Category: Wisconsin politics

And remember, Feingold voted for this

Media Trackers:

Desperate to salvage the credibility of the increasingly discredited Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as ObamaCare, Citizen Action of Wisconsin and Robert Kraig, the state’s leading ObamaCare apologist, are trying to put a new spin on a wave of negative news stories about ObamaCare driving shocking premium increases. Instead of admitting that premium hikes are increasingly making the Affordable Care Act less affordable, Kraig calls the cost increases “moderate.”

On Monday, Bloomberg reported that the Obama Administration’s own Department of Health and Human Services released data showing premiums for mid-grade health insurance plans will rise by an average of 25% in the 38 states that use the federal health insurance exchange. Wisconsin is one of those states.

Previously, Media Trackers pointed out that according to data provided by the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance, health insurance premiums in the Badger state are set to rise an average of 15.88% next year, and some health plans will see a 30.37% increase in monthly premiums.

Neighboring Minnesota, where Democrats led by Gov. Mark Dayton (D) implemented a state health insurance exchange at the cost of state taxpayers, suffered a near-catastrophic departure of health insurance providers from the exchange this year. Dayton admitted in public remarks that, “The reality is the Affordable Care Act is no longer affordable for increasing numbers of people.”

Citizen Action and Robert Kraig wanted Wisconsin to follow the path of Minnesota in the way the Gopher state set up a state-based exchange and regulated insurance plans that were offered through the exchange. While Wisconsin has suffered from premium hikes and the departure of several big insurance companies from the market, the crisis has not been as acute as it is in Minnesota.

“A preliminary analysis by Citizen Action of Wisconsin of Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace rates released earlier today by the federal government shows moderate increases when premiums and deductibles are taken together,” Kraig blogged on Sunday on the ironically named “No Sacred Cows Blog” run by Citizen Action.

Wisconsin consumers won’t be hit hard by the premium hikes, Kraig argued, if they look at premium hikes and lower deductibles together. “The result is that rates (premiums and deductibles together) decreased by 1.2% for the most common plans,” he claims. But that requires consumers to be unhealthy enough to make use of their health insurance up to and beyond the cost of the deductible. For a healthy person, there is no silver lining to the premium hikes.

Arguing that, “a Wisconsin consumer who uses enough health care to pay the full deductible will actually see a reduction in consumer costs (not including tax subsidies)” is not a terribly persuasive argument because it requires the assumption that consumers spend at least some part of the upcoming year sick.

After making the argument that sick people will be the winners under the monthly premium hikes, Kraig then asserts that, “Premium increases are actually easier for health consumers to handle because they are covered by affordability tax credits.”

Who pays for those tax credits – also known as a subsidy for health insurance premiums? The federal government. Who funds the federal government? Taxpayers. Who is required to have federally-mandated health insurance coverage? Everyone.

Additionally, because of how the Affordable Care Act was written, a taxpayer may fund the subsidies on one hand – because they pay taxes – while not qualifying for them when they buy government-mandated health insurance. The subsidies are only available to individuals and families who make less than 400% of the federal poverty level. One group hit by that rule is small business owners who run their business expenses and profits through their personal tax rate.

Not once in his praise of premium hikes did Kraig address the biggest broken promise of ObamaCare: “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.” That’s not true in Wisconsin or anywhere else, where new plans have replaced pre-ObamaCare plans and entire insurance companies have quit the marketplace.

Russ Feingold voted to ruin your health care by voting for ObamaCare. Keep that in mind when you vote.

The election isn’t just about the presidency

George Will writes about the Wisconsin Senate race:

In 49 states, when you order breakfast in a restaurant you might be asked if you would like pancakes or an omelet. In Wisconsin, you are asked if you would like pancakes with your omelet. Ron Johnson would, thank you. This Republican U.S. senator, who is burning prodigious amounts of calories campaigning for a second and final term, really does represent the hearty eaters who were fueling up at a Perkins Restaurant here on a recent Sunday morning.
In 2010, Johnson left his plastics manufacturing company that made him wealthy enough to try, against his preference for the private sector and against his wife’s adamant disapproval, to become the only manufacturer in the Senate. He surfed into that chamber on the Republican wave raised by two things that annoyed Johnson enough to propel him into politics — the Obama administration’s stimulus that did not stimulate and Obamacare, which six years later is in intensive care.

Johnson defeated a three-term incumbent, Russ Feingold, who this year is again Johnson’s opponent. Being devoted environmentalists, Democrats believe in recycling even their candidates: In Indiana, too, a former senator, Evan Bayh, is in a tight race trying to return to Washington.

In a season supposedly inimical to insiders, Feingold, 63, is more of this detested breed than is Johnson. Feingold first won elective office at age 29 and his involuntary six-year sojourn in the private sector has been an aberration he is eager to end. Johnson, 61, said when seeking his first term that he would never seek a third.

In contrast, Johnson’s opponent ran four times, and, having unaccountably (in his own mind) failed to have been elected six years ago, thinks he should be a senator yet again.

Johnson says he has traveled 130,000 miles — “that’s with me behind the wheel” — to ask audiences: How many of you think the government is efficient and effective? When no hands are raised, he asks: Why, then, would you want it enlarged?

Johnson was considered so vulnerable this year that the national party essentially wrote him off — indeed, it virtually announced as much by its parsimonious support. Ten months ago he trailed Feingold by double digits. He is attempting to become the first Wisconsin Republican since 1980 to win a Senate election in a presidential year. In that year, Ronald Reagan’s coattails pulled 16 freshmen Republicans into the Senate.

This year, Johnson faces headwinds beyond the fact that the unhinged spectacle at the top of the Republican ticket lost the Wisconsin primary to Ted Cruz by 13 points. Wisconsin last voted for a Republican presidential candidate in 1984 and is much more congenial to Republicans in nonpresidential years, when turnout is lower. In 2010, the total vote for Senate candidates was 2,171,331. In the presidential year 2012, when Democrat Tammy Baldwin defeated former governor Tommy Thompson for the state’s other Senate seat, the total vote surged to 3,009,411.

Nevertheless, although Hilary Clinton is expected to win Wisconsin handily, Johnson still could be the unlikely savior of Republicans’ Senate control: Two recent public polls show Johnson behind by less than the polls’ margins of error. This is partly because, in a year of unrelieved political ugliness, he has done something eccentric: He has run television ads that make people smile rather than wince. One concerns his support for a faith-based program teaching unemployed inner-city residents the modalities of job-seeking (interviews, etc.); the other highlights Johnson helping a Wisconsin couple bring their adopted child home from Congo.

This year of the counterintuitive has reached an appropriate culmination: Republican retention of Senate control might depend on weakness at the top of the ticket starting immediately. If Donald Trump’s chances of winning are soon seen to be, as they actually are, vanishingly small, Republican Senate candidates can explicitly encourage tactical voting: They can acknowledge that Trump is toast and can urge voters to send Republicans to Washington as a check on a President Hillary Clinton.

