What Are Elections For? (Albert Jay Nock, Winter 1933, Virginia Quarterly Review)

In view of the country’s situation, the sum total of the issues, as the papers presented them, was not impressive, and the sum total of the candidates did not look promising. Reports of the conventions brought to mind the mediaeval saying, “The devil began to shear a hog, and exclaimed, ‘Great cry and little wool!’” I wondered whether the results were worth the fuss, and above all, whether they were worth the price; and thus by easy stages I got around to wondering why, exactly, we have elections. What is an election for?

It is no easy question to answer—let the reader try it. The conventional and handsome thing to say is that an election is to register the will of the people; but this will hardly do, because in practice the scope set for the exercise of the people’s will is so extremely small. I do not recall any national election at which the will of the people was exercised in any really significant way, or had the chance to be so exercised, either in respect of candidates or of issues. I can not make out that the will of the people had much influence upon the conduct of the two conventions at Chicago, or upon the selection of Mr. Hoover and Mr. Roosevelt as candidates. On the contrary, all this procedure seemed to me singularly well cut and dried. Perhaps it must always be so; perhaps our system gives the closest approximation to the will of the people that can be had. Still, it is not close enough to exclude doubt, or even to exclude suspicion.

Another reason, not so creditable, for having elections, appears in the fact that there is money in politics, that practical politics is a gainful occupation. As the foregoing may be called the conventional or popular reason, so this may be called the politician’s reason. In this view, an election is to decide whether one set of people or another should draw salaries, enjoy perquisites and prestige, distribute patronage, and put themselves in the way of getting graft. But one hesitates about accepting the idea that this is all there is to an election, though the sight of what actually goes on might make one think so. One feels that politics, at least in theory, should have some sort of bearing on the general welfare, and that elections exist for other purposes than those to which professional politicians, jobholders, jobseekers, and grafters put them.

Thus finding the conventional view and the politician’s view alike unsatisfactory, I thought I would take the matter higher up and see whether statesmen had anything to say about it. I was curious to find out, if I could, whether it had ever occurred to any statesman to ask himself the plain question, What do we have elections for? and if so, how he answered it. Having decided to go higher up, I thought I might as well go as high as I could to begin with and work downward if necessary, so I went at once to the greatest of all British statesmen.

Edmund Burke earned this title because he was never content to rest on the surface of any public question. Regardless of consequences, he always struck straight through to “the reason of the thing,” das Ding an sich, saw it clearly, never lost sight of it for a moment, and by his power of exposition enabled other people to see it. Just this, too, we may remark in passing, was what made Mr. Jefferson the greatest of all American statesmen. Burke was a notoriously unsuccessful politician; he had as little influence on the actual direction of development in England—the more is the pity!—as Mr. Jefferson had in America. But in their clear vision of how the course of affairs ought to go, and why it ought to go that way, both men were among the high elect of statesmanship, and we have not seen another like them in either country since.

So it struck me that if my question had occurred to any statesman it would have occurred to Burke; and, sure enough, I found it had. His answer to it, moreover, was so extraordinary, so utterly unlike what we would expect any one to say, that I venture to italicize it. In a letter to the Duke of Richmond, Burke observes that his political associates are all very keen on matters of routine, keen on pushing measures, keen on winning elections, but not at all keen “on that which is the end and object of all elections, namely: the disposing our people to a better sense of their condition.”

Late last summer I met an old friend who has all his life been prominent in national politics, though except for one term in the Cabinet, I think he has never held any office. When I saw him, he was sad and discouraged over the unspeakable degradation of our public affairs. He told me he had heard of a good many lifelong Republicans, men prominent in business, who were so disgusted with the Hoover administration that they were going to vote for Roosevelt. I said that this seemed very little to do, for as long as the campaign was conducted on such a low plane, it mattered little which side won. At best, as John Adams said, “the struggle will end only in a change of impostors.” Why not do something that might have a chance of counting?


Nikki Haley taunts Trump and he takes the bait. Will she keep it up? (Dan Balz, January 27, 2024, Washington Post)

Donald Trump doesn’t respond well to women who challenge, question or mock him. They bring out the worst in him. Nikki Haley is doing all three and has turned the Republican nomination contest into something worth watching. […]

“So we got out there and we did our thing and we said what we had to say,” Haley told a crowd of supporters on Wednesday in North Charleston, S.C. “And then Donald Trump got out there and just threw a temper tantrum. He pitched a fit. He was insulting. He was doing what he does. But I know that’s what he does when he’s insecure. I know that’s what he does when he is threatened. And he should feel threatened without a doubt.”

