Welcome to the 15th issue of The Outsider Perspective, brought to you by The Beltway Outsiders.
Good Friday Morning! We’re 59 days out from the general election. As of Wednesday morning, early voting has already started for some people. NBC hosted a Presidential forum with Matt Lauer that is getting bad reviews from the press. And Trump managed, for 24 hours, not to do anything dumb enough to take Clinton’s bad press away (he’s trying though).
Taking a Step Back: Viewing Trump through the lens of political philosophy and history
Before jumping into the election analysis, I want to talk a moment about an article published in the New Criterion by George H. Nash: “Populism, I: American conservatism and the problem of populism: On the genesis and current trials of the American conservative movement.” I cannot recommend reading this article enough. Nash, for those who don’t know, is the preeminent historian and scholar of Conservatism as an intellectual and political force in America in the 20th century. His book, “The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America since 1945,” chronicles the rise of conservative thought and politics post-WWII. His book should be considered required reading for all students of political philosophy.
In his piece at the New Criterion, Nash writes about the rise of Trumpism and where it stands in the legacy of conservative thought and politics. Modern conservatism, as an intellectual counter to modern liberalism, didn’t truly take form until after WWII and the New Deal. Prior to that, political scientists presumed all Americans were some form of liberal (classical, modern, neo, or socialist/communist). Conservatism rose as a challenge to the socialistic and communistic tendencies of liberalism in the 20th century. It provided an answer to the excesses of liberal thought (Ideas have consequences…).
Conservatism as we know it now, emerged as 3 distinct strands of political thought: 1) The libertarians who defended free markets and capitalism in the face of liberal regulations and central planning, 2) traditionalists who saw secular liberalism as an evil force destroying the moral, ethical, and religious roots of American culture, and 3) the strong defense people (hawks) who were anti-communist and saw the USSR as an evil that should be defeated (the religious right would form a 4th set centered on the issue of abortion that coalesced as a group closer to the 1980’s). As Nash writes in more detail, these groups fused together over time and culminated in the election of Ronald Reagan. Between the threat of communism and the leadership of Reagan, the different strands of thought were bound together. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, there has been no outside force to keep this coalition together. Hence the splintering we see so frequently in the news today. But where does Trump stand in this? He doesn’t. He doesn’t fit at all. Nash writes:
So what manner of “rough beast” is this, “its hour come round at last”? I believe we are witnessing in an inchoate form a phenomenon never before seen in this country: an ideologically muddled, “nationalist–populist” major party combining both leftwing and rightwing elements. In its fundamental outlook and public policy concerns it seems akin to the National Front in France, the United Kingdom Independence Party in Great Britain, the Alternative for Germany party, and similar protest movements in Europe. Most of these insurgent parties are conventionally labeled rightwing, but some of them are noticeably statist and welfare–statist in their economics—as is Trumpism in certain respects. Nearly all of them are responding to persistent economic stagnation, massively disruptive global migration patterns, and terrorist fanatics with global designs and lethal capabilities. In pro-Brexit Britain and continental Europe as well as America, the natives are restless—and for much the same reasons.
Trumpism and its European analogues are also being driven by something else: a deepening conviction that the governing elites have neither the competence nor the will to make things better. When Donald Trump burst onto the political scene in 2015, many observers noticed that one source of his instant appeal was his brash transgression of the boundaries of acceptable political discourse. The more he did so, the more his popularity seemed to grow, particularly among those who lack a college education.
What was happening here? The rise of Trumpism in the past year has laid bare a potentially dangerous chasm in American politics: not so much between the traditional Left and Right but rather (as someone has put it) between those above and those below on the socio-economic scale. In Donald Trump many of those “below” have found a voice for their despair and outrage at what they consider to be the cluelessness and condescension of their “betters.”
