Jonathan Caine: My experience of Biden and his team suggests that we shouldn’t fear his presidency – but need to engage

19 Jan

Jonathan Caine is a Conservative peer and former special adviser at the Northern Ireland Office.

In 2013, along with the then Northern Ireland Secretary, Theresa Villiers, I attended the annual St Patrick’s Day lunch in New York City organized by the publishers of the Irish America magazine. Its purpose was to induct five new members into the Irish America Hall of Fame and chief among them was then Vice-President, Joe Biden, who delivered the keynote address.

My abiding memory of his speech that day, apart from it being rather long, was how perfectly he played his audience. His main theme of immigration reform – a key issue for Irish Americans – was peppered with the occasional light hearted jibe at the English and, of course, references to his own family of immigrants from Mayo (my own only made it as far as Leeds). They loved it.

While it was a typically jolly, and friendly, occasion It was, to put it mildly, a very ‘green’ one, which in reality catered exclusively for one version alone of Ireland’s story. I think I can safely say that I was the only person there that day wearing Union Flag cufflinks.

Fast forward to March 2018. I found myself at the Irish Ambassador’s private ‘after party’, at his Washington DC residence. It was a more intimate, but none the less convivial, gathering of the great and good of Irish America – including that evening the by then former Vice-President. My impression that evening was of Biden’s presence, and his easy-going charm, even posing for ‘selfies’ with one of my civil service colleagues. He was clearly among friends.

It hardly needs re-stating that Biden is fiercely proud of his Irish roots and heritage. Significant players within the Irish American community championed a Biden presidency, including when it looked doomed in the early part of 2020. Irish America will in turn now believe that they have a champion in President Biden.

As we approach his inauguration tomorrow, what should unionists in Northern Ireland, and those of us who speak up for the Union in Parliament, expect from the Biden presidency and should we be filled with foreboding about the prospects? On the basis of my experience, I do not necessarily believe so.

To be clear, I never dealt directly with Biden when he was Vice President. I did, though, attend a number of meetings and discussions with members of the administration who will now be senior figures in the incoming President’s team. They include Tony Blinken, now Secretary of State designate (and who I once saw performing in a State Department rock band called ‘Coalition of the Willing’), and National Security Adviser Designate, Jake Sullivan.

They were always very well informed, or briefed, about the situation in Northern Ireland. While we might disagree occasionally on certain issues – a public inquiry into the murder of Patrick Finucane being one – or have a difference of emphasis, their overriding interest was to do whatever they could to be helpful.

Biden himself always struck me as much more nuanced in his approach than his Irish-American background might lead one to assume. I suspect that given his lineage he will want to ensure that the administration is seen to be engaging fully with unionism, and operating in an even-handed way. As one well-placed US friend put it to me shortly after the election, Biden is a ‘smart and careful man’ and, 47 years after he first entered the Senate, ‘essentially a pragmatist’. He also strongly values the close ties that continue to exist between the United Kingdom and the United States.

Biden has, of course, been forthright in his commitment to preserving both the spirit and the letter of the 1998 Belfast Agreement, not least in the context of Brexit. Other senior Democrats have also been vociferous such such as the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the current Chairman of Ways and Means (the key Committee in Congress on trade) Richie Neal.

I have been involved in many frank and stimulating discussions with Rep Neal. He is a highly engaging, charismatic and intelligent individual but, on Northern Ireland, even a cursory glance at the pictures and artefacts in his office tell one on which side his sympathies lie.

Support for the Belfast Agreement is, of course, also the clearly stated position of the United Kingdom Government – which, we should not forget, has the greatest interest of all in peace and stability in a part of its sovereign territory – and of the Irish Government. We should, therefore, in theory at least, all be on the same page. In addition, the deal reached with Brussels on Christmas Eve should allay some US fears on the Irish Border.

The challenge, however, when it comes to the 1998 Agreement is one of approach and interpretation. The political class in the US (along Brussels and large sections of the British media) tends to view the Agreement almost exclusively through the prism of Strand Two – that is the relationship between North-South – and by extension the avoidance of a border on the island of Ireland.

While nobody disputes that this is of great importance, US audiences frequently need also to be reminded that the Agreement is a three-stranded one in which those strands interlock delicately. Moreover, and crucially, at the heart of the Agreement is the consent principle, which is sacrosanct and underpins Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom. It cannot be stated enough that the Agreement did not establish Northern Ireland as some kind of hybrid state. Sadly, too many assume that it did.

In ensuring that the Agreement, in all its parts, is properly understood and appreciated in Washington, the British Embassy needs to be at the top of its game and be fully equipped with the right arguments. This is not something that has always been the case where, regrettably, on Northern Ireland issues we are frequently outplayed by the Irish (I make no criticism of them for doing an effective job). What is required, as has been supported by Henry Hill on these pages, is a more fully developed UK narrative of the Agreement than the predominantly Irish nationalist, or even republican, one that currently prevails in the States.

The UK Government cannot, however, and should not do this alone. Unionism from Northern Ireland needs to step up and play its part in articulating a United Kingdom narrative of the Agreement to counter the influence of Sinn Fein. Authentic and moderate Unionist voices will often have more sway in DC and elsewhere than UK ministers and diplomats. Over the past decade I have spent more time with Irish-America, members of the administration and senior figures in Congress than probably any other British political figure. The lesson I draw is clear – those of us who support the Union, and Northern Ireland’s place within it, should not fear a Biden Presidency, but we do need to engage.

Garvan Walshe: Conservatives need to choose. Are they with democracy or with the Capitol terrorists?

14 Jan

Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party.

“Where are all the moderate Republican Imams?” asked David Frum, former speechwriter to George W Bush, after the Donald Trump-incited mob had ransacked the Capitol.

