Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale


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The Good, The Bad, and the 2018 Midterm

“I’m pretty excited, but I also know that we have a lot of work to do… you gotta get right to work.” –Denver Riggleman

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It’s that most wonderful time of year: Post-Election Day hot takes! Woot woot!

To start with the obvious, this was a relatively good cycle for Democrats and a bad one with some key upshots for Republicans and President Trump. Democrats took the House and a bunch of governor’s mansions. Republicans expanded their Senate majority, maintained the majority of governorships, and retain an even larger majority of state legislatures. Moreover, Republicans won difficult statewide races in key swing states (though not enough of them) that will be valuable in 2020 and beyond.

Perhaps most excitingly, on a personal level, the first ballot I ever cast for somebody I knew personally helped Denver Riggleman win the open race here in Virginia’s 5th congressional district. It was a single bright light amid otherwise dispiriting gloom settling across the Commonwealth, but we’ll take it.

Among the most encouraging developments came from my home state: Florida. I was rooting for Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis early on, back when he was a scrappy underdog in the GOP gubernatorial primary. He was one of my favorite congressmen because of his strident, principled conservatism, and I have fond memories of lively conversations with him and other conservative leaders over bourbon and cigars when I was visiting home years ago. I’m ecstatic that he’s earned the governor’s mansion.

Believe it or not, I once despised Gov. Rick Scott, even after I evolved from a Democrat to a Republican. But his strong record as governor—and the fact that he was clearly right about the high-speed rail boondoggle for taxpayers—brought me around, and he’ll undoubtedly be a marked improvement in the Senate over Bill Nelson.

Like Texas, Florida is an enormous multiethnic state that’s become more Republican as it’s become more diverse. Florida has the second-longest unbroken streak in the entire South (after Texas) of complete GOP rule (since 1999 vs 1995). If the GOP lead in the open race for Agriculture Commissioner holds, then there will be no statewide Democrats left in Florida for the first time since Reconstruction. Minority voters are a key part of this shift.

The 2016 and 2018 elections set records for minority voting in Florida, with sky-high turnout to boot. Republicans won both years—from Marco Rubio to Ron DeSantis—because as minority turnout has increased in Florida, the Republican share of minority votes has also increased. For all the talk of new voters from Puerto Rico padding Democrat margins in the I-4 corridor, Republicans gained significant ground against Sen. Bill Nelson (who came a little closer to victory than Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum) in the Tampa Bay area because Latino Floridians are generally voting *more* Republican, not less, as they get more engaged, just as black Floridians are voting *more* Republican, not less, even when a black Democrat is on the ballot.

Because of the Sunshine State’s growing diversity, Florida Republicans, like their Texas peers, need stronger margins among minority voters than Republicans in many other states. Rick Scott increasing his share of the black vote over his previous two elections is literally why he is in office today. According to exit polls, DeSantis roughly matched or exceeded that already relatively high showing, though neither was quite as high as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s impressive (for a Republican) 20 percent. DeSantis also earned nearly 40 percent of the Latino vote, about the same as Abbott, with Scott winning even more. This stronger performance among minorities is especially important because Florida Republicans, like Republicans elsewhere, have lost ground among whites with the flight of upper-class suburbanites and need minority voters to make up the difference. In Florida, as in Texas, Republicans are fighting hard for and winning these votes, and national Republicans would kill for such margins.

Of course, there are limits to this good news, as the bigger picture of 2018 reminds us: Minority voters still vote mostly Democratic, albeit much less so in Florida (and Texas) than they do nationally, and Florida Republicans lost two winnable House races in heavily West Indian South Florida (I dearly miss Carlos Curbelo already) and several more in Texas. Still, the numbers offer hope for a constructive way forward.

Now that Floridians have rightly repealed Jim Crow-era restrictions on voting rights for formerly incarcerated citizens, an estimated 1.4 million people with felony convictions are expected to regain the right to vote. They are disproportionately nonwhite. The enduring survival of Republican governance in Florida, along with all the robust economy this governance maintains for the state’s rapidly swelling population, will depend in part on conservatives’ ability to attract and engage those and other new voters. And these lessons and successes will be vitally important for the national GOP, even and especially if Trump continues to drag down Republican popularity throughout growing segments of suburban America.

The blue wave of 2018 was neither as deep as Democrats expected nor as weak as Republicans  hoped, but the real impact long-term will come from what we make of the landscape it leaves behind.

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The Grand New Republic

Update: This post was adapted by The Daily Caller. You can find that article here.

“What’s happened with the Republicans is they are, the Republican Party, is a ‘Mad Men’ party in a ‘Modern Family’ America. And it just doesn’t fit anymore.” –Matthew Dowd

“We’ve lost the country.” –Rush Limbaugh

Some voters just want to watch the world burn.

Watching Fox News on the day after the election, you saw a fascinating dynamic at play. A number of pundits spoke sympathetically of amnesty and openly criticized Arizona SB 1070 amid discussion of how to appeal to the growing Hispanic population. The O’Reilly Factor featured the unflinching admonition “to stop this Bible-based bashing of gay people,” while other segments noted the unprecedented 4 for 4 sweep gay marriage advocates won at the ballot box. The telling sentiment of the day, however, was that conservatives cannot and will not compromise on principles. So where do we go from here?

