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On the Importance of Listening

The Catholic Church provides a three-year rotation for Sunday scripture readings. The rotation allows the faithful to hear the same readings at regular intervals, applying the lessons from familiar biblical passages to the changing times and seasons.

So it happened that, one weekend last month, I went to church and heard a reading from the first book of Kings, one in which the Lord instructs Elijah to go outside on Mount Horeb and await God’s passage. The reading resonated with me for its relevance in our current climate—one dominated by noise and shouting rather than deliberation and contemplation.

For instance, compare and contrast just a few recent incidents with the biblical passage from Kings. At Howard University last week, a group of protestors shouted throughout a speech given former FBI Director James Comey, despite pleas from other attendees and administrators to allow Comey to speak uninterrupted.

A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains
and crushing rocks before the LORD—
but the LORD was not in the wind.

NFL games across the country became the scene of protests and booing, as players’ reactions to the national anthem and President Trump’s related comments almost eclipsed on-the-field activities.

After the wind there was an earthquake—
but the LORD was not in the earthquake.

At my alma mater, The American University, an incident where individuals hung Confederate flag posters around campus on the same night as a speech on racial equality prompted a statement from the student government referencing the nation’s “history of white supremacy,” as if recalling the sins of past generations—too numerous to count—would cause boorish and offensively provocative behavior to cease.

After the earthquake there was fire—
but the LORD was not in the fire.

So many of our current culture wars center around symbols—flags, anthems, ceremonies. But almost by definition, symbols carry different meanings to different people. A Confederate flag that symbolizes ancestral heritage to some symbolizes a system of racial oppression and exploitation to others.

The repeated, and seemingly intensifying, conflicts over these symbols stem not just from disparate definitions of what they mean, but a growing sense of disempowerment, disillusionment, and even alienation, numerous groups feel—from each other, and from the country as a whole. From Black Lives Matter to the white working class, the burgeoning protest movements and last November’s “primal scream” election illustrate how alienated segments of society believe amplifying their tone will allow them to regain power taken from them.

But as the reading from Kings reminds us, wisdom does not always lie with the loudest and strongest. It requires us to listen to discern its voice:

After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.
When he heard this,
Elijah hid his face in his cloak
and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.

Lost in last weekend’s debate about football protests lies a simple question: If NFL players, faced with the prospect of suspensions or other costly sanctions, all suddenly decide to stand at attention for the national anthem, what exactly have critics of the anthem protests achieved? Would those players have suddenly changed their opinions of the police, the military, or the judicial system? Likewise, if the gay rights movement wins court rulings requiring bakers to make cakes for same-sex weddings, would such a move ensure the entire country “approves” of gay marriage?

Groups’ sense of alienation might prompt them to seek the imprimatur of a sanctioning body—whether NFL owners or a court of law—to demonstrate theirs as the “official” or “correct” position. But while sanctioning bodies might be able, given enough force, to impact behavior, no sanctioning body can ultimately change one’s beliefs.

That’s where the lesson from Kings comes in. Changing others’ beliefs involves listening for the whisper amidst the wind, the earthquakes, and the fire—the modern noise that has coarsened our debate. It requires understanding the sense of concern, or even disillusionment, that may have prompted the protests in the first place. It involves seeing others as they are, not as we wish they would be.

Listening isn’t always easy, but it is worthwhile. I won’t claim perfection on this front—far from it. But over the past week, I’ve run into some more diverse perspectives on the health-care debate, which is my professional specialty. In several cases, they’ve imparted factual knowledge, and while they haven’t necessarily changed my beliefs, they have modified my perspective and allowed me to see things from a different light.

At times, the cacophony of voices on Twitter, cable news, and in myriad other cultural venues might prompt us to wonder if anyone can make sense of it all, and maintain that inner peace. The story of Elijah on Horeb reminds us that wisdom and understanding remain always present in our lives—if only we search hard enough to find them.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Why Theresa May Flopped in Last Night’s UK Election

Last November 8, Hillary Clinton lost the U.S. presidential election in an amazing upset by Donald Trump. She endured her shock defeat on a date prescribed by federal law. What if Hillary Clinton didn’t have to run a campaign last autumn, but called one anyway—then came up short?