We came to learn that the 9/11 attacks, far from coming out of a clear blue sky, were the product of decades of radicalisation that Saudi Arabia had sponsored – because it gave its religious radicals something to do; because it allowed the kingdom to compete for influence with revolutionary Iran; and because the extremists sincerely believed in the doctrines to which the Saudi state paid only lip service. Riyadh was forced into a bloody counter-insurgency campaign against domestic terrorists and fighters returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The attack on the Capitol, in which an absurdly-dressed mob gave cover for what the FBI is now investigating as a terrorist plot to take senators hostage, is the direct result of Trump sponsoring the anti-democratic Right in America.

This is the price of the GOP’s deal with Trump. Trump added fringe voters to the Republican coalition, gave them power for four years and allowed it to put three judges on the Supreme Court, but it’s brought about the biggest threat to democracy in America since the Civil War.

Trump’s bullying of his party through his celebrity appeal to the Republican base, threatening any congressman or senator with the American equivalent of deselection in primaries, will be familiar to many current and former Conservative MPs, as well as to Democratic politicians at the receiving end.

But after losing to Joe Biden in November, Trump went beyond political hardball to subvert the constitution itself. Brad Raffensberger, Georgia’s elections chief resisted (we know, because he taped Trump’s threats), but 138 congressmen and seven senators broke their oaths of office to try and overturn the votes of the American people on the basis of Trump’s own lies about electoral fraud.

It seems that some Capitol policemen also broke their oaths, refusing to defend the Capitol from the mob. More worrying still is the slowness with which Defense Department Officials responded to requests for them to authorise the deployment of the DC national guard, and to give permission for Virginia and Maryland to send backup. In the end it was Mike Pence, himself under siege in the Capitol building, who stood in to authorise intervention.

Τhe crisis is about far more than Trump’s personality. In fact, his outrageously flawed character hides the danger he poses, in the same way that animal-skin clad rioter obscured the much more serious kidnapping plot at the Capitol. Trumpists and many democratic American conservatives agreed about getting their people onto the Supreme Court, limiting abortion and restricting immigration, but they should disagree on how it can get done.

What distinguishes the anti-democratic right from democratic conservatives is not policy, but the concept of political office.

American government, like that in all liberal democracies, was created to be carried out by people who hold certain political offices subject to constitutional law and conventions. That’s what John Adams meant when he talked of a “government of laws, and not of men.” In liberal democracies, we don’t elect kings, but people who are temporarily “clothed”, to use Abraham Lincoln’s phrase, in the powers of the office they hold.

Democratic conservatives believe that people hold specific powers in trust, repsecting the laws and conventions made in the past, and keeping them, adapted for the changing times, to hand over to their successors. The anti-democratic right wants to put their leaders in total power, to enact their will, disregarding traditions of the past and stability in the future.

They say it’s because people have the right to hire their leaders, and fire them when they come up short. But Trump’s behaviour gives the lie to that. Despite the American people firing him, Trump tried to intimidate election officials and incited a violent mob to try and stay in power anyway: there’s a technical term for this, by the way, invented in Latin America, it’s an autogolpe or self-coup.

Thanks to four years of encouragement from Trump, there’s now a large number of radicalised, violent and armed anti-democratic rightists in the United States. The FBI is bracing itself for coordinated acts of violence in on inauguration day.

As with all terrorist movements, the violent few are surrounded by a penumbra of fellow-travellers who make excuses for them, give them platforms on TV, amplify them on social media, and argue that their grievances must be addressed in the name of peace and unity. As with Islamist or Northern Irish terrorism, this would be a grave mistake.

The terrorists must be brought to justice, their funds caught off and the arguments of their fellow-travellers dismissed. Please no more specious arguments about Trump being “censored” by Twitter. Even had Twitter been a state entity, his megaphone should have been removed as a threat to public safety.

The application of the US’s extensive anti-terrorist legislation needs to be vigorous and swift. It must deny this movement access to weapons. It must put its leaders and activists behind bars. Trump and his accomplices need to be banned from future public office, either through an impeachment or the use of the third clause of the 14th Amendment.

Then there is the ideological battle against the anti-democratic tenets of this movement, which is not confined to America. The issue not that they are “extreme”, but that they’re anti-constitutional. Let them hold positions as right-wing as they like, and compete for support like anyone else, but only within the limts of constitutional government, where laws apply to public office-holders, and are adjudicated by independent courts.

As during the Cold War, where it was democratic lefitsts who stood up to violent communists, it’s now up to democratic conservatives to dismantle the ideology of the anti-democratic right, and its dangerous idea that law, constitutions, and the civil political process are part of some plot by a “liberal elite” or “activist lawyers”.

Even where we agree with some hard-right policies, or sympathise with their positions (about left-wing dominance at universities, say), upholding the institutions and norms of parliamentary democracy has to come first, something that escaped our own absurdly-dressed (and visually challenged) revolutionary before he was ejected.

Otherwise, make no mistake, they’ll come for us. No amount of toadying to Trump protected Mike Pence or Mitch McConnell on January 6th. All conservatives have to choose: are they with democracy or with the terrorists?

Daniel Hamilton: The Republicans must now decisively reject Trump

7 Jan

Daniel Hamilton works in international business consultancy and was a Conservative candidate at the 2017 General Election.

In decades to come, Donald Trump’s presidency will be remembered by two speeches that book-ended his term in office, both delivered from the steps of the US Capitol.

The first, his inaugural address in January 2017, spoke of “American carnage”, ending “the ravages of other countries” and preventing the “wealth of the middle class being ripped” away by ill-defined actors. It clearly defined the politics of paranoia and division that followed.

The second, delivered yesterday afternoon, was nothing short of an incitement of violence. “We will never give up and will never concede the election”, Trump said, baselessly asserting that the election had been “stolen by emboldened radical Democrats”.

Trump knows the power of words – and the actions they can result in.

The objections raised in Congress to the certification of the electoral college votes can only charitably be described as a malodorous cocktail to outright falsehoods, half-truths and sophistry grounded in no legal or procedural reality. The results of this pageant of absurdity – the storming of the US Congress by protestors, the ransacking of parliamentarian’s offices and the placing of pipe bombs at the headquarters of the Democrat and Republican parties – are plain to see.

