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Fear and Loathing of the Electoral College (Forbes.com) October 20, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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Consider a couple of seasonal trivia questions: Where in the Constitution is the Electoral College established and where does it meet? The answers are the same: Nowhere. The Constitution speaks of “electors,” but not a college, and the electors meet only in their respective state capitals.

Now a more serious question: Why is there so much fear and loathing of the Electoral College? The origin of the modern backlash against it is pretty clearly the 2000 presidential election when Al Gore defeated George W. Bush by approximately 500,000 popular votes (half a percent difference with over 100 million total votes cast), but lost the electoral vote 271-266 and the election. A huge hue and cry erupted that the election was undemocratic since the people’s choice did not win. It didn’t help matters when another arguably undemocratic institution, the U.S. Supreme Court, weighed in to settle the election outcome.

This result, where the winner of the popular vote lost the presidency in the Electoral College, has occurred two other times, in the elections of 1876 and 1888. In one additional case, John Quincy Adams lost both the popular and electoral votes to Andrew Jackson but, since neither candidate mustered enough electoral votes to win, the election was decided by the House of Representatives in favor of Adams. So this hasn’t happened often but, if people don’t understand or appreciate the purposes of the Electoral College, even once is an undemocratic outrage to them.

Although Trump’s concern about a “rigged election” is apparently not the Electoral College, there is popular sentiment in that direction. Gallup has polled the matter over the decades finding in 1948, for example, that 31% thought it should continue and 56% said it should not. More recently, a 2013 Gallup Poll revealed that 63% of Americans would, if they could, vote for a law to do away with the Electoral College. There have been on the order of 700 amendments proposed over time to reform or do away with it. But since that would require a constitutional amendment, with its high bar of two-thirds of Congress and three-fourths of the state legislatures in favor, there has been no change.

The most recent effort to do away with the elector system is the clever end-run proposed by the so-called National Popular Vote Bill. When passed in a sufficient number of states to total 270 electoral votes, this bill would require their electors to vote for the winner of the national popular vote, not the winner of their state vote. Besides the unseemly circumvention of the Constitution, it seems undemocratic that a vote for candidate X in California turns out to count for candidate Y instead if Y wins the national popular vote, even though not the California vote. Talk about your vote not counting, a common complaint about the current system.

What all this fear and loathing misses is that there is both a strong historic case and also a modern one for the Electoral College. At the Constitutional Convention, at least four ways to elect the President were on the table: election by Congress, by the state governors, by the state legislatures and a direct vote of the people. The founders chose a hybrid system, giving both the states and the people a role in electing a president and, with their other checks and balances, helping protect the republic. The latter term is important since the founders were clear they were not establishing a democracy, which they considered dangerous. Many Republicans now wish they had a similar hybrid system at their convention, with more super-delegates to block Donald Trump.

Today, without the Electoral College and its state-based voting, we would be looking at national recounts—not just Florida in 2000—with results delayed for weeks, perhaps even beyond Inauguration Day. And instead of flying around the country in the campaign seeking electoral votes in a variety of battleground states, candidates would concentrate their efforts in the big population centers such as New York or Los Angeles. Neither outcome seems preferable to the present system.

If you want electoral reform, a better way to go about it would be for states to decide not to award their electoral votes on a winner-takes-all basis. Two smaller states, Nebraska and Maine, have done this with, so far, little effect, but it could be a better way of allowing people’s votes to count.

Otherwise, don’t close the Electoral College. It was and is a valuable part of the republic.

To read the column at Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2016/10/20/fear-and-loathing-of-the-electoral-college/#443d45a66d54

“Socialism’s Empty Promises” (Hoover Institution video) October 16, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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The Hoover Institution’s new policy education initiative (www.policyed.org) uses the scholarly work of Hoover fellows to develop educational and teaching materials. One of my Forbes columns from earlier this year was a source for a new short video on socialism:


Why Not Prosecute ISIS for War Crimes and Genocide? (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) October 12, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Radio Commentaries.
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International courts love to take on political cases, such as those against Israel or the U.S., but when there are obvious and serious international crimes, they often take a pass. The latest examples of obvious war crimes and genocide come from ISIS … but there is no prosecution in the works.

Investigators have collected evidence of kidnapping women as sex slaves, genocide against ethnic Kurdish religious communities and other atrocities, yet no one wants to bring these matters to court. They clearly constitute war crimes of the worst sort and the ISIS leadership is nothing but a criminal syndicate.

The U.N. Security Council could refer these matters to the International Criminal Court which, frankly, needs more to do. Or a special court in the region could be established for this purpose.