In 22 of the 36 election cycles — presidential and off-year — in the 70 years since World War II, voters have produced divided government, giving at least one house of Congress to the party not holding the presidency. This wholesome American instinct for checks and balances is particularly pertinent now because Clinton will take office as an unprecedentedly unpopular new president.

For conservatives, this autumn has been about simultaneously stopping Trump and preserving Republicans’ Senate control to stymie Clinton. Johnson will return either to the Senate and the invigorating business of preventing progressives’ mischief, or to private life. Come what may, he says, “I’ll be the calmest guy on election night.”

Kevin Binversie has questions about Johnson’s opponent, the phony maverick, that the Wisconsin media hasn’t asked and Feingold hasn’t answered:

Health Care

  • Earlier this week, former President and potential “First Gentleman” Bill Clinton described the Affordable Care Act – which you voted for and once bragged about having ‘read every word of it’ – as a “crazy system,” is “killing small businesses,” “doesn’t work” or “doesn’t make any sense.” Do you agree with this assessment, if so, why have you not publicly said something similar in the past? If not, why and how is Clinton wrong exactly?
  • An analysis by the New York Times find that residents in four Wisconsin counties (Menominee, Pierce, Polk, and St. Croix) will only have one insurance option available to them via Healthcare.Gov. What do you say to those Wisconsinites (they’re listening) who believed that your vote on the Affordable Care Act would mean more consumer choice, more affordable options, and access to doctors they know and trust when the exact opposite has happened?


  • In a world where the finances of candidates and the college transcripts of candidates are often released for public consumption, why has there never been any release of your course syllabus and reading list from your time teaching at Stanford Law School? Yes, there is a course description available online , but it comes off as rather vague. Also, would you be willing to release student evaluations made of you during your time there?
  • Is there any particular reason why your campaign has not published its “Cash on Hand” for the just completed fund raising period?
  • In 2010, your campaign was found to be using paid Labor Union staffers and activists as stand ins for “Average Wisconsinites” in your political advertising. Did you learn your lesson for 2016, or did you repeat that move?
  • If you have nothing to hide from your emails during your time as a Special Envoy in the State Department, why not just openly call for their release?


  • Could you please provide the definition of “Creative Destruction” as it is defined in most Economics textbooks?
  • This week the International Monetary Fund downgraded its expectation for growth in the U.S. economy for the rest of the year. Isn’t that a stinging indictment of the Obama economic record? If so, why do you believe the American people essentially deserve a “more of the same” approach as being suggest by Hillary Clinton (infrastructure spending, “Green Jobs,” etc.), if it didn’t make the economy go “Gangbusters” in the first place?

We’ll see if any reporter does indeed run with these suggestions.

I have even simpler questions for the senator:

  • Why did voters fire you in 2010? What did you learn about losing?
  • Name one political position you have that cannot be described as “liberal” or “leftist.”
  • Name one non-liberal position you have taken as a result of input from your “listening sessions.”
  • If you are elected Nov. 8, given that Wisconsin already has a left-wing U.S. senator, how will you represent the people who didn’t vote for you and didn’t vote for Wisconsin’s other U.S. senator?


The three GOPs

William Galston tries to reconcile the three parts of the Republican Party after the Nov. 8 disaster:

No Republican will ever try harder than Mr. Trump has to make working-class white voters the centerpiece of a majority coalition. His no-holds barred effort to mobilize them has offended minority voters as well as the more educated white voters who have long supported more mainstream conservative candidates. If current trends continue, he will register single-digit support among African-Americans, he will underperform Mitt Romney’s woeful showing among Latinos, and he will lose to Hillary Clinton among college-educated women.

Underlying these results are deep structural tensions. On economics, today’s Republicans are—like Caesar’s Gaul—divided into three parts. Establishment conservatives reflect the interests of corporate America. They favor free trade, immigration reform, and well-targeted public investment. They are broadly internationalist and mostly support the treaties and institutions through which the United States exercises global influence.

They believe in climate change and can live with reasonable measures to abate it. They want corporate tax reform, but not at the expense of provisions in the current code that benefit their economic sectors. They would like individual tax reform but already can use the current code to minimize their effective tax rate. They believe in “entitlement reform” but would accept revenue increases along with it—the ever-elusive “grand bargain” at the heart of blue-ribbon commissions.

Second come the small-town, small-government conservatives who channel the anxieties and antipathies of the National Federation of Independent Business and whose sentiments pervade the Paul Ryan-House Republican manifesto, “A Better Way.” They believe—passionately—that government is the principal obstacle to growth. They insist on major tax cuts, especially in the individual code through which their unincorporated businesses are taxed, and fervently reject any new taxes.

They favor reductions in domestic spending (especially welfare), structural changes in Medicare and Medicaid, and an all-out assault on the regulatory state. Compared to their corporate brethren, their outlook is more nationalist. They mostly depend on the domestic market rather than exports and frown on institutions such as the Export-Import Bank, which they regard as corporate welfare. They are not invited to meetings at Davos.

And lastly, we reach the populist conservatives, many of them working class, about whom so much has been written in this election cycle. They mistrust all large institutions, especially the federal government, but they do not have an ideological preference for smaller government. They depend on costly programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Disability Insurance and stand to benefit from the expanded infrastructure investments that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have proposed.

They see large corporations as indifferent, even hostile, to their interests and concerns. They view the world outside the United States more as a threat than an opportunity. So they oppose trade agreements as well as large immigration flows and are suspicious of the obligations that alliances such as NATO impose on the U.S. Like Mr. Trump, they regard such arrangements, on balance, as burdens rather than benefits. For them, “America First” is more than a slogan; it is a demand.

Despite the hostility between Paul Ryan and Mr. Trump, it is just possible to see how small-government conservatives and populist conservatives might make common cause. The small-government advocates could make their peace with Social Security and phase in changes to Medicare slowly enough to convince the populists, many of whom are near retirement age, that they have nothing to fear. Over time, they might be able to smooth the rough edges off the ethno-nationalism that has disfigured the Trump campaign and repelled so many Americans. Issues such as trade and immigration would remain points of contention, but focusing on border security and tougher enforcement of existing trade agreements could make the tensions manageable.

It is harder to see how establishment conservatives can find a place within this coalition. Their policy agenda contradicts the demands of the populists, and their outlooks are antithetical. They know that their long-term success depends on the kinds of public investments that small government conservatives shun—and the economic internationalism that populists abhor. Having abandoned the bipartisanship they espoused after World War II and casting their lot with the Republican Party, they find their influence shrinking among the kinds of conservatives who have come to dominate the GOP.