But democracy, just as it always does in America, will win the day. Joe Biden will be inaugurated as President on 20th January – and then it’s time for Republicans to cut the Gordian knot of the Trump years and decisively move on.

“In a President, character is everything”, Ronald Reagan’s former speechwriter Peggy Noonan argued. “A President doesn’t have to be brilliant. He doesn’t have to be clever; you can hire clever. You can hire pragmatic, and you can buy and bring in policy wonks”.

Trump at least partly took Noonan’s sentiments to heart.

His appointments to the Supreme Court may not be to everyone’s taste, yet Trump has ensured conservative orthodoxies will guide its rulings for the next quarter-century or more. His Tax Cuts and Jobs Act slashed America’s high corporate tax rates and delivered meaningful income tax cuts for working people. On foreign policy, while his intransigence towards traditional allies caused consternation, clear successes in the Middle East have been achieved.

“But,” as Noonan also reminds us, a President “can’t buy courage and decency, can’t rent a strong moral sense and needs to have a vision of the future he wishes to create”.

Therein lay the problem for the Trump administration; and hereby lies the challenge for a Republican Party that appears willing to present itself, at least for now, as the Trump Party.

Despite a successful economic agenda, Trump’s insensitive and intransigent approach to everything from sexual assault to coronavirus to immigration proved too much for many.

Make no mistake: Trump’s defeat in November was a personal repudiation, not a wholesale rejection of the Republican Party. Indeed, one of the biggest surprises of the recent elections was the robustness Republican congressional candidates showed, with the party only narrowly missing out on gaining control of the House despite a seven million vote deficit in the Presidential race.

In California, two naturalised Korean American women gained congressional districts from the Democrats at the same time as Biden won them convincingly. In the overwhelmingly Hispanic Miami area, two Democratic seats fell to Cuban American Republican challengers – also in areas Biden won handily.

The common message from those with knowledge of the campaigns on the ground was that the success of the two campaigns rested on two pillars: stressing their divergence from Trump on issues such as environmental policy and immigration and striking aspirational, positive – Reaganesque – tone on the personal and economic freedom.

Contrasting the strategies adopted in California and Florida back in November with those of the two Republican Senators defeated in run-off elections in Georgia on Tuesday, the differences are clear to see.

Rather than being able to highlight their own accomplishments and proposals, the campaigns of now ex-Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler were reduced to a referendum on the President’s insecurities. Campaigning in the state earlier this week, Trump used his primetime TV slot to berate Republicans he saw as insufficiently loyal to his agenda and to bolster his claims about electoral malfeasance. Loeffler’s closing pitch on the same evening was essentially reduced to: “vote for us on Tuesday and we’ll throw out our state’s electoral college votes on Wednesday”.

Much has been written about the historic nature of the victories of Reverend Raphael Warnock, the pastor of Martin Luther King’s former church, and Jon Ossoff, the first Jewish Senator in the Deep South. The victory of Warnock, in particular, is a victory for both post-racial politics in the Deep South and years of hard work among Democrats to organise around the state’s changing demographics. That should ring alarm bells for Republicans.

Rather than expand the Republican coalition as Democrats have successfully managed to do, Trump’s legacy as a both a candidate and President is to have narrowed it.

Suburban areas around the country – from Atlanta to Seattle to Philadelphia – have sharply moved against the Republicans under Trump. Polling further suggests that the outgoing President’s vulgar pronouncements and boorish nature had the effect of pushing ordinarily Republican-friendly groups such as the affluent university-educated voters and white women away from the party.

Only time will tell what further damage has been done to the party’s brand by the scenes of near insurrection in the Capitol yesterday. For 121 Republican congressmen – almost three in five of its members in the US House – to have backed the first procedural motion to throw out the results of the closely-fought state of Arizona shows just how badly Trump has toxified debate inside the party.

As the results on Georgia on Tuesday prove, demonstrating fealty to an unpopular President does not motivate voters; positive messages about economic recovery, aspiration and opportunity do.

In two years, Americans will go back to the polls to vote in mid-term elections history suggests they will be favoured to win. After the appalling scenes overnight, the Republican Party has a clear choice to make: to be the party of Donald Trump or to decisively move on, regroup and return to its roots as a low-tax, pro-freedom movement. What would Ronald Reagan do?

Ben Roback: Who would bet on Trump turning up at Biden’s inauguration?

16 Dec

Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group.

The Electoral College has spoken. When will Trump listen?

For a man who loves to win, a check in on the President’s attempts to overturn the outcome of the November election makes dismal reading.

Recounts prompted by Donald Trump and his merry band of legal advisers have confirmed repeatedly that Joe Biden was the winner in the key swing states that shaped the election. The President urged the Supreme Court last week to set aside 62 electoral votes for Mr Biden in four states, which may have thrown the outcome into doubt. The justices rejected the effort.

Trump has urged his Republican colleagues to continue to question the outcome and validity of the election. It had been working on Capitol Hill, where only a handful of Republicans had acknowledged Biden as the President-elect.

That sense of lingering doubt has spread through to the American people. In a poll this month, only 61 per cent of Americans said they trusted the results of the election. Unsurprisingly, given the President’s ongoing campaign and the loyalty of the Republican base, 72 per cent of Republicans polled do not trust the results.

The president is running out of ways to deny the election outcome

The Electoral College met yesterday, rubber-stamping Joe Biden’s victory through formal votes in state capitals around the country. Electors gave Biden and Kamala Harris their votes in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — the six battleground states that Biden won and which Trump contested.

Senior Republicans have long insisted that the President had a right to contest close results, and pointed to the Electoral College as a key moment in that effort. Now that the Electoral College has formally ratified the election results, a change has been prompted amongst Republican leadership on Capitol Hill, whicj now acknowledges for the first time the resolution of the election.

