Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Risky Business

There is no riskier occupation in America today than Republican politician.

Donald Trump has made it "Risky Business" to be a Republican officeholder.

Every Republican politician has to make a high risk decision whether they are on or off the Trump Train. It is a decision fraught with risk to those in office.

The people are sovereign in our system. Their power is absolute  Unfortunately, too many people don't believe it. The simple fact is that politicians have no power unless the people provide it.

Laws that do not have public backing do not survive over the long term. Lawmakers who make laws that people do not support do not stay in office very long. Politicians who do not do the will of the people soon need to find other employment.

This seems to be lost on too many people who complain that they have no influence or power in the affairs of state. It may seem that way when you are just one vote. However, those votes add up quickly.

Our Constitution also insures that change can be made fairly rapidly.

The entire House of Representatives has to stand for a vote every two years. The President every four years and Senators every six years. If you think about it, within four years you can change the entire House, the President and two-thirds of the Senate. With those numbers you can do almost anything you want, including passing a Constitutional Amendment in Congress. You still would need three-fourths of the states to agree but they also do not have terms extending beyond four years.

We have heard many in the Republican Establishment say that Donald Trump does not represent the principles and values of the Republican Party. He might not represent what the Republican Party has been heretofore. However, if he wins in November, Donald Trump will be the Republican Party. The people will have made the decision of what it now stands for and against. Those that aren't supporting Trump will be at risk of not serving much longer. That is just the way the power of the people works.

If Trump loses big, risk (and reward) cuts the other way. Those that supported him will be derided and those who stood against him (e.g., Ben Sasse) may find newly found credibility and stature. After all, history is always written by the winners, never by the losers.

Politicians don't like to have to make these types of win/lose decisions. It is much easier to blend into the crowd and go with the flow. For example, Hillary has the votes of 581 superdelegates right now, most of whom are Democrat officeholders. Bernie Sanders has a mere 49. There is no risk in supporting Hillary. All the risk is in opposing her. These Democrat superdelegates will not even lose if she gets indicted. After all, they almost all supported her. Who is going to blame them if her campaign goes off of the rails?

Trump is another story altogether. There is real risk in choosing whether you are with him or against him. It could end up being a career-ender. On the other hand, it might also make a career. There is no good place to hide on this one if you are a Republican politician.

The predicament of GOP officeholders reminds me of the time period soon after Ronald Reagan became President. He had won a landslide election victory but he still had to deal with a House was controlled by the Democrats (there were 53 R's in the Senate). Despite this, in his early months in office he was working hard to pass the major tax cuts he had campaigned on. However, he needed every Democrat vote he could get to get his plan through Congress.

His primary targets were Congressmen from Southern states that had voted heavily for Reagan. They became known as "Boll Weevil" Democrats.

I was in Washington, D.C. on business at that time (early 1981) and attended a small breakfast meeting with Representative Kent Hance (D-TX) who was just beginning his second term in Congress. Hance had been elected in 1978 having defeated George W. Bush (Yes, that George W. Bush) for his seat. Hance was a prime target of the White House to support the tax cuts as his district had voted heavily for Reagan the previous November.

Kent Hance and George W. Bush in 1978 when they were running against each other for the 19th House District of Texas
Credit: LubbockOnline.com

Hance told the story that morning of recently being at a town hall meeting at one of the small Texas towns which he represented between Lubbock and Midland. He was a taking questions when a tall, tanned Texas farmer, who was wearing overalls and a John Deere cap and standing in the back of the room, asked Hance whether he was going to support Reagan's tax cut plan.

Hance was a former law professor at Texas Tech University and had a Finance degree from the same school. Hance told us that he went into what he thought was a lengthy, well-reasoned response to the constituent stating the economic pros and cons of the potential tax cuts citing a lot of financial and budget details without taking a strict position.

When Hance was done with his non-answer the farmer looked at Hance, spit some tobacco juice on the floor and said,

" I just want to know one thing...are you with 'im or agin' 'im?"

Hance went into his monologue for a little longer when the farmer interrupted him,

"Are you with 'im or agin' 'im?"

Hance started again on his explanation and the farmer stopped him quickly and stared at him along with every other set of eyes in the room,

"Are you with 'im or agin' 'im?" 

Hance finally got the message and responded,

"Mark me down as with him!" 

Hance voted for the Reagan tax cuts that eventually were passed into law. In 1985, Hance left the Democrat party and became a Republican. He twice sought the nomination for Governor and was elected Railroad Commissioner of Texas as a Republican.

Kent Hance read the people well. There was no longer a future as a Democrat in Texas after the Reagan Revolution. It was too risky. If he wanted to be elected in the future in Texas, he needed to a member of the Republican Party. In fact, the Congressional District that Hance represented has been in Republican hands ever since.

I don't know whether Donald Trump will win in November or not. The people will decide that. I do know that if he wins, the Republican Party will change with him just as surely as it changed after Ronald Reagan was elected. After 1980, there no longer was a future for anyone in the GOP unless they were Reagan Republicans.

The people spoke. The politicians listened.

Politicians always listen. It is a risky business if they don't.

The voters just have to realize they have to speak up to be heard.

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