Jeremy Carl: What in the world just happened? Reflections on the 2016 election - Must Read Alaska
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Jeremy Carl: What in the world just happened? Reflections on the 2016 election

Author Jeremy Carl suffers through a “selfie” photo with Must Read Alaska’s Suzanne Downing prior to speaking at Juneau’s Lincoln Day Dinner on Feb. 24, 2017.

Editor’s note: Readers have asked if Must Read Alaska would reprint the Lincoln Day Address by author Jeremy Carl, who is a fellow at the Hoover Institution (formally knowns as the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University and who writes regularly for the National Review. Mr. Carl gave us permission to print his speech, which he made to a sold-out event in Juneau on Feb. 24, 2017.

WHAT IN THE WORLD JUST HAPPENED?

Thanks so much for that warm welcome.

I’m not sure how a U.S. Senator [Dan Sullivan] wound up as the warmup act for me. It’s a bit like having Michael Jordan as the warmup act for a guy you once saw make a couple of nice baskets at a YMCA game. But nonetheless I’m happy to be here.

I am very aware that I am coming to you as an outsider in a state that for many very good reasons places a premium on the knowledge of locals. And so my goal for my remarks tonight is modest:

I want to ensure that Ethan Berkowitz remains the San Francisco area import to Alaska that you dislike most — and that I don’t supplant him by the end of my speech.

If I achieve that, then I’ll consider this talk a success

So let me begin by acknowledging some of our prominent locals who are with us tonight. First and foremost, Sen. Dan Sullivan. I enjoyed getting to spend time with him earlier.

I know Dan has a great reputation as a rising star in our national party, and he’s an outstanding senator for State of Alaska.. And thanks also to all of the Alaskans in the room for helping Dan defeat an incumbent Democratic senator, which is never an easy thing to do.

But before Sen. Sullivan gets a big head let me say that I had a chance to sit with his wife Julie at dinner, and I can confirm that, as he said to the Legislature today, he married up. So we have something in common.

I also wanted to recognize Senate President Pete Kelly from Fairbanks, who was described to me as “smart, principled, tough as nails, and a true leader.” Having had the chance to talk to him I certainly came away with that impression as well.

And I would like to thank all of the other members of the Alaska Legislature who came out this evening. several of whom I’ve had the privilege to meet and speak with earlier. You all have a great record here of supporting conservative, freedom-oriented governance, and it is greatly appreciated

I want to also acknowledge Tuckerman Babcock, the state [GOP] chairman who I enjoyed getting to know over the past couple of days. Thank you for all that you do to help the GOP be successful—I know our state party officials in California well and so I appreciate all the effort you have to do to make the party run.

And thanks to Juneau’s deputy mayor for his welcome, Jerry Nankervis. I understand you are coming straight from hockey reffing, so thanks for getting off the ice and making it here.

I’d like to thank Suzanne Downing from Must Read Alaska, which really is a must-read. Suzanne has been an excellent unofficial co-chair of my welcome committee.

Thanks so much to Ben Brown for the kind introduction and Capital City Republicans for inviting me to come to Juneau and the Republican women for putting on the dinner.

The last person instructed me not to mention her by name, so I’ll honor that request but I will say that her name rhymes with Paulette Simpson and she has been incredibly gracious in taking the lead setting up things for today.

I told Paulette that I do both political talks and more candid academic talks and I asked her whether I should be more political or more candid—and she said be candid. So blame her if there’s something you don’t like — I’ve been reliably informed there are no roads out of town so hopefully my survival skills are good.

If there’s anybody I haven’t flattered yet that I should have, my sincere apologies.

But seriously, I have to say I’ve done many speeches in many places over the years and I’ve never received warmer hospitality and in such unexpectedly great weather than I’ve received over the last couple of days.

I told the organizers that I woudn’t do this for say, the Delaware GOP, much as I’m sure they are great folks. I have five young kids at home and I travel selectively, but really love Alaska—I almost moved here. I’ve been privileged to travel around the state from as far south as Hyder to Homer to as far north as ANWR, and there is just no other place in America—if not on earth– like it. It has always stood for liberty and a natural beauty and resource richness unparalleled in the world. Alaska stands for freedom and the Alaska GOP is what keeps it that way.

When I think about the importance of groups such as the one gathered here this evening, I have an article in the current issue of National Review discussing a renowned conservative political philosopher Harry Jaffa in which I quote Jaffa.