As working-class white voters left the Democrats after the 1960s, Republicans won them over with appeals to cultural traditionalism and American exceptionalism. It was a low-cost acquisition. Now, with the hollowing-out of the manufacturing sector on which working class communities depended, the bill—a balloon payment—has come due.

As a non-Republican I’d say I’m in Galston’s second group. Opposition to big government is not necessarily incompatible with opposition to big business, given all the similarities beyond the fact that business has to earn what it gets, unlike Govzilla.

The first group probably makes a fair amount of tacit Hillary Clinton supporters; they’re conservative in the original sense of the word — they don’t like change because the current system works for them.

The Wisconsin GOP has more from the first and third groups than the second. The state GOP hasn’t done nearly enough to promote small government, and that has been the case far longer than Ryan has been in politics. There are no effective constitutional limits on government growth in this state. There are legislative limits, but anything legislative can be erased by the Legislature. It is, of course, against the GOP’s political limits to advocate something that would make election results less important, but until a Taxpayer Bill of Rights-like mechanism becomes part of the state Constitution the GOP has to get voters to believe that the GOP will increase government less than Democrats would.


Meanwhile, back at ObamaCare …

Chris Rochester:

Amid the noise and drama of the campaign for the Oval Office between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, a kernel of truth about Obamacare – rarely mentioned by either candidate – emerged recently when Minnesota’s Democratic governor admitted the law has failed.

“The reality is the Affordable Care Act is no longer affordable for increasing numbers of people,” Gov. Mark Dayton told the Associated Press on Wednesday. Dayton in 2013 was among the law’s biggest cheerleaders, touting the state’s low health insurance rates at the time. …

Even Bill Clinton, in another rare moment of truth in politics, acknowledged that Obamacare is “the craziest thing in the world.” He has since backpedaled and apologized for accidentally saying what he really thinks.

Back in 2014, Wisconsin progressives seized on Minnesota’s full embrace of a state-based Obamacare exchange and its costly expansion of Medicaid to constantly point out that Wisconsin’s governor, Scott Walker, should do the same.

Citizen Action of Wisconsin in particular, a progressive group that has been pushing the one-size-fits-all, top-down bureaucratic health care model from day one, has repeatedly pointed to Minnesota as a model for lower health insurance costs and access. They have been non-stop in their criticism of Walker and legislative Republicans, explicitly blaming healthcare premium differences between the two states on Wisconsin’s refusal to accept a Medicaid expansion.

Earlier this year, Bill Kaplan even wrote on Citizen Action’s website that Walker and the GOP’s refusal to embrace Obamacare is “reminiscent of Japanese soldiers fighting on after WWII ended.” It’s now apparent he was wrong, and Gov. Dayton seems to agree.

As we are now finding out, Wisconsin lawmakers took the right path, thankfully ignoring Citizen Action’s cheap potshots and instead choosing fiscal responsibility. Minnesotans covered through Obamacare will see shocking premium increases from 50-67 percent in 2017. Worse yet, the only reason there are any insurers offering Obamacare plans in Minnesota at all is because state officials begged companies to stay in the exchange. The only way the regulators could force health insurance companies to stay in the exchange was to allow the astronomical rate increases.

“The Commerce Department pursued every option within its power to avert a collapse this year,” said Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman in a statement by the state’s Department of Commerce. “We succeeded in saving the market for 2017, with only Blue Cross leaving.”

Refusing to acknowledge the fundamental and obvious flaws that even Dayton and Clinton have now admitted, Citizen Action put out an absurd press release mindlessly blaming Obamacare rate increases on “sabotage” by health insurers and conservative politicians. The statement – less an analysis and more a desperate plea – advocates price controls for drug companies and a public option as the solutions to the problem of rising healthcare costs, a problem that Obamacare was supposedly enacted to fix.

Clearly, Citizen Action will never admit the colossal failure that Obamacare is and the horrific shape that the Minnesota exchange is in. They believe that bigger government is the solution to every problem that ails society – even the ailment of big government itself.

While Wisconsin is clearly in a better position than Minnesota – Wisconsin hasn’t faced a total collapse of its individual insurance market – health insurance customers here will also see double-digit rate increases in their Obamacare-compliant plans, according to the state’s Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI).

On average, Wisconsin Obamacare premiums will increase by 15.88 percent in 2017. The OCI recently reviewed and approved the rate changes requested by Wisconsin insurance companies. Insurers began filing their 2017 policies and rate increase requests in June.

UnitedHealth and Humana, two of the largest health insurance companies in the country, both backed out of Wisconsin’s market entirely earlier this year. Anthem also significantly cut back its offerings in 34 counties last year and withdrew from Milwaukee, Kenosha, and Racine counties entirely. With fewer companies competing in the Wisconsin exchange, premium increases have continued to far outpace inflation.

One major insurer remaining in Wisconsin, Aetna, will increase its premiums by an overall 29.32 percent for its small group PPO plan, with increases varying from 7.59 percent to a maximum of 59.71 percent.

Dean Health Plan, Inc. will raise premiums for its individual HMO plan by an overall 18.73 percent, with rate changes varying from a 9.73 percent reduction to a 46.34 percent increase. The company plans a 2.91 percent decrease for its small group plan.

Gundersen Health Plan, Inc. will increase its premiums by an overall 9.33 percent for its small group plan and 18.36 percent for its individual plan – that plan’s premium increases range from 7.87 percent to 42.67 percent.

Blue Cross Blue Shield filed a 3.96 percent decrease for its small group plan, but that plan is listed as “off-exchange” and only affects 270 people.

WPS will increase premiums for its small group PPO plan by 9.78 percent overall, with increases ranging from a 4.3 percent reduction to a 55.66 percent increase. WPS will also increase premiums for its individual PPO plan by 5.39 percent overall, with changes ranging from a 14.8 percent reduction to a 20.94 percent increase.

The Arise Health Plan, a subsidiary of WPS, plans premium increases of 6.29 percent for its individual HMO plan and 3.14 percent for its small group HMO.

Regardless of the reason for these steep price increases, Wisconsin Commissioner of Insurance Ted Nickel had this warning for consumers: “While increases for Wisconsinites are lower than many other states, these rate changes and the recent exiting of numerous national carriers make it even more important for individuals to actively explore their health insurance options to ensure appropriate coverage.”

Last year, Obamacare-compliant plans saw premium increases between 11 and 19 percent, the MacIver Institute reported in December. In addition, our analysis found 600 fewer plans to choose from in 2016 compared with 2015. It also found the cheapest plan in the state in 2016 is an individual catastrophic level plan in Columbia County that costs $118.97 a month, with a $6,850 deductible and $6,850 maximum out of pocket.

The news is even more dire for the taxpayer-supported health insurance provider Common Ground. Wisconsin’s Obamacare co-op, established as an alternative to for-profit insurance companies, was created to supposedly provide competition in the Obamacare health insurance market. Common Ground has been on life support for years.

