Good day Austin. Greetings from Cleveland:
Politics makes strange bedfellows.
The deliberations the last two days in Cleveland of the Republican National Convention’s Platform Committee, offer a vivid example.
It got under way Monday morning with a prayer and the pledge of allegiance
And then Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the chair of the Platform Committee, gave the floor to Boyd Matheson, a member of the Platform Committee from deepest red Utah.
Matheson is a former chief of staff to Utah Sen. Mike Lee, and the president of the Sutherland Institute, which described itself as “a nonpartisan, state-based public policy organization located in Salt Lake City. Its mission: protecting freedom, constructively influencing Utah’s decision-makers, and promoting responsible citizenship. Sutherland Institute is recognized as the leading conservative think tank in the state of Utah.”
Matheson introduced to the members of the Platform Committee an idea he had been working on with Larry Arnn, a well-known conservative scholar who is president of Hillsdale College, which also has a very conservative profile.
From the Wall Street Journal on Hillsdale.
The liberal-arts school has about 1,500 students and is located a couple of hours west of Detroit in Hillsdale, Mich., a town of 8,000. Two things, primarily, brought the college to prominence: its refusal to take any money from the state or federal government, and its classical curriculum based on great books, the Western tradition and the American founding.
Hugh Hewitt recently wrote that “Arnn is easily among the handful of most influential conservative intellectuals in the country.”
Matheson’s and Arnn’s ambition (Arnn is not a delegate to the convention and was not present Monday) was to draft a platform that, like the 1860 Republican platform that Abraham Lincoln ran and won on, could, with elegant simplicity, fit on a single page and that people not on the platform committee, might actually read.
In a piece at the end of the June in the Washington Examiner, Matheson and Arnn had described what they were up to.
On the eve of a convention that threatens disorder, Republicans should learn from the greatness of their party’s past.
The platform upon which Abraham Lincoln ran for president in 1860 was one and a half pages and 1200 words — quite a contrast to the 65 page, 33,000 word GOP platform of 2012. Written in the succinct and beautiful language of principle, it was meant to be read by all Americans, not just policy elites, and to guide great political action rather than make promises to special interests.
Might such a document today help to heal the divisions in the party as a preparation to healing those in the nation?
The platform on which Lincoln ran gestated over six years, one of its early drafts being written at Hillsdale College. It is easy to state what was in that first platform. It said that “the maintenance of the principles promulgated in the Declaration of Independence and embodied in the Federal Constitution … is essential to the preservation of our Republican institutions; and that the Federal Constitution, the Rights of the States, and the Union of the States, must and shall be preserved.”
Its achievement was to reunite the Declaration and the Constitution at a time when one part of the country had departed from the nation’s principles and another from its constitutional forms.
Lincoln referred to the Declaration as an “apple of gold” adorned by a frame of silver — the Constitution. The Declaration supplies the principles and the Constitution supplies the structure of law to preserve those principles. At its founding, the Republican Party sought to put those two documents back together in order to reunite the nation.
Might it be wise for today’s Republicans to pursue a similar path?
Next month in Cleveland, the Republican Party could do nothing better than to emulate its original achievement. Its platform committee is at work right now and is there is strong interest in the idea of writing a short one. It should begin by stating in simple language the main issue at stake: does equality, the principle resounding from the Declaration of Independence, require a vast government to make Americans equal in ways that we are not? Or does it rather require a limited government that protects the decisive thing Americans have in common — our human nature and the rights inherent in that nature?
Following these principles, the Constitution establishes a form of law. All sovereignty is in the people, who ratified the Constitution through republican means. It delegates limited authority to three politically accountable branches at the federal level and reserves the rest to the people and to the states. For all its flexibility, the Constitution is not in this respect “living.” It establishes a powerful but limited government.
By contrast, our government today, under the doctrine of a “living” constitution, is a tool of limitless scope for the engineering of every aspect of our lives. As a result, we are becoming not citizens but subjects of a vast and failing bureaucratic social experiment.
The Trump candidacy, although unwelcome to many in the party, has the virtue of simplicity. He says that government belongs to, must respond to, and must in all cases seek to benefit the American people.