That’s essentially what happened last night across the Atlantic, where British Prime Minister Theresa May gambled big—and lost. She called a surprise “snap election” earlier this spring hoping to expand her parliamentary majority, and gain additional leverage in her “Brexit” negotiations with the European Union. Instead, when the votes came in, her Conservative Party lost both votes and seats in Parliament. While the Conservatives remain the largest party in Parliament—albeit short of an outright majority—the election result cannot be viewed as anything other than a defeat.

The result looks that much more stunning when considering May’s foremost opponent: a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn, a leftist who makes Sen. Bernie Sanders look moderate. Corbyn has opposed both military force and the use of nuclear weapons; more than 80 percent of his party’s own members of Parliament supported ousting him as leader, but the grassroots party returned him anyway. A university professor called Corbyn’s election as Labour leader “an act of stupidity unparalleled since Caligula appointed his horse to the Roman Senate.”

Losing This Big Took Some Effort

How could May, thought a shoo-in to win a landslide only a month ago, flop so resoundingly against an opponent so weak?

As with Hillary Clinton’s loss to Trump, it took some effort. May, like Clinton, played a safe campaign, in which she didn’t seem comfortable, while Corbyn relished interactions with voters and constituents. Her campaign manifesto prompted a U-turn from the prime minister mere days after its launch, angering traditional Conservative supporters and giving the party a bumbling appearance, at a time when May had promised to provide strong and stable leadership.

There were other factors, too. In the wake of last year’s referendum to exit the European Union, the UK Independence Party vote collapsed. It appears some working-class voters who voted UKIP at the last election shifted back to Labour instead of voting Conservative.

Turnout rose in newly won Labour areas, suggesting Corbyn’s brand of hardcore socialism and “pork-barrel politics”—including pledges to abolish tuition fees—motivated young people to turn out. And as Harold Macmillan famously warned, “Events, dear boy, events” may have conspired against the prime minister. The terror attacks in Manchester and London Bridge, coupled with Trump’s tweets against London Mayor Sadiq Khan, may have played a role in the campaign’s final days.

What Happens Next?

Although voters may have punished her for going to the country early, another plebiscite could be in the cards. In her speech early Friday morning, the prime minister promised a “period of stability,” suggesting a possible transition, followed by a third general election. With the Conservatives operating a minority government, it seems unlikely that government could last for the full five-year lifetime of a Parliament.

That said, May may not remain long enough to make those decisions herself. Early reports suggest a high likelihood that the prime minister could step down as Conservative leader, triggering the second leadership election for the party in as many years. (It is a demonstration of the election’s shock result that Corbyn could well outlast May as party leader—an outcome few previously would have thought possible.)

However, one election seems unlikely to occur any time soon: A second referendum on Scottish independence. Scotland provided one of the election’s many ironies when a weakening of Scottish National Party support led to a gain of 11 Conservative MPs, propping up the party after losses elsewhere. With Labour also benefitting from the SNP weakness, and Scottish voters seemingly taken a dim view of a “never-endum” debate on independence, the union of England and Scotland apparently remains secure—for the time being.

As to Britain’s “other” union—its impending divorce from the European Union—the nature of that relationship seems less clear. With the Conservatives having less room for maneuver in the coming Parliament, the next prime minister—whether May or someone else—could end up playing a weakened hand in negotiations with Brussels. That’s the exact opposite scenario of the one May envisioned six weeks ago—another surprising outcome from Thursday’s surprising election.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

The Lure of the Indianapolis 500

Why would hundreds of thousands of people travel for hundreds or thousands of miles to spend an afternoon sitting in the Midwestern sun—and keep doing so year after year? For those who make the pilgrimage annually, one word says it all: Indy.

Few places are more identified with a single event or image than Indianapolis with the 500-mile race that bears its name. The world’s largest single-day sporting event held in the world’s largest sporting venue draws people attracted to the spectacle, who in many cases wish to cross off a major item on their sporting event bucket list. But what keeps such a large percentage of them coming back again and again?

It is in some respects an accident of history how Indy became “Indy.” A nascent auto industry just over a century ago helped provide the environment for Carl Fisher to found the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1909. But that history and tradition makes the Indianapolis 500 unique.

More than a Century of Memories

Whereas stock car racing has its lure in culture—its Southern, “good-ol’ boy” roots and renegade image—Indianapolis’ draw is its history. NASCAR’s legacy dates back to moonshine runners during Prohibition, and the desire by soldiers returning from World War II to organize racing more formally. But by that time, the Indianapolis 500 had already been up and running for decades, and had its first three-time winner (Louis Meyer, who started the winners’ tradition of drinking milk in victory lane).