Haley also reminded the audience that Trump had confused her with Nancy Pelosi, the former House speaker, during an appearance in New Hampshire over the weekend. She says politicians older than 75 should undergo mental competency tests — drawing a contrast between herself, 52, and the 77-year-old Trump, as well as with President Biden, 81.

She also struck at Trump’s unwillingness to debate his Republican rivals. She wants more than anything a one-on-one with the former president. “Bring it, Donald,” she said, taunting him. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”

Ridicule is bully kryptonite.


Ford At The Wire (John Osbourne, 11/06/1976, New Republic)

The road trip that was to take the President through Virginia, the Carolinas, California, Washington state and Oregon and back to the capital by way of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas and New York was phony because the conventional rallies and other events that occurred along the way were props for something else. The something else was a series of 30-minute television interviews for which the White House campaign adjunct, the President Ford Committee, had bought air time in states that Mr. Ford would have to carry if he was to have a chance of election. The interviews were supplemented with shorter TV and radio “spots” in a massive electronic blitz that would close the evening before the election with a half-hour on each of the three national networks. Taped shots of the President on the hustings, with his family and with accompanying dignitaries, padded out the first of the 30-minute interviews. They were conducted by Joe Garagiola, a retired baseball player turned sportscaster who traveled with the President. He would have done the work for free if his union had not required him to charge the PFC a minimum fee of $360 for each interview. Garagiola was regarded with considerable scorn by professional journalists, but they missed the point. The point was that, in the first Garagiola-Ford interviews the true Jerry Ford came across as he’d never come across from interviews with orthodox and certified journalists. The explanation begins with the fact that Joe Garagiola in his televised self proved to be a slightly modified Archie Bunker. He boasted of his ignorance of complex issues and invited the President to explain them in terms that ignoramuses like Joe could understand. Mr. Ford obliged, in terms that didn’t explain anything but satisfied his pal Joe. Watching the President and Joe together on the screen, manifestly and perfectly at ease with each other, one realized that Gerald Ford really is Archie Bunker, slightly modified, and that he was depending for election upon the nation’s Bunkers in their numerous variations.

Nikki should re-run this playbook with someone like W or Liz Cheney as her co-host.


Poll: Nearly half of Nikki Haley’s Iowa backers say they’d vote for Biden over Trump (Mark Murray and Alexandra Marquez, 1/14/24, NBC News)

Most likely Republican Iowa caucusgoers say they’ll vote for former President Donald Trump in the general election if he’s the GOP nominee, regardless of the candidate they’re supporting on caucus night.

That is, except supporters of former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, with nearly half of them — 43% — saying they’d vote for Democratic President Joe Biden over Trump.


Does the Rise of Nikki Haley Mean Trouble for Joe Biden? (Brad Bannon, 1/14/24, The Messenger)

She appeals to swing voters who can’t abide the president and his predecessor.

It took a conservative president — Richard Nixon — to travel to China and open a relationship with the communist regime. Might it take a conservative woman — Haley — to break the presidential gender barrier and rise above the glass ceiling that Hillary Clinton failed to crack?

Biden has been running against Trump since 2020. The president would need to do a complete 180 to retool his reelection campaign for a race against Haley. Her service in the Trump cabinet gives the president the opportunity to tag her as a Trump clone. But Trump is a true believer, while she’s flexible and subtle enough to avoid the extremist tag.

She found a way to run against Biden and Trump at the same time with her “New Generation of Conservative Leadership” message.

The nomination of any conservative–as opposed to MAGA–candidate would drive Joe from the race.


DeSantis’ 2023: More Than $160 Million Spent To Buy A Collapse In The Polls (S.V. Date, Dec 29, 2023, HuffPo)

[T]he gaffes, the internal squabbles and even his unwillingness to use the legal consequences of Trump’s behavior against him pale beside DeSantis’ fundamental flaw: his inability to get enough Republican primary voters to like him.

Polling shows that his numbers were strongest before he actively began campaigning for president in late May, and that the more voters saw of him, the less inclined they were to support him.