The federal government has become too centralized and many powers should be checked or returned to the states. The American people have the right to decide who joins them in citizenship. The military should be strong in defense of our nation and its interests. War should be undertaken cautiously, but when undertaken it should be fought fiercely and with the utmost speed. All agreements with other nations should be made in the interest of the American people. The social safety net, built at vast expense, should be made and kept secure.
One can find sanction for all of these opinions in the writings of Abraham Lincoln, and for many in that early Republican platform. One can also find general agreement in the likes of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, Mike Lee and Tom Cotton, Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse.
For all the perceived division in the party, the ground is laid to agree upon core principles and a few policies to implement them.
The devil, of course, is in the details. But platforms should not be about details. They should be about principles and broad lines of policy. The details will be worked out in due course between the President and Congress, as is right and good. The platform supplies a direction, not a specific route.
A Republican platform resembling Lincoln’s would actually be read. It would be discussed at kitchen tables, across back fences, in the press, and on social media.
Such a platform would unite Republicans in common purpose, as it did at the beginning, and point the way to healing our divided nation.
Republicans should begin writing such a platform — now.
Matheson arrived at the convention with that platform written and ready and distributed copies to the 112 members of the Platform Committee.
This tweet leads to Matheson’s remarks to the Platform Committee and the full, lean text of his draft.
Matheson also noted that David Barton of Aledo – along the Diana Denman of San Antonio, the two Texan on the Platform Committee – a leading figure in the conservative Christian world, and a collector of historic American artifacts, has in his possession the 1860 platform. You can come to see it later if you like.
The Platform Committee then broke up into its constituent subcommittees, and I attended the Constitution Subcommittee, on which Barton sat.
Sure enough, at the break, he showed me his original copies of the 1856 and 1860 Republican platforms, and a single page on which, side by side, were the 1864 Republican and Democratic platforms.
Barton said he very much liked Matheson’s draft, and said that even if it were not adopted by the convention next week in lieu of the platform the committee was in the process of rewriting, it might serve as a preamble or addendum to that longer platform, and help get the party used to the idea of going the way of a simple, readable platform in the future.
And Barton, Matheson later told me, had, in fact,contributed the first two clauses of their draft platform,
1. That the cornerstone of American government is the principle of human equality enunciated in the Declaration of Independence, under which all are equal in the rights with which they are endowed by their Creator, and that legitimate governments are instituted to secure these unalienable rights, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
2. That the Constitution of the United States, which derives its authority from the people it represents and by whom the powers of government are delegated, was ordained and established “in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” and that essential to these ends is the separation of the powers of government among three branches to establish a necessarily powerful but fundamentally limited federal government.
Let’s pause there.
Now, let’s turn to Rachel Hoff.
I interviewed Hoff in 2009. I was a reporter with the New Orleans Times-Picayune and I was writing a story about the campaign pitting Hoff, from D.C., against Audra Shay, from suburban New Orleans, to lead the Young Republican National Federation. Shay won but Hoff was impressive and she friended me on Facebook.
While I had not talked to her since, I had followed her progress, which included graduate studies at UT’s LBJ School. She is also a friend and political ally of Brendan and Randan Steinhauser in Austin.
As Brendan noted when I emailed him yesterday:
CLEVELAND — Rachel Hoff on Monday became the first openly gay person to sit on the Republican Party’s Platform Committee.
But, she would not make history a second time. Facing overwhelming opposition and fighting back tears as she spoke to the committee, Ms. Hoff, a delegate from the District of Columbia, offered an amendment of a few paragraphs to the Republican platform that would have encouraged a “thoughtful conversation” within the party on same-sex marriage.
It received only about 30 votes from the 112-member committee, according to an unofficial count.
Ms. Hoff’s amendment did not call for the party to embrace same-sex unions. It called for an acknowledgment that a growing number of Republicans are changing their views on the issue and that opinions on marriage are “diverse and sincerely held.”
