Saturday, March 5, 2016

I Do Not Think Those Words Mean What You Think They Mean

There's an article on Five Thirty Eight from a couple of months ago (recently posted by a friend) that calls Rubio a moderate, and implies, albeit with caveats, that Trump may do better among conservatives. 

Well, I took umbrage. Maybe its because Ive heard and read too many things along these lines.  Maybe its because I respect and appreciate 538s work with math, and therefore hate to see a friend be inaccurate.  In any case, I feel the need to get this point off my chest.

As a lot of people have already noted (including, to give them their due, Five Thirty Eight elsewhere): Donald Trump is not a much of a conservative. I’m not going to spend much time attacking Trump’s conservative cred here, since that’s been done (see links above, or go find your own).  But I will briefly make the case that Rubio is not a moderate than conservative (on which matter Rush Limbaugh agrees with me).

is one of the top searches to pop up when I put in
“Donald Trump is conservative” should tell you something. 
Also, to ye olde Catholics out there, let me propose a new way of judging
a candidate’s  “conservatism”: the Chesterton test.  What would
Chesterton think of your policies … or your candidate?

On social issues like abortion, gay marriage, and religious liberty, Rubio and Cruz—the “moderate” and the “conservative”—have pretty similar positions.  Trump’s flaked all over the place on these matters; not many people trust him to hold this conservative line when it matters—for example, in nominating our next two or three Supreme Court justices.

On matters of defense, all three of the top tier candidates are more pro-foreign-intervention than, say, Rand Paul.  But while their attitudes on this issue are problematic from a libertarian perspective (and probably would earn denunciations from Chesterton), that hardly qualifies them as “moderates” in the eyes of most ordinary Americans, who tend to equate military interventionism with conservatism and caution with liberalism.  Once again, this means it’s hard to paint Rubio—who’s positioned himself as tough on Iran, North Korea, Russia, China, the Middle East, and of course Cuba; and who’s advocated a strong military—as a moderate on defense.  One can argue that his position on Syria is misguided (and possibly unChestertonian?? but then again, rebels ...), but hardly that it’s unconservative (unless, again, one takes a libertarian definition of the term).

Taxes and the economy?  Don’t make me laugh.  Yes, Rubio likes families in his tax code—so much so that Steve Forbes has kinda, sorta, maybe endorsed Trump, presumably as being more favorable to business.  But since supporting families is actually a conservative enterprise, and since Rubio’s economic positions in general are conservative, I fail to see how this particular foible (which it isn’t) makes him a moderate.  He’s against raising the minimum wage, preferring wage subsidies as a way of helping poor individuals and families; he’s said that the War on Poverty demonstrates a failure of Big Government; he’s spoken favorably of how church and community used to take care of neighbors in need; he’s spoken in favor of extending the Bush tax cuts and simplifying the tax code; he wants to make life easier for small business; he’s supported balancing the budget.  He is, in other words, for a smaller federal government, while still wanting to retain enough of a social net to protect the poor and encourage families.  This all sounds fairly conservative (Chestertonian?) to me.

Immigration?  Not even really there.  Yes, Rubio was involved with the Gang of Eight bill, despite his promises to be tough on illegal immigration.  But anyone paying attention to Trump’s actual immigration plans, as opposed to his rhetoric, should recognize that touch-back is essentially amnesty by another name.   Meanwhile, Rubio—despite his swivel, which is certainly cause for concern—is talking about favoring skilled immigrants, has expressed concern for legal immigrants waiting in line, and has promised strength on border control.  He flip-flops on this issue, but at the moment he’s flipped back to a more conservative stance.  (Hard to know what Chesterton would think here.  He likes the little guybut he also likes preserving local culture.)

Education?  Rubio’s in favor of vocational education and likes vouchers, saying that the poor reap the most benefits from school choice.  He’s said the states should be making the choices on education, rather than the federal government.  (Once again, Chesterton the localist would approve.)