It’s time for international law to stop talking and do something useful. Bringing cases of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity against the ISIS leadership would be a good place to start.

To listen to the audio: http://www.townhallreview.com

Conservatives’ Only Hope: If Trump Delegates To Pence (Forbes.com) October 7, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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Perhaps the perfect story to describe the Donald Trump phenomenon and the 2016 campaign is a reported conversation in which Trump’s eldest son spoke with a John Kasich advisor about the vice presidency, proposing that as veep Kasich would be in charge of foreign and domestic policy. Asked what his father would be in charge of, Donald Jr. responded: “Making America great again.” The accuracy of the story is disputed but, even if apocryphal, it points to the reality that the only hope conservatives have in 2016 is that Trump might delegate a lot of policy-making to his vice president, Mike Pence.

It’s been a rough several decades for conservatives and the presidency. Mitt Romney, like Trump, more a pragmatic businessman than a philosophical conservative, had trouble selling himself as he described: “severely conservative.” In campaigning for the presidency in 2000 George W. Bush said he would be a “compassionate conservative.” There may have been some compassion, but there wasn’t much classic conservatism in the Bush administration: running up deficits, federalizing K-12 education through No Child Left Behind, expanding the welfare safety net with prescription drugs for seniors, and so on.

In fact, Republicans don’t seem eager to embrace the “conservative” label, at least without a nice adjective to limit or spin it. John McCain was known as a “maverick conservative” and Jeb Bush tried out running as a “reform conservative” in the primaries this year. Isn’t anyone content to be just a conservative anymore? The only real national electoral success conservatives have enjoyed in recent years has been Paul Ryan as the vice presidential candidate in 2012 and now Mike Pence in the same role in 2016.

One challenge is that there are lots of flavors and nuances to conservatism. There are national security conservatives, fiscal conservatives (who are often socially liberal), social conservatives, the religious right, constitutional conservatives, libertarians, and so on. Increasingly Republicans have become big government conservatives, admitting that a smaller federal government isn’t likely so, instead, they seek to turn big government more toward conservative causes. But there are political leaders out there like Mike Pence and Paul Ryan who manage to combine several flavors of conservatism into one brand.

So if traditional conservatives—who haven’t really run a strong candidate for president since Ronald Reagan—have any hope in this election, it would turn on the role Mike Pence might play in a Trump administration. Besides the reported approach the Trump campaign made to John Kasich about the vice presidency, Trump said in his search that he was looking for a Washington insider, someone who understood the federal government and how it operates. And a businessman running a multi-billion-dollar empire must have learned something about delegating to subordinates.

For his part, Pence has demonstrated some ability to work around a few of Trump’s more outrageous positions, exhibiting talent for “managing up” or “managing the boss” as they say in the business world. In the recent vice presidential debate, Pence warned of Russian leader Vladimir Putin as a “small and bullying leader,” in contrast to Trump’s praise of Putin. Pence seemed far more willing than Trump for the U.S. to engage militarily in Syria. Pence has diplomatically kept his free-trade positions quiet, but in direct contrast to Trump’s opposition to the TPP and NAFTA, he has consistently voted for free trade, calling it wise economically and for national security. He has previously expressed discomfort with Trump’s anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican rhetoric.

Trump is hardly a classic conservative. A national security conservative, perhaps, but his positions on free trade and his lack of understanding for and support of constitutional limited government are deeply concerning for conservatives. The key for conservatives is Mike Pence. He is one of them. But would he have room to maneuver, and even take the lead, in a Trump presidency? Might Trump relish being king and allowing Pence to serve as prime minister? For now, at least, there are some encouraging signs. It’s really all conservatives have.

To view the column at Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2016/10/07/conservatives-only-hope-if-trump-delegates-to-pence/#38c8f88c4424

Trump is from Mars, Clinton is from Venus (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) October 4, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Politics, Radio Commentaries.
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This is David Davenport of the Hoover Institution for Townhall.com.

The first presidential debate made one thing clear: the two candidates come from two different planets. Trump is from Mars and Clinton is from Venus.

Hillary Clinton is a classic insider candidate. She’s been first lady, a U.S. Senator and Secretary of State. When she debates, she has a plan or a program for everything.

Donald Trump, a businessman with no prior political experience, is a classic outsider. When Clinton says she has more experience, Trump dismisses that as bad experience. When she says she has a plan to defeat ISIS, he says so why haven’t we done that?—and why should we believe it will work?

People who want a traditional candidate for President believe Hillary won the first debate and will win the presidency. But the large number of eligible voters who are frustrated with politics as usual say “not so fast.”

