The GOP Presidential Field and The Narcissism of Small Differences

The vicious fighting between and among the various Republican candidates for President brings to mind Sigmund Freud who wrote, in German of course, of der Narzissmus der kleinen Differenzen, or “the narcisissims of small differences.” Perhaps that has something to do with the vituperativenss which has come to characterize the contest of late.

The most striking thing about the field of GOP candidates is the extent to which they agree on policy issues. I have chosen seven overlapping groups of issues important to Republicans                            .

  1. Foreign policy and defense. This includes robust support for veterans and their benefits.
  2. Respect for the Constitution. This includes opposition to anything which comes close to restricting First and Second Amendment rights of individuals and entities formed by many individuals. The Tenth Amendment is often mentioned here as are the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.
  3. Lower taxes, lower spending, lower deficits and greater economic growth.
  4. Social issues. The main one is opposition to Abortion. Sometimes gun issues are put in this category, but I have chosen to group those with other constitutional matters. The other major social issues are gay rights and religion in the public sphere.
  5. Illegal Immigration. The main issues are border security and what to do about illegal immigrants, already here.
  6. Government corruption. This includes crony capitalism and other special favors to donors.
  7. Tactical issues in governing.

There is near unanimity among Republican voters and all the candidates on many aspects of these issues. Of course there are small differences, and these tend to get blown way out of proportion

As to the 7 points listed above:

  1. Republican voters and candidates all support a strong military and a foreign policy which is pro-Israel, anti-Islamic radicalism and opposed to terrorism in all forms. I would like to see all candidates join Cruz and Rubio to explicitly vow to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and to support Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. The phrases “West Bank” and “occupied territories” should never be used by Republicans. They should also pledge to never publicly castigate our allies. These fine points have come up very little in the debates but I doubt that any of the candidates disagree. They should all support the Kurds.
  2. If lip service were a reliable indicator, I think we would have near unanimity here. All the candidates ridicule political correctness and support the Constitution. Some have questionable historic positions on gun control but disavow those today. I doubt that any of them would flip-flop when in office. In any case, they are unlikely to face a Democrat majority in Congress. Trump is weak on eminent domain because of his use of it in his business. Inexplicably, Bush recently spoke against the Citizens United Court decision. I can’t think of any other constitutional issues on which the candidates disagree. No doubt, all intend to appoint conservative originalists to the Supreme Court. George W. Bush thought he was doing so when he appointed Justice Roberts. Conservatives have not been happy with some of his key rulings. I believe that Cruz would do best here in practice, but there is little in the expressed opinions of the other candidates to cause great concern, though Trump has not expressed a clear view on this matter. The recent tragic death of Justice Scalia serves to remind us that this may be the most important issue of all.
  3. All Republican voters and candidates claim to be fiscally conservative deficit hawks. All support lower taxes and spending. All favor tax reform of some kind.  The tax reform proposals advanced by the candidates are pathetic.  All, however, are improvements on the current system. They rely on minor tweaks around the edge. Some are downright sneaky. Read any critique of the Cruz proposal. Does it explain that he wants to transfer the better part of a trillion dollars of FICA tax liability from individuals to corporations? That may or may not be a good idea, but it does tend to call into question the claim that corporate income taxes have been eliminated. Most of the other proposals reduce the number of brackets and limit some deductions, but none are truly flat. All are fuzzy on the issue of FICA taxes versus income taxes. Some ideas like the “penny plan” sound good but are hopelessly naïve with regard to entitlements and defense spending. The main take-away is that the differences among the candidates on taxes and spending are minor compared to the Democrat alternatives. This is the main category for the Tea Party and I am hard pressed to rank the candidates, or even to highlight significant differences among them. One last point here is that none of them have explained what to do about the shortfall in revenue from their plans beyond cliché calls for lower and smarter spending. 
  4. Supposedly it is on social issues that Republicans disagree with each other, but I am hard pressed to find major differences even between evangelicals and the most socially liberal Republican candidates. This was not always true. The social conservatives should be pleased that they have won this battle (in the GOP) on the most important social issue, namely abortion. All the candidates are pro-life and oppose funding Planned Parenthood. As far as I know they all oppose gay marriage. I do not consider this a core issue, but there is a related core issue. Nobody should be forced to participate in a wedding they disapprove of. For example florists and bakers should not be fined or jailed. It is an example of liberal overreach that all Republicans oppose, even those who care little about gay marriage itself. The Little Sisters of the Poor deserve an abject apology from the next (Republican) President on behalf of the American people. The nominee should make this a central campaign issue.
  5. Illegal immigration was more divisive a few years ago. Today, no Republican candidate would dare oppose tight border security, whether with a “huge, beautiful wall” or more modern techniques. Similarly, full amnesty leading to citizenship seems to be off the table for Republicans. That is good. Entering illegally should cause a lifetime ban on citizenship, with possible exceptions for veterans. Some form of “legalization” with no voting rights might be considered but the so-cons have won for now. Clearly, Trump has leveraged this issue to the hilt, but the differences between his views and the others’ are small.
  6. If promises could be banked, corruption and crony capitalism would disappear. I concede that it is a frustrating issue. Ted Cruz was eviscerated by “popular” Governor Terry Branstad of Iowa for opposing the ethanol boondoggle. The governor’s son heads a company that profits from ethanol quotas and subsidies. Have these people no shame? Have voters in Iowa no ethical standards? Anyway, this is as tough an issue as there is in American politics. I wish I could even propose legislation to limit crony capitalism but I have no idea how.
  7. Donald Trump goes the farthest in ridiculing political correctness, though critics might say that being politically incorrect doesn’t demand rudeness and slander, particularly with overly general remarks. As a native of Forest Hills, Queens, NY myself, I get it. I grew up in the same years and lived only a few blocks from Mr. Trump. You can taunt your friend with “Ahhh…yer muddah wears combat boots” one day and be his best friend the next day. So far it has worked well for Trump, but it is no substitute for clear, well-reasoned policy proposals. The best of Trump is his keen sense of what needs to be fixed, but that is also his riskiest trait. It is hard to tell how far he would go, with or without Congress, on trade and other international issues. Tariffs always sound good, but the historical record doesn’t support their likelihood of success.  His position on eminent domain and his veiled threats against anyone who crosses him are troubling to true conservatives. When it comes to character, however, you have only to look at the Trump adult children. Nobody raises exemplary, successful kids like that without being a magnificent father. Nobody can fault Trump on family values

