On December 20, 2014, I chatted by phone with Ed Hanks about his new book How to Train Your Politician: Intentional Voting as a Path to Tea Party and Constitutional Victory. Hanks, an acquaintance and Jefferson County conservative activist who has been one of Colorado’s leading voices for Personhood, graciously shared a Kindle copy of his book for me to read prior our conversation.
We talked in the wake of the lame-duck Congress passing the corporatists’ dream bill, known as Cromnibus, fueling the fires of populist conservative discontent (including yours truly). A mounting frustration definitely brings a growing interest in the strategy Hanks endorses. Yet what I find most appealing about the book and its author is his historical perspective, and his optimism for long-range success.
Below is an excerpted transcription of our conversation.
Mt Virtus: What have recent events done for the interest in your book?
Ed Hanks: I think people were upset before the election, and they were just hopeful that they would get what they wanted to get — even though the people they were voting for were not Tea Party people; they were Establishment people.
I think that same people are having buyers’ remorse right now. They’re seeing the leadership in Washington is the same as before they were elected. They’re seeing Socialist policies being put forward by Republicans. They’re frustrated, and they’re wondering how to fix this…..
The alternative I offer is intentional voting. If you have to vote your values and you can’t vote your values by voting Republican, you have to vote third party. That way your opinion is recorded quantitatively and qualitatively. If the candidates want those votes back, they are going to have to modify their behavior.
MV: Though raised Republican, for awhile you wandered in the political wilderness. You mention in your book the influence of Barry Goldwater’s writings. What in particular began to shift your world view back to the Right?
EH: I got Barry Goldwater’s autobiography as a gift for Christmas when I was in college one year. My teachers in public school had always been pretty liberal. I had a sixth grade teacher who was always running down Ronald Reagan. I had picked up this idea that Republicans only cared about rich people, and only Democrats cared about people who were poor and suffering. The media helped with that, too. Goldwater’s autobiography showed that Republicans recognized the same problems, but just had different solutions to offer. Of course, he was coming from a very conservative standpoint, and that really rocked my world.
MV: What other thinkers / writers have most helped shape your views?
EH: [after specifically mentioning Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and William Safire’s Scandalmonger about early Republic political opponents Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson] They had rival world views, and rival news organizations. Jefferson had his newspaper, and Hamilton had his newspaper… The media then was almost an extension to politics. Today, the media pretends to be unbiased. There was a time when they were a lot more earnest about that.
I’ve also read a lot of writings by and about the Founders. Most of my opinions on politics are from my readings in history. It seems to me that socialism always leads to authoritarianism, because it’s nonsensical.
MV: Who ranks most highly in your political pantheon?
EH: Ronald Reagan. I really think he was our best president ever. I see issues with Abraham Lincoln, and even with George Washington. Both were very accomplished, very heroic figures. But I don’t think even of them were as comfortable with their philosophy as Reagan was.
Also, Alexander Hamilton. I think he had a lot of very sound things to say about government and human nature, the way government should be structured, so that it’s realistic rather than pie-in-the-sky.
I believe the political parties at the time of our Founding have shifted a lot to where they are now. Each back then had about half the philosophy of what we see today. Hamilton understood free markets a lot better than Jefferson did. Jefferson was more like Democrats are today. [Bill] Clinton had a lot of similarities to Jefferson in the way he thought, the way he spoke. [When asked to recommend a relevant book, he suggested Alexander Hamilton: A Biography by Forrest McDonald.]
MV: You mention in your book there are certain non-negotiables in selecting and supporting political candidates. Is it fair to read the book as a plea to bring a strongly conservative social agenda back into the core of the GOP? If so, what is your message to the libertarians in the broader conservative and Tea Party coalition?
EH: Personally, I separate other social issues from the pro-life issue. From a libertarian perspective, there’s nothing that violates the rights of someone more clearly than abortion…. I follow very closely and very strongly on the side that there are two lives there that both have rights. The greater harm comes on the rights of the unborn child, protected under the Constitution and the 14th Amendment.
That position in particular has been part of the [Republican] party platform since 1980. It continues to get 70% support at the national and state level. Abortion has always been at the core since 1980. Even though the Tea Party doesn’t talk about abortion, surveys of Tea Party members shows there’s a stronger affiliation with pro-life views than among the Republican Party in general.
To a libertarian I would simply make the case that if you intend to protect the rights of all people, and the only legitimate goal of government is to protect those rights, then there is no greater travesty than the taking of an innocent person’s life in abortion. Even if you’re comparing one set of rights to another — privacy or a woman’s bodily choice — the right to life is more significant than those other rights.
MV: Do your standards vary at all between candidates for executive and legislative office? Are there additional particular traits you believe we should be looking for in candidates for executive office? Legislative office?
EH: I think there are different standards for people like the Secretary of State and Treasurer, the administrative positions of politics. As for legislators, obviously, I think it’s important to have someone very like-minded in those positions.
I hear a lot of candidates for Governor and President say they don’t have a lot of power to influence on conservative issues. Reagan has proven that a President can set an agenda from the bully pulpit. They can usually set an agenda for the legislature to follow. The book says that if the Executive has socialist views, they are typically able to get legislators to vote for that agenda. As an example, look at [Speaker John] Boehner and the $1.1 trillion Cromnibus.