In short, Trumpist populism is defiantly challenging the fundamental tenets and perspectives of every component of the post–1945 conservative coalition described in this essay. In its perspective on free trade, Trumpism deviates sharply from the limited-government, pro–free market philosophy of the libertarians and classical liberals. Despite some ritualistic support for the right to life and religious freedom, Trumpism has shown relatively little interest in the religious, moral, and cultural concerns of the traditionalist and social conservatives. In foreign policy it has harshly criticized the conservative internationalism grounded in the Cold War, as well as the post–Cold War “hard Wilsonianism” and distrust of Putinist Russia espoused by many national security hawks and neoconservatives. What Trumpism has addressed, loudly and insistently, is the insecurity and disorientation that large numbers of conservatives now feel about conditions at home and abroad. Whether this will be enough to unite the coalition at the polls (and beyond) remains to be seen.
In other words, the reason Trump and conservatives don’t get along is because Trump is shaking the very foundations of conservatism. He’s using the Republican Party as his own personal vehicle while shaking out conservative ideology. He’s not just another Presidential candidate like Bush, McCain, or Romney. He’s holds none of the values or principles that form a conservative. In fact, he more closely resembles the Dixiecrats who broke off from the Democratic Party in 1948 on the issue of segregation (a large number of his supporters are old blue dog Democrats who were kicked out as the Democrat party lurched further to the left on all issues. Bill Clinton was the last hurrah for this group).
Which is why I disagree with the notion Trump should be supported because Supreme Court nominations are at stake. Trump has shown no indication he’ll follow his “list.” He holds no conservative beliefs regarding the Constitution. He’s made statements about taking steps as President which would be flat unconstitutional. Supreme Court nominees are not at stake. Trump is using that as emotional blackmail against people who truly care for their country. [1. The best example of this was when Trump surrogate and right wing radio talk show host Laura Ingraham started posting pieces on her website bashing other conservatives (notably Ted Cruz) for “Constitution worship.” The piece in question went on to say the Constitution is imperfect and conservatives shouldn’t hold it up as the be all, end all. I, of course, disagree. I disagree with several schools of thought on Constitutional interpretation. But I find the document itself to be one of the greatest examples of limited government in existence. To see why: Read the Federalist Papers (and updated version will suffice to fix the “King James” language some complain of). Both Scalia and Thomas would disagree with Ingraham. But Trump listens to Ingraham, not Scalia or Thomas. Hence why I have no faith in Trump when it comes to SCOTUS nominations (nor do I believe the GOP can “control” Trump into good nominations. Name one instance where anyone has controlled Trump.)]
Election 2016: Clinton fails at a forum, Trump is angering intelligence operatives, and Democrats and Republicans move resources as the battlefield shifts
The NBC Presidential Forum came at a perfect time for Clinton. The FBI released their notes from their investigation into her home-brew server on the Friday before Labor Day weekend (more on that in a moment). By the time people came back from their vacation, the FBI investigation was already old news for Washington reporters. Everyone was looking forward to the NBC Forum with Matt Lauer hosting. Two problems occurred: 1) Matt Lauer was horrible. 2) Clinton showed once more why she’s lost previously: she’s a bad debater, speaker, and can’t connect with anyone. For me, the event only reinforced my belief that Clinton is the one with nothing to gain and everything to lose from the Presidential debates. She should be the one to pull out. Because that’s where she can lose big.
First on the Matt Lauer bashing, Deadline reports:
#LaueringTheBar still was trending this morning as NBC’s Matt Lauer continues to get blistering reviews in the media, old-school and social, for the job he did moderating NBC News/MSNBC’s Commander-in-Chief forum last night. The hashtag began trending Wednesday night on Twitter as the Today co-host wrapped his live Q&A with presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Twelve hours later, it’s trending still.
Lauer has been accused by pundits on both sides of the political aisle of spending way too much time pounding away at Clinton’s email habits as Secretary of State, then rushing her through other topics. When a veteran in the hall asked Clinton how she planned to defeat ISIS, Lauer interrupted, instructing her to answer “as briefly as you can,” so he could get to the rest of his list before his half-hour with her ran out. Lauer was “overly aggressive” with Clinton, to whom he “seemed hostile,” former New York Times media reporter Bill Carter concluded this morning, on CNN.
Meanwhile, Lauer neglected to challenge Trump on several claims, such as his already refuted insistence he always opposed the war in Iraq.