Common Ground’s final increase averages 27.69 percent for its PPO individual plan, with premium hikes ranging from 8.95 percent to 41.8 percent. It’s also increasing its small group PPO plan by 17.25 percent, with premium hikes ranging from 0.43 percent to 30.95 percent.

Earlier this year, it was reported that Common Ground had already spent half of the 20-year funding it was given by taxpayers in just one year. In 2014, Common Ground had $74 million in assets. In that year alone, the co-op reported $37 million in operating losses. Since its inception back in 2012, Common Ground has received more than $107 million in taxpayer-supported loans and other funds.

One analysis found that Common Ground would likely be among the co-ops that fail in 2016. If it does, it would join 17 other co-ops that have closed their doors since Obamacare went into effect, taking billions of taxpayers dollars with them.

However, Common Ground recently received a cash infusion from a private, undisclosed source that will likely keep the co-op in business at least until next year.

Common Ground’s struggles come despite higher-than-expected enrollment, which President Obama praised in a visit to Milwaukee earlier this year. By the end of 2014, the co-op enrolled 26,000 people when they expected only 10,000. Despite the enrollment numbers, Common Ground’s net income loss of $36.5 million in 2014 was $35 million larger than expected.

Under Obamacare, 23 non-profit health insurance co-ops were set up around the county in an effort to provide competition in the insurance market. Just six remain in business, with many on life support. Taxpayers have spent more than $1.2 billion dollars on the now-closed co-ops.

Common Ground’s struggles parallel those of private insurers, which have cited massive losses as they’ve withdrawn from Obamacare exchanges around the country. Plans available on the exchanges tend to attract older, sicker, and more expensive patients than predicted when the law was first passed, leading to unbalanced risk pools and unsustainable financial losses.

The much-heralded market in Minnesota is experiencing the same problem. “Minnesota’s individual market also faces unique challenges because of a disproportionate concentration of individuals with serious medical conditions whose high claims costs must be absorbed by a relatively small risk pool, pushing up rates for everyone in the individual market,” said the Minnesota Department of Commerce in a statement.

Meanwhile, the individual mandate and financial penalties for those choosing to go without increasingly expensive insurance have largely failed to encourage younger, healthier individuals to buy health insurance.

Despite Citizen Action’s blame game, the real picture is clear: Obamacare is now in the downward spiral that everyone except groups like Citizen Action saw coming years ago.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner got it right in a statement issued after the rate increases became news: “Affordable health care is a thing of the past under Obamacare,” he said.

“As insurance companies continue to opt out of this disastrous policy, increasing costs are passed on to hardworking Wisconsinites who simply cannot afford the additional financial burden. It’s critical we repeal this terrible law and bring quality, affordability, and accessibility to our healthcare system,” Sensenbrenner said.

Why politics and politicians suck

Jeffrey Tucker:

You know what we need right now? A trip to the mall, not even to buy, but to observe and learn. See how people engage with each other. Observe how they coordinate their movements in the public spaces without direction. Appreciate the kindness that salespeople show for customers whom they do not know, and how this ethos of mannerly sociability extends out to the hallways and the entire space. Consider the complexities of production that make all of this available to you without mandates or impositions.

Or perhaps we need a walk in the park while playing Pokemon GO, meeting new people and laughing with them. It’s fascinating how the mobile app creates a digital reality that sits atop the real one, and how we can all experience this technological marvel together. Strangers are given an excuse to speak and get to know each other.

Really, just any visit to an awesome commercial center, teeming with life and full of human diversity, would be palliative. Or maybe it is a visit to a superstore to observe the products, the service, energy, the benevolence, of the commercial space. We can meet people, encounter their humanity, revel in the beauty and bounty of human life. Or it could be your local watering hole with its diverse cast of characters and complicated lives that elude political characterization.

Also thrilling is to attend a concert and see how the arts and music can serve as a soundtrack to the building of community feeling. With public performance, there are no immigration restrictions to the category of “fan.” We can sing, clap, and dance to shared experience, and everyone is invited in.

And while in these places, we need to reflect on the meaning of the existence of these spaces and what they reveal about ourselves and our communities. Here you will see something wonderful, invigorating, thrilling, magical: human beings, with all our imperfections and foibles, can get along. We can provide value to each other and find value in each other. We can cooperate to our mutual betterment.

These spaces are all around us. And here politics don’t exist, mercifully. No one will scream at you or threaten you for failing to back the right candidate or for holding the wrong ideology or being part of the wrong demographic or religion. Here we can rediscover the humanity in us all and the universal longing for free and flourishing lives.

In this extremely strange election year, escaping the roiling antagonism and duplicity of politics, and finding instead the evidence all around us that we can get along, however imperfectly, might actually be essential for a healthy outlook on life.

Politics Makes a Mess of Our Minds

Some startling new evidence has emerged about the effect of this year’s election on the psychological well being of the US population. The American Psychological Association has released an early report on its annual survey and found that more than half the population reports being seriously stressed, anxious, alarmed, depressed, and even frightened by the election. Essentially, the constant coverage, dominating the news every minute of every day, is freaking people out.

I totally get this. I’ve felt it – some nagging sense that things are not quite right, that the lights in the room are dimming, that life is not quite as hopeful and wonderful as it usually is.

I’ve regarded this as my own fault; for the first time I’ve followed this election very closely. I made this awful bed and now I’m lying in it. The message that politics beats into our heads hourly is that your neighbor might be your enemy, and that the realization of your values requires the crushing of someone else’s.

That’s a terrible model of human engagement to accept as the only reality. It is demoralizing, and I’ve felt it this year more than ever. But everyone I know says the same thing, even those who are trying their best to tune it out. Now we have evidence that vast numbers are affected. It’s one thing for politics to mess up the world around us, but it’s a real tragedy if we let politics mess up our minds, spirits, and lives.

Why Is this Happening?

Carl von Clausewitz is believed to have said that “war is merely the continuation of policy by other means.” It may be more accurate to say that politics is the continuation of warfare by other means. There are winners who get the power and what comes with it, and losers who forfeit power and pay. This isn’t like business competition in which my win only affects your future revenue stream. In politics, my win comes at your expense through the violence of state action. That’s what gives this moment prescience.

We all have some sense, whether true or not, that so much is at stake. Then you look at the epic unpopularity of the candidates and it is truly amazing. If the Republican weren’t running, the Democrat would be the most despised candidate for the presidency in American history. Then you add to that the beyond-belief loathing of the GOP candidate and you really do gain a sense of the seeming hopelessness of it all.

And talk about divisive! Look at these angry rallies, the screaming for destruction of the enemy. And this has spilled over to social media. We are all losing friends. People we used to hang out with we no longer speak to. Whole population groups are feeling afraid of what’s coming – and this is true of everyone no matter their race, religion, or gender. Predictions of the coming doom are everywhere around us.