MV: You sometimes contrast conservatives with the GOP Establishment. Is it possible in the short-term for true conservatives to become the Establishment? How would we know when that has happened? And what would that mean for the message of your book?
EH: I think it’s possible for conservatives to be in control of the Establishment. We saw that in 1964 and 1980, and through most of the 80s when conservatives had control of the party. That’s not what I mean by establishment.
The “Establishment” is sort of an Ivory Tower, monolithic institution that doesn’t care about principles, but pretty much only cares about power. I think if conservatives took over the establishment structure, they wouldn’t have an establishment personality.
There’d always be a risk of taking that on over time. Once a regime takes power for a significant amount of time. An institution starts to take over the philosophy. Look at our former governor Bill Owens. Over time he became less conservative.
MV: Following the 2014 elections, the Colorado GOP has obtained some leverage with control of the state senate. What issues / agenda would you advise conservatives in the Colorado legislature to pursue?
EH: I think they can achieve some very popular conservative things. I think they could move forward on taxes, move forward on gun rights, move forward on regulation and on education. If they do those things carefully, and if they message those things carefully, I think the people will respond very well to that.
I don’t see a lot of benefit to running pro-life legislation right now, because I don’t think the education process has gone far enough yet. I actually prefer the state amendment system, the popular initiative we can get passed. If it went through the legislature, it would get watered down in a way we don’t approve of.
We’ve actually been seeing considerable progress with the Personhood Amendment — a 37% increase in support since we started it six years ago. In numbers, 200,000 more voted for it in 2014 than in 2008. In my opinion, that means we’re gaining progress. It’s a long-term educational effort. No one was expecting it to pass immediately. I think what we’ve found is that the amendment process gives us a platform to educate. If the legislature were considering something, it would only be in the news for a week….
MV: What do you think of the Article V movement? Do you advise Tea Party members and pro-life conservatives to focus their energy more at the state level than to put their hope in Congress?
EH: I think on some issues, the balanced budget on some of them, consensus is possible. I feel like our country is so deeply divided right now, that we wouldn’t be able to achieve conservative government through the Article V process. I also question whether the officials sent to debate and to represent their states in a voting capacity would necessarily be as strong as they have to be. I hope I’m wrong.
MV: Say you were given the opportunity to run a 2016 presidential candidate’s Colorado campaign — someone you could believe in, someone you think could realistically win Colorado’s electoral votes, if not the White House itself. Who would that be?
EH: I’m careful not to get too tied into one candidate…. I think we’ve got a good bench of conservatives who are considering running. Some of the people I’d like to see rise to the top of that are Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Scott Walker. Those three would probably be my top choices.
MV: Do you believe the Democrats will nominate Hillary, or someone else, in 2016? What does that mean for conservatism and the GOP?
EH: A lot could change between now and 2016. Our candidates are pretty much chosen by spring. I think Elizabeth Warren has the fire in the belly and a message that resonates with a lot of the activists in the Democratic Party. Of course, I think that would be awful. The prospect of getting her as President would be terrible.
I think we saw in 2008 and in 2012 that if we have a strongly ideological opponent on the Democratic side, the wrong approach is to put a mushy candidate on the Republican side. If we had a head-to-head contest of philosophies in 2016 like we did in 1980, I think that would be tremendous, and that would be the way to victory.
MV: Looking ahead to 2018, do you believe Colorado will be ready for a genuinely pro-life conservative governor? If so, is that person more likely a known quantity or someone operating in relative obscurity? And what groundwork must be done before then to pave the way?
EH: I think it’s hard to predict something like that. I see a number of leaders in the legislature today who certainly could do a great job with that. It’s easy to think it could be one of them, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. It could be someone active in the Tea Party movement today who’s not in elective office. We’ve got a great bench for that, a deep bench.
I think Colorado would be open to electing a pro-life conservative governor. If Cory Gardner can win with the media and everyone saying he’s for Personhood, I think a candidate for governor can, too. I also think a lot of people would be willing to accept someone who they may not agree with on social issues in order to achieve the benefit of their views on fiscal issues.
MV: What closing thoughts do you have to share with readers?
EH: The main thing I want to get across with my book is that if we as conservatives don’t vote our values and instead vote for a moderate, we’re voting for someone else’s values. By doing so, we’re diluting the field of those who are running for leadership positions. That means we’re going to get moderate to liberal leadership in the party. We’re going to get people who miss the mark because they’re pursuing consensus policies. George W. Bush is a perfect example of that….
If we have someone in office who doesn’t understand conservative philosophy, then they’re a danger. It’s a lot harder to control a RINO in office — it’s a lot easier than opposing a Democrat who is proposing those same policies.
It’s easier to rally opposition to Obama than against a Republican President bringing a socialistic philosophy to the caucus. Too many times we’ve seen Republicans, even conservative legislators, willing to buckle under when their party’s executive leader says do something that’s socialistic.
MV: Thank you for making time to share your thoughts, and best of success with your book.
Next up? I’ll have to see about adding an Alexander Hamilton statue out in front of the Independence Institute‘s Freedom Embassy.