In reality, the anger at Bauer shows media bias. They’re mad at him for challenging Clinton. Frankly, for a reporter, there’s more to cover with Clinton than there is Trump. All of Trump’s warts are out in the open. He’s said everything and flip flopped on every position. Each interview produces more mud. Journalists can say: “Pin him down” or “fact check him” all they want. He’s said everything. There’s nothing new to cover except whatever way he shoots himself in the foot. Clinton has not provided the same depth. Clinton has avoided the press like the black plague. And now we’re seeing why: she implodes. And we see how the press will react after she implodes again, inevitably, in the debates: they’ll attack the moderators.
Clinton should have been questioned harder. She’s the one who was under FBI investigation for mishandling classified intelligence. She’s the one claiming she’s the most qualified person to ever run for President. If you make these claims but struggle mightily to back them up, that shows failure on your part. Instead, Clinton depends on her staff claiming hard questions are sexist or the FBI “miraculously” deciding not to indict. You don’t get to claim to be the best to ever run for a position and then act shocked when people try to poke holes in that assertion.
As the Wall Street Journal astutely pointed out: It appears the FBI showed political favoritism towards Clinton in their investigation (google the title if a paywall comes up):
The closer we look at the FBI’s investigative file on Hillary Clinton’s emails, the more we wonder if Director James Comey always intended to let her off the hook. The calculated release before the long Labor Day weekend suggests political favoritism, and the report shows the FBI didn’t pursue evidence of potential false statements, obstruction of justice and destruction of evidence.
There were several avenues the FBI could have pursued to see if Clinton destroyed evidence. The Clinton emails show there was a meeting and after that meeting Clinton’s server started having its content deleted. While under subpoena. The House Oversight Committee is now investigating that angle. But the surprising issue for all involved is this: The FBI chose not to investigate these angles and never bothered to check the veracity of Clinton’s claims. This is inexcusable.
Clinton and her backers in the media can complain about Lauer’s treatment all they want. The end result is this: someone has to question her on what happened because no one else has. Blaming a moderator doesn’t change that problem.
Extra point: Both liberal sites Vox and MotherJones ran pieces decrying the use of “weaponized FOIA.” Yes. You read that correctly. In defending Clinton, liberals now complain government transparency should be scaled back. In the process, as Reason Magazine astutely points out, these sites have no idea how FOIA laws work. If you see people floating these ideas around on social media, the Reason link provides the best rebuttal I’ve seen. Government transparency is not a problem. We need more transparency, not less. Also, I do not believe it is a coincidence these sites posted similar arguments on the same day. Getting the same messaging ideas together the same time that a high profile forum happens for your preferred candidate isn’t an accident. It’s a plan.
Trump angers intelligence community and may have divulged classified information
During the Forum, Trump claimed he intelligence officials were mad at the Obama administration and he learned that from a classified intelligence briefing:
The Aug. 17 briefing is attracting fresh scrutiny after Trump said at NBC’s Commander-in-Chief Forum that he divined that intelligence officials were “not happy” with President Obama.
“What I did learn,” Trump said, “is that our leadership, Barack Obama, did not follow … what our experts said to do … And I was very, very surprised.
“I could tell — I’m pretty good with body language — I could tell they were not happy.”
NBC News went on to interview intelligence heads and operatives about these statements:
Current and former U.S. intelligence officials who asked that their names not be disclosed told NBC News that many members of the current intelligence community — leadership rank and file — were angered by Trump’s comments Wednesday night, and the possibility that he may have disclosed details of his intelligence briefing or attempted to politicize it.
Hilary Clinton of course jumped on this and criticized Trump for potentially endangering classified intelligence. The irony of which apparently eluded everyone on her campaign.
There are 2 problems here: 1) Trump allowing Michael Flynn into these intelligence briefings, 2) Trump is making enemies out of an intelligence community that is already sick of the current administration.
First, Michael Flynn’s presence is highly troubling, as is his behavior, as the same report above states:
Meanwhile, four people with knowledge of the matter told NBC News that one of the advisers Trump brought to the briefing, retired general Mike Flynn, repeatedly interrupted the briefing with pointed questions.
