29 March 2016

Ted Cruz Demands The Media Discuss His Mistresses

Ted Cruz gives yet another lesson on how to turn a non-story into a story.

The Daily Mail asked Cruz to put the National Enquirer sex scandal story to rest and state specifically that he'd 'always been faithful' to his wife Heidi. Instead of saying that simple statement, allowed surrogate Carly Fiorina to rail at the putative injustice of "dancing to Donald Trump's tune."

Can there be a more bizarre, cringeworthy, and thus newsworthy response to what should be a simple straightforward question?

No matter the journalistic ethics (or lack thereof) of the National Enquirer, Ted Cruz has been accused by that publication of multiple adulterous affairs and sexual liasons. Instead of rebutting the charges simply and directly, Ted Cruz has

  • Denounced the story as "garbage".
  • Said the story was an attack on his wife, Heidi.
  • Attacked Donald Trump and his "henchmen" (despite the media reporting the likely origin of the story was the Rubio camp).
At no time has he said whether or not he has been unfaithful to his wife.

As Rick Sanchez of Fox News notes, the National Enquirer story is not an attack on Heidi Cruz or their daughters, but on Ted Cruz himself. Calling the story an attack on his wife is a bit of disingenuous distraction. 

Moreover, it is not Donald Trump accusing Ted Cruz of multiple infidelities (one hopes Donald, whose marital track record is hardly perfect, would know better than to commit that particular hypocrisy), but the National Enquirer. Other than calling the story garbage, Ted Cruz has said very little about the tabloid directly, preferring to go after Trump in each response to the story's allegations. Calling such behavior bizarre is an understatement to say the very least. Were this unfolding in a courtroom, with Cruz testifying from the witness stand, one can almost hear the attorneys lambasting his diatribes as non-responsive and asking the judge to direct Cruz to answer the question.

In an equally bizarre episode, when one of Cruz' alleged mistresses, CNN contributor (and former Cruz staffer) Amanda Carpenter, was challenged directly on live television by pro-Trump Boston Herald columnist Adriana Cohen about the allegations, her response was to "lawyer up":
What’s out there is tabloid trash. If someone wants to comment on it, they can talk to my lawyer. It’s categorically false. You should be ashamed for spreading this kind of smut. Donald Trump supporters should be held to account for it.
What Ms. Carpenter, who is married, did not say, is that she had not had an affair with Ted Cruz. The lawyerly parsing of words certainly gives the appearance of the spirited denunciation sought by Ms. Cohen, but closer scrutiny shows considerable wiggle room with regards to the specifics.

As Rick Sanchez succinctly said at the beginning of his op-ed column on the l'affaire Cruz:
If the National Enquirer wrote a story about me cheating on my wife with five women, I had better be extremely definitive in my response; because if I’m not, my wife –smelling the guilt – would kick my ass.
Both Ted Cruz and Amanda Carpenter have spouses. Neither has been "extremely definitive" in their responses. Rather, both Cruz and Carpenter have, at every turn, sought to turn the story onto Trump. Thus a story that Cruz does not want discussed remains legitimate material for the media to discuss.

In 2008, the New York Times published an article alluding to an affair between Senator John McCain and lobbyist Vicki Iseman. Both McCain and Iseman denied the allegations, and thereafter refused to discuss the matter. The story died out soon after, and the New York Times had its own ethics questioned for the way it sourced and presented the story. Cruz and Carpenter have done the exact opposite.

Bizarrely, and probably suicidally, Cruz demands the media discuss his mistresses. For whatever reason, he deems this a more meaningful and relevant story for the campaign trail than his stances on the various issues.

27 March 2016

Hillary Clinton's Inevitable Victory? Election Returns Say Otherwise.

Edward Luce, of the Financial Times, has declared the 2016 Presidential election over except for the shouting, and declared Hillary Clinton the winner in a blowout victory--an amazing feat, given that the actual election itself is still six months away.

Luce' argument is that Donald Trump is the odds-on favorite to be the Republican nominee, that Hillary Clinton is assured of being the Democratic nominee, and that Donald Trump cannot help but lose horribly to Hillary Clinton in the general election. 

The first leg of his thesis is admittedly fairly sound. Donald Trump leads the Republican field, and is the only candidate with a plausible chance of securing a majority of delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot. 

The second leg of his thesis is slightly less certain, given that Bernie Sanders swept the 25 March primary contests in Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii by huge margins (his narrowest victory was in Hawaii, where he won over 69% of the popular vote), and has now bested Hillary Clinton in the last 5 of 6 state contests. Hillary remains in the lead in both overall popular vote and in overall delegates, but in terms of the number of states each candidate has won, the race is far more balanced. Thanks to the Democratic party's large number (712) of so-called "superdelegates"--delegates not bound to any candidate but free to vote however they choose--the nomination remains within the grasp of either candidate. 