And there is a sense in which they are all correct. As Bastiat explained, the state turns people against each other, shattering the harmony of interests that normally characterizes human life. Watching the state’s political gears in motion is an ongoing exhibition of low-grade warfare that seems to demand that we fight or take cover. The shrillest voices, the meanest temperaments, and the most amoral plotters are the ones who dominate, while virtues such as wisdom, charity, and justice are blotted out.

Is it any wonder that this is not exactly uplifting of the human spirit?

The Lessons

What if the whole of life worked like the political sector? It would be unrelenting misery, with no escape, ever. As it is, this is not the case. We should be thankful for it, and remember that the thing that makes life wonderful, beautiful, and loving is not crushing your enemy with a political weapon but rather the gains that come from turning would-be enemies into friends in an environment of freedom.

In these environments, we have the opportunity to discover a different model of human engagement. By letting people choose, innovate, associate, and cooperate – to do anything peaceful – we discover proof that human beings can self-organize. We can get along. We can build wealth. We can create institutions that reward goodness, charity, justice, and decency. We can serve ourselves and others at the same time.

A slogan passed around some years ago in academic circles was that “the personal is the political.” That sounds like hell on earth. The slogan should be flipped and serve as a warning to all of us: whatever you politicize will eventually invade your personal life. We should not allow this to happen. The less that life is mediated by political institutions, the more the spontaneous and value-creating impulses in our nature come to the fore.

I’m convinced that we all want this. We don’t really want to live amidst anger or revel in the destruction of our enemies. Hate is not a sustainable frame of mind. We intuitively understand that when we use politics to hurt our neighbor, we are also hurting ourselves. We are being dragged down instead of being lifted up.

We owe the good life to the remaining liberties we have to discover the possibility of genuine human community all around us. Without liberty, the world would sink into a pit of mutual recrimination and violence. Human beings thrive in the absence of politicization. Discovering that great truth is one way to avoid the mire into which the politics of our time seeks to plunge us.

On the radio about (different) radio

I will be on the Wisconsin Public Radio Joy Cardin program today at 7:30 a.m.

(Yes, I am aware it’s not Friday at 8 a.m. More irony follows.)

I am appearing on the State Capitol Report not because I was in Dane County yesterday, but over the impending departure from the airwaves — yes, not public radio airwaves — of WTMJ radio’s Charlie Sykes.

I will be able to be heard on WLBL (930 AM) in Auburndale, WHID (88.1 FM) in Green Bay, WHWC (88.3 FM) in Menomonie, WRFW (88.7 FM) in River Falls, WEPS (88.9 FM) in Elgin, Ill., WHAA (89.1 FM) in Adams, WHBM (90.3 FM) in Park Falls, WHLA (90.3 FM) in La Crosse, WRST (90.3 FM) in Oshkosh, WHAD (90.7 FM) in Delafield, W215AQ (90.9 FM) in Middleton, KUWS (91.3 FM) in Superior, WHHI (91.3 FM) in Highland, WSHS (91.7 FM) in Sheboygan, WHDI (91.9 FM) in Sister Bay, WLBL (91.9 FM) in Wausau, W275AF (102.9 FM) in Ashland, W300BM (107.9 FM) in Madison, and of course online at


A change in the air

Charlie Sykes posted this on the Right Wisconsin website, “powered by Charlie Sykes”:

This morning, I announced that I am stepping down from my daily radio show on WTMJ at the end of this year:

“It has been both a pleasure and honor to work here,” said Sykes. “It has been an extraordinary privilege to be a part of the momentous changes that have taken place in Wisconsin over the last two decades. This is not a decision that I made either lightly or recently and it was not driven by this year’s political season. I made this decision more than a year ago for both professional and very personal reasons. My father died when he was 63, and I will turn 62 this year, so this year has always been circled on my calendar. Frankly, if I was ever going to make a move, it was now. While I am stepping back from my daily radio duties I intend to remain an active voice. I want to write more, travel more and pursue new opportunities.”

I know that lot of people will assume that my decision has something to do with this current campaign and the rise of Trumpism. But, the reality (as my friends and family know) is that I made this decision a long time ago. Twenty-three years is a long time to do a radio show and most hosts don’t get to go out on their own terms. So I’m lucky to have had that chance.

But it would also be fair to say that this campaign has made the decision easier. The conservative movement has been badly damaged; obviously the conservative media is broken as well. So this is a good time for step back, sit down for a while, and ask “What the hell just happened here?” …
I intend to continue to write and edit and remain editor of Wisconsin Interest Magazine. And I plan to spend much of the next year working on a book about the crackup of the conservative movement. My working title is “How the Right Lost Its Mind.”

I’ll have more to say later about my other plans. But I keep thinking of what my one of my early mentors said when I asked what he planned to do after retirement.

“I plan to sit on a rocking chair on my front porch,” he said. “After a couple of weeks, I plan to start rocking. Slowly.”

That sounds like a plan.

What are Sykes’ “other plans”? The Wisconsin State Journal reports:

When Wisconsin conservative radio host Charlie Sykes made the surprise announcement this week that he would depart his radio show at year’s end, theories sprung up on why and what’s next for him.

Sykes batted away one of them Wednesday: that he’s mulling a challenge to Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin in 2018.

This week Robert Kraig -— in a post to the website of the liberal group he directs, Citizen Action of Wisconsin — floated the prospect of a Sykes Senate run as “the hot rumor in Republican political circles.” Kraig is not the only person to share that suggestion with Wisconsin political reporters in recent weeks.

Baldwin’s first U.S. Senate term is up in two years, and there likely will be plenty of Republicans vying to challenge her.

But Sykes told the Wisconsin State Journal he won’t be one of them. He called the idea “ludicrous conspiracy mongering from the depths of the left wing fever swamps.”

“My interest in running for anything is subzero,” Sykes said. …

Kraig, in his post, suggested Sykes might be distancing himself from Trump — who polls show is not viewed favorably in Wisconsin and elsewhere — and his own past controversial statements to launch his own run for office.”

We can’t let Charlie Sykes run away from his right-wing radio past if he runs against Tammy in 2018,” Kraig wrote.

Readers know I’ve appeared on his “Sunday Insight with Charlie Sykes” back when I was a Northeast Wisconsin pundit and we had the same employer:

For some reason I look 25 percent larger than everyone on set on this show. The smaller people are (from left) Jeff Fleming, Mikel Holt, Sykes and … I’m not sure.

And after one show, where I had to bring our sons along (mom and sister were on a girls-weekend-away thing) …

… they got their photo on the TMJ4 news set.

