How the Pope helped Trump

Pope Francis said today that Donald Trump is not a Christian. I can only assume the Pope has secretly cut a deal with The Donald.

"Pope. Donald here. I need you to give me some crap about the wall."


"Just, uh, call me a Muslim or something. Make it look sincere, ya know?"


So the Pope stands at the U.S.-Mexico border and says anyone who wants to build a wall "is not a Christian."


First, I am Catholic. And I actually studied the teachings of the church pretty earnestly for a few years. (I said "studied," not "obeyed.") I don't remember the part where the Pope gets to decide who's Christian. He can declare Catholics excommunicated, but he can't undo a valid baptism. I could be wrong here, but I'm pretty sure I'm right.

Second, Vatican City is surrounded by a wall. Vatican City is a country. So if a wall around your country makes you not a Christian, the Pope and everybody who lives in Vatican City is not a Christian.

Third, since when are national borders subject to religious review? Every country has the right to control entry to its territory. It's why people make countries.

Maybe the Pope meant to say something else. Maybe he said what he meant. The effect will be to boost Donald Trump. And, despite my tongue in cheek opening, I'm pretty sure that's not what Francis intended.

The reason the Pope's comment will boost Trump is simple. First, immigration is the defining issue of the Trump candidacy. Most Americans want an end to illegal immigration. We're with Trump on this whether we're Trump voters or not. An outsider telling us not to stanch illegal immigration instantly loses credibility, no matter what kind of hat he wears. Second, saying Trump "is not a Christian" presents a theological challenge that the Pope might not be able to back up. Every American Christian, Catholic or not, has to wonder if they hold positions for which the Pope might expel them from Christendom.

This round goes to Trump. And Pope Francis might want to stick to the script.

Looks like I'm not alone. Silvio Canto writes on American Thinker. (H/T Cousin Carol)

And Dilbert creator Scott Adams expected Vatican to walk back Pope's comments.

Which the Vatican did.

And, finally, this remarkable analysis by Mollie Hemingway. The Pope might see if Ms. Hemingway is available as communications director, Lutheran and all.

Maybe he's not a conservative

As far as I can tell, the number one reason a few conservatives give for hating Eric Greitens is that he might not be a conservative. He's probably not. But that shouldn't make any difference. Figuring out whether Greitens is a conservative or not requires a lot of thinking, a lot of writing, and a lot of clear analysis from readers. I won't waste time on the first two because I won't get the last no matter what. The handful of conservatives who hate Greitens have made a big public investment in their hatred. That investment is too big an investment to abandon it now. At least, I think it is. I'd be impressed if they changed their minds. But I'm afraid that  no amount of reason or logic or even persuasive psychological witchery will separate the Greitens-bashers from their conspiracy theories and angst.

Instead, I'll just say two things about Greitens's conservatism.

First, according to the dictionary definition, Greitens is probably not a conservative. Via Google Dictionary:

conservative: noun: a person who is averse to change and holds to traditional values and attitudes, typically in relation to politics.

Greitens fails the test here. Greitens is not averse to change in Missouri politics. In fact, that's the whole reason he's running. He wants to change, not only politics, but the people involved in politics. He's running to clean house in Jefferson City. He wants to scrub the capital of the human detritus that commissions slander videos like the one that attacked him last Thursday. Greitens wants to return state government to something that helps Missouri grow. He's tired of his home state lagging behind the nation in almost every area of growth. Greitens holds a claim on traditional values, but that doesn't rescue him according to this definition. There's an "and" between "averse to change" and "holds traditional values." To be a conservative, one must have both. And Greitens is not averse to change. He's all for beneficial changes for Missouri.

Second, it doesn't matter whether Greitens is a conservative. It doesn't. A few years ago, I listened to about 30 Republican candidates stand up and say, "I am a Constitutional Conservative." They sounded like robots programmed to begin every sentence with those words. I wrote about it at the time. Many of those "Constitutional Conservatives" went to Jefferson City to do whatever their masters at the chamber of commerce tell them to do. These are good people who hold traditional values. And they're true conservatives because they thwart change. They keep the revolving door between government and special interests spinning like a gyroscope. They became the grease that lubricates the business-as-usual machine in Jefferson City.