As Ms. Hoff addressed the committee, her voice broke. “We are your daughters, your sons, your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues,” she said. “All I ask today is that you include me and those like me.”
While she was received politely by her fellow committee members, their response was hardly enthusiastic. When she mentioned that she was their first openly gay member, barely anyone applauded.
But Ms. Hoff, a defense analyst at the American Action Forum, a Washington think tank, may have an ace up her sleeve. Her amendment appeared to receive enough votes to send the measure to the full convention for a vote when delegates convene next week.
Ms. Hoff may decide not to. But the prospect is certainly an unwelcome one for the Republican Party: A debate on the convention floor, on national television, over whether to extend an olive branch to people who disagree with the party’s official line on marriage.
Enter New York delegate Annie Dickerson, one of the handful of Hoff’s allies on the committee.
Who is Annie Dickerson? She is the “longtime fundraising adviser to Paul Singer.”
And who is Paul Singer?
From Inside Philanthropy:
OVERVIEW: The Paul E. Singer Foundation is the charitable outfit of hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, CEO of Elliott Management, and a Giving Pledge signatory. Much of the foundation’s grantmaking takes place in New York City.
FUNDING AREAS: Education, health, Jewish causes, LGBT rights
IP TAKE: Singer is known for his political views and giving. But he’s also a philanthropist active in New York City and in recent years education, health and several other causes have received support.
PROFILE: Singer grew up as one of three children in the New York City area. He received his B.S. in psychology from the University of Rochester and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He eventually founded the hedge fund Elliott Management Associates in 1977 with $1.3 million he gathered from friends and family. Singer resides in Manhattan and has a net worth of $1.8 billion.
On the one hand, Singer has been a vocal supporter of Republican causes and sits on the board of the Manhattan Institute for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank. On the other, he’s also supported gay rights.
Singer and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz had flirted with one another during the primaries.
From Jeremy Peters and Maggie Haberman in the New York Times back in February.
Ted Cruz sounded despondent at the possibility that same-sex marriage could become legal when he called into the radio show of Tony Perkins, a vehement opponent of gay rights, in February 2014. “Our heart weeps for the damage to traditional marriage that has been done,” Mr. Cruz said, urging conservatives to pray but also to fight back. “Be as wise as serpents and gentle as doves,” he said, quoting Scripture.
But seven months later, when Mr. Cruz visited the Midtown Manhattan office of a major Republican supporter of same-sex marriage, he sounded almost indifferent: If New York politicians wanted to legalize it, that was their business, he told Paul Singer, the billionaire investor who had bankrolled efforts to strike down laws forbidding same-sex marriage across the country. There was no reason the issue had to drive a wedge between the two men, the Texas senator said, according to a person briefed on the meeting who supports one of Mr. Cruz’s opponents. (Mr. Singer went on to endorse Senator Marco Rubio of Florida a year later.)
And, from Jeremy Peters’ story on yesterday’s concluding session of the Platform Committee:
Much of the most combative debate centered on language in the platform that describes gay and transgender people, and efforts to strip those words out and replace them with language proposed by a minority contingent of socially moderate delegates.
An amendment to specifically recognize that gay people are targets of the Islamic State caused a stir among more conservative delegates who said they felt there was no need to single out any one group. As the delegate who offered the amendment, Giovanni Cicione of Rhode Island, argued his case — by saying he believed it was an “innocuous and important” way to tell gay people the Republican Party does not exclude them — another delegate moved to shut off the debate.
Jim Bopp, a delegate from Indiana, said the Republican Party had always rejected “identity politics.” Arguing against the measure, he said, “Obviously, there’s an agenda here.”
The amendment was defeated, as were others in a similar vein.
But nearly every provision that expressed disapproval of homosexuality, same-sex marriage or transgender rights passed. The platform calls for overturning the Supreme Court marriage decision with a constitutional amendment and makes references to appointing judges “who respect traditional family values.”
“Has a dead horse been beaten enough yet?” asked Annie Dickerson, a committee member from New York, who chastised her colleagues for writing language offensive to gays into the platform “again and again and again.”