Sykes’ WTMJ show started in 1993, when conservatism wasn’t doing very well nationally, given the election of Bill Clinton and (re)election of a Democrat-controlled Congress. Wisconsin had Gov. Tommy Thompson and a Republican-controlled Senate, but Democrat-controlled Assembly. Sykes previously had substituted for WISN radio’s Mark Belling, who had come there in 1989 from the former WTDY radio in Madison. (Belling in turn sometimes subs for Rush Limbaugh, whose show precedes Belling’s on WISN.)

While Belling has been around longer, Sykes has had far more influence, to the point of being the object of the so-called “Sykes effect,” his influence over Republican legislators whose constituents listen to WTMJ. Sykes also has authored several books that have gotten him national attention in the commentariat, particularly about education. WISN’s owners didn’t create a website for Belling; WTMJ’s owners did, Right Wisconsin.

To say the least, a lot of water has gone under the political bridge since 1993, including Clinton, the 1994 Demodisaster, the Brewers’ stadium deal, Rep. Scott Walker’s election as Milwaukee County executive, the rise of Paul Ryan through the House of Representatives, Hillary Clinton, the month-long election of George W. Bush, 9/11, James Doyle, the caucus scandal, the Great Recession, Barack Obama’s election, the rise of Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, the election of Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker as governor in the 2010 Demodisaster, the rise of Ron Johnson and fall of Russ Feingold the phony maverick, the Act 10 debate and Recallarama, the John Doe persecution, the Obama Recovery In Name Only, Walker’s brief run for president, and now this traveshamockery of a presidential election.

Sykes has presented a mostly consistent conservative/libertarian point of view all this time (in fact, in the 1990s Sykes identified himself as a small-L libertarian) while generating enough listeners to generate enough advertising revenue for his employers. His detractors claim his three marriages (the second to one of Trump’s supposed Supreme Court candidates, if you can trust Trump, who himself is on his third marriage) as not representing family values. Of course, libertarians value privacy, and divorcing your spouse is, I guess, more honest than, say, Bill Clinton and his chronic bimbo eruptions, aided and abetted by his “wife,” the current Democratic presidential candidate. He has also represented one of the poles of the Wisconsin GOP, suburban Milwaukee, which figures as a Milwaukee talk show host. (Green Bay’s Jerry Bader represents another pole, northeastern Wisconsin; of the talk radio Big Four, Vicki McKenna, in the bowels of the People’s Republic of Madison, would seem to have the hardest job.)

I wrote “mostly consistent.” The maxim of politics making for strange bedfellows applies to talk radio too. Sykes strayed from the small-government thing by supporting the five-county sales tax for Miller Park under the premise that Milwaukee would suffer if the Brewers left. Sykes supported then-U.S. Rep. Tom Barrett (D-Milwaukee) for Milwaukee mayor against Marvin Pratt, the city council president who became mayor after John Norquist resigned. (Norquist was right about school choice, and for a Democrat he had more appreciation for markets than any Milwaukee mayor before or since then.) Sykes also treated Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dick Leinenkugel a bit harshly because Leinenkugel had served as Doyle’s secretary of commerce.

Sykes’ job (as well as the jobs of Belling, Bader and McKenna, and for that matter Limbaugh) drives Wisconsin liberals nuts. They are under the impression that the broadcast media’s job is to present their point of view — I mean, present someone’s definition of “both” points of view — instead of making money for their owners. (Because media outlets are businesses first, believe it or don’t. The airwaves as a public trust stopped mattering when Internet access became widespread.) If Sykes didn’t make money for WTMJ’s owner, Sykes would have been fired long ago. Sykes brought in listeners who were not merely conservativish, but had desirable demographics, such as income and disposable income. There is basically one local (that is, non-nationally syndicated) liberal talk show host on commercial radio. That fact and the collapse of previous liberal talk radio attempts (including hosts who followed Sykes on WTMJ) prove that, until ratings and ad revenue say otherwise, conservative talk radio isn’t going anywhere.

Sykes also has drawn considerable heat from conservatives who should know better for Sykes’ opposition to Trump the non-Republican and non-conservative, which (along with the opposition of Belling, Bader and McKenna) had something to do with Trump’s loss to Ted Cruz in the Wisconsin GOP primary. Given the fact that not a day goes by without Trump’s saying something ridiculously embarrassing (for instance, Trump’s appearance on Sykes’ show), Sykes is right, and Trump’s conservative supporters are mistaken. (For one thing, as you know, the Trump conservatives support is not a real person.) Sykes appears more committed to Republican victory than some Republicans do, given the unlikelihood of Trump’s getting elected and the real possibility of Trump’s loss dragging down other Republicans with him.

Sykes’ radio show was probably self-selecting in audience, but his TV show has given non-conservatives a voice, most consistently Holt, who supports school choice because he has seen for decades how bad Milwaukee Public Schools is. He also gave me a chance to appear, and it always amazed me that people would tell me they watched me.

Sykes, and not Bill Gates, also authored this list in his Dumbing Down Our Kids:

Rule 1: Life is not fair, get used to it.
Rule 2: The world won’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself.
Rule 3: You will not make 40 thousand dollars a year right out of high school. You won’t be a vice president with a car phone until you earn both.
Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss. He doesn’t have tenure.
Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping; they called it opportunity.
Rule 6: If you screw up, it’s not your parents’ fault so don’t whine about your mistakes. Learn from them.Rule 7: Before you were born your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way paying bills, cleaning your room, and listening to you tell them how idealistic you are. So before you save the rain forest from the blood-sucking parasites of your parents’ generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.
Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers but life has not. In some schools they have abolished failing grades, they’ll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer. This, of course, bears not the slightest resemblance to anything in real life.
Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don’t get summers off, and very few employers are interested in helping you find yourself.  Do that on your own time.
Rule 10: Television is not real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.
Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one…

No one is irreplaceable in the media, except for Paul Harvey. Sykes said he won’t miss getting up at 4:15 a.m. before his 8:30 a.m. show. Sykes and I both worked for Journal Communications, which formerly owned the state’s biggest newspaper, single 50,000-watt radio station and oldest commercial TV station, but no more. (And I’ll always be grateful to Sykes for reaching out after Journal Communications terminated Marketplace.) Vin Scully announced Dodger baseball for 67 years, but no more.

Sykes may think that his job isn’t as fun as it used to be. (See the aforementioned 4:15 a.m. wake-up call.) He has done considerable writing over the years, and obviously plans on continuing that. Those of us in the media work in an environment that is continuously and unpredictably changing, which includes people who think they can do our jobs while lacking the training, experience, initiative and willingness to actually do the work. Politics is like sports in that it has winners and losers, but the political season never ends.

