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Donald Trump, Conservatives, and the Obama Effect

Many in the Republican Party leadership are trying to understand the phenomenon of Donald Trump. And the question on the minds of many of them is what is his appeal to conservatives, particularly the social conservative, religious-right Republicans? I admit that I have no scientific polls and no Trump-voter psychological profiles upon which to base my thoughts, but here are five things I’ve observed.

The first is nothing really surprising. Many conservative Republicans are extremely angry with the Republican Party. I understand that. Even though many and perhaps a majority of those in that camp are supporting Carson, Cruz, or Rubio, the fact is that a significant enough percentage of them support Trump—and that is making a difference.

A second, related factor is that a number of conservatives simply don’t want anyone connected at all with Congress or Washington politics. Period. They no longer trust anyone associated with Washington. I think that’s the baby-and-the-bathwater thinking, but I understand it.

Third, I think some social conservatives have despaired of “values candidates” actually doing anything in support of their values. They have not lost their concern for the social values that drove them in the past to reluctantly support the Doles, McCain, and Romneys, and the do-nothing-but-make-excuses-for-inaction social conservatives who have been elected to Congress, but they have decided that supporting such conservatives isn’t going to result in those values being reflected in public policy.

So, at this point, I think some social conservatives see no reason to continue supporting candidates who run on those values simply because they espouse those values. They believe history has shown them it won’t matter, so they are voting for someone who talks tough on the other issues they care about. I don’t agree that social values don’t matter, but I understand how some have reached that conclusion.

What we see in the foregoing points is that the moderate, entrenched Republican leadership has driven a number of conservatives to Mr. Trump, which leads to my fourth observation—some conservative Trump supporters are sending a message.

Conservative Republicans have often spoken of not supporting a moderate Republican, supporting a moderate Republican presidential nominee, or voting for another party’s candidate, like the Constitution Party. But perhaps some of the conservatives supporting Trump won’t send the “message” they want to send to the moderate Republican leadership. After all, if they leave the party or vote for a third- party candidate, then the moderate wing of the Party will get its candidate and, perhaps for moderates, that is more important than actually winning the presidency. So, perhaps conservatives supporting Trump are making sure the moderate Republican leadership doesn’t get the nominee it wants and, for them, that message is a stronger message than if they left the party.

A fifth thing driving some of the conservative Republicans to Trump is what I call the “Obama phenomenon.” In 2008 Americans in large numbers knew things were wrong in America and looked at the fact that we were led by a Republican president. Consequently, they were looking for someone to give them hope that things could change.

Similarly, I think the support of some for Trump is reactionary in nature, fed by anger and frustration with Congress and the moderate Republican Party leadership. And, like Obama was for many fearful, angry Americans in 2008, Trump represents hope for change for these Republicans.

In conclusion, my concern in this election, as with any election, is that emotions not drive our decisions, particularly anger. I know from personal experience that anger rarely produces good results.

But beyond personal experience, I also know that the “anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). While we usually apply that verse only to our personal lives, the principle is not so limited. God desires righteousness in civil government, and decisions in the governmental realm propelled by anger will not achieve that righteousness.

As we head to election day, my prayer is that fear, frustration, and blind hope for change will not prevent voters  from examining the values, policies, and character of all those who seek our support and then casting a vote that aligns with those things.


Photo Credit:
Mr. Donald Trump New Hampshire Town Hall on August 19th, 2015 at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, NH by Michael Vadon on Flickr. CC BY


David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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Duplicity and Disdain for the Constitution

The plaintiffs who recently filed a lawsuit to enjoin passage of Amendment 1 have unwittingly shown their duplicity and their disdain for both the people of our state and our constitution.

Amendment 1 was necessitated by a ruling of the state Supreme Court in 2000 that “found” a right to abortion in our state constitution. Amendment 1 essentially reversed the state Supreme Court’s ruling. Now the plaintiffs argue that the votes on the amendment were not properly counted because election officials counted all the votes “the people” cast on the amendment, not just the votes of “the people” who voted for a gubernatorial candidate.

I put the words “the people” in quotes because they are central to the provision of the constitution on which the plaintiffs rely to disqualify the votes of people who didn’t vote in the gubernatorial election, which is potentially thousands of voters. The provision reads as follows:

“And if the people shall approve and ratify such amendment or amendments by a majority of all the citizens of the state voting for governor, voting in their favor, such amendment or amendments shall become a part of this Constitution.”

To properly interpret that provision, the whole of the constitution should be examined, and there is one other place in the constitution that speaks to amendments to the constitution. It’s Article I, Section 1, which provides, in pertinent part:

“All power is inherent in the people; . . . they have at all times, unalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform, or abolish the government in such manner as they may think proper.” (emphasis added)

Since our government is framed by our constitution and amendments are the means by which we “alter” or “reform” it, then the power to amend the constitution clearly belongs to “the people.” And the provision relied on by the plaintiffs does nothing to change that inasmuch as it begins with, “the people shall approve and ratify such amendment or amendments.”