Mitch McConnell yesterday said: “The electoral college has spoken. So today I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden”. The two men are by no means political allies, but ahave shared experience after accruing decades in the Senate together. Both have referred to each other as “friends” and the Senate Majority Leader was the only Senate Republican to attend Beau Biden’s funeral. They will need to work together in the coming weeks if Congress is to pass another Covid relief package, and a government funding bill to avert a December shutdown.

McConnell’s calculated statement gave Republicans permission to acknowledge the election outcome. Lindsey Graham, whose Trump journey has taken him from mocking sceptic to reliable ally, said he had a “warm” phone call with Biden. More are expected to follow in the coming days.

Despite the change in tone from Republican Congressional leadership, there has been no concession from the White House. On Twitter, the President continues to allege mass voter fraud owing to corrupt voting machines. Intriguingly, Trump retweeted a Breitbart news article whose headline included: ‘May God bless him, Melania, and their family, as God leads him to the next chapter in his life.’

McConnell has reportedly urged his GOP colleagues not to object when Congress formally certifies the Electoral College count on 6 January, in what is surely to be Mr Trump’s final throw of the dice. Trump allies in the House of Representatives, led by Rep Mo Brooks of Alabama, have pledged to object to the Electoral College count.

In order to successfully force a debate and vote on the objection, at least one Republican Senator would need to support it. There is currently no indication that will happen. For historic context, a lawmaker has never been able to succeed in throwing out a state’s results.

There is a prevailing sense that the inevitable outcome – Biden entering the White House as the 46th President of the United States – is being delayed in the minds of the Trump team. That is not enough to change the political reality shaped by the constitution.

The President-elect continues to shape his Cabinet and advisory team at pace. It was announced yesterday that Pete Buttigieg, an initial rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, will be nominated as Transportation Secretary. If approved by the Senate, he would become the first openly gay member of the Cabinet in US history.

As Coronavirus runs riot and reaps havoc across America, getting to grips with the vaccine rollout will the biggest challenge from day one for the incoming administration. The FDA has granted emergency authorisation to an over-the-counter, at-home Covid test, a new weapon in the government’s arsenal. Coronavirus has now killed over 300,000 Americans (CDC). It is high time the White House takes this crisis seriously, which Trump has so far failed to do.

When Congress meets in the new year, it will only be a fortnight before the inauguration. Traditionally, the sitting President attends as a visible symbol of the peaceful transfer of power. If Trump’s form thus far is anything to go by, you wouldn’t bet much on him acknowledging Biden’s victory in a statement let alone in person.

Sarah Elliott: Biden might have won the US election, but Republican victories elsewhere will inhibit his presidency

9 Dec

Sarah Elliott is Chair of Republicans Overseas UK.

“The number one concern… was defunding the police. We need not ever use the words “socialist” or “socialism” again. And if we classify Tuesday as a success, from a congressional standpoint, we are going to get torn apart in 2022.”

These were the impassioned words said by Democratic House member, Representative Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), on the Democratic House caucus post-mortem election call on November 5. Not exactly the high-fiving debrief you would expect after keeping control of the US House and beating one’s favourite foe, Donald Trump.

It’s because it wasn’t a slam-dunk victory night for the Democrats. There was no blue wave in the legislative races of the House of Representatives or the Senate. The best they achieved on election night 2020 was a Democratic president in the White House, but one who will find it exceptionally difficult to pass an agenda.

The GOP actually had a great night for the legacy of the party, future elections and solidifying the electability of conservative principles.

In the US House of Representatives, Republicans flipped 14 Democratic-held seats, did not lose a single incumbent seat, and only lost three races, with a couple still too close to call but the Republican is leading. The Democrats, who came into this election cycle with a lead of 36 seats (after having won 40 in the 2018 midterms), have only a narrow lead of five seats, all within the taking for the Republicans come the 2022 midterms, when it’s typical for the legislature to switch to the opposite party of the White House.

In the Senate, the Republicans were defending seats in more Democratic-leaning states, where most analysts felt they would lose their majority. But tight races such as Joni Ernst in Iowa, Tom Tillis in North Carolina and Susan Collins in Maine all went to the GOP. Senators Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell survived a tremendous fundraising blitz, each being outspent by $30 million, and yet they won decisively. And now with the two run-off Senate races in Georgia, the Republicans have a strong shot at maintaining control of the Senate.

For Republicans, the best case scenario in a Biden administration is to control the legislature and paralyse him as president.

What should also be noted is that the Republicans maintained 60 per cent of the state legislature races. It’s the first time since 1946 so few chambers have switched hands, and this is massively important when it comes to the redistricting of congressional districts, which will take place in the next year or so. With Republicans in control of most state legislatures, it means that they will be responsible for determining the boundaries for 175 districts, whereas the Democrats only 47. This has long-term consequences on future congressional contests.

Thus, this sets up the 2022 midterms nicely, especially since the Grand Ole Party is not as white, male and stale.

The incoming House GOP class is the most diverse freshman class for the Republicans in history. The majority of those who won are female, there are 18 (at least) new GOP women members, and every seat flipped is by either a woman, minority candidate, and or a veteran. Six to nine of them will be a BAME representative. There will be a total of 28 GOP women in the US House and nine GOP women Senators.

All of this reflects a concentrated effort by Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Representative Tom Emmer (R-MN), instigated by Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY). After the Democrats dramatically decreased the number of Republican women in Congress from 23 to 13 in 2018, and with the rise of “The Squad,” the very progressive-Left group of four House Democratic women (Omar, Talib, Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley), it was a wake-up call for Republicans.

Stefanik led the efforts in the 2018 midterms for female recruitment, and convinced 100 female candidates to run, but only one candidate made it through the primary. This motivated her to push the NRCC to get involved in the primary process, and make recruiting diverse women a priority for the party.

