Quick Thoughts from a Rhode Island Republican, on the Presidential Primary Vote

I’m not voting for Donald Trump. It’s not because of some general idea that he is unqualified. To make this very Rhode Island, if our political class believes that Tim Williamson is qualified to be a judge at any level, then our political class’ self-selection criteria for basic acceptability are so self-serving as to be irrelevant.

To narrow the reason I won’t vote for Donald Trump to a signature issue, his position on not allowing Muslims into the United States is unacceptable — and for reasons significantly broader than Jeb Bush’s weak response from last night that it would inhibit the building of international coalitions. If Mr. Trump doesn’t trust the visa and/or refugee vetting process right now, what does he intend as a next step, when somebody checks “no” on an entry application in response to the question “are you a Muslim”? Will he empower a special religious-investigations branch of Homeland Security to declare someone’s religion for them? Or what happens if people who declared themselves non-Muslim start regularly attending mosques? Will Homeland Security’s religious investigators be watching to enforce the no-Muslims policy and start throwing people out of the country if they go to a mosque too many times? I’d oppose the government taking actions against people because they worship too much — and, in general, I oppose government negatively treating people because of their religion.

Strategically, Marco Rubio’s supporters have been making a solid case that he is the candidate who is most electable (though this was also the argument presented in favor of non-Presidents John McCain and Mitt Romney). After the previous debate, I was almost ready to cast my vote for Senator Rubio. However, to use the cliche, he failed to “close the deal” during last night’s debate. To pick both an issue that explains the miss in both signature and substantive terms, his dismissal of Ted Cruz’s tax plan was disappointing.

The IRS has to go. This is not something I came anywhere near to believing pre-Lois Lerner, but the IRS has damaged itself beyond repair. We cannot have a pluralist representative democracy and have the IRS in its current form and, of the two, democracy is the one I support retaining. At this moment in history, my sense is that tax-reform would be easier to get through Congress than Obamacare repeal (though maybe others can convince me otherwise), but if Marco Rubio is already telling me that IRS replacement is impossible, I have a difficult time seeing him successfully tackling the similar- or even larger-scale Obamacare replacement. The apparent rejection of epic tax reform suggests a candidate who plans to “govern” by making existing governing structures work a tad more efficiently, while the left, in its time out-of-office, will be preparing for its next opportunity to transform those structures further leftward.

Ted Cruz right now is the candidate I’d most like to be able to vote for. Politically, despite the arguments about his supposedly lower ceiling than Senator Rubio, he seems to be patiently engaged in the ground-work to necessary to assemble a coalition that can win, given the facts-on-the-ground. However, the foreign policy positions Senator Cruz expressed in the previous debate give me serious pause. Supporting a mostly airpower campaign against ISIS, while placing a high priority on the maintenance of existing Middle Eastern political structures is not a workable combination. Large-scale use of force does not only destroy its targets; it also transforms the environment around its use, and Ted Cruz needs to provide a better vision of what America will do after the enemy is destroyed and the balance of forces in the region is substantially changed. The US failed to account for this in Iraq and cannot afford to make that mistake again.

While Senator Cruz’s initial premises are certainly different from those of the morally and intellectually exhausted liberal internationalist elite, from a different direction, he seems to have wandered into a similar platitudinous overview of policy, one which does not go much beyond telling Americans that the use of force will only be done when it is necessary and will be done right. That’s not a strategy, and really not even a plan.

Not that I think they’ll actually read this blog in the next few days, but the commentary to Senators Rubio and Cruz is offered in the spirit of making them better candidates for the Republican party, and for the United States of America.

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