Eric Greitens won't go to Jefferson City and grease the skids for the corrupt insiders. He will actually cause change. In order, his goals as governor are:

  • End corruption
  • Make government excellent
  • Fight for the middle class
  • Cut spending
  • Protect life
  • Support police and firefighters
  • Protect faith
  • Preserve the 2nd Amendment
  • Improve education
  • Reform welfare
  • Support veterans
  • Simplify the tax code
  • Restore the American dream

Again, many of these reforms fly in the face of change aversion. But I think we need all the changes Greitens wants to make. I also think we need a governor who is an actual leader, not someone who's been waiting his turn to occupy the seat. Greitens never waits his turn when positive action can get things done. He lives Patton's general order: "when in doubt, attack." His Navy records show that Greitens accomplishes his missions and moves onto the next. There is no waiting.

So I don't care if Greitens fits Google's definition of a conservative. Or yours. I care about making Missouri a place I can recommend to my kids and their kids. Right now, I can't. There's just not enough opportunity in Missouri. And it's not the kids' jobs to fix that--it's ours.

Eric Greitens earned my support because Missouri needs change, not the status quo. If that's not conservative, too damn bad.

Greitens breathes life into our first principles

I am Catholic. I believe in and trust the magisterium of the church.

Nothing distinguishes me from Protestants more profoundly than that concept: the magisterium, or the teaching authority, of the church.

For me, the church is like Locke and Jefferson and Madison. They were learned men who read Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Seneca, Cato, Epictetus, Epicurus, and other Greek and Roman philosophers, often in the original languages.

Those philosophical and political founders interpreted and organized ancient philosophy for England and America. Just as the church in Rome interprets and organizes scripture.

Jefferson never expected the masses to share his education. So he assimilated great thinkers for his contemporaries and for us. Jefferson and the founders did for political philosophy what Rome does for Catholics.

By "first principles," I mean the raw material of philosophical thought. Elon Musk reinvented the battery by ignoring modern, interpreted batteries and returning to the origins of stored electricity. Tesla is a battery company that also makes cars. And only by returning to first principles of electricity storage could Musk have made the car that defines the breed. Analogy wasn't enough.

I thought of this while listening to Eric Greitens open his new campaign office in Crestwood tonight. Along with 237 dedicated people who braved a pop-up snowstorm the day after the Super Bowl, I was amazed at this man's ability to inspire and lead so many different people.

The crowd was way more diverse than any Tea Party crowd I remember. And much younger on average. So many veterans and first responders.

Yet I met at least seven people who became active in politics because of the Tea Party. One man, now a member of the Lindbergh School District board remembered the Kenneth Gladney smackdown event where he heard me speak for the first time.

I can't speak for the others, but what draws me to Greitens is his first principles approach to governance.

Greitens reads all the same philosophers Jefferson and Locke read. And he reaches remarkably consistent conclusions about the proper relationship of the person to the state.

But unlike the vast majority of conservatives who rely on Lockean and Jeffersonian interpretations of philosophy, Greitens went straight to the source. Reading Eric's masterpiece, Resilience, which somewhat mimics Seneca's Letters from a Stoic, I realized that America's founders were not so much political philosophers as philosophical executives. America breathed life into stoicism.

Maybe Greitens can recite Jefferson and Locke. Maybe he can't. I don't know. But he can recite the philosophers that Jefferson and Locke relied upon to craft what we call naively our first principles. And Greitens is able to drop the weight of 18th century language and situations to make stoicism fresh in the 21st century.

As a Catholic, I'm fine with Jefferson's interpretation, but I appreciate having a modern interpreter, too. I'm a little surprised that some of my friends, many of whom were not raised Catholic, believe we need an 18th century interpreter to filter our first principles for us.

I believe that Eric Greitens is the perfect soldier in our never-ending war against corrupt, coercive government. And I genuflect at his willingness to mimic our founders by putting his life on hold to breathe new life into the first principles of self governance and the good life.



The Cruz campaign's epic #facepalm

This "VOTING VIOLATION" controversy says bad things about the Cruz campaign. (BTW, Rubio's campaign sent a similar, but less creepy, mailer, too. So far, I have not seen a large number of complaints about the Rubio mailer.)

And I'm not talking about the ethics of publicly shaming people who vote sporadically. I'm talking two gross electioneering violations from a campaign that markets itself as the most scientifically advanced in history. With the mailer Team Cruz showed a lack of strategic understanding of the science and compounded their ignorance by apparently making up numbers.

The Growing Controversy

Late last week, voters in Iowa started complaining about a "VOTING VIOLATION" mailer they received from the Ted Cruz campaign. The mailer listed the names of the recipient and several of the recipient's neighbors. Each voter listed also received a voting frequency percentage (usually 55 percent) and a letter grade (usually F).