McCarthy followed her advice, and in an unprecedented move endorsed eleven female candidates during the primaries. The 2020 cycle saw ninety-four female GOP candidates through to the general election.

Political action committees (PACs) were set up to ensure the funding was there from the primary such as E-PAC, Winning for Women, RightNOW PAC and View PAC.

Now entering the halls of Congress in January are a Ukranian immigrant, the first female graduate from the military academy – the Citadel, single mothers, Greek and Cuban Americans, an Iranian American, and two South Korean immigrants. All Republican and all women.

Beth Van Duyane, a single mother of two, won her Dallas, Texas suburb seat even though it voted for Biden, and she was outspent by $1.5 million.

Maria Elvira Salazar, a former Spanish television broadcaster and daughter of Cuban refugees who fled Castro’s Cuba, flipped the Miami seat filled by Democratic-establishment representative Donna Shalala. Clinton won the district in 2016 by 20 points. Salazar ran on an anti-socialist and pro-America message.

Tony Gonzales, a Navy veteran, narrowly won a recount in the Texas-Mexican border district Texas-23, replacing the retiring African-American GOP representative Will Hurd. This district voted for Clinton in 2016, but with President Trump’s and Hurd’s endorsement, squeaked by with a win, despite being outspent by $4.2 million.

Young Kim and Michelle Steel are the first South Korean immigrants to serve in the US Congress, both women and both hail from California.

In California, the GOP won back four of the seven seats they lost to the Democrats in 2018. Representative elect Mike Garcia, a former Navy pilot and son of a Mexican immigrant, won a seat just north of Los Angeles, and David Valadao, a dairy farmer, reclaimed his seat that he lost two years prior.

These candidates were not just successful because of their stories, background, sex or ethnicities, but because of their message too. They are all staunchly conservative, anti-abortion, for securing the border, anti-socialist, for lowering taxes, and for keeping small businesses open during the pandemic. These messages worked with independents and Democrats alike.

When the Democratic message is “I’m not Trump,” to defund the police, keep the borders open and allow anyone in without due process, permit abortion up to the 38th-week, look at American history through race only, cancel anyone’s livelihood if they disagree with you, dissolve American energy independence, upend the American healthcare industry to a single-payer one, and not offer any new ideas except to tax, spend and keep your businesses shut, Democrats cannot expect to win. This is a good thing. These are bad ideas.

America is not a socialist country. We value our private property, our businesses, our country’s constitution, and our freedom. How refreshing to still see these values are appealing and electable across the party lines.

As Representative Spanberger said, socialism and defunding the police should never be uttered again. May that be the case and may all politicians take note.

Biden’s top team takes shape. Diversity is required in principle though not always in practice.

2 Dec

Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group.

Where were you at the precise moment when Joe Biden was announced as the President-elect of the United States?

Flashbulb memories, a phrase coined by Brown and Kulik in 1977, are moments defined as if people had taken a photograph of themselves while learning of a public, emotionally charged event. The long delay prior to the first news network’s projection of Biden’s victory meant that any sense of sudden excitement had somewhat dissipated.

Days of staring at ‘Election Update’ beaming across the screen on CNN had become numbing. We were all waiting for Wolf Blitzer to put us out of our misery. The lack of one single election authority in the United States complicated matters further. Similarly, the knowledge that, if he were declared the runner up, Donald Trump would refuse to accept the result.

The delay and subsequent litigation meant tht the ‘moment’ Joe Biden was announced as president-elect was hardly momentous at all. Trump eventually tweeted through gritted teeth that he had instructed the General Services Administration to begin the customary transition process. The Biden/Harris transition website went from buildbackbetter.com to buildbackbetter.gov. Neither were exactly flashbulb memories. The change happened not with a bang, but a whimper.

Trump clings on, but not for long

Trump is not going down without a fight. The president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has resorted to claims of voter fraud entirely bereft of legal substance or evidence.

An electoral overturn was always borderline impossible given the magnitude of the president’s defeat in the swing states he required to retain the White House. Watching Giuliani peddle the President’s latest conspiracy theories, it is easy to forget that the man was formerly such an immense political figure first in New York and then around the world that he was given an honorary knighthood by the Queen. First as tragedy, then as farce.

A top team that holds up a mirror to modern America

Meanwhile, as the Trump show prepares to pack its bags and leave town, Biden has been quietly preparing for office. It has become clear that two guiding principles are motivating his choices: experience and diversity.

The President-elect has announced a list of senior appointmeints to the White House and prospective Cabinet nominees, the latter requiring Senate confirmation. Cognisant of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party and the fact that he hardly embodies diversity or youth himself, Biden has consistently expressed the need to build a team that reflected modern America in its range of background.

Glass ceilings are being broken, subject to Congressional approval. Janet Yellen would become the first female Treasury Secretary in its 231-year history. Those who refer to her gender as the primary motivation for her appointment overlook the fact that she could become the first person to have served as Treasury Secretary, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors, and Chair of the Federal Reserve.

On the world stage, President-elect Biden’s primary motivation will be to announce that America is back – to leading from the front and bringing allies with her. He will not be able to shed the skin of Trump’s ‘America First’ mantra entirely – the Rust Belt has been scarred by a skills deficit and the offshoring of jobs for decades, culminating in  Trump’s victory in 2016 and an aggressively hawkish national stance towards China ever since.

But on the world stage, Biden has entrusted Anthony Blinken as prospective Secretary of State to take America back to the epicentre of global affairs and international cooperation. As Deputy Secretary of State under Barack Obama, Blinken helped with the rebalance to Asia. He spent his most formative years as a student in Paris and speaks fluent French. In 2019, he said in relation to Brexit: “This is not just the dog that caught the car, this is the dog that caught the car and the car goes into reverse and runs over the dog.”

Whilst Dominic Raab has his work cut out, commentators are too quick to dismiss the UK-US relationship purely on the anecdotal grounds of one personal view on Brexit. Assuming a deal is done between the UK and EU, the decision taken in 2016 will become an afterthought in American minds.