There are tactical issues in governing -- beyond the demeanor of the president. Are there principles which will never be compromised, or is everything up for grabs as seems to be the case today? I confess that I trust Trump and Cruz the most to stand up to political heat. Yet there are also times we need tactical compromise.

The main point I would like to leave with the readers is that there is little difference among the candidates on major issues. There are differences in temperament and will. There are differences in administrative experience. Maybe there are differences in priorities, though I don’t see much conflict over the order to take things up. All can be addressed quite comfortably during the first year of a new administration.

Just so there is no misconception, I have been impressed with the whole GOP field. I would vote for any one of them. It is a big problem for me to have a tie in my mind after months of campaigns and debates. I wish the press (laughter) would do a better job of highlighting real substantive policy differences --- or maybe there just aren’t any.

The conflict has evolved, or deteriorated in my view, into a barrage of insults among four of the candidates --Trump, Cruz, Rubio, and Bush. Only Kasich and Carson seem to have remained above that fray. There are two main and intertwined “issues” at stake here. The first is consistency; the second is lying. For example, all candidate are now pro-life. Twenty years ago, Trump was a strong proponent of “choice” including partial birth abortion. He says he has changed. Fine. I enthusiastically welcome him from the dark side to the light side. But shouldn’t he then cut Mr. Rubio some slack on his changed views on amnesty? Granted, two years is not twenty years, but all are entitled to state their current views and all should accept reminders of what they used to believe without hurling charges of lies and slander.

Conservatives should be able to discuss the small differences among the field without the anger and vitriol. I hate to have to give credit to Freud, but his words cited in the title of this article seem all too descriptive.