Two sources said Christie, the New Jersey governor and Trump adviser, verbally restrained Flynn — one saying Christie said, “Shut up,” the other reporting he said, “Calm down.” Two other sources said Christie touched Flynn’s arm in an effort get him to calm down and let the officials continue. Requests for comment from Flynn and Christie were not immediately returned.
Flynn already has deeply suspicious ties to Russia. He favors closer ties to Russia and an acceptance of Putin ideas in foreign policy. There are also open questions as to whether or not he’s received money from Kremlin propaganda outlet RT. Seeing him needle US intelligence officials is highly concerning. If Flynn is going to question the veracity of US intelligence while pushing a Pro-Putin agenda in a Trump White House, this is bad for the US. There’s no way around that point.
Second, the sad point here is that the defense and intelligence community should be easy votes for the GOP this election. Numerous outlets have reported how politicized the Obama administration has made intelligence gathering. Intelligence operatives have openly complained that they’ve been forced to cook the reports on what is happening on the ground. And politicians have indicated the same problem when evaluating reports in Congress. Bringing order back to the intelligence community should be an easy process. But Trump is complicating matters by purposely alienating this group. It’s shocking to see. Especially since this is the one group of people who know how bad Clinton’s email scandal really is for America.
The Senate Battlefield Continues to Shift: Big GOP Fundraising month and Democrats are backing off in Ohio and Florida.
Democrats continue to pull ads and money out of the Ohio Senate race. They’ve also started moving money out of Florida and Colorado. Presumably, Democrats are working under the presumption that Ohio and Florida are money black holes right now. Those races will likely be decided by how Trump fares in November. Colorado is less competitive for the GOP with Trump at the top of the ticket. So that’s a money saving move. DailyKO’s gives their best estimate on where Democrats will move next:
Back in the spring, the DSCC and SMP announced a combined $19.5 million in Ohio reservations; by our back-of-the-envelope math, they’ve since cancelled $6.7 million, leaving them with $12.8 million. Perhaps the most interesting question now is where this money—plus another $5 million no longer needed in Colorado … —will head instead. If Democrats are looking to bring additional races online, the most promising options would be in North Carolina, Arizona, and Missouri. If instead they want to try shoring up existing tossups, then they’d look to Pennsylvania, Florida, New Hampshire, or Nevada.
As I wrote last week, Republicans have seen some of that money appears in ads against their House candidate in North Carolina. I’d expect more there and in Nevada. No doubt the GOP will look to solidify positions in Ohio and Florida. But they aren’t falling behind in money. They also have new resources pouring in. GOP Senate candidates and PAC’s brought in a massive $42 million haul in August, considered the slowest of all donation months. This is huge and underscores two points.
First, donors do not believe Donald Trump is going to win the race. The massive haul for Senator Mitch McConnell aligned groups underscores this point. The GOP establishment and donor class is moving to save the Senate while Trump flounders. Trump may have narrowed the gap in the polls just in time for Labor Day, but money speaks louder. Donors aren’t lining up behind Trump. They’re lining up behind the Senate. That they did this in August also shows how attentive GOP donors are to the race. August is normally a very slow donation month.
Second, I wrote for several weeks how Labor Day weekend would be the moment of truth for the GOP and Trump. Donors moving away from Trump and towards the Senate underscores this point. But given how the polls have narrowed, it has bought Trump more time. I don’t anticipate the closeness to hold. There are ebbs and flows in the polls and right now the ebb is towards Trump. With new money coming in to the Senate races, the GOP isn’t as desperate to cut and run from Trump. But don’t be surprised to see individual candidates distance themselves from him.
It’s worth noting something else here too. The GOP is solidifying Senate positions in states where Trump has attacked the GOP Senate candidate. Trump has attacked the GOP Senate nominee in OH, NH, and FLA (among others). Yet, while Trump struggles in these states, the Senate candidates are not struggling and run ahead of Trump in the polls. If this holds, it proves a second point: money and voters are siding with their Senators over Trump.
Is it possible for Trump to win with money flowing away from him? Yes. It is. He won’t self-fund his campaign. That ship has sailed. And he’s being severely outspent by the Democrats. But it is possible. But his hopes hinge on Clinton imploding. I believe that can and likely will happen in the debates. The odds of Clinton winning a debate are small. Trump will hit her on the one thing Bernie Sanders refused to hit her: the emails. That story is dead weight to her campaign and she doesn’t have an answer for them. She also hasn’t taken enough questions from the press on them to make it old news to them. Small plane gaggles aren’t enough.