The Speedway’s gift shop sells a poster highlighting specific places around the 2.5-mile, 559-acre complex associated with moments in Indy 500 lore. Here’s the spot where Danny Sullivan lost control of his car, but kept it in one piece, and came back to capture the 1985 race—the “spin and win.” There’s where in 2011 J.R. Hildebrand wrecked on the last turn of the last lap, turning a certain victory into an agonizing defeat. There’s the front straightaway that saw a messy crash on the last lap of the 1967 race, where A.J. Foyt tip-toed his way through the smoke and chaos to cross the finish line for his third win: “Where’s A.J. Foyt—did he get through? There he is!”

Six years earlier, the 500’s first four-time winner had illustrated the special tradition associated with Indianapolis. The week after winning his first race in 1961, Foyt appeared on an episode of “To Tell the Truth” with Ray Harroun. It was the winner of the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911 side-by-side with the winner of the fiftieth anniversary 500. Particularly in retrospect, the episode represents a figurative passing of the torch, the first Brickyard legend (and inventor of the rear-view mirror) appearing with a giant of the Speedway’s second half-century, who remains an active owner of Indy cars.

Friends and Family Who Haven’t Yet Met

A century-plus of history gives Indianapolis an aura few places in sports can match. Even longtime drivers treat the Speedway with reverential tones, always conscious of the greats who preceded them. It’s what can make a trip to the track for last night’s Last Row Party an almost transcendent experience—the rows upon rows of grandstands beset with a tranquil calm under the Hoosier sunset, the ghosts of the Andrettis, the Unsers, and so many more echoing in the silence, the asphalt waiting to be stirred with the roar of engines three days hence.

But if the history of the venue, and the race, draws people to Indianapolis, another type of history keeps them coming back year after year. It’s the shared history that comes from bonding among friends—some close in proximity, some who only see each other once a year, re-uniting in Indiana every race weekend. It’s enjoying a mutual love of racing and speed, and the camaraderie that comes with it. Each of my trips to the 500 brings special vignettes etched in my memory—some on the track, many off. Those stories, both at the Speedway and away from it, are why people come back—sharing them, and seeking new ones as well.

Just before the command to start engines on Sunday, hundreds of thousands of spectators will join in one of the 500’s great traditions: the singing of “Back Home Again in Indiana.” For decades Jim Nabors officially performed the song, but in reality, the event generally approximates a sing-along. The hundreds of thousands of spectators that comprise this family of racing—friends and friends who haven’t yet met—sing joyfully as one, thankful for the opportunity to come together again and enjoy a uniquely American tradition. I know I sure will.

Two hundred laps around the ol’ Brickyard on a warm spring Sunday. There isn’t anything else quite like it.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Thank You, Jim DeMint

As someone born in mid-August, I’m used to low-key birthdays. In my childhood, big birthday celebrations always seemed out of place when half of my friends and classmates were on vacation. Perhaps because of that, I’ve never advertised my birthday, or made much of a fuss about it.

Which is why it was so noteworthy that, four years ago, I received a grand total of two cards for my birthday. The first came from my mother.

The second came from James Warren DeMint.

The card came with a handwritten note, thanking me for joining the Heritage Foundation and congratulating me for my work there. It’s the kind of thoughtful gesture totally unseen by the public that a person—particularly a person with a prominent position and no small amount of fame—doesn’t have to make, but rather one they want to make.

I still have that note—and I’ve read it several times the past few days. For while the press and people outside the Beltway naturally focus on Jim DeMint’s policy views and political actions, that’s not what I most remember about him.

Yes, Jim DeMint is a committed conservative, but more important, Jim DeMint is at his core a fundamentally humble and decent human being. If character is what you do when no one is looking—like sending handwritten notes to your staff to recognize and thank them—then Jim DeMint’s rich character has its roots in both his southern gentility and his deep and abiding faith.

I’ve worked in several congressional offices, and in each case it truly has been a privilege to do so. I’ve been very lucky during my career—I haven’t worked for any Members who screamed at their staff, asked their staff to do favors for them, or succumbed to scandal.