Additional provisions included those that promoted state laws to limit which restrooms transgender people could use, nodded to “conversion therapy” for gays by saying that parents should be free to make medical decisions about their children without interference and stated that “natural marriage” between a man and a woman is most likely to result in offspring who do not become drug-addicted or otherwise damaged.
After the Platform Committee, concluding a very long, adopted its platform, a delegate – and my guess was that it must have been Dickerson, moved to adopt the Lincoln’s 1860 platform in its stead.
At the time, I assumed it was a purely symbolic motion and that it referred, quite literally, to the 1860 platform, but it is possible that that simply was a shorthand for the Matheson platform written in the manner of the 1860 platform. Who knows. There was no explanation or debate.
But then Giovanni Cicione, the Rhode Island delegate, sought to explicitly offer the Matheson platform as an alternative, and was ruled out of order by Barrasso, who was overwhelmingly backed up by the committee. But Cicione said he had the signatures of 37 members of the committee on the Matheson platform, and that they would offer it as a minority report before the full convention next week.
Afterward, I talked with Barton and with Matheson, who were both still hopeful that the draft might be attached in some way or issued as some kind of supplement to the platform, but with no expectation or desire to see it simply replace the platform they had just spent two days writing.
I talked to Barton and his wife for quite a while after that, and at one point a reporter approached to ask about a CNN story on what had just transpired.
The CNN story was by Tai Kopan;
Pro-LGBT Republicans circulate petition to force floor debate
Cleveland (CNN) The group that has forced a series of difficult test votes on LGBT issues at the Republican National Convention early meetings plans to take that fight all the way to the floor of the convention.
Matheson, and Barton and Denman and others, who were among the 37 who had signed on, felt betrayed, hoodwinked, snookered. They said they hadn’t thought what they were signing would become a minority report, and they certainly didn’t think they were part of an effort to undermine or challenge the longer platform’s conservative positions on LGBT issues.
Matheson and Barton last night drafted a statement they sent out today:
My Fellow Delegates:
But, when I talked to Hoff late last night, it was she who was outraged.
Matheson and Barton hadn’t been bamboozled, she said, they had simply exposed the depths of their fears of and animus toward the LGBT community.
Hoff, who said she had collected five or six signatures, and Dickerson and Cicione others, had merely listened to Matheson’s presentation Monday, read what he had written, embraced it, and without changing a word, sought to do precisely what he had said he wanted when he spoke before the committee and make this the party platform.
Hoff said it was only when Matheson and Barton and others saw in print that it had the support of Hoff and her allies that they felt the need to repudiate something they had been so enamored of hours earlier. That reaction, the recoiling, Hoff said, was “more revealing and more troubling” than anything that transpired during the actual Platform Committee sessions.
Samuel Popkin, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, who used to teach at UT, liked something I wrote at First Reading about party platforms on the occasion of the 2014 Republican State Convention in Texas.
It’s probably a mistake to make too much of a party platform. They are like grade school finger-painting – more about self-expression and remaining usefully occupied than great art.
But they have a great virtue.
While much of politics is about obfuscation and obscuring what a candidate really thinks or would do behind market-tested slogans and bromides, platforms are painfully earnest documents that express what the party, or at any rate factions within the party, truly believe and care about. Sometimes, when the issue gets big enough – like immigration – the planks represent efforts to wrestle a consensus position out of competing points of view. But, most often, they offer a real peek at what the most devoted folks within the party are thinking.
But, when I talked with Popkin last week he said something about an essential function of party platforms that rang especially true yesterday.
“It’s a barrier to entry,” he said, explaining that when, as in this case, the Republican Party expresses its absolute opposition to abortion or gay marriage, “they are telling a lot of people, `You can’t come to the party.'”
Matheson and Arnn had said they wanted to create a document that would unite Republican behind a few great principles. As they wondered:
Might such a document today help to heal the divisions in the party as a preparation to healing those in the nation?
By one measure, they succeeded, fleetingly, beyond expectation.
But, when Matheson and his allies saw who they had found themselves bedfellows with, they leapt out of bed screaming bad faith and betrayal.