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08 November 2016

The Portly Politico's Hastily-Written, (Mostly) Unbiased Guide to the 2016 Election

Hi faithful TPP Readers,

I've been gone for awhile--nearly three months. My plan was to write post on a weekly basis, covering the presidential election and other events as they occurred.

Unfortunately, life and work have a tendency to take over during the school year, and I've been woefully behind in updating the blog. As such, my planned eBook on social conservatism has been delayed, as had a campaign-oriented book about the rise and worldview of Donald Trump. I anticipate working on both in the near future.

For my brief comeback, I thought I'd share with you a a brief election guide that I write every election year for my colleagues and students (those that are eligible to vote, that is). As noted, I've been very delayed in putting it together due to various disruptions, mostly related to Hurricane Matthew. As such, this year's guide is much briefer (and more hastily-written) than my expansive SC Presidential Primaries Election Guide. That being the case, I'm only going to focus on a few races (note--for readers primarily interested in the presidential election, scroll down, as I start with some local races; also, note that some of my assessments of local candidates are admittedly broad; finally, I do not link extensively to corroborating stories in the presidential section, so you feel free to do some additional research. In short, these summaries are impressionistic sketches of the races and candidates. I have not received any compensation from any candidates or candidate committees for these reflections):

Florence (SC) City Council

There are two "at-large" seats up for grabs this cycle, with three candidates: Democratic incumbent Octavia Williams-Blake; Democratic contender (and former Republican Councilman) Glynn Willis; and Republican hopeful Chris Wegmann. Because there are two seats available, you can vote for two of these three candidates.

Councilwoman Blake seems to be a competent individual, but otherwise I don't know much about her.

I know both Glynn Willis and Chris Wegmann personally, to varying degrees. Willis served on the Council for two years as a Republican, before losing a re-election bid to Democrat George Jebaily (whose son I once taught). Willis switched parties for several reasons, not just political opportunism, but one has to suspect that, the demographics of urban races being what they are, Willis calculated that he'd do better with a "D" after his name than an "R" (currently, there is only one Republican on Florence City Council, Councilman Robbie Hill, who is leaving at the end of his term). Willis is a nice guy, but his party-swapping might smack of careerism to voters.

Chris Wegmann is a Government teacher and coach (women's golf and men's track, I believe) at West Florence High School. He is a sharp, intelligent, perceptive individual, and is very passionate about improving Florence. He seems to be on-board with the Downtown Revitalization Project, and has done a good job of reaching out to all voters, not just Republicans. He recently garnered the endorsement of Tony McElveen, Sr., which demonstrates either his ability to win over traditionally Democratic black voters, or represents a serious political liability; it depends about what you think about Tony.

I strongly recommend Chris Wegmann to those of you that live in Florence's city limits. I also think Councilwoman Williams-Blake will continue to do a fine job.

To learn more about the candidates, read this piece from The Florence Morning News:

Florence County Sheriff

Again, I don't know much about the candidates in this race, but I do know it's very difficult to defeat an incumbent sheriff, especially a popular and good sheriff. That's the situation in this race: incumbent Sheriff Kenney Boone enjoys a great deal of respect through the community, and his office seems to be handling the post-hurricane recovery fairly well (you may disagree).

His challenger is Jody Lynch, an Air Force veteran who would be the only female sheriff in the State of South Carolina. Her platform seems to focus on community outreach and looking at the long-term rehabilitation of criminals. Mostly, I've just noticed her annoying, hot pink campaign signs, which seem not-so-subtly to advertise, "vote for me because I'm a girl." I don't care if the sheriff is male, female, or a demiqueer otherkin; I just want him/her/xyr to be good at his/her/its job.

This one is up to you. You can read more about the candidates here:

US House District 7

I honestly had to spend about five minutes Googling just to figure out who incumbent Congressman Tom Rice's (R) opponent is. That does not bode well for Democratic challenger Mal Hyman. Rice was first elected in 2012--the first year that District 7, which comprises most of the Pee Dee, as well as Horry and Georgetown Counties, elected a representative--and has done an admirable job. He currently sits on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. Through his position, he convinced the White House to designate Florence a "disaster zone"--and, therefore, made it eligible for FEMA assistance--after Hurricane Matthew. His main focus since 2012 has been "jobs, jobs, jobs."

On a personal note, Congressman Rice is one of the most down-to-earth, endearing individuals I've ever met. He's very laid-back--he often shows up to swanky campaign events wearing jeans--and loves giving lengthy tours to students and adults of the Capitol Building. But when it comes time to work, he works hard for his constituents.

That's all to say that I know very little, if anything, about Mal Hyman, so I can't be too much help. Look for Tom Rice to win in a landslide (unlike his first run against Gloria Tinubu in 2012). The 7th District has grown redder since he was first elected.

US Senate

The US Senate race features another charismatic and personally-likeable Republican, the affable Senator Tim Scott, against a relatively unknown Democrat, Thomas Dixon (you can also vote for the awesomely-named Rebel Michael Scarborough of the American Party, or the less-awesomely-named Bill Bledsoe, who is running under both the Constitutional and Libertarian Party banners).

Senator Scott was appointed by Governor Nikki Haley to fill a vacancy left by former Senator Jim DeMint when he left to head up the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank. He has subsequently been on the ballot every two years, and I believe this is the first time he'll be running for a full term in his own right. He is the first African-American Republican to be elected to the Senate from a southern State since Reconstruction. Despite being (because he is?) very conservative, he enjoys immense popularity and favorability throughout the State, even among Democrats. He's an effective Senator and has done well in the role. His remarks about his experiences with police--while a Senator!--as a black man struck a chord in the midst of numerous controversies over police conduct.