But of all the offices in which I worked, the DeMint team in the Senate was by far the best working environment I had—and probably ever will have—on or off Capitol Hill. Sen. DeMint empowered his staff, creating a warm, nurturing culture that permeated all levels of the organization.

When I wrote in March of the need for humble servant leadership among congressional leaders, I specifically referred to my first interview with Sen. DeMint’s team in 2012, for creating a team atmosphere where I knew from the outset I would feel at home. In their attitude, the staff took cues from the senator himself.

Modest to a fault, Jim DeMint never sought to impose himself on his staff. He would often give us wide berth, not wanting to intrude unduly and create situations where staff had to be “on” in front of their boss. But by the same token, he was always there for us. I know of specific instances where Sen. DeMint mentored and counseled staff going through tough times, in a manner and to an extent few would expect of a man with so many other obligations.

Lone among the Members I worked for, Sen. DeMint once reached out to me to offer me an apology. He didn’t even need to apologize—he himself had done me no wrong. But he felt that I had been wronged by others, and wanted to do what little he could to help make it right. Several years later, I can’t help but experience a similar feeling.

Monday evening, I received a letter in the mail—an incongruously timed fundraising solicitation from the Heritage Foundation, with Jim DeMint’s name prominently displayed in the top-right corner. The message written on the envelope: “I cannot begin to tell you how much we are indebted to you for your support.”

No, Senator—it is we who are indebted to you, for all that you have done to support, sustain, and enrich our lives. All we can give back to you is our gratitude.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

NASCAR Is Ruining Stock Car Racing, One Rule Change at a Time

On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal published an article examining the slide in NASCAR’s popularity. The piece highlighted several factors explaining why stock car racing has yet to recover from the slump caused by the 2008-09 economic crash: A less affluent audience base than other major sports; conflicts between track owners, racing teams, and the sport’s governing body; and power struggles among NASCAR executives.

But to this longtime auto racing fan, NASCAR’s problems have simpler roots: gimmicky changes that have alienated stock car racing’s base of support, driving fans away from the stands—and the television.

The Daytona… 150?

Last week, I took solace at the prospect of the start of the NASCAR season, beginning with this Sunday’s festivities at Daytona. The season opener always represents the “Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing”—the sport’s marquee event also being its first.

But then I read about yet another set of rules changes instituted by the sport, supposedly to make the racing more exciting. At two pre-determined points in the race’s scheduled distance, NASCAR will slow the race cars by throwing a caution flag, and issue championship points to the leaders at the end of these stages.

In other words, what was the Daytona 500 will now be three races in one: First, the Daytona 150, then another Daytona 150, followed by a Daytona 200. The leaders after every phase will receive championship points, and the leaders at the finish—the end of the 500-mile scheduled distance—will receive additional points.

If all this mess sounds counter-intuitive, you’d be right. Last I checked, the Atlanta Falcons didn’t win half a trophy for leading after 30 minutes in the Super Bowl earlier this month. Nor did Jordan Spieth win half a green jacket for dominating The Masters last year up until his epic collapse on the 12th hole in the final round.

No other sport awards points for leading at halftime, or intermission, or anything else other than the end of the contest. So why has NASCAR devised a system that gives drivers major championship points even if they don’t finish the contest?

NASCAR Has Repeatedly Changed Rules

The new “staging” format is just the latest in a series of “enhancements” that have distracted, confused, and alienated fans over the past decade. Since NASCAR debuted its “Chase for the Cup” playoff-style format in its premier series in 2004, the organizing body has constantly tinkered with the playoffs’ structure.

First “the Chase” had 10 teams, then 12, then 16. Some years, drivers received extra points for winning races; then NASCAR changed the scoring system entirely; then NASCAR introduced different “rounds” to the playoff structure, with some drivers eliminated after each round.

If you can understand all the changes made to the NASCAR playoff system over the past decade, more power to you. I’ve followed the sport for nearly a quarter-century, and I can’t explain them all. The new format alone requires its own “FAQ” page on the NASCAR website.

Fans aren’t the only ones exhausted and surprised by all the changes. During the 2015 season, I heard NASCAR commentators repeatedly praise the sport for keeping its “Chase” playoff format confined to its premier series. Up-and-coming drivers in the “minor league” feeder series should be rewarded for consistent performance over a long season, they said, rather than face high-pressure scenarios where a single race performance can make or break one’s championship hopes.