The third leg of his thesis, however, suffers from some rather significant cognitive dissonance. While innumerable polls point to a myriad of problems Donald Trump presumably will encounter with various voter demographics, all polling is at best a projection of future behavior--respondents are telling pollsters how they will vote, not how they actually have voted. Actual vote totals in the Democratic and Republican primary contests thus far paint a far different picture of how the as-yet hypothetical Clinton-Trump matchup would go.

Here are the actual numbers. These are the total votes cast in both the Democratic and Republican primaries through 25 March 2016.

  • Hillary Clinton has received 8,924,920 votes out of 15,323,340 Democratic votes cast.
  • Donald Trump has received 7,811,245 votes out of 19,783,685 Republican votes cast. (Actually, the total Republican vote is underreported as Real Clear Politics, my source for these figures, is no longer reporting vote totals for candidates who have dropped out after the primaries began: Ben Carson, Chris Christie, and Jeb Bush).
  • Ted Cruz has received 5,732,220 Republican votes.
  • Donald Trump has received more votes than Hillary Clinton in the following states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, Tennessee, Utah, and Vermont.
These are raw numbers, without any filtering, editing, or normalizations applied. They do not take into account, for example, that up until the most recent primaries, Donald Trump has led the field in a four-way race while Hillary Clinton has only had to run against Bernie Sanders. There is no weighting given to the argument that Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are fairly close in terms of policy proposals and ideology, and are jointly grouped by the commentariat as "insurgent" candidates. There is no prognostication of the impact of the "Bernie or Bust" movement among Democrats, asserting that if Bernie Sanders is not the nominee his supporters will not vote in November (or possibly might defect to likely GOP nominee Donald Trump).

With the primaries a little more than halfway done, Republicans have convinced over 4.4 million more voters to the polls and caucuses than the Democrats. The Republican turnout edge is equal to just under half of Hillary Clinton's vote total.

On the raw numbers alone, Donald Trump trails Hillary Clinton only by 1.1 million votes overall, although he outpolls her in twelve states.

On the raw numbers alone, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz combined outpoll Clinton in all but four states (Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Minnesota), and their combined vote total exceeds that of Hillary Clinton by in excess of 4.6 million votes--a vote margin that exceeds the Republican turnout margin. If only half of Ted Cruz voters are added to Donald Trump's total, Hillary Clinton prevails in only two more states, Louisiana and Virginia.

If one follows the commentariat model of counting Trump and Cruz as insurgent candidates, it is not unreasonable to presume that, come the general election, supporters of whomever of the two is not the nominee will support the other. Certainly the two are not far apart on such matters as immigration, healthcare reform, and confronting terrorism and radical Islamic jihad.

Regardless of what polling prognosticators predict, based solely on votes cast thus far, the most optimistic scenario for Hillary Clinton is a close race and likely a photo finish in the popular vote, with maybe a slightly larger edge in the Electoral College. But scenarios where Donald Trump wins convincingly in both the popular vote and the Electoral College are not at all unreasonable.

Hillary Clinton might win in November. So might Donald Trump. Neither candidate is assured of victory, and it is foolish of the commentariat to suggest otherwise.

Donald Trump: Foreign Policy Heretic, Foreign Policy Visionary

In addition to rocking the political firmament in Washington with his full throated championing of American workers, Donald Trump is also breaking with many long standing Republican orthodoxies on foreign policy.

Donald Trump's foreign policy can be summed up in two words: America First. He says this openly and proudly--the New York Times quotes him as saying "Not an isolationist but I am America First....I like the expression."

I like the expression, too. I like the notion of an American President who will champion American interests, and not global interests.

Why should we keep troops on the border between North and South Korea? North Korea is a pariah nation, and even its sole sponsor China is not going to blithely go along with any military adventurism south of the 38th parallel. The 38th parallel is no longer a front line in the battle against Soviet expansionism; the historic rationale for a continued military presence does not apply--either devise a new rationale or bring the troops home.

Likewise Trump is correct to question NATO. The NATO alliance was both a reaction to the Second World War and to the rise of Soviet expansionism in the immediate aftermath; NATO's own official history states that "the Alliance’s creation was part of a broader effort to serve three purposes: deterring Soviet expansionism, forbidding the revival of nationalist militarism in Europe through a strong North American presence on the continent, and encouraging European political integration". 

The Soviet Union is no more, and Putin's Russia is a problematic threat, given its shrinking population and shrinking economy. Europe is already politically and economically integrated--some would say too much so. Neither France nor Germany--the leading political and economic actors in Europe--show any appetite for military adventurism on the continent or abroad. Against what threats do US troops stationed in Europe guard? And exactly whom are they guarding--Europe or the United States?