Who do you want? Mars or Venus? That’s your choice.

I’m David Davenport.

To listen to the audio: http://www.townhallreview.com

In a Clash of Styles, More Than Issues, Trump Exceeds Expectations in the First Debate (Forbes.com) September 27, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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Who won the first presidential debate? Those who previously supported Hillary Clinton will say she won, those who favored Donald Trump will claim he was victorious. So in that sense, neither candidate clearly defeated the other in the debate.

But viewed from another perspective, Trump was the winner by exceeding expectations. Just as a young Senator John Kennedy received a boost by standing toe to toe against the more experienced Vice President Richard Nixon in the first televised presidential debate in 1960, Donald Trump, a businessman with no political experience, did stand on an equal footing with the experienced politician Hillary Clinton. While Clinton met expectations by giving detailed policy positions in her answers, Trump exceeded them by not being outrageous (an admittedly low bar, but one people were concerned about) and by pressing his view that a strong leader, who is not bogged down in failed politics and policies, can make America great again.

On the issues, the two candidates were like two trains passing in the night. In response to the moderator’s questions, Clinton rattled off her several detailed policy positions in various areas. Her constant refrain was “I’ve called for this” or “I’ve planned for that.” Again, those who like Clinton got just what they expected: articulate policy responses to every subject. But she had a tendency to engage in Washington-speak (“implicit bias” or “trickle-down economics”) and, if you’re not a policy wonk it became a bit tedious.

Trump continued to come at issues from another planet: if she was from Venus, he was clearly from Mars. Trump acknowledged that Clinton had a lot of experience, but called it out as “bad experience,” the “wrong kind of experience.” He repeatedly argued that it was “politicians like Secretary Clinton” who have let us down. Trump argued that politicians talk and talk, but then get in office and say I’ll see you again in four years (a point made well in E.J. Dionne’s classic book Why Americans Hate Politics).

The two candidates proceeded to argue from their two different planets throughout the evening. On ISIS, Clinton said “I have a plan to defeat ISIS.” Trump said, well you and President Obama helped create ISIS by leaving a vacuum in Iraq, so I don’t think so. On race in the cities, Clinton said there is “implicit bias” in the criminal justice system, whereas Trump argued that we needed to begin with “law and order” and restoring control in our violent cities. On jobs, Trump’s approach is to stop jobs from leaving the country and incentivize businesses to create jobs, whereas Clinton prefers policies to help the middle class more directly (calling Trump’s approach “Trumped up trickle down.”)

If you were waiting for Trump to do something crazy, it didn’t really happen. It may be the first time a presidential candidate cited a conversation with Howard Stern in a debate. Referring to his support from retired admirals and generals, Trump said he would take their endorsements over those from “political hacks” any day. He said that we’re a “third-world country” in our infrastructure. While those statements may not fit the classic presidential debate style, that’s pretty mild stuff for Trump.

It was actually a difficult debate to watch. Lester Holt, as the moderator, laid back a bit and allowed the candidates to talk directly with each other, but each candidate had a tendency to interrupt and talk over the other, especially Trump. And when the two candidates come from different planets in their approach to America and the presidency, there isn’t the kind of direct policy clash one might expect.

Still, in the end, these debates are very much about beating expectations. Clinton met expectations, but Trump exceeded his and, in that sense, this first debate helped Trump more than Clinton.

To read the column at Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2016/09/26/in-a-clash-of-styles-more-than-issues-trump-exceeded-expectations-in-the-first-debate/#1ced8d1446fd

Finally, A Presidential Debate That May Be Interesting And Consequential (Forbes.com) September 20, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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After more than 50 years of presidential debates, we all know the plot. Two candidates spend untold hours reading briefing books and engaging in mock debate practice sessions so that they can stand on the same stage for a couple of hours, seem knowledgeable and likeable, and most important, not make any big mistakes or gaffes. It’s a pitcher’s duel with a lot of defense or a football playoff game about field position and punting, but no airing out the long ball.

And let’s face it, what do you remember about presidential debates of the past? Mostly the gaffes: Richard Nixon sweating in his light-colored suit, Gerald Ford saying Poland is a free state, Michael Dukakis giving a mechanical policy answer to a question about his wife being raped and murdered, or Al Gore sighing and invading George W. Bush’s personal space. All the preparation is about being conservative, taking no risks and making no mistakes. A candidate rarely wins a debate but a gaffe can mean that a candidate loses one. Think of Gary Johnson unable to say what “Aleppo” is or Rick Perry failing to remember which cabinet departments he wanted to eliminate—but all on a much bigger stage.

