Across the country, electoral politics have been extremely fun to watch as chaos besieges the entrenched establishments of both major political parties. With Trump out there doing his thing, we are seeing the establishment vs. insurgent dichotomy emerge throughout the country. There hasn’t been too much of it going in Michigan, as calls for ‘unity’ win the day, with the exception of the tense GOP primary battle between John James and Sandy Pensler for US Senate.
Pensler is a Wall Street tycoon with plenty of independent wealth that he is using to fund his race for Senate. He is similar to Trump in substance rather than style as he will not owe anyone favors if he is able to win his seat. James runs his family business and has an admirable record serving his country as a military veteran. Other than that, he is virtually a complete unknown. Pensler has run for office in the past as a moderate, but claims he has evolved over the years on social issues like abortion (similar to Trump yet again in that regard).
This race has really split the GOP grassroots as well. The James campaign has been circulating “gotcha” clips in recent weeks to supposedly prove that Pensler is a liberal. The first of which was Pensler talking candidly about Trump, which has been described inaccurately as Pensler trashing the President. A couple other quotes are pulled from his campaign speeches. The one gaining the most traction is Pensler’s declaration that the Constitution is a “living document.”
The James campaign posted it as a four-second clip on their YouTube page:
It seemed very suspicious to me that there was no context provided for the clip in this attack. After investigating, I was able to find the full speech from which the quote was pulled. Pensler was addressing the Calhoun County Tea Party and was asked about the Convention of the States. In his answer, Pensler explained that he supported a living Constitution in the same sense that Thomas Jefferson supported a living Constitution.
“If [as the Federalists say] “the judiciary is the last resort in relation to the other departments of the government,” … , then indeed is our Constitution a complete felo de so. … The Constitution, on this hypothesis, is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they may please. It should be remembered, as an axiom of eternal truth in politics, that whatever power in any government is independent, is absolute also; in theory only, at first, while the spirit of the people is up, but in practice, as fast as that relaxes. Independence can be trusted nowhere but with the people in mass. They are inherently independent of all but moral law.” – Thomas Jefferson
Pensler made it clear that the people ought to have the right to alter or abolish the Constitution if they so choose. This is what many of the Founding Fathers believed as well. He thought that the people, rather than liberal activist judges, should have a say in the Constitution that governs their lives. While this sentiment may have been awkwardly worded, Pensler was undoubtedly expressing a Jeffersonian ideal. Taking it out of context and implying that Pensler meant the opposite of the point he was making is a blatantly dishonest attack from the James campaign.
The clip in its full context can be seen here:
To be sure, Pensler lacks the polish of a store-bought politician. Watching his entire address to the Calhoun County Tea Party, there was certainly some room for improvement. Pensler came off as condescending during different points of his speech and disagreed with the tea party faithful on certain issues. For one example, Pensler said he thought the Federal Reserve’s emergency measures taken to paper over the economy following the 2007-08 financial crisis were necessary and successful. That was a point of contention to many in the audience, but Pensler said he still supported auditing and reforming the Fed and would be a solid ally of Rand Paul in the Senate on fiscal issues. I highly doubt that James could have addressed a question of that magnitude with anything other than basic talking points.
The James campaign is able to take little snippets from speeches out of context to frame Pensler as a liberal because he shoots from the hip. This is supposed to be a quality that conservatives like out of politicians, but they rarely seem to reward it in the voting booth (Trump being the obvious exception). James plods through prepared talking points without a serious depth of knowledge on any particular issue. His supporters assure me that he cares for his country and would do the right thing while serving in public office, but where the proof? When has he addressed important matters at length? Where’s the detailed plan to fix the nation’s problems? Pensler can speak on economic matters with authority, and that is where Debbie Stabenow is most vulnerable. It will not be easy to explain her support of NAFTA, the TPP and other globalist measures to angry blue collar voters. How will James put Debbie on the spot reciting some canned talking points from his handlers?
James claims on his campaign website that he “will begin work” on “develop strategies” to strengthen the military and improve cybersecurity. But no plan is offered. He doesn’t pledge to do anything specific. He claims he will bring jobs to Michigan residents by prioritizing “quality of life and quality of future for ALL Michigan families.” That may be a nice-sounding platitude, but there is little if any substance behind it. He did get into specifics on a couple of issues claiming he would de-fund sanctuary cities and support a balanced budget amendment, but his plan is seriously lacking overall. The page was written to be as vague as possible, and with a candidate who has no voting record, that is usually a terrible sign.
I would suggest watching Pensler’s entire address to the tea party to get a feel for the candidate. While he is flawed in certain ways, there are big pluses to him including strength on important economic matters, independent wealth that can be used to overcome the many institutional biases placed on Republican candidates, a certain authenticity that shows you aren’t dealing with a cookie-cutter establishment politician, and a depth of knowledge on key issues. John James – with his impressive charisma and heroic record of military service – is welcomed to run for lower office and build a resume within government before trying for a national position. Until he does that, it doesn’t make sense to roll with a complete unknown for the Senate nominee. Stabenow will not be easy to defeat so we need to go with the experienced opponent who will use his cash to hammer her constantly going into November’s crucial mid-term election.