It is only if no deal is reached and the knock-on effects are seen adversely to impact the Good Friday Agreement and peace process that Blinken’s forethoughts become relevant. Brexit aside, the incoming administration has plenty to agree with Downing Street on – namely, promoting democracy around the world, combatting the rise of China and misinformation spread by Russia, and using diplomacy once again to cool Iranian nuclear ambitions.

In John Kerry, the former Secretary of State, the Biden White House will benefit from one of the foremost global leaders on climate change. Climate science will once again be trusted and not contested in the White House.  Biden and Kerry will look to old allies like the UK to pursue equally radical climate ambitions, addressing climate change with the required level of urgency. COP26 in Glasgow provides the perfect platform to push for global change.

In the White House, Biden will be advised by experienced heads whom he has trusted for decades. It is here where experience seems to have trumped diversity. Ron Klain served as Joe Biden’s Chief of Staff from 2009-11 and will perform the same role again. He also worked as an advisor on Biden’s 1988 and 2008 Presidential campaigns; his experience is undeniable.

The fringes of the Oval Office will be dominated by Steve Ricchetti (Counselor to the President) and Mike Donilon (Senior Advisor to the President). The President-elect’s closest circle of advisers certainly fail to fulfil his ambitions of diversity and representation. Instead, their selection looks to be based on trust and experience.

Ironically, it is the British system of Cabinet appointments which is positively presidential. The Commons or Lords have no say over whom the Prime Minister ascends to the Cabinet table. President-elect Biden has made his Cabinet picks with the Senate majority leader and Republicans in mind, who will inevitably select and handful of nominees to oppose.

Republicans might have lost the White House, but their supporters will thrive off a fight in the Senate. That would limit the President-elect’s ambitions and ability to surround himself with the voices and views he desires to deliver the change his campaign promised. As in so many years previous, huge power huge power lies in the hands of Senator Mitch McConnell.

Daniel Hannan: It’s time to explode the myth of Trump and his unique appeal

11 Nov

Daniel Hannan is a writer and columnist. He was a Conservative MEP from 1999 to 2020, and is now President of the Initiative for Free Trade.

Has Donald Trump permanently transformed his party? Has the old GOP – the party of limited government, low spending, free trade and constitutional rectitude – metamorphosed into something altogether more nativist, protectionist and autocratic? Will the next Republican presidential nominee inescapably be a Trumpster – or, indeed, an actual Trump?

Hmm. As T.S. Eliot nearly wrote: “Gentile or Jew / O you who turn the wheel and look to windward, / Consider Corbyn, who was once handsome and tall as you.”

Consider Corbyn. He, too, was said definitively to have refashioned his party. His eventual successor, we kept being told, would be chosen by the same Momentum-heavy electorate that had picked him. Communism was back, baby.

Yet here we are, less than a year on from his defeat, and Labour has swung so convincingly back to the mainstream that the Absolute Boy could be suspended with barely a ripple.

Trump and Corbyn have more in common than partisans of either man admit: outsiders who seized their parties by appealing to the base, but who never overcame the suspicion of their elected representatives; agitators who were more comfortable addressing rallies than working within democratic institutions; radicals who promised to bring down the old system; economic nostalgics who wanted to bring back manufacturing; political loners who were followed on their own account.

Might the GOP dump Trump as unsentimentally as Labour dumped Corbyn? Possibly. But there is a difference between what the two men stood for. Corbynism, although it had individually popular elements, was a fringe creed. Trumpery, by contrast – and I’m defining it loosely here as a combination of patriotism and economic activism with a dash of Führerprizip – has a certain appeal. Leaning Left on economics but Right on social and cultural issues is usually a vote-winner.

Most GOP Congressmen are uneasily aware that classical liberalism and strict constitutionalism have only limited appeal among their supporters. Almost every elected Republican I have spoken since the poll believes that Donald Trump lost, that his refusal to concede is petulant, and that his behaviour threatens their hopes of winning next month’s Senate elections in Georgia and thus keeping control of the chamber. But they won’t say so.

Why not? For fear of their base. Voice even the mildest criticism of Trump and his supporters will piranha-shoal around you in a frenzy (something else he has in common with Corbyn). I decided to test the premise while writing this article. Choosing my words carefully, so as not to be unduly provocative, I experimentally tweeted the following: “my hunch is that quite a few elected Republicans believe that Trump is behaving disgracefully, but won’t say so for fear of their audience.”

As expected, I immediately attracted 500 furious comments and lost a similar number of followers. But I have no real skin in the game: I am not an American politician. Perhaps we should feel some sympathy for those with actual votes to lose.

Still, Republican Congressmen and Senators cannot keep shtum forever. In the end, it is up to them to determine whether Trump will be an aberration, Corbyn-like, or whether the party of Reagan has gone forever.

Yes, Trump did some things that mainstream conservatives liked: cutting taxes, lifting regulations, appointing judges who ruled on the basis of what the law said rather than what they felt it ought to say.

But these are precisely the areas where he took little personal interest, and was content to leave the details to those swampy establishment Republicans he was so rude about. In exchange, traditional conservatives were astonishingly forgiving about every other aspect of his presidency. Foreign policy hawks overlooked his submissiveness before Vladimir Putin. Evangelical Christians ignored his lies and adulteries. Tea partiers did not protest when, pre-Covid, the deficit went above a trillion dollars.

With each passing month, the GOP attracted Trumpier representatives – for example, Josh Hawley elected to the Senate from Missouri two years ago, who blames what he calls “market worship,” for “the collapse of community.” At the same time, established figures, such as Florida’s Marco Rubio, began to shift their positions, dropping their former optimism and raging against the offshoring of jobs. The Coronavirus will almost certainly accelerate these authoritarian and anti-market tendencies: crises of this kind always do.