Then in 2016, NASCAR reversed course yet again, extending its “Chase” format to all three major touring series. Thus playing the pundits—to say nothing of the fans themselves—for fools.

Some Rule Changes Make For Racing Debacles

The new staging format comes just after similar changes caused chaos within NASCAR last year. In 2016, NASCAR created a “caution clock” for its truck series, mandating a caution period at least every 20 minutes. At last season’s first truck race at Daytona, multiple teams pitted just prior to the 20-minute mark in the race—attempting to gain an advantage over the drivers who didn’t make a pit stop until the caution period.

There was just one problem: All the trucks pitting before the NASCAR-imposed caution caused multiple spin-outs entering pit road—and an actual caution flag. As one fan exclaimed during the chaos: “Way to go, NASCAR!

In last May’s All-Star Race, drivers helped devised a new format for the exhibition—and created a format so complicated, they confused themselves. Drivers spent a seemingly interminable amount of time lapping the track at caution speed, while NASCAR attempted to sort out the leaderboard. The delays lasted so long, some drivers ran out of fuel under caution, changing up the running order again—and causing more delays.

Tony Stewart ended up “madder than hell” at his final All-Star Race, which he called the “most screwed-up” of his career. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. thought the experience so absurd it compared to his first time flying a remote-controlled helicopter: “I didn’t know what way was up, and what way was right and left!” Even NASCAR officials admitted the format “created a lot of confusion” amongst both drivers and fans.

If We Must Have Gimmicky Enhancements, Try These

To say that many, if not most, of NASCAR’s recent rules changes have backfired would put it mildly. That said, if NASCAR wants to attract attention with other gimmicky “enhancements” to its races, I can suggest the following:

  • Extra points for drivers with kittens.
  • Set the track on fire during the race. (It’s been done before.)
  • Set up ramps on the track, and have drivers jump over pools with sharks in them. (It’s also been done before.)

Of course, while NASCAR can implement all the changes it wants, I’m not likely to spend time torturing myself while stock car racing panders to the latest gimmick dreamed up by desperate television executives.

If NASCAR goes back to doing what it does best (go fast and turn left), then I might take a renewed interest in the sport. Until then, I’m not likely to spend much of my time on a sport that is now—both figuratively as well as literally—running around in circles.

Paul Ryan, Donald Trump, and a Return to Congressional Government?

Last week’s announcement by House Speaker Paul Ryan that he will vote for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in November received widespread attention from political commentators. However, few noted the reason behind Mr. Ryan’s public endorsement of Trump: The speaker believes Mr. Trump will effectively cede policy-making authority to Republicans in Congress.

Writing in his hometown Janesville Gazette, the House speaker spent time outlining the agenda he has worked to frame since taking office in September—creating policy teams tasked with formulating an alternative to Obamacare, principles for tax reform, an anti-poverty agenda, and more. Noting that Hillary Clinton likely wouldn’t embrace the principles behind the Republican agenda, “we need a Republican president willing to sign [this agenda] into law,” he said.

Mr. Ryan clearly believes that “the House can be a driver of policy ideas”—in fact, he said as much in his article endorsing Trump. Mr. Ryan justified his endorsement of the businessman as a practical means to enact the agenda he and his fellow House Republicans are developing: “House Republicans are helping shape that Republican vision by offering a bold policy agenda, by offering a better way ahead. Donald Trump can help us make it a reality.”

What Mr. Ryan proposes—and what the speaker believes Mr. Trump has endorsed—would amount to the greatest ceding of a policy agenda from the executive to the legislature in over two decades. The arrangement echoes then-Speaker Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America, which dominated headlines following the 1994 Republican sweep of Congress. For a time, House Republicans so controlled the policy agenda that in April 1995, President Bill Clinton plaintively pleaded in a prime-time television news conference: “I am relevant. The Constitution gives me relevance.”

For all Mr. Trump’s ability to generate headlines or set Twitter alight, Mr. Ryan envisions a scenario where a President Trump, if not entirely irrelevant, would give Republicans in Congress the lead role in formulating a governing agenda. While Mr. Trump has thus far shown little interest in policy nuances, Mr. Ryan’s gambit appears based on the premise that, when and if he takes office, Mr. Trump will continue to outsource most of his agenda to Congressional Republicans. We’ll see if this arrangement will wear well for Speaker Ryan, Republicans in Congress, or Mr. Trump himself.