Voters complained on social media and talk radio. The Iowa Secretary of State denounced the tactic and said the mailer was deceptive. Several voters who received the mailers say they intend to switch their support at the caucus to Trump or Rubio from Cruz.

The tactic shows every sign of being an epic failure in election history. In fact, if Cruz does not win Iowa, the mailer could make it into civics textbooks.

That Misapplied Science

I actually like the idea of sending people their voting history and suggesting you'll do it again after the next election. While it's creepy, the practice is not illegal. But it isn't necessarily effective.

In a 2006 study, researchers sent mailers to voters 11 days prior to Michigan's state primary elections. The study tested four different treatments and had a very large control group who received no mailings related to the study.

Researchers found that turnout was 8.1 percentage points higher among voters who received an aggressive message, similar to the one the Cruz campaign sent in Iowa. An 8.1 point lift in turnout makes voter-shaming the most effective tactic ever tested to drive up voter turnout. The authors of the study noted:

It is important to underscore the magnitude of these effects. The 8.1 percentage-point effect is not only bigger than any mail effect gauged by a randomized experiment; it exceeds the effect of live phone calls (Arceneaux, Gerber, and Green 2006; Nickerson 2006b) and rivals the effect of face-toface contact with canvassers conducting get-out-thevote campaigns (Arceneaux 2005; Gerber and Green 2000; Gerber, Green, and Green 2003). Even allowing for the fact that our experiment focused on registered voters, rather than voting-eligible citizens, the effect of the Neighbors treatment is impressive. An 8.1 percentage-point increase in turnout among registered voters in a state where registered voters comprise 75% of voting-eligible citizens translates into a 6.1 percentage-point increase in the overall turnout rate. By comparison, policy interventions such as Election Day registration or vote-by-mail, which seek to raise turnout by lowering the costs of voting, are thought to have effects on the order of 3 percentage-points or less (Knack 2001).


The remarkable effectiveness of the social pressure appeals contrasts with the relatively modest effects observed in previous studies of the effectiveness of direct mail voter mobilization campaigns.

So why wouldn't Cruz use the tactic?

For a very simple reason: the academic researchers didn't care who people voted for--Ted Cruz does care. 

The Michigan study showed only that voter shaming (or social pressure) works to increase turnout. It does not show that it can increase turnout for a particular candidate in an election where voters have a choice of candidates with similar ideological profiles.

Further, the mailers in the study came from a non-partisan research group, not from a candidate on the ballot. If the Michigan recipients were angered by the mailers, they had no candidate to take their anger out on.

Cruz and Rubio clearly identified the source of their Iowa mailers as their own campaigns, so angry Iowa voters do have a target for their anger: they can caucus against the candidate who sent the mailer.

At least some Iowans say they intend to do just that.

In a general election, this tactic might work. In a race between Cruz and Clinton, it's doubtful anger over a mail piece would drive a voter to switch parties. But in a primary, upset voters have a less-dramatic choice.

Those Phony Scores

Compounding the error, it appears that the Cruz campaign did  not use actual voting histories in tabulating voters' scores, as the mailer indicates. An investigation by Ryan Lizza posted on The New Yorker website indicates that the grades and voting percentages on the mailer were simply made up:

So was the Cruz campaign accurately portraying the voter histories of Iowans? Or did it simply make up the numbers?

It seems to have made them up. Dave Peterson, a political scientist at Iowa State University who is well-acquainted with the research on “social pressure” turnout techniques, received a mailer last week. The Cruz campaign pegged his voting percentage at fifty-five per cent, which seems to be the most common score that the campaign gives out. (All of the neighbors listed on Peterson’s mailer also received a score of fifty-five per cent.)

But Peterson says he's voted in 3 of the last 4 elections, which should equate to 75 percent. And he's even more consistent in voting in local elections.

Lizza did more checking on the numbers:

A source with access to the Iowa voter file told me that he checked several other names on Cruz mailers and that the voting histories of those individuals did not match the scores that the Cruz campaign assigned them in the mailer.

When confronted with evidence that the numbers on the voter-shaming mailers appeared to be fraudulent, the Cruz campaign refused to disclose its sources and methodology for producing the scores, according to Lizza.

photo from The New Yorker

Another apparent deception in the Cruz mailer was the letter grade. The mailer says that the data is publicly available information, but that's not really true. The Iowa Secretary of State's office does keep records of who voted in elections, but state does not assign letter grades. Even if the percentages were based on actual public records, the letter grades were invented by the campaign.