The fate of the world, Jaffa said, depends on the United States, the fate of the United States depends on the conservative movement. And the fate of the conservative movement depends on the health and success of the Republican party.

And that’s a pretty good summary of why I’m here—and why I expect many of you are here as well. We need a strong Republican party if we want a strong America.

I originally titled my talk. “What in the world just happened? And what does it mean for the GOP’s Future? Reflections on the 2016 Election.”

The organizers wisely shortened that title to the more calm “Reflections on the 2016 Election” but my message is going to remain the same.

I’m going to talk about three things—first what we learned from the election itself. Second, what we’ve learned from the early days of the Trump administration. And third where the GOP and the country should go from here. Then, with the appropriate modesty of an outsider, a few thoughts on what this might mean for Alaska.

SO WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?

That we’re lousy prognosticators

And that includes me. I think I got the dynamics of this election closer to correct than the vast majority other pundits, analysts and consultants. And I was still lousy. I wrote an entire memo to another GOP Presidential candidate in early September of 2015 more than a year before the election in which I said that regardless of media spin this would hinge on turning out white working class vote.

“The most important voters to win in the entire country are working class and middle class white voters in the Midwest and upper Midwest.”

[This was followed by a data modeling discussion of why, while the GOP needed to actively and enthusiastically pursue every demographic group, this particular election hinged on our ability to turn out white middle class and working class voters in the Midwest. Carl went on to note, “The voters who stayed home and didn’t vote for Romney, particularly in the upper Midwest, are just the sort we need to reach. The scenario and data outlined above flips Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Hampshire, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Iowa to give us a victory” And that proved a pretty accurate description.]

So in a fundamental sense– at the risk of gross immodesty, in contrast to most of the professional pundits and highly paid consultants, I had the correct GOP victory scenario nailed. And yet, if you’d given me 100 to 1 odds when he entered the race that Donald Trump would be our next president, I probably would have taken it. I knew he could appeal to the voters the GOP needed to win, but I thought that his other much-discussed liabilities would be too much to overcome. The election of Trump surprised all of the experts and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise.

Trump brought out a ton of Republican and other right leaning voters.

I think this is important and gets lost. Trump won almost one million more votes than any Republican presidential candidate in history. And that total doesn’t even include 731,000 votes for Evan McMullin and 4.5 Million for Gary Johnson and 1.2 Million write-ins, most of whom were also probably conservatives. Meanwhile, Democrats got lowest vote share in a two-party race since Dukakis in 1988 right after the Reagan revolution.

Mainstream media’s power has slipped in fundamental ways.

I’ve worked in the media so it gives me no joy to say this, but they were effectively unpaid agents of Hillary Clinton and Democrats—they were more Pravda than independent media. Yet they were not able to deliver victory for the Democrats. And I’m glad that the GOP is finally being more aggressive about calling to account the media’s fake news and fake narratives.

That GOP strength down ballot was incredible. 

We hit a century-long high in terms of legislative seats and chambers won. GOP controls 67 partisan state legislative chambers—an all-time record with well over 4,100 of 7,383 seats. That is the most since 1920. There are 24 states with GOP complete control including governorship. Democrats controlled just six. Trump had coattails and GOP votes were dragged over the line. We have 52 seats in the Senate.

In Alaska the Democratic candidate for Senate took just 12 percent [in the primary], which must be a modern record for futility for a party whose candidate wasn’t mired in a sex scandal. Fourth place, at least where I come from, is a fringe party.

In the U.S. Senate overall, the GOP won 13 seats by more than 20 points. This was more than the 10 seats won by the Democrats by any margin.

We won 17 seats by 10 points. The GOP won 12 seats from senators facing their first re-election effort—a remarkable achievement

In 2018, the Democrats will be defending 24 of 33 seats up for election in the Senate. including 10 in states won by Trump. The GOP has only 9 seats up period, of which only two are at all vulnerable to the Democrats barring a stunning upset or scandal. Only one is in a state that Trump didn’t carry. Without jinxing ourselves it would not be much of a surprise if the GOP made substantial gains without losing a single Senate seat in 2017. While I don’t think either scenario is likely we are much more likely to have a filibuster-proof majority of 60 seats than we are to have 49.

In the House, 253 seats (218 are needed for a majority) were won by either Trump or a Republican house candidate or both. 218 were won by both Trump and the House GOP candidate. All in all, It would take a fairly stunning reversal to not have unified GOP government over the next four years. As a famous statesman once said, We’re going to win so much that you’re going to get tired of winning.