Clinton continues to lie about Libya
During the NBC Forum, Clinton made a claim she’s said repeatedly on the campaign trail regarding Libya: “We didn’t lose a single person” in Libya. She touts this as a success because Libya isn’t as big of a mess as Syria currently. Clinton conveniently narrows her definition of success and lives lost to only the NATO intervention in Libya in 2011. Nothing else happened after 2011 according to this narrow view.
But if you hold her to her full claim, that Libya is a successful picture of US foreign policy, you see a different result. First, The US has indeed lost lives in Libya. The most glaring example is in the attacks on the US Embassy in Benghazi that killed 4 Americans. Clinton’s narrow definition lets her avoid this period of time when 4 Americans were killed, despite nearly 600 requests and concerns over security problems to Clinton’s State Department from the Benghazi embassy.
Second, Libya is hardly the success Clinton claims. After the initial ouster of Gaddafi, Libya descended into anarchy. In that vacuum, ISIS was allowed to grow and metastasize. Clinton’s “smart power” was bombing a country’s government into the ground and then doing nothing to rebuild or help the people. ISIS, seeing an easy place to grow, took over vast swaths of the countryside that the US has had to spend billions in uprooting. Clinton deserves every bit the blame for this as the Obama administration.
When George W. Bush invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, he did so with the knowledge we would have to stay and rebuild the countries. His administration didn’t fully understand the scope and price that would incur, but the understanding was there. The US would have to do something on the backside. Clinton had none of those calculation with Libya. Her smart power is: “bomb and run.” Which, as history has shown, creates more problems. It’s created anarchy in Libya and encouraged a humanitarian crisis in Syria. But she continues to lie about it all.
At the G-20 Summit, Obama unable to negotiate deal to stop Syrian chemical weapons
The Washington Post reported this week that Obama and Putin met at length on negotiating a new agreement in Syria. Nothing came of these negotiations. This shouldn’t be surprising given that Obama gave all leverage in Syria over to Putin in the first agreement and now has no means, outside sanctioning Russia (which I doubt he ever does), of influencing Syria. The Washington Post included this important section as well:
The collapse of a deal comes as a major new Syrian-Russian offensive in the besieged city of Aleppo appeared to undermine key components of the proposed agreement.
On Sunday, after an anticipated news conference did not take place, Kerry told reporters that his negotiations here with Lavrov snagged on “a couple of tough issues” — nearly identical to the language he used when the two failed to reach agreement in their last meeting, just over a week ago in Geneva.
Kerry, with approval from Obama, traveled to Moscow in mid-July to propose an agreement under which the United States would share intelligence and coordinate its bombing of terrorist targets with Russia if Moscow would agree to ground the Syrian air force and stop its own bombing of U.S.-backed opposition forces.
Russia has complained of increasing overlap between the opposition and terrorist groups on the ground, and it said it was up to the United States to separate them before a deal could be struck. U.S. failure to do so has allowed the Russians to claim they are targeting only terrorists of the Front for the Conquest of Syria — or Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, the al-Qaeda affiliate formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra — and the Islamic State.
In short: Russia is using the deal being broken to continue to bomb US backed forces in Syria to help further entrench their friend, Assad. The same Assad the administration continues to say needs to go. Russia is ensuring Assad stays and the US backed forces are defeated. That’s not the policy of a country interested in a negotiated agreement.