Sykes also has publicly pondered the role of conservative talk radio in promoting, mostly by accident, Trump. The Christian Science Monitor recently profiled Sykes:

For Sykes, the conservative media’s disdain for “liberal” truths – the “monster” – allowed Trump to crash the GOP party and claim its mantle. He says his own listeners, like “Steve from the north side,” refuse to read conservative columnists in The New York Times because they prefer online sources that traffic in lurid allegations about the other side, just as Trump imbibes conspiracies and rumors and fashions them into a 24/7 media spectacle that can seem immune to fact-checking.
“This is the shock of 2016. You look around and you see how much of the conservative media infrastructure buys into the post-factual, post-truth culture…. I understand that we are advocates and defenders, but when do you veer off into pure raw propaganda?” he asks.
One of Sykes’s biggest beefs with Trump is that his views on race and gender have confirmed all the stereotypes applied by liberals to conservative politicians and made it even harder for future GOP leaders to broaden the party’s appeal among minorities. His other complaints about Trump are familiar ones: unqualified and intemperate, inconsistent on issues like abortion and gun control, shaky on constitutional principles.
Sykes refuses to consider Trump as the lesser of two evils for the job as president, as so many fellow Republicans have done in recent months. “It’s painful for me to listen to conservative media folks who think it’s their job to rationalize and justify everything that he says,” he gripes.
Sykes’ departure from daily radio will certainly be the end of an era. Replacing Sykes — assuming WTMJ wants to keep going in that direction — won’t be easy for either WTMJ or for Sykes’ replacement, particularly in the wreckage of the post-2016 election.

Abuse of the First Amendment

Curtis Houck reports on Wisconsin native Jim Vandehei:

On Tuesday morning, one of the more intriguing debates about media bias took place on MSNBC’s Morning Joe as the assembled co-hosts and Politico founder Jim Vandehei excoriated their colleagues in the media for flashing their liberal bias “in a way they never did before” in their collective desire to take down Donald Trump (to the benefit of Hillary Clinton).

Co-host Joe Scarborough made clear at the onset that opinion-based media figures as himself are different because he’s paid to opine whereas the job of a reporter for a top newspaper has been to be neutral but end up doing “the end zone dance…opining as irresponsibly as if they were like me.”

Vandehei then fired back with the disclosure that he’s typically never been a big believer in media bias, but 2016 has left him convinced otherwise:

In a way they never did before like I’ve said this before. I’ve always been a defender of the media. I think these accusations of bias are usually overdone. I think that that’s all out the door, all out the window in this campaign. I think reporters have become so biased, so partisan, particularly on Twitter.

“Go look at the Twitter feeds of the reporters from your major newspapers — The New York Times, The Washington Post, others — and tell me if those are things that they would say on TV or that would have ever been acceptable in previous campaigns….Just let the facts be out there and let people make a judgment,” Vandehei added.

Co-host and Sunday Today host Willie Geist further observed that “[s]omewhere along the line in this presidential race, a decision was made by many members of the media that Trump had to be stopped, that this couldn’t happen, that this year was different, that it was incumbent on people to stop [him]” and leaves readers shocked when they see their tweets then read their print stories.

Vandehei agreed and struck at one of the main tenets of journalism in that by espousing their liberal or anti-Trump views on Twitter, “they’re not speaking truth to power”:

They’re not saying anything that we don’t already know. Trump says everything that people need to hear and they are making their judgements on him. They’re not helping it by — by doing — it’s not just an end-zone dance, they’re doing their little shimmy and they all like slap each other on the back — “haha, you’re even wittier than I was.”

Harkening back to a time before the internet and social media, Scarborough wondered aloud to co-host and longtime Boston Globe write Mike Barnicle:

I can’t imagine what would have happened in the Boston Globe newsroom in 1985 if —  some reporter, you know, that was supposed to write a straight-down-the-middle news story is doing this sort of end zone dances and again we are — please — we are all offended by what Donald Trump said.

Barnicle responded with the befuddlement that more newspaper editors don’t have stricter social media policies in an age when record numbers of Americans don’t trust the media:

Look, I am actually kinda surprised that in an age where it may be 99 percent of the people in the country thinks the media tilts left and thinks the media is biased that more editors and publishers actually don’t tell reporters, stay off Twitter, you can’t go on Twitter because all you do with Twitter is get yourself in trouble and raise these questions[.]

Geist helped wind down the discussion by making clear to the liberal diehards watching that they were supportive of the media being “tough as hell on both of these candidates” with one example being The New York Times story on Trump’s taxes.

“I think objectivity is a totally false premise and people are humans. They come with their biases, but your job is to just cover the race fairly. I don’t want to think what you hear about it on Twitter if you’re a reporter. Opinion business? Go for it,” Geist stated.


Dead Doe

David French writes about the big news of earlier this week:

… with minimal fanfare and attention, the U.S. Supreme Court finally ended one of the most shameful abuses of power in recent American history, rejecting the request of three Democratic prosecutors to restart their so-called “John Doe” investigations of conservative activity in the recall campaign against Wisconsin governor Scott Walker.

It is hard to do justice to the scale of this outrage. As I detailed at length in a story last year, Wisconsin prosecutors used an obscure provision of state law to launch a secret investigation into alleged illegal “coordination” between conservative organizations and the Walker campaign. In one day, a local judge named Barbara Kluka approved hundreds of pages of subpoenas, petitions, and search warrants.

Then prosecutors acted. In a coordinated series of dawn raids, armed police officers raided the homes of conservative activists, barging into sleeping children’s rooms, confiscating cell phones and computers, carting off files, and ordering the targets of the raids to keep quiet. Despite the fact that the raids occurred in full view of the public, the victims were unable to defend themselves: They couldn’t tell friends or family, and they couldn’t talk to the media. A cloud of suspicion hovered over their lives.

The raids themselves were terrifying. In anonymous interviews, victim after victim described to me the pounding on the door, the rush of officers into their homes, the investigators strutting about, taking their personal belongings, and ordering them to be silent, or else.

At the same time, these partisan inquisitors were securing copies of the victims’ electronic records without their knowledge, gaining access to all of their personal and professional communications. This was a witch hunt, designed to persecute American citizens for exercising their First Amendment right to free speech.

This was a witch hunt, designed to persecute American citizens for exercising their First Amendment right to free speech. One of the search warrants in the case empowered police to seize “any and all documents or records which show direct or indirect coordination or consultation with Friends of Scott Walker (hereafter FOSW) and/or the FOSW campaign or the 2011/2012 senate personal campaign committees for the recall elections.” The warrant also allowed investigators to take “all documents” relating to the “recall campaign for Wisconsin State senators,” to the “gubernatorial recall campaign from 2011 and 2012,” and to communications with a host of conservative organizations, including Americans for Prosperity, American Crossroads, and the Republican Governors Association.

Late last year, the Wisconsin Supreme Court finally halted the investigations, holding in no uncertain terms that prosecutors were attacking constitutionally protected speech:

The special prosecutor has disregarded the vital principle that in our nation and our state political speech is a fundamental right and is afforded the highest level of protection. The special prosecutor’s theories, rather than “assur[ing] [the] unfettered interchange of ideas for the bringing about of political and social changes desired by the people” . . . instead would assure that such political speech will be investigated with paramilitary-style home invasions conducted in the pre-dawn hours and then prosecuted and punished.