This post was originally published at the Wall Street Journal’s Think Tank blog.

In Britain’s Elections, A Message for Paul Ryan and Donald Trump?

Those surprised that House Speaker Paul Ryan said he is “not ready” yet to support Donald Trump might look at results of the election taking place in Britain as Mr. Ryan spoke on Thursday.

In the U.K.’s first local and regional elections since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour Party leader in September, Labour’s results ranged from mediocre to morose. In its traditional stronghold of Scotland—birthplace of party founder Keir Hardie as well as the last two Labour prime ministers, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown—Labour came in a shocking third, behind the Scottish National Party and the Conservative Party. The Labour candidate won the London mayor’s race, but results in England were a net loss of seats to Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party.

Generally parties out of power pick up seats in “off-year” elections, whether in the U.S. or in the U.K. (The Labour Party last lost seats in midterm local elections in 1985, The Wall Street Journal noted.) The results will intensify focus on Mr. Corbyn’s leadership, a tenure that has been controversial at times and sparked unhappiness among some Labour members of Parliament.

Mr. Corbyn, an avowed socialist, has an unorthodox style that, while greatly differing from Donald Trump in substance, has its own vocal fans and critics. Some of Mr. Corbyn’s off-the-cuff comments on policy issues have sparked criticism outside and within his party: He pledged last fall to cut back on using military force and opposes nuclear weapons. He was heavily criticized over a recent intraparty battle about anti-Semitism that raised fears he had alienated potential donors and voters. Mr. Corbyn’s appearance and manners, what many consider the optics of party leadership, have also spurred debate.

Last year one of the members of Parliament who nominated Mr. Corbyn to compete for party leader told the BBC that “At no point did I intend to vote for Jeremy myself–nice as he is–nor advise anyone else to do it. … We were being urged as MPs to have a field of candidates.” A politics professor at the University of Nottingham was less subtle, calling Mr. Corbyn’s election as party leader “an act of stupidity unparalleled since Caligula appointed his horse to the Roman Senate.”

In Washington, Paul Ryan faces a situation not unfamiliar to some in Britain’s Parliament: a party leader with whom some members do not agree–in the case of Mr. Corbyn, one with whom some have said they will not serve–and someone who they fear would lead them to electoral defeat. Labour experienced losses this week, but Mr. Corbyn’s position as leader is unchanged. After Mr. Ryan said Thursday that the onus is on Mr. Trump to bring the party together, Mr. Trump fired back that he had won the Republican Party with millions of votes. The two are scheduled to meet next week. When it comes to the split between the Republican establishment and “tea party” lane, it’s not clear which faction will win out, or how they might ultimately move forward together. Mr. Ryan has incentive to maintain his independence—not least to try and protect his members.

This post was originally published at the Wall Street Journal’s Think Tank blog.

The Republican Party Split That Donald Trump’s Nomination Won’t Resolve

The general election campaign has not begun, but preliminary polling suggests that Donald Trump is a decided underdog against Hillary Clinton. For the Republican Party, there is an issue beyond the Election Day outcome–and one that, at least right now, looks unlikely to be resolved no matter who wins in November.

More so than reports of John Kasich suspending his campaign, it was Sen. Ted Cruz‘s withdrawal from the Republican primary race Tuesday night that sparked reactions from Republicans ranging from begrudging acceptance to continued hostility. Mr. Trump’s ascendance illustrates a split within the Republican Party, between the “establishment” and the “tea party” lanes, that has been widening for years. It is likely to persist, as both factions disagree on the elements that led to Mr. Trump’s meteoric rise.

A core point in the internal GOP dispute is whether political confrontation or ideological conservatism most motivates voters, including the party’s base. Steve Schmidt, a consultant to John McCain‘s presidential campaign in 2008, said on MSNBC Tuesday night that Mr. Trump’s rise was fueled by voter frustration stoked by the tea-party wing. He and other establishment figures view anger as a poor substitute for substantive policy solutions and a dead-end political strategy in general.

On the other hand, those aligned with tea-partyers view the Trump phenomenon as rising from discontent with an insufficiently conservative leadership. They see voters’ frustration and anger rooted in an establishment that overpromised and underdelivered, for example by promising to fight President Barack Obama’s executive orders on immigration “tooth and nail” in November 2014 but, just a few months later, ruling out a partial government shutdown over the issue as “not an option.”