Again, I don't know much about Thomas Dixon or the third-party candidates. To learn more about the US House and US Senate candidates, check here:

US President

I am very reluctant to include this section, as it's almost guaranteed to make everyone upset, but it's obligatory. There's another reason I haven't posted much this election cycle: like many voters, I'm not particularly comfortable discussing the presidential election in anything but the broadest terms, as I don't particularly relish being yelled at in public (that reluctance is at the heart of the "Trump Effect" theory, which we'll get to test today). That being said, here are my summaries of the two major candidates:

- Hillary Clinton (D): The odds-on-favorite until a few days ago, Clinton is a former Senator from the State of New York; served as Secretary of State under President Obama from 2009-2013; and is a former First Lady. Her husband, President Bill Clinton, served during a period of unprecedented peace and economic expansion. Some voters appear to support her because of her husband's legacy (she mentions it frequently, and has alluded before that he would be a central part of her decision-making process--though at other times she has backed away from this implication). Other voters are excited about the prospect of electing the first woman president. Finally, some simply don't want to risk electing Donald Trump, her Republican rival.

What kind of president will Clinton be? She will likely continue President Obama's policies in incremental fashion. She's made big promises to her base--the result of running harder to the left because of popular primary challenger Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders--such as free college tuition and an increase in the minimum wage.

Ultimately, however, it's difficult to discern what Clinton will do. She seems to be more concerned with maintaining the current political establishment--and her own vast system of political influence, funneled primarily through the controversial Clinton Foundation--than with any sort of ideological consistency. For example, as a Senator she was strongly in favor of school choice (but not vouchers), arguing that semi-public charter schools provided an opportunity for underprivileged children to gain a better education. When far-left school unions indicated dissatisfaction with this position, however, Clinton backed off, adopting a hard, public-school-only line in her run for president.

That's just one of many examples that demonstrate how Clinton has shifted previously-stated beliefs to suit contemporary political needs. Another is her shift on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that she touted as the "gold standard" of such arrangements, until reversing her position during the Democratic primaries.

That's not to mention the various scandals involving her use of a private e-mail server to send and receive classified information, the investigation of which was re-opened last week. FBI Director James Comey cleared her (again) of any wrong-doing on Sunday, but it does call into question her judgment.

- Donald Trump (R): Bold, brash, politically-incorrect, (probably) sexist: if the mockumentary This is Spinal Tap were about political campaigns instead of 80s hair metal, Donald Trump would be the main character (and he'd probably say, "What's wrong with being sexy?"). Trump descended from a golden escalator at Trump Tower over a year ago to announce his candidacy, immediately sparking controversy over his suggestion that some illegal immigrants are rapists and criminals (which, taken at face value, is objectively true). His positions have shifted, from his once sweeping (and, while not technically unconstitutional, probably impractical) ban on all Muslim immigration (he now calls for "extreme vetting" of refugees from terror trouble spots) to his immigration plan (he still claims Mexico will pay for the wall, which he plans to do through ending remittance payments--basically wire transfers of money--from Mexican nationals in the US to their countrymen back home).

One gets the impression that his shifts, unlike Clinton's, are more due to his pugilistic, shoot-from-the-hip approach to policy formulation, rather than sheer political calculus (although that certainly is part of it): The Donald tosses out an idea, doubles down on it, then lets his surrogates work out the details. Surprisingly, that approach has tended to work.

Trump's platform is essentially a mix of Theodore Rooseveltean "good government" reformism, Jacksonian populism, and old-fashioned American (perhaps Polkian?) nationalism. His campaign's slogans are a hodge-podge of past ideas, from "Make America Great Again" (an idea from Reagan's 1980 campaign) to Nixonian "Law and Order" to "America First." His primary concerns seem to be reforming government to make it work more efficiently; reorienting government programs to benefit American citizens; ending illegal immigration and (possibly) limiting legal immigration; and pursuing a more traditionally realist approach to foreign policy. He has cast himself, in some ways, as the anti-Clinton: an outsider who knows how the game is played, but who wants to fix it so the little guy can play again.

Many voters are concerned that Trump is a "loose cannon," someone temperamentally incapable of serving as president. Others don't think he has a consistent program, or that he's too unpredictable. At best, Trump seems to be a pragmatic nationalist, one who throws ideas at the wall and sees what sticks (in this way, he's not too different from Democratic deity Franklin Delano Roosevelt), but always with the goal of doing what's best for the nation.

Regardless, Trump is a controversial figure (I won't recount his many, many controversies here), and that gives many voters pause; thus, the massive uncertainty that still exists in many polls, even as voting begins.


So, what do you do you? If you think President Obama has done a good job; if you're broadly in agreement with a push for greater globalism (and, perhaps, less American sovereignty); if you want more sweet government bennies; and if you think massive immigration and ratification of illegal immigration are positive, then Clinton is for you.

If you think President Obama's legacy has undermined constitutional order; if you're a critic of globalism and believe that American nationalism is healthy and natural; if you want to maintain Social Security and Medicaid, but don't want to expand other social programs; if you're skeptical of the claims of pro-immigration policies and/or want to see illegal immigration curtailed; or if you simply want to blow up The System, then Trump is your man.

Of course, there is third-party Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, who is a soft-leftist at heart--not an appealing choice for conservative Republicans or progressive Democrats. Evan McMullin is running as a conservative alternative to Trump, and may--but probably won't--win Utah, which could create all kinds of havoc in the Electoral College. I won't even discuss Jill Stein, whose claim-to-fame as the perennial Green Party candidate seems to be getting arrested every four years.

Or, you can simply not vote the top of the ballot, and vote for all the other deserving individuals mentioned herein.

As for me, well... let's just say I'm voting for Milo Yiannopoulus's "Daddy." Kaboom!

God Bless America!