Big Money is almost meaningless in presidential elections.

Trump was badly outspent. In a little-known staggering statistic, Jeb Bush raised as much money from major donors as Trump did. Liberals love to talk about campaign finance reform. But at the presidential level, good candidates beat big dollars all the time. And Hillary Clinton was a lousy candidate.

On the GOP side in particular it was an insurgent election.—it wasn’t just Trump. Just 15 percent of GOP votes in the presidential primary went to non-Tea Party or post-Tea Party Candidates. 95 percent of convention delegates were won by insurgents. And we had a lot of good candidates of an earlier vintage: Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Jeb Bush Chris Christie, Rick Santorum, MikeHuckabee . None got any traction at all. This was a change election, and a conservative insurgent one.

Trump or Cruz , the bête noirs of the party establishment, won all but two states. Kasich’s home state of Ohio and Minnesota narrowly won by Rubio.

Democrats’ leadership is mismatched with their party demographics still led by last generation.

The three Dem leaders in house will be almost 80 by the time this congress concludes top two both white. Three Dem Leaders in the Senate all white, The top two are white men—all senior citizens—yet they have an increasingly African-American and Hispanic Party Base that does not have a seat at the table right now. That is going to cause dissention in their coalition and you are already seeing it.

And that leads to perhaps the most surprising and least commented upon phenomenon of Election 2016:

Despite a full media propaganda campaign designed to stir up two minutes of hate against him, Trump actually performed better among Hispanics, Asians, and African-Amercans than Romney. If numbers from previous polling are accurate, probably far better among native-born members of those groups. While we need to do much better, even that arrow is pointed up.

For all of the “White Nationalist” and “Racist” hysteria created by the media around Trump, he was no better than Romney’s level among white voters (58-37). But decompose this and the story becomes very different. He did dramatically better with white non-college voters (+14 vs Romney) but Trump slipped a lot among white college voters losing 10 points with them versus Romney. There’s a huge opportunity for 2020 growth here if he proves more rational than scary media portrait. And considering the media is panting him as a cross between Hitler and Atilla the Hun that should simple bar to jump over.

Now let me move on to what we have learned from the earliest days of this administration, starting with the cabinet picks.

For whatever his flaws may be this most encouraging thing is that Trump is actually a leader. In filling out his administration, he is not just picking loyalists. Nikki Haley, Tillerson, My friend and Hoover colleague General Mattis, Zinke, Chao, Devos, Pompeo, Rick Perry Mulvaney. None of these were early passengers on the Trump train. Some never boarded it at all.

I think for the most part this very encouraging. One of the true hallmarks of a strong leader overcome pettiness and slights inherent to campaigning and pick the right people for the right roles.

He’s been willing to take the fight to the Democrats again and again. He’s not letting up. Do I wish he spent less time on Twitter? Absolutely. But what he’s done has gotten results.

And he’s kept his campaign promises to his voters even if our elites don’t like it: On immigration. On issues like the Supreme Court, assertions of Sovereignty at NATO, and on fundamental regulatory reform. From a policy perspective,, there’s been a lot to like. He’s not changing as president—he’s a tough deal-maker but he’s going to need some of his experienced hands at least on foreign affairs to help advise him and with Tillerson, John Kelly, Mattis, Joseph Dunford he is doing just that.

I think there are several possibilities where the party goes from here. I’m not endorsing one, just laying out various scenarios

  • We could become a less ideological and more practical party—Trump was certainly not seen as an ideological figure before this campaign. Political scientists Matt Grossman and David Hopkins have talked about asymmetric politics— The GOP fights for its values while Dems are a cynical coalition of interests.This approach would be painful for a lot of the true believers in conservative journalism and policy space—but it may lead to a more effective opposition.
  • A more overtly nationalist party, In 2016 Dems discovered identity politics cuts two ways. This is what Making America Great Again is all about.
  • Trump as a blip—he does not become a successful—is not re-elected and we go back to business as usual.
  • Trump serves as a figurehead to conventional GOP policy—we end up having a fairly conventional administration except for a few pet issues for Trump. This is possible, but it’s not what I’m seeing in the early days of this administration. Personnel is policy and the personnel of this administration look to be conservative and determined.
  • Trump as transformational President. The Dems have overplayed their hand; Trump runs roughshod over socialism and outdated regulation, proves to be a Reagan like-figure but more aggressive, decimating the opposition and ushering in a new GOP majority era while the Dems socialist identity politics is left of the ash heap of history.