Moreover, as Brussels tragically demonstrates, the NATO alliance does nothing to stop ISIS from exporting terror into the western world. NATO has not stopped jihadist attacks in New York on 9/11, in Madrid and London in 2005, nor in Paris earlier this year. As an alliance predicated on mutual defense and protection, NATO is failing its members horribly against the enemy of radical Islam. Trump is right: NATO is obsolete.

US military adventurism in Iraq under Bush and Libya under Obama has not turned out at all well--sobering realities that speak to the limits of what military power can achieve: US military might is formidable, but no military can build nations ex nihilo, and no military can impose democracy on a people from without. US military muscle can topple dictators--and Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi were unquestionably dictators--but it cannot create stable governments to take their place. For all the seeming electoral successes in Iraq in the years following the US invasion in 2003, without US troops the artificially created regime in Baghdad quickly lost credibility and legitimacy, and is now too weak to confront ISIS militarily even on Iraqi soil.

Challenging these assumptions does not make Trump an isolationist. It does make him a realist. And it calls to mind George Washington's warning in his farewell address two centuries ago against entangling foreign alliances; they were dangerous then and they are dangerous now. Not every foreign crisis calls for the sacrifice of American blood and treasure. Not every foreign crisis is a significant threat to America or American interests.

Contrary to the "experts" of the establishment, "America First" is a vision of foreign policy. It means to measure each foreign engagement, each foreign alliance, each deployment of troops in foreign lands, against the cold objective yardstick of how these things benefit the United States. Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute is wrong to say "'greatness' is not a foreign policy"; in fact, it is the only foreign policy stance worth having--it is the stance that says "engage where it benefits America and disengage where it does not."

The duty of the American government is to advance the interests of the American people. Donald Trump is the only candidate willing to say that, and willing to do that--loudly and proudly.

26 March 2016

Cruz' Response To Scandal: Blame Donald Trump. Seriously

In answer to the somewhat rhetorical question of how much should we care about a Ted Cruz sex scandal come hints that the Cruz campaign knew this story was about to break.

One thing is certain: allegations of Ted Cruz' serial infidelities have been a background whisper in the GOP primary campaign for months. Indeed, it is highly likely that Marco Rubio spurred the National Enquirer on, and not Donald Trump. This does not mean, and should not be taken to indicate, that the allegations are true. At the present time, the only material presented in support of those allegations is the National Enquirer story, and the truth of that story must be judged on that basis.

But it speaks poorly of Ted Cruz that his best response with week of advance warning was to attempt to snare Donald Trump in this web of sleaze. Not only does that do little damage to Donald Trump, but it raises the possibility that Ted Cruz used super PAC money to buy silence from staffers for the Carly Fiorina campaign, and that Liz Mair's foolish trolling was a cynical diversionary tactic by Cruz to take the sting out of the story when it finally broke.

If true, we again come back to the truism that the coverup is always worse than the original sin. Adultery is not an attractive quality in a political candidate, but collusion between candidates and super PACs is a violation of election law.

By his response, Ted Cruz, far from putting the matter behind him, has raised instead more questions--and more damning questions--to be answered.

Ted Cruz: Not Missing Any Opportunity To Miss An Opportunity

At the end of this summary explanation of our voyeuristic fascination with the sex lives of politicians comes a challenging question: what if Ted Cruz is innocent?

If he's innocent, then the National Enquirer has printed factually false information with the clear intent of defaming him. If he is innocent then the National Enquirer owes him both an apology and significant monetary damages.

But regardless of whether he's innocent of adultery or not, what he is guilty of is stupidity. Regardless of whether the National Enquirer story is true or not, it was both foolish and clumsy to give the story a life of its own by wrapping it up in its own anti-Trump packaging. By making the story part of the larger campaign rhetoric between him and Donald Trump, Cruz made a discussion of his private life a legitimate public interest.

Back in 2008, the New York Times ran a poorly sourced story hinting at an affair between Presidential contender John McCain and a Washington lobbyist. McCain issued a simple, terse, and swift denial of the allegation, and thereafter refused to comment further. The story went nowhere fast, because without ongoing response by McCain the story had no staying power.  

This is the second time in as many weeks that Cruz has missed an opportunity to show his statesmanlike side. The first was his failure to come out swiftly in condemnation of Liz Mair's ugly implication that Melania Trump did not deserve to be First Lady; he could have seized that moment to rise above politics and defend the larger political principle that wives should be off limits, period. The National Enquirer piece likewise was a chance for him to show a cool head under fire, and a determination to press ahead with his agenda, and not get moved off message by salacious gossip. 