Other foreign policy stories to note:
Obama’s failures in the Middle East are affecting his Asian pivot, allowing the Chinese to act with impunity in bullying US partners in the region. Also explains why the Chinese sought to specifically slight the President during his visit. – Bloomberg View
Soviet Era documents suggest that Mahmoud Abbas, PLO President, was a KGB agent in the 1980’s. News is released ahead of talks between the PLO and Israel being brokered by Putin. Will likely strain any new plans Putin tries to accomplish. – NYTimes
Two of the biggest stars in the military, James Mattis, celebrated retired Marine General, and Anthony Zinni, retired 4 star Marine General, both say the current administration’s strategy on ISIS is wrong – Time Magazine
Obama is being outmaneuvered in Syria by Russia. And that is pushing NATO ally Turkey into Putin’s arms. – The Daily Beast
Russia is launching major military drills and maneuvers near the Ukrainian borders meant to unnerve and scare Ukraine. – Real Clear Defense
How China built the “NATO of the East” and is using it to push the US out of the region and coax US allies to join China – The Cipher Brief
US Troops are being deployed into Afghanistan, 1,400 troops from the 101st Airborne to be engaged in counter-terrorism operations, and Iraq, forces are approaching nearly 5,000 total as the battle for Mosul looms. – Military Times & Reuters
The August Jobs Report
The Good: The top line number was the US made 151,000 jobs in the month of August. It’s lower than the previous months, but we’re currently still averaging 232,000 jobs a month over the past 3 months. These are good numbers that need to continue. The Labor Participation Rate also remained steady, though at stubbornly low levels.
What to keep an eye on in the job market: jobs are plentiful, but people aren’t being hired. The WSJ explains:
One of the labor market’s biggest mysteries just got deeper: The number of job openings available at the end of July climbed to a new record of 5.9 million. Yet the number of people actually being hired into one of those jobs was 5.2 million for the second month in a row.
The number of unemployed workers per job opening has fallen to 1.3, the lowest since 2001. What would normally sound like good news—abundant jobs—is tempered by the fact that people simply aren’t being hired into the positions at rates like in the past. About 300,000 fewer people are being hired each month compared with the pace reached in February. And during the entire economic recovery, the U.S. has yet to notch a month of hiring that matches the pace seen at the heights of the middle of last decade or the early 2000s.
In other words, jobs are opening up easily. But hiring rates are not matching the job openings. So why is this occurring? The leading theory is that there is growing skills gap in the job market:
Many theories have been offered to explain the gap between job openings and actual hiring. It could be workers lack the skills for available jobs or that employers have become too picky, or that available workers and available jobs are in different geographies. The debate is far from settled, and the Jolts report doesn’t provide enough detail to reveal the answer. It does provide some insight into trends by industry. These show a sharp split that may help explain why many openings are going unfilled.
The number of job openings for professional and business services and for health and education services have reached substantial new highs in recent years. The number of job openings in manufacturing and construction, by contrast, remain below their levels of a decade ago. This lends some support to the idea that openings are going unfilled because workers don’t have the right skills.
This is, admittedly, a two month trend. But if it continues, the next debate we will see in Congress will be about closing the skills gap. There are two ways to close a skills gap: 1) Retrain current employees to do new jobs. This takes time and money. 2) Hire immigrants abroad who have the skills already and convince them to immigrate here. This requires money. If employers start clamoring for more employees, expect Congress to raise legislation addressing these two points.
Why the skills gap issue could matter sooner, rather than later
Economists are increasingly predicting higher odds for a looming recession. Currently, a survey of economists finds that recession odds are at about 1 in 5 odds right now. This is double the odds of previous years when the rate was largely unmoved. Why the larger odds? The US is twice as likely to enter a recession the year after an election than it is at any other time, according to economists who study such trends. If a recession occurs with a growing skills gap, it means even more people are going to be unemployed and unable to get work because they lack skills to get into jobs that are needed in a recession. Something to keep in mind for 2017 and beyond. Congress could be paying for an immigration overhaul and a jobs retraining program in the near future.
What I’m reading
I recently ordered Nabeel Qureshi’s book “No God But One.” I haven’t gotten a chance to read it yet. But I did get a chance to read Nabeel’s piece in the Huffington Post, in advance of the book: “ISIS is Killing US Because We are Not Muslim.” It’s a short article, but in it Nabeel discusses the reasons ISIS states they kill Americans and other non-Muslims, using ISIS’s own words in their latest magazine issue. If you have any doubts as to why ISIS exists or fights, this should put those doubts to rest.
Also, please be sure to keep Nabeel in your prayers. He recently discovered he has stomach cancer with low odds of surviving. I know he and his young family covet your prayers.
Thanks for Reading!