Boy that would be great. I don’t think this is most likely scenario, but I also don’t exclude it.

The biggest thing we learned from this election cycle is that Donald Trump shouldn’t ever be underestimated. So hang on—going to be a wild ride.

Now next let’s talk about what we’ve seen from America since this election. If I may put in academic parlance … apologies if this is too technical for some of you:

The Left are acting like a bunch of whiny, pathetic, sore loser babies.

I think what we’ve seen since election of Trump is a lot of distraction—a mass of protests, crowds at town hall meetings and a non-stop full-court press by the left-wing media, Hollywood and DC insiders to make Republicans and Trump supporters “the other.”  To isolate and shame them and him.  They are making a lot of noise, but I’m not sure their strategy won’t backfire. The marchers tend to be unhinged and that doesn’t play well with swing voters.

It reminders me of what happened with Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin a few years back. Tens of thousands of protesters took over Wisconsin capitol for weeks screaming and shouting and holding signs that said in capital letters saying “This is what Democracy Looks like”

Then we actually had an election and Walker won by a bigger margin than before—and at that point we discovered “No THIS is what democracy looks like. “ The let are so used to winning the culture wars without serious pushback that they don’t know how to handle losing. We’re not crazy like they are but we can’t let crazy intimidate us.

And speaking of crazy, I should add that I’m truly surprised at how crazy the media has become. It’s a bit disturbing to hear the president call the media the enemy of the American people, but it’s even more disturbing that it’s increasingly true that the

Washington Post or New York Times today often read like the comment threads on Elizabeth Warren’s Facebook page. It’s not good for journalism or democracy.

In many ways I think the biggest threat to Trump is what political theorists refer to as the “Deep State.” This is the expanded administrative state, the ability of the permanent bureaucracy and allied forces among American elites to leak damaging information and to impede conservative policy choices through intentional slowdowns and obfuscation.

Deep state is at war with Trump, and Trump will have to be very careful—Needs to take on bureaucracy—and have fundamental civil service reform. DC voted 94 percent non-Trump and the surrounding suburbs 70+ percent non-Trump. The bureaucracy and its allies are definitely the sworn enemies of this administration.

That’s why I was encouraged when Steve Bannon at CPAC said, “Trump administration is in unending battle for ‘deconstruction of the administrative state’”

It’s encouraging that this administration understands the terrain on which the battle should be fought and exactly what the stakes are.

ABOUT ALASKA…

Now I’d like to offer a few thoughts on what this all means for Alaska.

I tread carefully here because even though I do follow politics closely in Alaska, I am hardly more knowledge about it than the people here.

Unfortunately, the craziness has come to Alaska. I just read in Must Read Alaska about some disturbing news from Homer — a city by the way, which voted decisively for President Trump

Nonetheless a resolution has been put before the Homer City Council, sponsored by several council members, effectively demanding that Trump and his supporters be condemned.

Here’s some sample text:

WHEREAS, The President now is following through on his promises to deport millions of undocumented immigrants”

(WELL WE CANT HAVE A CONSERVATIVE PRESIDENT WHO FOLLOWS THROUGH ON HIS PROMISES TO UPHOLD US LAW CAN WE?)

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the City of Homer calls on all its citizens to stand against intolerance and resist expressions of hate toward any members of the community

(EXCEPT TRUMP AND HIS SUPPORTERS WHO REPRESENT A MAJORITY OF HOMER)

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the City Council of the City of Homer unequivocally rejects expressions of fear and hate wherever they may exist

(EXCEPT FOR HATRED OF THE MAJORITY OF HOMERITES WHO SUPPORTED TRUMP)

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the city of Homer will not waver in its commitment to inclusion and to continuing to create a village safe for a diverse population.

(EXCEPT FOR POLITICAL DIVERSITY)

And it goes on like this for several pages.

This is San Francisco level political stupidity and the fact that leftists feel emboldened to offer these resolutions in communities that Trump carried shows just how unhinged and unconnected to reality they have become.

So outside the fever dreams of the Left what can we say about what Trump will actually do that affects Alaska?