We should not care overmuch if Ted Cruz has committed adultery. We should, however, care about how Ted Cruz handles a crisis, be it personal or political--and so far, he handles crises very badly.

Donald Trump: Crude, Crass, But Correct

Milo Yiannopoulous makes an excellent case for why Donald Trump's over-the-top rhetoric might actually be necessary and even therapeutic for American politics--and perhaps even American culture as well.

Yiannopoulos definitely has a point that political discourse in this country has largely devolved into an endless cycle of claims of grievance. Legislation is passed, and entitlements granted, not on the basis of national interest, but simply to appease a particular demographic over their hurt feelings regarding a real or imagined slight of some kind. Even issues upon which common sense suggests there should be broad consensus--e.g., national security, the state of the armed forces, the efforts of police to enforce the laws--have been consumed in the language of grievance: when it matters less whether or not the United States military can defeat all comers and more that it is sufficiently "inclusive" to various putatively maligned groups, an important dialog on how to defend this nation has come seriously off the rails.

Donald Trump's language is hyperbolic, boorish, crass, vulgar, and rude. What it is not is hateful, racist, sexist, and xenophobic. What it is not is dangerous--unless one traffics in the politics of grievance. To the establishment aristocrats and the political left, who are heavily invested in such politics, Donald Trump is most emphatically an existential threat.

Donald Trump is demonstrating almost daily that the establishment emperor truly has no clothes. By stripping away the artifices of politically correct language, he has revealed an appalling truth about the political establishment--they really don't know what they're doing. They aren't responding to ISIS, they aren't confronting the harsh economic realities of unemployment and stagnant wages...and they aren't because they don't know how.

The most glaring proof of their total incompetence? This late in the election cycle and they still haven't found a response to Donald Trump that works.

21 March 2016

Only One Moral Response To "Stop Trump" -- Stand With Trump.

Would that everyone could and would do as Tuscon police officer Brandon Tatum, and attend a Donald Trump rally for himself or herself. A little more due diligence on the part of the voting public might shift the narrative dramatically. If Brandon Tatum's observations are in line with behavior of rally attendees and rally protesters overall, the measure of responsibility Trump must bear for violence at his rallies must decline if not disappear.

Consider first the legal framework: 

Donald Trump rents a facility in which to hold a rally. He coordinates the security measures with the local police, and does all of the other tasks associated with holding an event. While the event may be "open to the public," as most rallies are, it is still very much the affair of a private citizen. Donald Trump is well within his legal rights to call for the ejection of anyone breaching the peace even in protest; indeed all political candidates have that right. 

There is no legal right for protesters to breach the peace at any rally; there is no moral right for protesters to breach the peace at any rally. A person's right of free speech is always bounded by the dividing line between public and private spaces. The right of free speech does not extend into entering a political opponent's rally and disrupting the proceedings; such conduct is a breach of the peace, a breach of decorum, a breach of common decency. It is wrong, at every level.

There is no right for protesters to engage in acts of violence. None. It does not exist. Obviously there is no right for rally attendees to engage in acts of violence. None. It does not exist.

The other part of the First Amendment is the right to peaceably assemble.

Against this backdrop we have the report of Brandon Tatum. We have a report of protesters using obscene gestures in front of rally attendees. We have a report of protesters hurling insults, obscenities, and a sordid array of vulgarities at rally attendees.

I will note that I have not attended a Donald Trump rally myself. I merely have the word of Brandon Tatum, and the reports in the news media covering Trump's rallies. Still, I take note of what is not being reported regarding Trump's rallies:
  • There have been no reports of people leaving Trump rallies and physically or verbally attacking people.
  • There have been no reports of Donald Trump suggesting either explicitly or implicitly that people initiate acts of violence.
Imagine, if you will, that the setting was not some political rally but your own living room. How much of such behavior would you be willing to tolerate from guests in your house? What level of force--which is to say what level of "violence"--would you be prepared to use to remove guests who indulge in such behavior from your house? What level of force--which is to say what level of "violence"--should you be allowed to use to remove such guests?

If people disagree with Donald Trump, or take issue with his choice of words, then they should protest. That is not only their right but their duty as engaged, involved, citizens of this republic. Such protest should be celebrated and respected even by those who disagree with it. That is the "American way", that is how civil discourse should be.

But the Trump protesters are shouting nothing but hatred, spewing nothing but filth. They are the very thing Trump stands accused of being--violent, even fascist, demagogues. That deserves not celebration but contempt, merits not respect but ridicule.

If I were not already a Trump supporter, opposition to such malignancies would demand I become one. There is but one moral response to those wishing to "Stop Trump" -- stand with Trump.