A Cruz nomination would have left little doubt about the party’s ideological direction. Mr. Cruz often echoed Ronald Reagan’s desire to speak “in bold colors, not pale pastels,” and relying on motivated conservatives to help drive general election turnout. A Cruz-Clinton match-up would have made clear the potential, and potential limits, of a “base strategy.”

Conversely, Trump’s ideological heterodoxies—on health careabortion and even about Hillary Clinton herself—reshuffle the political landscape. Mr. Trump falls outside the “establishment” and “tea party” labels, as neither side fully embraced his ascent. Mr. Trump said Wednesday that “As far as the Republican Party coming together, it will, maybe not 100%, but it’ll come together 99% and the 1% I don’t want and it won’t have any impact.” What shape the GOP takes as some elements rally behind him and others consider different directions will definitely have an impact on the Republican Party as we have known it.

This post was originally published at the Wall Street Journal’s Think Tank blog.

Obama Administration Wants to Break Law Obama Signed

As spring turns to summer, the House and Senate will work on the 12 annual appropriations bills that fund the federal government. The backdrop to this work? The president who signed the Budget Control Act into law four years ago wants to exceed the spending levels the legislation prescribed.

In a recent blog post, Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan made clear that the administration opposes the spending levels. Mr. Donovan wrote that “sequestration was never intended to take effect: rather, it was supposed to threaten such drastic cuts to both defense and non-defense funding that policymakers would be motivated to come to the table and reduce the deficit through smart, balanced reforms.” However, because the congressional “supercommittee” formed in 2011 did not reach agreement on entitlement and/or tax changes to reduce the deficit, automatic reductions were triggered on discretionary spending, with separate caps on defense and non-defense appropriations.

But in separate letters regarding the House’s first two spending bills, Mr. Donovan wrote that “the President has been clear that he is not willing to lock in sequestration going forward, nor will he accept fixes to defense without also fixing non-defense.” Largely because of these broad disagreements over spending levels, the administration issued veto threats on the first two appropriations measures.

Ironically, President Barack Obama now opposes a policy outcome—the “sequester” spending levels—that he introduced: Multiple fact checkers have confirmed that it was administration officials who proposed the sequester mechanism during debt-ceiling negotiations in the summer of 2011. These histories directly contradict the president’s statement in an October 2012 debate with Mitt Romney that “the sequester is not something that I’ve proposed. It is something that Congress has proposed.”

The administration can say that it did not propose the sequester mechanism. It can also say—with more accuracy—that sequestration was an action-forcing mechanism that was never intended to take effect. But neither argument changes the fact that the Budget Control Act remains the law of the land. The specter of Mr. Obama vetoing spending bills—potentially setting up another government shutdown this fall—because they fail to nullify an act that he signed into law could present an optics problem for his administration.

This post was originally published at the Wall Street Journal’s Think Tank blog.

A Jab from Washington at State and Local Educators

Politico reported last week about how education leaders in red and blue states alike have pushed back against federal control in education policy. Given this environment, Washington would do well not to patronize state and local leaders’ ability to manage schools and their desire to do right by their students. Yet it appears that the Department of Education has done just that.

Consider a series of proposed requirements released last month for the federal School Improvement Grants program. In examining alternatives to the requirements, the Education Department noted that it could allocate funds “without establishing any new requirements governing their use.” However, the proposal stated, in such a circumstance state and local education authorities would have to implement the congressional requirements “without key regulatory support from the Department.” The relevant passage concluded: “We do not believe that states generally possess the capacity or expertise needed to meet this responsibility with the amount of rigor expected by Congress.”

The language sends a clear message that the Department of Education does not trust state and local education leaders’ competence to implement “evidence-based, whole-school reform strateg[ies]” without “key regulatory support” from Washington–or does not trust their intentions to act in the best interests of their schoolchildren. Either way, the message does a disservice to the many men and women who put in countless hours to reform America’s schools and educate our children. It also raises the question of whether “key regulatory support” from the Department of Education means advice and technical guidance, or more federal requirements and paperwork.

The Education Department’s attitude calls to mind Ronald Reagan’s comment about the nine most terrifying words in the English language: “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” Small wonder that parents and local politicians of both parties are giving that supposed assistance a second look.

This post was originally published at the Wall Street Journal’s Think Tank blog.