Gun control?  Rubio doesn’t think gun control will stop criminals, has a concealed carry permit, and is rated B+ by the NRA (that pretty good B+ was an A, until Rubio failed to push a guns-to-work bill a few years back).  (Chesterton???  I defer to someone who knows his biography a little better.  I will note, however, that he is reputed to have carried a swordstick.)

Health care?  Rubio thinks the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) has a stifling economic effect.  And while Ted Cruz made a public statement against Obamacare, Rubio worked to insert a poison pill into the bill that would slowly eat away at it from the inside.  (Again, its hard to know what Chesterton would have thought here, but I have trouble seeing him endorsing the mandate, much less single payer.)

Support from the “Washington Republican Establishment”?  Well, yes, Rubio has that.  Trump is being supported by Chris Christie, who was until recently considered an establishment candidate.  Look, in politics endorsements have a lot more to do with who’s married to whose sister, who had dinner six times at whose house, who played nice as opposed to mean, and who expects what favors from whom.  That’s why Rubio has the support of Washington rather than Cruz: not because Rubio is a “moderate” but because Rubio, unlike Cruz, has not burned bridges in his quest for power.  They’re all after power, of course; and all quite unscrupulous; but some of them are more prudent in their pursuit of power than others.  Rubio has been more prudent in Washington than Cruz.  Once again, that doesn’t make him unconservative.

None of this, by the way, is intended as a derogation of Cruz, much less (obviously) of Rubio, either of whom I would be delighted to see as president.  (And for the record, Cruzs debate performance this most recent time was superior.)  But voters could use a reminder that, the issue of immigration excepted, Rubio and Cruz are BOTH conservative.  Trump … it’s a little less obvious.  Actually, given his chameleonic nature, it’s a lot less obvious.  And the fact that Trump has been doing well in states with open primaries, and losing to Cruz in states with primaries limited to Republicans, should make it extremely non-obvious (not to say dubious) that Trump is a conservative.

Now, if you want to define the word “conservative” to mean “angry people” or “people who watch a lot of reality TV” or “people who don’t like foreigners on principle,” then yeah, I guess a lot of Donald’s support is conservative.  But then, if you choose to do that, I have a new word for what you are: sophists.

Am I being  too strong?  Perhaps.  But as far as I can tell, the usual reasoning behind applying conservative to Trump and moderate to Rubio is as follows.

Some conservatives are angry, uneducated, cultural chauvinists.
Some of Trump’s supporters are angry, uneducated, cultural chauvinists.
Therefore, Trump's supporters are conservatives!
(And Trump is the conservative candidate in the race!)
Fallacy #1: undistributed middle; Fallacy #2: non sequitur.

Rubios style of talking about immigration is more moderate than Trump's.
Therefore, Rubio is a moderate candidate.
Fallacy #1: equivocation; Fallacy #2: failure to consider the array.

Maybe I am missing something; but as far as I can tell, when people comparing Trump and Rubio put Trump on the more conservative end of the scale and Rubio on the more moderate one, they are simply not using words in the same way that I use them.


  1. "It is alleged against me, and with perfect truth, that I stopped on the way to drink a glass of milk in one shop and to buy a revolver with cartridges in another. Some have seen these as singular wedding-presents for a bridegroom to give to himself, and if the bride had known less of him, I suppose she might have fancied that he was a suicide or a murderer or, worst of all, a teetotaller. They seemed to me the most natural things in the world. I did not buy the pistol to murder myself - or my wife; I never was really modern. I bought it because it was the great adventure of my youth, with a general notion of protecting her from the pirates doubtless infesting the Norfolk Broads, to which we were bound; where, after all, there are still a suspiciously large number of families with Danish names."

    Uncle Gilbert's Autobiography (my emphasis)

    1. Hurrah! I should have been able to find (or recall!) that glorious episode, but I'm glad that I have readers who know my heroes better than I know them myself.