But throw out the script for 2016 because, thanks to Donald Trump, we may have the first unpredictable, interesting and consequential presidential debate ever. With the first debate this Monday night, Trump has yet to engage in practice debates and may not do so. Instead, he prefers a series of luncheons and conversations with his kitchen cabinet—people like Rudy Giuliani and Roger Ailes—in which talking points and lines of attack are discussed. Donald Trump is the closest we’ve seen to an unscripted candidate. With lots of reality television experience, he embraces the medium and his ability to go on the fly. He talks in sound bites, attacks with jabs, and generally enjoys creating a bit of chaos wherever he goes.

Of course Trump’s higher risk approach can more easily lead to gaffes or mistakes but somehow they don’t seem to hurt him, they just become part of the chaos in which he operates so comfortably. He calls opponents “lyin’ Ted” or “little Marco,” he complains of taco trucks on every corner, or says John McCain was not a war hero because he was captured. But somehow he shrugs these things off and moves forward. He’s not exactly made of Teflon, but he keeps throwing enough against the wall that nothing really sticks, since he’s on to the next insult or jab.

Trump’s biggest challenge will be whether he can fill the time with anything positive about his own policies. A 1.5 hour debate with just two candidates is very different than the stage full of fellow Republicans he has debated before. Now a sound bite will not be enough, a jab is over too quickly, a bumper sticker campaign platform will not fill the time. But he and advisor Roger Ailes surely know this and I would expect him to be ready with the some new details and ideas. Trump is even going out to his supporters to help him figure out what to say, crowd-sourcing his debate prep.

Meanwhile Hillary Clinton is preparing with the standard briefing books and practice sessions. She will be the most rehearsed and prepared candidate in history, while Trump will be the least. She is a careful lawyer, while Trump is more of a bar room brawler. Don’t expect a knockout, but someone might actually win this one on points. At the very least, like everything else about campaign 2016, it will break the mold.

To read the column at Forbes.com:

New Book Released With David Davenport/Amity Shlaes Chapter on Hoover/Coolidge and Conservatism September 15, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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Talmage Boston, a Dallas attorney, has published a new book: Cross-Examining History: A Lawyer Gets Answers from the Experts about our Presidents.

Boston interviewed presidential biographers and historians about our presidents, asking the “hard questions.” In New York last fall, he did an interview of Amity Shlaes and me, based on her book on Coolidge and my co-authored book on Hoover, about Presidents Coolidge and Hoover and who was the real father of modern American conservatism.

Amity and I enjoyed the friendly point-counterpoint, and the edited transcript of our exchange is a chapter in this book.

A description is available on Amazon.com where, of course, you can also purchase a copy:


Oh yes, a few others like David McCullough and Ken Burns are also in the book!

“Beware Election Reforms,” National Radio Commentary, Salem/Townhall September 13, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Politics, Radio Commentaries.
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This is David Davenport of the Hoover Institution for Townhall.com.

A few years ago we reformed primary voting in California. Now we have open primaries, meaning you can vote for candidates of either party, and top two primaries, where the top two vote getters run in the fall general election, regardless of party. It was supposed to reduce partisanship and elect more centrist candidates.

Early research suggests it hasn’t accomplished either of its major goals but it has reduced voter choice. This fall in the race for the U.S. Senate, I can vote for Democrat A or Democrat B. No Republican survived the top two primary to run in the fall. I call my choice “Left and Lefter” because, really, it is no choice at all. A recent poll shows that half of Republicans don’t even plan to vote in the Senate race.

Elections should not just be contests between two people but between sets of ideas. Beware election reforms such as the “top two” primary that eliminate choices.

I’m David Davenport.

To listen to the audio: http://www.townhallreview.com

Why Isn’t Anyone Talking about the National Debt? (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) September 6, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Politics, Radio Commentaries.
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In a presidential campaign, it’s amazing that no one is talking about the national debt. Well, actually someone is: the Congressional Budget Office issued a report this summer and we should be shocked.

Here are the top 2 things the nonpartisan CBO concluded:

1) Deficits are growing because spending—primarily on Social Security, health care and interest on the debt—is growing faster than revenue.

2) The ratio of debt to Gross National Product has nearly doubled during the Obama administration to 75% today, and it is projected to grow to 141% in 2046.

But don’t worry, because the Democrats have a plan: spend more and tax the rich. And Donald Trump says when we go bankrupt he will renegotiate our debt.

Is anyone besides me worried about this? Are we numb to the rapidly escalating debt? Debt is not only a question of fiscal responsibility, it is a problem of national security.

To listen to the audio at Townhall: