: the media is going to completely eviscerate the GOP candidate no matter who it is. Exhibit A is John McCain, the media's "favorite" Republican. Because McCain frequently bucked his own party - he's a maverick - the scribes all had nothing but nice things to say, right up until the moment he was the nominee. Then they turned on him like piranha on a drowning cow. Remember how they floated bogus stories about alleged affairs? It was ugly.

Few things drive me crazier than when Republicans say we can't nominate so-and-so because the "media will crush him." They're going to crush any of them, so we might as well nominate whom we want. They crushed Reagan (dumb actor, dangerous cowboy), they crushed H.W. Bush (out-of-touch, elitist, doesn't know what a checkout scanner is), and they crushed W (dumb, probably a drunk). The three of them won five elections anyway. Don't get me wrong, the media has a huge amount of influence, probably five points worth, but that shouldn't have any bearing on who we choose.

As far as Cruz being unpopular inside the Beltway, well, as I told my editor friend, in some precincts that's what you put at the top of your resume. Cruz himself points out that the DC establishment, including the GOP, hated Reagan "with the heat of a thousand suns." He dared primary a sitting president (Ford) in '76, and then he beat establishment darling Bush in '80. A then he beat a sitting Democrat, Carter. And he was an actor. The hatred was evenly spread on both sides of the aisle. 

And yet, he got things done. Lots of things. He did it by selling his ideas directly to the public. I remember well his prime time address pitching his radical idea to cut marginal tax rates from 70 to 28. You think Tip O'Neill was on board with that? He hated the idea with every fiber of his being, but eventually had to go along because Reagan built up so much public support. In a nutshell, this is Cruz's plan.

But back to electability. I have always subscribed to the Buckley Rule, which is to vote for the most conservative candidate who can be elected. My completely unscientific assumption had been that Cruz's unpopularity with my RINO friends would cost him two points in the general versus Rubio, and that this would lead to defeat. The electoral map is too blue to concede two points. Hello Hillary.

I have changed my mind, and I actually think Cruz has a better chance than Rubio. I base this on three factors...

First, Cruz has staked out some interesting ground on foreign policy. He has come out very much against the Bush/neo-con idea of intervention-for-the-sake-of-democracy-building. Our recent history in the Middle East has taught us - including me - that this is a fool's errand. Cruz only wants to use the U.S. military when there's a vital U.S. interest at stake. After the exhaustion of Iran and Iraq, this is a view likely to be welcomed by the voting public. Rubio, on the other hand, has cast himself quite thoroughly as an enthusiastic interventionist in the mold of Bush/Cheney.

Interestingly, Cruz has the chance to position himself to the left of Hillary in this regard, unless Hillary wants to completely repudiate her entire political career, which she probably will.

Second, the voting public right now is pissed about immigration. It is an animating issue. Rubio, having joined the Gang of Eight, will have an impossible time differentiating himself from Hillary on this one. It takes the issue off the table, not unlike Romneycare taking away the healthcare issue from Romney in '12.

Third, there's the evangelical vote. The key to any GOP win has never been about winning independents - Romney crushed with independents and still lost to Obama - but rather turning out conservatives, who consistently make up 40% of the country. To get conservatives, you have to go to where the numbers are, and that's with evangelicals. Cruz himself points out there are 90 million evangelicals, a stunning number that I confirmed for myself, and they vote overwhelmingly Republican; that is, when they vote. They didn't show up for Romney, who had an uneasy relationship with them from the start. The plain fact is that no GOP candidate will win without enthusiastic evangelical support. (Sorry, northeastern supply-siders, but there just aren't enough of us to elect a president.)

Cruz has assiduously courted evangelicals, and it is paying off, particularly in Iowa, where he is poised for a win. Rubio is nowhere in Iowa. I will note that the necessity of winning this group causes Cruz to say some culturally conservative things that will disquiet my northeastern friends, but we're not going to win New York anyway. Bottom line, we won't win at all without evangelicals, so you're going to have to trust that what really animates Cruz are things like eliminating the IRS.

One more thought: Cruz has come out against ethanol subsidies (and all subsidies, for that matter). This is a courageous act, considering the Iowa caucus, and demonstrates he is a man of principle.

Cruz for president. That's where I come out.