If it turns out the Cruz people really did just make up these voter grades, the backlash could hurt Cruz long after Iowa. It's one thing to attack your opponents in a race--it's another to spread lies about voters themselves.

At a minimum, expect heavy pressure on the Cruz campaign to disclose its grading methodology and which elections contributed to its scores. Or admit to making up the grades from thin air.

Finally, when you try to apply academic research to the real world, make sure you understand how the parameter changes. Changing the source of the mailer from a non-partisan research team to a candidate's campaign, and inventing a letter grade without explaining the methodology, turns a potential tool into a blunt weapon.

And in this case it's a weapon that's more likely to hurt Cruz than to hurt his opponents.

Trump won the Fox News debate

Yes, you can win a contest before it starts. I gotta tell ya, the people at Fox News are stupid. Dumb. Ignorant. Pliable. Oafish. Any word you want you to use that means cognitively challenged (for the politically correct).

But the Fox News morons have a lot of company at National Review.

Trump is playing these media elites like a fiddle.

When The Donald says "dance," they dance. When he says "cower," they cower. When he says "bitch and moan," they bitch and moan.

Yesterday Trump told Roger Ailes and his trained monkeys to devote 100 percent of their broadcast day to Donald Trump.

And Fox complied.

There's only one story on Fox News: Donald Trump.

Free media. Blocked opponents.

Poor Ted Cruz is out there challenging Trump to a one-on-one debate. Cruz's fans think it's a sign of toughness.

Boxing fans know it's a loser's gambit. When you challenge someone, you admit you're the challenger, the left-behind, the also-ran, the wanna-be.

(Before you embarrass yourself in the comments, by definition someone who challenges someone else is by definition the challenger.)

While Fox News carries a debate of undercard wannabes, The Donald will be raising money for wounded veterans and tweeting nasty insults about the debaters.

And the next day, you will see only the nasty tweets. And the wounded veterans. And you will hear only The Donald's narrative.

Fox News is Trump's bitch. Fox is the bottom. And not even a power bottom.

Look, folks, I've told you I don't intend to vote for Trump. I'm still a Carson guy. But I've been warning you for years.

I told you that you were reading the wrong books years ago. I gave you a list of books to read. It wasn't complete--it wasn't perfect. But it pointed you in the direction to victory.

The comments under that post argued with me. I was wrong. I was a lefty.

Well, Trump was reading the books I was reading. Or he innately got what those books taught.

While you were reading the 5000 Year Leap, Donald Trump was plotting your self-destruction.

Fox News and National Review bent over and presented themselves to The Donald.

And I'm not alone in thinking so. From the left, right, and center, people who study media, people, and psychology agree:

Rush Limbaugh: Stunned that Fox News acts like she was "jilted at the altar."

Ira Stoll: Glenn Beck faults Trump for supporting the bank bailouts that National Review supported

Charles Hurt: Beware the latest nasty virus sweeping the East Coast

I could go on, but why? Donald Trump didn't destroy the conservative coalition; conservatives did. You didn't read the right books, you didn't develop the right skills, and you didn't look in the mirror enough.

If Donald Trump is a monster, the conservative movement--tea party included--is Dr. Frankenstein.

As my wife says: own it.


NRO: Against Jefferson

"Aristocrats fear the people, and wish to transfer all power to the higher classes of society." --Thomas Jefferson to William Short, 1825.

National Review has entered dangerous territory: they have inadvertently made the case for Trump.

An angry screed by Kevin Williamson titled "Our Post-Literate Politics" (later renamed to "What's a Book?") makes the case that Trump supporters are illiterate, uneducated, dim-witted, racist, homophobes. To wit (via's John Nolte):

Thomas Aquinas cautioned against “homo unius libri,” a warning that would not get very far with the typical Trump voter stuck sniggering over “homo.” (They’d snigger over “snigger,” too, for similar reasons.)


Donald Trump is the face of that insalubrious relationship, a lifelong crony capitalist who brags about buying political favors.  But his enthusiasts, devoid as they are of a literate politics capable of thinking about all three sides of a triangle at the same time[.]

The magazine's aristocratic editors have examined the species homo trumpicus and found it unfit for self-governance. Until last fall, homo trumpicus was NR's favorite fellow-traveller.