  • This is a President that likes to build things. That may sound trivial but it’s really important. Deregulation not just a theory for Trump. He wants to put steel in the ground. That means pipelines—he wants to unlock domestic energy and natural resources—all of that is an opportunity for Alaska.
  • I would love to personally see triangulation—something where a small amount of revenue from new resources that we unlock would be used to develop national parks and perhaps roads to access them in Alaska and other areas—most of which have few to no facilities. Many of Alaska’s parks are under-resourced—even the popular ones. This could develop more tourism jobs while lowering tourist overload at already overcrowded sites. The tourism infrastructure at this state, particularly at some of the National Parks not reachable by road, could be dramatically improved.

If you have a sense of the true scale and grandeur of this place, as actual Alaskans do, the notion that a few hotels or roads or oil wells on a small portion of Alaska land would fundamentally spoil these is ludicrous. The scale of nature in this state is boundless and there is plenty of room to preserve Alaska’s natural beauty while responsibly developing its resources.

It’s going to mean a focus on blue collar workers and again, I think that is great for Alaska.

It’s going to mean a focus on federalism and as a state that arguably more than any other needs federalism. Because of its unique needs and circumstances, Alaska will benefit.

This president is focused on political and regulatory streamlining.

For the EPA, I think Pruitt has a lot of promise. Contrary to the media caricature, from what I can see this is not an ideologue—he’s a person who wants to refocus the EPA’s mission. But it’s about predictable regulation and a focus on clean air and clean water and removing a lot of the extra political agenda.

And I’d say much the same for the Department of Interior Under Ryan Zinke. And DOE under Rick Perry. The fact that we have elected officials, with their greater understanding of politics, in these roles, rather than just career bureaucrats, is generally a very good thing.

Nobody wants dirty air or dirty water or oil spills, least of all people who put up with the difficulties that exist to live in a spectacular place like this one. But environmental regulation is a question of scale, cost and balance. And I think this administration will have the right balance.

At the same time, we have to be realistic—the drop in oil prices makes bigger offshore plays less likely, so those expecting that Trump will usher in an overnight energy revolution may be disappointed.

Look, there are going to be a lot of distractions over the coming years. There are going to be a lot of whiny liberals screaming in the streets that Trump’s latest move, no matter what it is, is going to end the world. They are going to do everything they can to distract us from doing our jobs to make America stronger, safer, and more prosperous.

So in response to that, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to close with one of my favorite passages of political writing. It’s from the British philosopher and statesman Edmund Burke, a great supporter of the American Revolution, an opponent of the more radical French revolution, and by many lights the founder of modern Anglo-American conservatism.

In Burke’s masterwork Reflections on the Revolution in France, he offered the following message to his correspondent and his words are wise counsel to Republicans and conservatives anywhere.

Quoting Burke:

“The vanity, restlessness, petulance, and spirit of intrigue of several petty cabals, who attempt to hide their total want of consequence in bustle and noise, and puffing, and mutual quotation of each other, makes you imagine that our contemptuous neglect of their abilities is a mark of general acquiescence in their opinions.

“No such thing, I assure you. Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field, that, of course, they are many in number, or that, after all, they are other than the little, shriveled, meager, hopping, though loud and troublesome, insects of the hour.”

I think we all would have loved to have had a press secretary like Edmund Burke? I’m waiting for Sean Spicer to start his next press conference that way.

The insects of the hour are out in full force today. They are in the media, at our universities, in Hollywood, and even in large parts of our business community.  Their goal is to isolate conservatives, to shame them, and to make sure that we cannot be successful in our goals.

What we need to understand is that we represent those powerful yet silent important and numerous inhabitants of the field, The American people, not the few loud and obnoxious grasshoppers.

We need to focus on delivering on the conservative promises that the Republican Party has long stood for—lower taxes, less government, more freedom and a recommitment to American values.

The grasshoppers will always make loud and dissonant noises. To succeed, they need to convince us that they are the many and we are the few—but they remain shriveled and meager as ever.

Abraham Lincoln, whose memory we honor tonight, didn’t listen to the grasshoppers attempting to distract him during the trials of the Civil War. He kept his eyes on the prize—ended the scourge of slavery and ensured that our states would continue to be united.

He focused on the welfare of millions of Americans whom he bravely led—not the siren song of a few whining insects.

Ronald Reagan would do the same thing in 1980 when his opponents accused him of dangerous radicalism and called him every name in the book.

We need to follow their example — that of Burke of Reagan and Lincoln. If we can do that, we’re going to be very successful in the next four years, and we truly will make sure that America’s reality is as great as its promise always has been.

Thank You.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

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