The vicious fighting between and among the various Republican candidates for President brings to mind Sigmund Freud who wrote, in German of course, of der Narzissmus der kleinen Differenzen, or “the narcisissims of small differences.” Perhaps that has something to do with the vituperativenss which has come to characterize the contest of late.

The most striking thing about the field of GOP candidates is the extent to which they agree on policy issues. I have chosen seven overlapping groups of issues important to Republicans                            .

  1. Foreign policy and defense. This includes robust support for veterans and their benefits.
  2. Respect for the Constitution. This includes opposition to anything which comes close to restricting First and Second Amendment rights of individuals and entities formed by many individuals. The Tenth Amendment is often mentioned here as are the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.
  3. Lower taxes, lower spending, lower deficits and greater economic growth.
  4. Social issues. The main one is opposition to Abortion. Sometimes gun issues are put in this category, but I have chosen to group those with other constitutional matters. The other major social issues are gay rights and religion in the public sphere.
  5. Illegal Immigration. The main issues are border security and what to do about illegal immigrants, already here.
  6. Government corruption. This includes crony capitalism and other special favors to donors.
  7. Tactical issues in governing.

There is near unanimity among Republican voters and all the candidates on many aspects of these issues. Of course there are small differences, and these tend to get blown way out of proportion

As to the 7 points listed above:

  1. Republican voters and candidates all support a strong military and a foreign policy which is pro-Israel, anti-Islamic radicalism and opposed to terrorism in all forms. I would like to see all candidates join Cruz and Rubio to explicitly vow to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and to support Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. The phrases “West Bank” and “occupied territories” should never be used by Republicans. They should also pledge to never publicly castigate our allies. These fine points have come up very little in the debates but I doubt that any of the candidates disagree. They should all support the Kurds.
  2. If lip service were a reliable indicator, I think we would have near unanimity here. All the candidates ridicule political correctness and support the Constitution. Some have questionable historic positions on gun control but disavow those today. I doubt that any of them would flip-flop when in office. In any case, they are unlikely to face a Democrat majority in Congress. Trump is weak on eminent domain because of his use of it in his business. Inexplicably, Bush recently spoke against the Citizens United Court decision. I can’t think of any other constitutional issues on which the candidates disagree. No doubt, all intend to appoint conservative originalists to the Supreme Court. George W. Bush thought he was doing so when he appointed Justice Roberts. Conservatives have not been happy with some of his key rulings. I believe that Cruz would do best here in practice, but there is little in the expressed opinions of the other candidates to cause great concern, though Trump has not expressed a clear view on this matter. The recent tragic death of Justice Scalia serves to remind us that this may be the most important issue of all.
  3. All Republican voters and candidates claim to be fiscally conservative deficit hawks. All support lower taxes and spending. All favor tax reform of some kind.  The tax reform proposals advanced by the candidates are pathetic.  All, however, are improvements on the current system. They rely on minor tweaks around the edge. Some are downright sneaky. Read any critique of the Cruz proposal. Does it explain that he wants to transfer the better part of a trillion dollars of FICA tax liability from individuals to corporations? That may or may not be a good idea, but it does tend to call into question the claim that corporate income taxes have been eliminated. Most of the other proposals reduce the number of brackets and limit some deductions, but none are truly flat. All are fuzzy on the issue of FICA taxes versus income taxes. Some ideas like the “penny plan” sound good but are hopelessly naïve with regard to entitlements and defense spending. The main take-away is that the differences among the candidates on taxes and spending are minor compared to the Democrat alternatives. This is the main category for the Tea Party and I am hard pressed to rank the candidates, or even to highlight significant differences among them. One last point here is that none of them have explained what to do about the shortfall in revenue from their plans beyond cliché calls for lower and smarter spending. 
  4. Supposedly it is on social issues that Republicans disagree with each other, but I am hard pressed to find major differences even between evangelicals and the most socially liberal Republican candidates. This was not always true. The social conservatives should be pleased that they have won this battle (in the GOP) on the most important social issue, namely abortion. All the candidates are pro-life and oppose funding Planned Parenthood. As far as I know they all oppose gay marriage. I do not consider this a core issue, but there is a related core issue. Nobody should be forced to participate in a wedding they disapprove of. For example florists and bakers should not be fined or jailed. It is an example of liberal overreach that all Republicans oppose, even those who care little about gay marriage itself. The Little Sisters of the Poor deserve an abject apology from the next (Republican) President on behalf of the American people. The nominee should make this a central campaign issue.
  5. Illegal immigration was more divisive a few years ago. Today, no Republican candidate would dare oppose tight border security, whether with a “huge, beautiful wall” or more modern techniques. Similarly, full amnesty leading to citizenship seems to be off the table for Republicans. That is good. Entering illegally should cause a lifetime ban on citizenship, with possible exceptions for veterans. Some form of “legalization” with no voting rights might be considered but the so-cons have won for now. Clearly, Trump has leveraged this issue to the hilt, but the differences between his views and the others’ are small.
  6. If promises could be banked, corruption and crony capitalism would disappear. I concede that it is a frustrating issue. Ted Cruz was eviscerated by “popular” Governor Terry Branstad of Iowa for opposing the ethanol boondoggle. The governor’s son heads a company that profits from ethanol quotas and subsidies. Have these people no shame? Have voters in Iowa no ethical standards? Anyway, this is as tough an issue as there is in American politics. I wish I could even propose legislation to limit crony capitalism but I have no idea how.
  7. Donald Trump goes the farthest in ridiculing political correctness, though critics might say that being politically incorrect doesn’t demand rudeness and slander, particularly with overly general remarks. As a native of Forest Hills, Queens, NY myself, I get it. I grew up in the same years and lived only a few blocks from Mr. Trump. You can taunt your friend with “Ahhh…yer muddah wears combat boots” one day and be his best friend the next day. So far it has worked well for Trump, but it is no substitute for clear, well-reasoned policy proposals. The best of Trump is his keen sense of what needs to be fixed, but that is also his riskiest trait. It is hard to tell how far he would go, with or without Congress, on trade and other international issues. Tariffs always sound good, but the historical record doesn’t support their likelihood of success.  His position on eminent domain and his veiled threats against anyone who crosses him are troubling to true conservatives. When it comes to character, however, you have only to look at the Trump adult children. Nobody raises exemplary, successful kids like that without being a magnificent father. Nobody can fault Trump on family values