In other words, the whole of the constitution, giving meaning to all the words in the constitution, means that “at all times” the power over the constitution belongs to all “the people” and not just to the people who choose to vote in a gubernatorial election, as the plaintiffs argue.

Given the clear statement that amendments are to be approved by “the people,” what are we to make of the language about votes in the governor’s election? We are to make of it exactly what the state has said for years—it establishes a minimum number of votes that an amendment must receive to be adopted.

The Framers clearly did not want a minority number of “the people” to change the constitution that governs all the people. Yet that is exactly the result if the plaintiffs’ interpretation is correct; it can lead to an absurd result.

Assume 1,000,000 vote for an unopposed gubernatorial candidate (which some might say is pretty close to the choice we just had), and 600,000 of them vote for an amendment while the other 400,000 vote against it. Then assume another 1,000,000 Tennesseans, inflamed against the amendment, vote against it. The total votes on the amendment are 600,000 in favor and 1,400,000 against it.

According to the plaintiffs’ theory, the amendment is approved! That’s because the other 1,000,000 votes against it don’t count: those “people” don’t count because they didn’t vote for a gubernatorial candidate.

The bottom line is this. When it is something they want, like a constitutional right to abortion, the plaintiffs praise judges who find words in the constitution like “privacy” and “abortion” that simply are not there.

Then, when the people, by popular vote, repudiate the imaginations of judges that find words in the constitution that aren’t there, the plaintiffs sue based on a myopic reading of only certain words that are there to the exclusion of other words.

So, the plaintiffs want to make up and “insert” into the constitution words they like and ignore the ones they don’t like. In doing so, rather than showing their respect for the “people” and the constitution, the plaintiffs have shown their duplicity and their disdain for both.

This blogpost first published in The Tennessean, Opinion section, November 13, 2014.

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David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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The ‘New’ Haslam-Ramsey Campaign

It was this time four years ago that Mayor Bill Haslam, now the governor, and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who was also lieutenant governor back then, were campaigning against each other. Now they seem to be on opposite sides of another campaign. And the campaign may just help you decide how to vote on a critical matter in November.

The campaign I’m speaking of is actually two intertwined campaigns. Gov. Haslam and Lt. Gov. Ramsey both support Amendment 2 to the state’s constitution. Haslam is spearheading a campaign to pass Amendment 2. Ramsey, on the other hand, is spearheading another campaign that bears on the pros and cons of Amendment 2. Haslam says Ramsey will “muddy the waters” in connection with his campaign for Amendment 2.

So what is Amendment 2 and what are these “campaigns” about, on which two of our state’s top political leaders seem to differ? Amendment 2 will determine how we decide who will sit on our state’s Supreme Court. The two campaigns highlight different ways Amendment 2 can be viewed by voters.

The Facts about Amendment 2

The language in our state constitution that would be changed by the amendment currently says the judges of the Supreme Court “shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state.” Of course, we’ve not had contested Supreme Court elections in years. Instead, the governor appoints someone to the court and then, at the next election, that person runs unopposed in a yes-no retention election.

Amendment 2 would modify the current appointment-retention election system to add some accountability on the front end of the appointment process by giving the legislature the authority within a certain period of time to reject a gubernatorial nominee. That is certainly an improvement over the current process.

The Voters’ Choices

Now, if a person wants to have contested Supreme Court elections, he or she should vote against the amendment and hope that legislators will assume a “no” vote means voters want contested elections. However, there’s no guarantee a majority of them will think that way. After personally fighting over this issue at the state Capitol for 20 years, I can assure you that many legislators who support Amendment 2 will fight hard against any legislative proposal for contested elections.

But I suspect there will be a number of voters who fall into a “middle” group—some will not want to trust the legislature to return to contested elections, and some will want to avoid contested elections. So what do they do?

The Determinative Issue

These voters will have to decide whether there should be some form of judicial accountability after the governor and the legislature agree to put someone on the court. If the answer is “yes,” then the version of accountability Amendment 2 offers voters is a yes-no judicial retention election. These voters must, therefore, determine whether retention elections can provide the kind of accountability they want.

That is where Ramsey’s “campaign” and Haslam’s concerns about it get interesting.

Ramsey is raising money (on his own time) and making presentations to different organizations to convince voters not to retain the three Supreme Court judges that will be up for a retention vote in August. According to statements made to various media outlets, Ramsey thinks that campaigning against a judge’s retention is a perfectly fine thing to do.

In fact, Ramsey thinks the campaign can demonstrate to voters that retention elections can be an effective means of judicial accountability. That, he thinks, will help Haslam’s campaign to pass the amendment.

But the Governor apparently disagrees. He thinks Ramsey’s campaign muddies the water by injecting into the judiciary the “politics” that he hopes to avoid with the approval of an appointment-retention election.

And therein lies the rub. Are retention elections supposed to be meaningful or simply “for show?”

Perhaps the best way for voters to let Haslam and Ramsey know which side of this question they are on come November will be whether they vote to retain or reject the judges up for “election” in August.  Kicking these judges off the bench should send a clear message to our state’s politicians that voters want some kind of meaningful ongoing judicial accountability.


David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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