For starters, we must recognize the historic nature of this election. Barack Obama won reelection despite disastrous unemployment and a dubious economic outlook. (We’ll set aside the matter of the murdered U.S. ambassador.) Decisive electoral failure under such extraordinary circumstances, even as the country overall shifted right, certainly merits some existential panic, despite modest gubernatorial gains and a reelected House majority. But whether you think the president won without a mandate by small and divisive tactics or prevailed largely on the rote inertia of incumbency, he undeniably did so while playing heavily to the demographic strengths of the Democratic coalition—women, Latinos, blacks, millennials, gays—and everybody knows that everybody knows this.

Somewhere along the way, the Party of Lincoln became, in the eyes of an ever growing segment of America, the Party of Aging, White (Straight), Embittered Men given to fits of delusion. There are many ways, reasons, and heated denials about how this happened, but in the end, Mitt Romney lost, Barack Obama will have his second term, and the Democratic majority in the Senate will grow, as will its presence in the House. Speaking of the incoming Congress, white men will make up less than half of the House Democratic caucus for the first time in history. But for all the rekindled talk of the perpetual dominance of the jackass, even the largest political majorities are, in the grander scheme, fleeting. Louisiana, Tennessee, and Arkansas were solidly blue in the 90s. Now they are deep red. Maine voted down gay marriage in 2009 and voted it up in 2012.

Assuming you noticed the tagline on my blog or on Twitter, you may have wondered how I could feel comfortable being Republican. After all, only 6% of blacks voted for Romney, and the GOP is understandably anathema to many gay Americans and their disproportionately young and professional allies. But I’ll let you in on a secret: I don’t expect the Party to look as it does now in ten years, or even by 2016. For one, there are many tough but necessary choices ahead that will strain the special-interest-driven coalition of the Left, whatever happens with white voters, and anything is possible over the next two to four years.

The conservative movement and its values of liberty, discipline, personal responsibility, virtue, family, community, duty, and free enterprise are objectively superior to the creeping statism and obdurate collectivism of the Left. The setback of this election notwithstanding, conservatism is far from dead or even moribund. It is merely in the process of doing what all successful life does—namely, to quote the president, evolving. The matter of adjusting tone and approach to such hot-button issues as immigration, abortion, and gay equality is not one of abandoning core principles. Rather, the project before the Party of Ronald Reagan and Condoleezza Rice is to apply those values to new circumstances and new audiences.

To this end, Republican willingness to engage on comprehensive immigration reform is a great start. While Marco Rubio may or may not appeal to Hispanics outside Florida, prominent Southwestern Republicans—e.g. Sandoval, Martinez, and Cruz—are well positioned to bring diversity into the conservative electorate. I doubt embracing open borders would win the Latino vote for the GOP. However, many conservatively inclined Latino voters may be more receptive when not worrying, fairly or not, that “driving while brown” will warrant harassment under Republican governance.

The question of gays is about much more than 5% of the electorate. Young Americans, including many young Republicans, overwhelmingly understand that gay families are valid American families of people who just want to live their lives and participate in their communities like anyone else. We live in a world where voters in West Virginia, Ohio, Arizona, and both Dakotas elected gay legislators at various levels of government and where Wisconsin sent the first openly gay U.S. Senator to Washington. (Did I mention that voters just approved gay marriage in three states and defeated a constitutional ban in another?)

Put bluntly, a movement identified with and defined by opposition to anti-bullying measures, anti-discrimination laws, gay couples adopting, and, yes, same-sex marriage, will bear witness to the leftward drift of millennials toward the political event horizon of liberalism—and the world will suffer accordingly. Fortunately, once these things are accomplished, they will cease to be issues, and gay families and the people who love them can focus on other things. In the meantime, for the good of the country and everybody who loves her, it’s time for opponents of gay rights to move on.

And so we come to abortion. Many millions of Americans, particularly among Republicans, identify as pro-life. There is nothing wrong with this. Indeed, I suspect we’re moving toward a national consensus on reasonable limits to abortion that vary somewhat by state. Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock did not lose once safe GOP Senate seats because they were pro-life. They lost because they were inanely self-indulgent purists who found a mawkish virtue in needlessly alienating most of the electorate. In so doing, they have achieved nothing beyond setting back the causes of restricting abortion and promoting conservative government by feeding into a tendentious narrative of a conservative “war on women.”

You should not interpret any of this as a move to eject anyone from the coalition or spark a Republican civil war. The voices and contributions of social conservatives will remain prominent and valuable. The focus on family values translates into policies that aim to benefit communities, such as school choice and more local control of education. Upon the rock of piety conservatives build institutions that provide education and social services to millions. For the sake of stewardship, Republicans of all stripes devote their resources to sound fiscal policy and good governance. Concern for life promotes charity and community service that change lives around the world.

The Republican Party, like America, is designed for the inclusion of the big tent. Our core principles are not tied to race, creed, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, or national origin. They are divined from the foundation of a diverse republic whose self-understanding is rendered, “Out of Many, One”. As I’ve noted before, the Party of Frederick Douglass, Calvin Coolidge, Oscar de Priest, and Barry Goldwater will continue to produce and hone partisans of free enterprise and limited government for as long as the American people seek prosperity. And we will welcome all comers.

As a certain young Republican congressman and vice presidential hopeful once said:

“If you believe in freedom, liberty, self-determination, free enterprise, I don’t care if you’re a Muslim, Jewish, Agnostic, Christian, gay, straight, Latino, black, white, Irish, whatever. Join us.”