For those who don't regularly read Hennessy's View (and I seem to have a lot of new readers of late), I am not supporting Donald Trump. Also, I agree with the NR writers that Trump does not fit my definition of conservatism (which, like most conservatives, I cannot articulate in a way that you could a draw a picture from). Further, I'll give you that Trump scares me a little. Finally on this point, there are at least three candidates I'd greatly prefer to Trump and a couple more I'd probably hold my nose and vote for before I'd touch the screen next to The Donald. (Or maybe he'll be on the ballot as simply "TRUMP.") (And Jeb! is not one of them. I'll take Trump over Jeb!)

While I revere William F. Buckley, my own vision of a conservative utopia has been out of phase with NR's for some time, at least in a few ways. In 1993, for example, I wrote an essay opposing US intervention in the Balkans. I am proud that my essay was published alongside similar sentiments from Patrick J. Buchanan and Phyllis Schlafly. (Maybe it's a St. Louis thing. Buchanan cut his newspaper teeth at Globe-Democrat, and Schlafly is, of course, a St. Louisan.) I differed from my favorite magazine on the issue.

In 1994, a friend and I earned beer money by selling shirts and bumperstickers. Our best-seller said "He's Rested, He's Ready, He's RIGHT! Buchanan '96." (My personal favorite didn't sell worth a damn: "Why did I get wet when Clinton soaked the rich?")

I should point out that I have differences with Buchanan (Israel) and Schlafly (convention of states), too. But my vision of conservative utopia is probably a lot closer to theirs. And while I've dutifully bucked up and supported whatever lame Establishment punching bag the GOP sends up every four years. like many others, I'm getting pretty sick of supporting a party that prefers abstract principles and handouts to billionaires over sound policies that lift people out of poverty and give those well above poverty the confidence to jump employers, change careers, or hang out a shingle. 

My view is pretty simple and probably more libertarian than conservative. I believe that free men and women, decently educated, reasonably honest, occasionally sober, and mildly ambitious make for an exceptional nation. I believe that a government that provides the safety and security to let the men and women have their fun (without feeling the need to wear rearview sunglasses in case some crazed jihadi is sneaking up on them) is a government that engenders exceptionalism. (Unlike my definition of conservatism, I can point you to a picture of exceptionalism. It's something like Burning Man surrounded on each end by a week or two of hard work.) And I believe that an agreed-upon and complete list of things government is allowed to do lets the people plan more than 3 minutes ahead, which is a prerequisite of exceptionalism, freedom, and fun.

And all of my beliefs are built upon the idea that people, by their nature, can govern themselves. One requirement of self-governance is choosing representatives, including presidents.

If I'm wrong on that--if people truly cannot government themselves and cannot form governments that function--then the whole concept of liberty and everything written on the subject from John Locke to Thomas Jefferson to William F. Buckley, was a lie, an error, a sham, a horrible mistake. On that point, Locke, Jefferson, and Buckley agree with me.

So yesterday National Review, in its screechy cat-fight of a hissy fit, determined that 41 percent of Republican voters (and 100 percent of Democrat voters) fail the self-governance test and need an aristocracy to rule them. Assuming half the voters are Democrats, that means NR has written off, not 47 percent, but 91 percent of American population. Nearly everybody but the National Review's editorial is, by their reckoning, too ignorant and illiterate to own their own lives.

And this is where the fun begins. 

National Review's anti-Trump symposium warns that Trump is a modern day Hitler ready to seize autocratic power in America, and that Americans need an autocrat to rule them in their vast ignorance and bigotry.

Put syllogistically (a word that should satisfy Mr. Williamson and most of the NR symposium authors):

If Donald Trump is an authoritarian with conservative-ish pretenses, and if the American electorate's ignorance requires authoritarian rule, then Trump is the best authoritarian for the job. 

I utterly refute National Review's pessimistic, aristocratic, and undemocratic conclusion. I reject the middle leg of their pro-Trump syllogism because I believe we are competent to run our lives and to decide on a working government.

And on that, Jefferson concurs:

"The people, being the only safe depository of power, should exercise in person every function which their qualifications enable them to exercise consistently with the order and security of society. We now find them equal to the election of those who shall be invested with their executive and legislative powers, and to act themselves in the judiciary as judges in questions of fact. The range of their powers ought to be enlarged." --Thomas Jefferson to Walter Jones, 1814.

Either we can govern ourselves, or we can't. I think we can; NR thinks we can't.

But I admit to taking great satisfaction in the pain and suffering Trump causes to snobbish blowhards like the one told his NR readers that 41 percent of Republicans can't govern themselves.

As always, I'll end with the words Dennis Miller gave us: that's just my opinion; I could be wrong.