Yet the fundamental premise of Trumpism, namely that globalisation is bad for ordinary people, is false. Nothing has done more to boost the living standards of people on low incomes than the reduction in the cost of living brought about by the removal of trade barriers. Reagan knew how to win that argument. Who will make it today?

Let’s not fall for the idea, often asserted but never substantiated, that Trump has a unique capacity to reach blue-collar voters. This legend was born in 2016, as shell-shocked pundits scrabbled to explain why they had been wrong.

But it is impossible to reconcile with the way Trump was outpolled by down-ballot Republican candidates. This was clearest in the Senate races, where the electorates were exactly congruent. Trump did worse than Republican Senate candidates in almost all the swing states: Georgia, Colorado, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. He was five points behind John McCain in Arizona, three points behind Marco Rubio in Florida and nine points behind Chuck Grassley in Iowa. Although we must wait for the final tally to be sure, early indications are that something similar happened last week.

The myth of Trump and his unique appeal to callused Pennsylvania steel-workers or stump-toothed Appalachian mountain-men or whatever is so widespread that it is hard to prise away. But there is a more plausible narrative. In 2016, it was the Democrats’ turn to lose, and they picked an unpopular candidate. Despite her disqualifications, she still won a plurality of the vote against a Republican who was less popular than his party. Four years on, with a mildly more appealing candidate, the Democrats scraped over the line.

If that analysis is right, it is good news for traditional small-government Republicans. But only if they man up and do something about it.

Ryan Bourne: A British overspill from America’s result. Why the debate on the right over economics will now intensify.

11 Nov

Ryan Bourne is Chair in Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute. 

Donald Trump loyalists might not yet admit it, but their man was defeated handily in the U.S. Presidential election. A post-mortem will soon be undertaken within the Republican party, and with it a debate that has been bubbling since his primary victory in 2016 on both sides of the Atlantic: what economics should conservatives champion?

Ideally, that debate would be about what policies actually work to improve our lives or liberties. But winning elections is politicians’ raison d’être. So it’s little surprise that those representing major strands of Republican economic thought have conflicting economic narratives of the results already as to what is electorally desirable, a division made somewhat easier by the fact that “Trumpism” blended free-market policies with protectionism and interventionism, in turn offering something for everyone.

Free-market Republicans’ story goes like this: tax cuts and deregulation delivered by a Republican Senate and Presidency delivered robust pre-pandemic economic growth, low unemployment, and rising household incomes. So strong was that economy before Covid-19, that even after a deep pandemic-induced recession, 56 percent of surveyed voters nationwide said their family was still better off financially after four years of The Donald in the White House. Tellingly, Trump led Joe Biden in every battleground state on who voters trusted most to “manage” the economy.

Combine that evidence with the party’s unexpected electoral resilience in the Senate, and huge pick up of Cuban-American and Mexican-America votes in Florida and Texas, and it’s easy to conclude, as former Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has, that more free-market Republican economic policies are not unpopular.

In fact, polls suggest voters baulked at the socialist ideas aired in the Democratic primary, and were wary of even Joe Biden’s quite ambitious progressive agenda, particularly on decarbonisation. What lost Trump the election was, in this view, not his domestic economic policies then, but his personal conduct, handling of Covid-19, and, possibly, even downsides of his trade wars, the most obvious consequences of which were government welfare for Americans farmers and manufacturers struggling with inflated input costs.

The “national conservative” counter-blast provided by, for example, Samuel Hammond in the Guardian, says the exact opposite. The last two elections supposedly show the party’s future is to reach into working-class communities of all ethnicities. This opportunity, in part, came about from Trump’s willingness to challenge traditional Republican views on free trade and industrial policy, giving him a hearing with voters suffering the effects of market-led deindustrialisation. The party should build on that to become a true “workers’ party” by embracing a more interventionist abour market and manufacturing agenda, according to the Missouri and Florida senators, Josh Hawley and Marco Rubio.

This interpretation even posits that Republicans may have failed to win the Presidency because they did not sufficiently embrace the “good government can do” (to use a Theresa May phrase.) Hammond postulates, for example, that Biden was able to pick up white working-class votes in the Rust Belt by going further on nationalistic “Buy American” agendas and tax incentives for re-shoring manufacturing jobs than Republicans would ever opt for. A more serious policy agenda and a compassionate Republican frontman could therefore build a whole new electoral coalition on this type of platform that Trump opened the door to, if only the Republicans could move on from Reaganism and their commitment to free market ideas.

Now, on the facts, I (perhaps unsurprisingly) find the first narrative more compelling. Exit polling shows that, contra the national conservative view, Republican support still skewed towards those on higher incomes, not lower. If preferences for a more interventionist agenda, as opposed to, say, the culture war or Donald Trump’s personality, are the dominant explanation of vote patterns, it’s difficult to square that with Republican Senate candidates, most of whom are more free market on economics than Trump, outperforming the current President. Of course, in reality voters don’t vote according to policy preferences, so a monocausal link between economics and electoral outcomes is dodgy ground on both sides.

But at heart here is a debate that we’ve heard plenty of in the UK: how far does the political realignment we are seeing necessitate a change in conservatives’ economic ideas? The new “national conservatives” in the U.S. and modern “One Nation” Tories in the UK, such as Nick Timothy, want to throw-off any libertarian influence  with the latter even thinking the 2017 Tory manifesto an appropriate place to caricature the “libertarian right,” as if voters would read that document and take that signal as a cue to shift their vote.

Two things have frustrated me about these intra-conservative debates to date. The first is that the anti-market conservatives appear to just assume that the left is correct and that economic policy is class-based: that policies that are pro-the interests of the working class must necessarily be more interventionist than conservatives have previously considered acceptable.

I’ve written before about why that is not true and how market-led policies could deliver pro-poor outcomes. The U.S. results also show that the assumption is a sham in electoral terms: working class minorities in the south were frightened of Democratic industrial strategies when it meant cheap energy was set to be sacrificed and vast new regulation of a structurally sound labour market were proposed.