“The idea of ‘a’ DeSantis was appealing, but the reality of ‘the’ DeSantis was repellent,” said Mac Stipanovich, who served as chief of staff to Florida Republican Gov. Bob Martinez in the 1980s, and has been involved with GOP campaigns in the state for decades. “It is telling that his favorite president is Calvin Coolidge, the avatar of anti-charisma in politics.”

“When you come across as a mean person who shows little empathy for the real concerns for citizens, and who always wants to make sure everyone in every room knows you think you are the smartest person there, it doesn’t go over all that well,” said Steve Duprey, a former Republican National Committee member from New Hampshire. “Focusing on Disney, wokeness, a little hippie college in Sarasota, and an abortion ban out of sync with most of America, instead of on the economy, the debt, the border, isn’t a winning formula.”

“Other than that,” Duprey said, “he’s nailing it.”

Animatronic malignant dwarf was always going to be a tough cell.


How DeSantis’s Ambitious, Costly Ground Game Has Sputtered (Rebecca Davis O’Brien, Nicholas Nehamas and Kellen Browning, Dec. 22, 2023, NY Times)

This spring, the main super PAC backing Mr. DeSantis laid out a costly organizing operation, including an enormous voter-outreach push with an army of trained, paid door-knockers, that would try to reach every potential DeSantis voter multiple times in early-nominating states.

Seven months later, after tens of millions of dollars spent and hundreds of thousands of doors knocked, one of the most expensive ground games in modern political history shows little sign of creating the momentum it had hoped to achieve.

Mr. DeSantis’s poll numbers have barely budged. His super PAC, Never Back Down, is unraveling. And Mr. Trump’s hold on Republican primary voters seems as unshakable as ever. With time running out before the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 15, Mr. DeSantis, the governor of Florida, appears in danger of losing the extraordinary bet he made in outsourcing his field operation to a super PAC — a gamble that is testing both the limits of campaign finance law and the power of money to move voter sentiment.

I’m a short animatroc version of Donald was always going to be a tough sell.


Nikki Haley: The Future Of Conservatism (David Cowan, 12/06/23, Vital Center)

Conservatism has been in turmoil for decades, with successive shocks exposing and widening fractures within the movement that brought Ronald Reagan to power and helped win the Cold War. As we approach the middle of the century, conservatives are now seeking a renewed sense of purpose. Americans are crying out for new leadership. A Trump-Biden rematch would represent a profound failure to move on in national politics. Looking to a new generation is the nation’s best hope for renewal, and the candidate who best embodies that hope is Nikki Haley.

Haley’s character, philosophy, and record reflect the essential virtues of conservatism. She expresses strength without descending into divisiveness, defends a consistent set of principles while being practical, and has brought about major conservative achievements as South Carolina Governor and UN Ambassador. Such substance is clearly lacking in candidates like Ramaswamy. Haley has also been an active campaigner in Iowa and New Hampshire, meeting with thousands of people and making a real impact. Unlike DeSantis, the more primary voters see of her, the more they like her. Too much political discourse focuses on the people who are too online rather than the concerns of the normal Americans who decide elections.

It is the quest for normalcy that has helped define Haley and her campaign. Rather than wanting to tear down the whole system, Haley has called for an America that is “strong and proud, not weak and woke.” Narratives of American decline have become endemic on both the Left and Right. It is true that there are structural long-term problems that face the nation, but decline is a choice. America needs a confident leader who is prepared to take the tough decisions to reinvigorate the nation. The new Cold War with the anti-Western coalition of China, Russia, and Iran presents an opportunity for the conservative movement to rally together again in defense of American ideals and institutions. […]

Haley is defending an authentically American conservative tradition. Free enterprise, civil society, and limited government are keystones in her philosophy. Following in the tradition of Reagan and Thatcher, Haley believes in freedom as the key organizing principle of the American nation. The cry of liberty has continually defined the course of American history: independence from the British Empire; the abolition of slavery and expansion of civil rights; victory over Nazism, Fascism, and Communism. These historic achievements were made to defend and expand the freedom of Americans. A conservatism that renounces freedom entirely must also abandon the American political inheritance and the fundamental truths espoused by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence.

Where the commitment to freedom is most contested on the Right is the economy. Economic freedom has undeniably delivered huge gains in generating wealth and innovation and lifting people out of poverty. But economic stagnation has made a comeback across the Western world over the past fifteen years. The result is inflation, low growth, and higher taxes under a bloated state that interferes too much while simultaneously failing to deliver its core responsibilities effectively.

Normies unite!