There are tactical issues in governing -- beyond the demeanor of the president. Are there principles which will never be compromised, or is everything up for grabs as seems to be the case today? I confess that I trust Trump and Cruz the most to stand up to political heat. Yet there are also times we need tactical compromise.

The main point I would like to leave with the readers is that there is little difference among the candidates on major issues. There are differences in temperament and will. There are differences in administrative experience. Maybe there are differences in priorities, though I don’t see much conflict over the order to take things up. All can be addressed quite comfortably during the first year of a new administration.

Just so there is no misconception, I have been impressed with the whole GOP field. I would vote for any one of them. It is a big problem for me to have a tie in my mind after months of campaigns and debates. I wish the press (laughter) would do a better job of highlighting real substantive policy differences --- or maybe there just aren’t any.

The conflict has evolved, or deteriorated in my view, into a barrage of insults among four of the candidates --Trump, Cruz, Rubio, and Bush. Only Kasich and Carson seem to have remained above that fray. There are two main and intertwined “issues” at stake here. The first is consistency; the second is lying. For example, all candidate are now pro-life. Twenty years ago, Trump was a strong proponent of “choice” including partial birth abortion. He says he has changed. Fine. I enthusiastically welcome him from the dark side to the light side. But shouldn’t he then cut Mr. Rubio some slack on his changed views on amnesty? Granted, two years is not twenty years, but all are entitled to state their current views and all should accept reminders of what they used to believe without hurling charges of lies and slander.

Conservatives should be able to discuss the small differences among the field without the anger and vitriol. I hate to have to give credit to Freud, but his words cited in the title of this article seem all too descriptive.