The prosecutors were undeterred by this rebuke. They appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court, and when SCOTUS refused to hear the case, they issued an unapologetically defiant statement, stating that they were “proud to have taken this fight as far as the law would allow” and looked “forward to the day when Wisconsin adopts a more enlightened view of the need for transparency in campaign finance.” The irony of using secret criminal investigations to fight for “transparency” apparently escaped these tinpot fascists.

While conservative and local media have covered the John Doe investigations, the national media, with the exception of the Wall Street Journal, have been largely indifferent. Yet can you imagine the outcry if a southern state’s election commission sent cops across five counties to execute predawn raids against members of the NAACP, or if police officers from an energy-producing state descended on the homes of Sierra Club members? Obama’s Department of Justice would hand down indictments, and Hollywood would produce multiple treatments of the story depicting brave activists fighting American tyranny. I wonder why that hasn’t happened here.

Rogue prosecutors, including Milwaukee district attorney John Chisholm, should be held accountable for the John Doe investigations, but the failure goes beyond them. The initial John Doe judge should have rejected the initial search warrants, police should have refused to launch intimidating raids, and investigators who taunted vulnerable and terrified families should be ashamed of themselves.

Electorally and politically secure in deep-blue urban strongholds, some progressive prosecutors are choosing to criminalize political differences. Chisholm’s witch-hunt in Wisconsin has echoes of prosecutors’ attacks in Austin, Texas, on Tom DeLay, Rick Perry (who was actually prosecuted for a veto), and whistleblowing University of Texas regent Wallace Hall. Not to be outdone, blue-state attorneys general have launched fraud investigations into scientific questions about “climate change,” while simultaneously resisting congressional subpoenas inquiring about their own anti-constitutional activities.

The message is clear. To many progressives, transparency is my obligation, not theirs. Free speech is their right, not mine. Social justice must be achieved by any means necessary, and if innocent parents and children suffer for it, well then to them that’s just a bonus. Conservatives, after all, get what they deserve.


Trump vs. consumers

I’m sure you’ll be shocked — shocked! — to find out that The Donald is wrong about free trade generally and the North American Free Trade Agreement specifically.

Mary Anastasia O’Grady takes on the claim that free trade hurt the U.S. automobile industry:

Donald Trump said during the first presidential debate that the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) “is the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere, but certainly ever signed in this country.” Such hyperbolic rhetoric—butchered syntax and all—was undoubtedly cheered by his base. But it is not supported by the facts. As a result it harms his case with Republican holdouts, whom Mr. Trump needs to win but who distrust his fast-and-loose economics.

The Republican is promising to force a renegotiation of Nafta. But he doesn’t seem to realize that Mexico gave up more tariff protection than the U.S. did when the agreement was signed in 1993. If Nafta is reopened, Mexico is unlikely to accept new limits on its access to the U.S. market. If a standoff leads to the end of Nafta, both countries would revert to their commitments under World Trade Organization rules and the existing “most-favored nation” tariff schedule. That would hurt, not help, the U.S. economy.

Mr. Trump is so reckless on trade that he makes Hillary Clinton and the Democrats, who wrote the book on Big Labor protectionism, seem sane. At least she acknowledged in the debate the importance of opening new markets abroad. “We are 5% of the world’s population. We have to trade with the other 95%,” she said.

Unfortunately neither of the candidates is good on this critical issue but the Republicans advising Mr. Trump should know better. His attempt to slam Nafta by pointing to a 16% value-added tax that Mexican importers pay, for example, is misleading. This tax applies to transactions on both foreign and domestic-made goods, like the New York sales tax. It doesn’t discriminate against imports, and the importer recovers it by charging it to the customer. That’s Econ 101.

Nafta disrupted the economic status quo in the U.S.—as it did in Mexico. There have been winners and losers. But the U.S. dislocations are minor compared with those that occur from technological advances or when companies move production from high-tax, union-dominated U.S. states to low-tax, right-to-work states, and especially so when compared with the economic efficiencies gained.

Mr. Trump gave a quick nod to one genuine U.S. disadvantage during the debate when he talked about cutting U.S. corporate tax rates to spur investment at home. But his main message was that under Nafta Mexico is “stealing” U.S. jobs.

In fact, an interconnected North American economy has made U.S. manufacturing globally competitive. U.S. companies source components from Mexico and Canada and add value in innovation, design and marketing. The final outputs are among the most high-quality, low-price products in the world.

U.S. automotive competitiveness is highly dependent on global free trade. According to the Mexico City-based consulting firm De la Calle, Madrazo, Mancera, 37% of the U.S.’s imported auto components came from Mexico and Canada in 2015. This sourcing from abroad is important to good-paying U.S. auto-assembly jobs. But parts also flow the other way. U.S. parts manufacturers sent 61% of their exports to Mexico and Canada in 2015.

This synergy has made the U.S. auto industry attractive for investment. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis investment in the auto sector contracted. But from 2010-14 almost $70 billion was invested in the North American automotive industry. Mr. Trump claims that investment is going to Mexico but two-thirds of it went into the U.S., according to a January 2015 report by the Michigan-based Center for Automotive Research.

This investment dynamism helped generate 264,800 new U.S. jobs in motor-vehicle production and parts between January 2010 and June 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s a 40% increase in employment despite the increasing trend toward robotics in the industry. Shut down Nafta and these workers and future job seekers will pay.

U.S. agriculture would also suffer. U.S. farm products now enter Mexico practically tariff-free and in 2013 (the latest year that data is available) it was the third-largest foreign market for U.S. farm output after China and Canada.

Let’s suppose that Mexico won’t give up ground in a new round of negotiations and Mr. Trump is successful in leading the repeal of Nafta. That would mean a reversion back to the WTO-agreed duties that each country charges nations without trade agreements. In 2013 Mexico’s weighted average tariff on agricultural products was 38.4%, which would be quite a climb over the zero tariff-rate that U.S. exporters now face. U.S. manufacturers that ship to Mexico would be hit with a weighted average tariff on industrial goods of 7.7%.

Keep in mind that Mexico has many bilateral trade agreements. Competitors from those countries would have large duty-free advantages over American farmers and manufacturers.
Mr. Trump’s outlandishness is supposed to be one of his strengths. But when it comes to trade he is not politically incorrect. He is factually incorrect.

How any Wisconsinite can support Trump is beyond me. Agriculture is one-third of this state’s economy, and ag is very reliant on exports. The importance of ag exports has been an agreed-upon point by both Democrats and Republicans for decades. Trump would torpedo one-third of this state’s economy to protect … what? AMC cars?