But my second frustration is deeper. Thus far thinkers such as Timothy and others in the U.S. have written extensively on why conservatives should move on from free market ideas in the abstract. They document social and economic phenomena that have moved in the wrong direction in the past three to four decades, and then link these to the Thatcher-Reagan revolutions and supposed commitments to “market fundamentalism”.

Yet anyone who has followed conservative policy closely since the 1990s would find it laughable to frame recent offerings as being influenced by an unabashed commitment to libertarian ideas. So this narrative is best understood as rolling the pitch for an even more interventionist conservative economics.

What we have had far less off yet is the specifics: what, exactly, do those such as Timothy want from policy instead of what we see today? National conservative thinkers have hid behind the shield of big picture views of what is electorally desirable to win in the Rust Belt or the Red Wall as a substitute for outlining what actually should be done, and providing evidence for why those proposals would in fact work where previous dalliances with industrial planning have failed.

One consequence of this messy Presidential election outcome and its failure to clearly repudiate Trumpism is that those debates will now be crucial in determining the future direction of the Republican party. And stateside narratives have a tendency to be imported into UK politics too.

James Frayne: Perhaps the Conservatives should simply revert to being southern and posh

10 Nov

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

In my twenties, I took a serious interest in US politics and campaigns, naively coming to think of the UK and US as culturally similar. It’s an easy mistake: a shared history; mutual respect for each other’s institutions; similar attitudes to the free market, individual rights and the rule of law; overlapping tastes in popular culture.

But it’s a mistake nonetheless. When I lived and worked in Washington DC and New York City for a couple of years – theoretically culturally familiar places – I came to realise how utterly foreign the US is. While I love the US and believe they’re our closest ally, I’m culturally European. I’m now firmly of the view those people seeking to apply political and electoral lessons from the US to the UK are usually wasting their time.

As Nick Timothy pointed out yesterday in the Daily Telegraph, the idea that Boris Johnson’s conservatism is damaged by Donald Trump’s defeat is ludicrous – the two are cut from different cloth, despite persistent but silly commentary linking “Brexit and Trump”.

So I stress: those looking to learn lessons from the US are mostly wasting their time. But one important consideration does arise for British Conservatives.

This is the electoral danger of letting down the new working class voters who have flocked to Trump’s GOP and the Conservative Party respectively.

In the US, these voters are often called Reagan Democrats or sometimes Springsteen Democrats; in the UK, we tend to call them the “traditional working class”; either way, they’re the working class of industrial and post industrial areas. While their similarities stretch only so far, given the differing nature of British and American labour markets and industrial history, the theme of working class disappointment is relevant.

We shouldn’t over-simplify: there were many reasons why Trump won in 2016; aggressive cultural conservatism was only one of them. But Trump partly carried so-called “rust-belt” states by promising to bring back long-lost manufacturing jobs and heavy industry. In short, he pledged to bring back dignity to hard-up places. The fact that this hasn’t happened – despite a surge in the national economy – dented his re-election chances.

A reality check: it doesn’t appear that Joe Biden truly surged amongst working class voters, nor did Trump collapse. But they do appear to have shifted markedly away from him. Given his narrow lead amongst the working class – and indeed his narrow lead in rust-belt states, full stop – this shift was enough to cause serious electoral problems.

British Conservatives face a similar problem. No, they didn’t make the same sorts of promises to the traditional working class in 2019; they didn’t promise the equivalent of, say, bringing back coal and steel to the North of England.

But while “getting Brexit done” was the most important part of their campaign last December, “levelling up” has become the party’s central public narrative (Covid aside) ever since; it runs through almost all of their policy communications. Their promises to the working class are far less outlandish than Trump’s, but they’re arguably more defined by their promises because they’ve talked of little else.

Trump’s winning coalition was large, but it was shallow, because of its reliance on new voters with no history of voting Republican. The same is true here. The Conservatives’ 80 seat majority looks massive, but it’s also precarious because again it’s built on new voters with few loyalties.

While working class people will cut the Conservatives slack because of Covid, they’ll soon be asking what progress the Government has made for them. They will certainly not accept the opposite of “levelling up” – the further decline of their towns and cities (which is already happening).

Just like those long-term Democrats who asked whether shifting their votes to their historical economic and moral opponents was worth it after all, so those traditional working class Labour voters from the Midlands, North and the Coast will pose the same sort of question. They’ll ask whether the Conservatives were all talk. And as I’ve written before, Keir Starmer is a very different proposition for the working class than Jeremy Corbyn.

It’s reported today that Rishi Sunak has promised Northern MPs more resources and more attention in the post-Covid period, largely, apparently, in the form of new infrastructure spending. This is welcome. (Though what about other areas – not least the Midlands and the coast?)

But time isn’t on their side, and the task is huge. Unless they can offer meaningful social and economic progress in such places as Walsall, Wolverhampton, Derby, Rotherham and Oldham, they will be out. Yes, they’ll be able to blame Covid-19 – but so what?

In fact, such little progress is being made, with time rapidly running out, it will soon be time to consider whether the Conservatives should junk their presumed working class strategy and focus once again on the affluent South. And it’s possible that the party should indeed take the easy route, follow its heart, and go back to being Southern and posh; yes, I’m serious.

Where should the Conservatives focus? Infrastructure matters. Ultimately, however, improving the economy outside the prosperous South East will require radically improving education and skills at all levels – seeking to build new businesses and industries from this new base of skilled workers. But you’re talking of two or three Parliaments to see the fruits of any such decisions made now. The Conservatives don’t have that luxury.

Rapid progress will depend on being able to show town centres – and specifically high streets – have improved. This doesn’t just mean defending commerce; it means making town centres safer and more attractive and, crucially, fostering local pride. The Party should be throwing itself into this task. A useful immediate start to focus minds: use all those screens in the Cabinet Office to display figures from a Towns Dashboard.