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Morning Glory: Why Donald Trump should select Tom Cotton as his running mate

OpinionMorning Glory: Why Donald Trump should select Tom Cotton as his running mate

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Michael Barone is a political genius, best known perhaps for his “Almanac of American Politics” which he co-authored for decades, but from the labors of which he retired  a few years back. Barone is the author of numerous other books, all excellent, but the one that has stuck with me over the years is the lesser known “Hard America, Soft America: Competition vs. Coddling and the Battle for the Nation’s Future (Crown Forum, 2004).

In a nutshell and with apologies to Barone for this way too short summary, “Hard America, Soft America” sets aside all the usual rules of dividing up the U.S. such as Red v. Blue, old v. young or other demographic divisions. Rather, “Hard America” is the America of farm, factory and frontier —the country of clear-eyed realists acquainted with the way the world really works, familiar with its often profoundly unfair twists and turns of life, and deeply familiar with the old adage: Work or don’t eat. 

“Soft America” is, by contrast, the gooey stuff of the New Age nonsense of a few decades ago plus every cliche on every sign in every yard that proclaims “all are welcome here,” etc. At bottom,” Hard America” is hard-edged and realistic about the world. “Soft America,” not so much, if it all.


Rarely have we had two presidential candidates who embody Hard America and Soft America so thoroughly as former President Trump and President Biden. Even before the damning Hur report was made public, the public had concluded that President Biden was too old for the job —too befuddled, too, in a word, “soft.”

At bottom,” Hard America” is hard-edged and realistic about the world. “Soft America,” not so much, if it all.

86 percent thought that much according to an ABC News poll even before Special Counsel Hur explained his decision not to charge the president with crimes related to his unlawful retention of classified materials because the president is a “elderly man with a poor memory.” 

The decision by Attorney General Garland to release the report explaining that Hur had declined to prosecute Biden because of his infirmity has ignited anger on the left which somehow has persuaded itself we all don’t know this already. Now that it’s in black and white, they can no longer pretend that the absent president can actually do the hard things. He can’t. “Soft” is actually too hard of a word to describe the infirm occupant of 1600, but it will do.


Vice President Harris is also from “Soft America,” as any of her word salad declamations on any subject could prove. Her world is the world of the faculty lounge and the “arranged” politics of California where the overwhelmingly blue state seems always to line up the next Democrat to be tagged for the next job provided be or she checks boxes and says “nice” things about hot button issues. Vice President Harris embodies every cliche of  “Soft America” and her rise is the triumph of the anti-meritocracy. She’s the perfect  running mate for a president already in the deep twilight of his twilight years. And our enemies know it.

By contrast, former President Donald Trump is most definitely from “Hard America.” After four decades as a land use lawyer —now retired— I can assure you I never met, much less worked for, a developer who wasn’t from “Hard America,” largely because projects either pencil or they don’t. The site grading either balances or it doesn’t. The houses, apartments, commercial buildings or office towers either make money or they go bust. It’s a hard nosed, hard knocks business. The former president is like every other developer I’ve ever known well: A bottom line guy. A “Hard America” guy.

If Trump wants to put this election away early, he announces Cotton as the running mate and allows the contrasts with Harris to begin. 

Which is why I hope Trump picks as a running mate another member of the “Hard America” class, people for whom either a job gets done or it’s a failure. There is, for example, no grading on the curve when it comes to protecting Americans (Biden has utterly failed here) and no getting around the bottom line of the value of all the oceans of red ink unleashed by the hapless president is his pursuit of “FDR status,” a hilarious conceit of Team Biden


Joe Biden defines “Soft America,” which is why Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton has led every list I’ve been promoting of potential running mates for Trump since day one. 

There isn’t a harder-nosed elected official in the U.S. than Tom Cotton not named Trump. That “hardness” may come from patrolling in Baghdad as a platoon leader of the 101st Airborne in Iraq during “the Surge,” deploying to Afghanistan as well, serving in “the Old Guard,” as well as making it though Ranger School and proudly wearing the Ranger Tab when in uniform, or his upbringing on a working farm. Cotton is the epitome of Hard America.

Which is why I hope Trump picks him as the running mate for 2024: Cotton is a realist who relentlessly stays on message and avoid mistakes and takes it right at his political opponents —the keys to a successful V.P. candidate.

The job of the running mate is four fold: Give a great speech when you are announced by the nominee; give a better one when you accept the nomination in Milwaukee at the GOP convention this summer; crush Kamala Harris in a debate if one happens (which I doubt will, because enfeebled Joe Biden can’t do one debate much less the 10 debates the robust Trump has challenged the president to. If the president won’t debate his VP won’t either. And, finally, hammering the Biden-Harris ticket in the most direct and unrelenting fashion possible on a daily basis, a role which  is perfect for Cotton. 

I’ve interviewed Cotton almost weekly for more than a decade and the guy is never off message, never other than specific and direct in answers to even the toughest questions, and always hammering away at the Democrats. Cotton’s from “Hard America,” and if ever an election was going to be fought on the hard/soft line, it is 2024.

There are other “Hard America” folks out there like former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, etc., but Pompeo should go to Defense and Ernst to any of a half dozen cabinet agencies. They could use stiff spines at the top.

But if Trump wants to amplify the “Hard vs. Soft” divide in the country and count on serious Americans voting to stand up for Israel and our “hard allies” and for “hard border,” he need look no farther than Cotton. Cotton knows all the weakest points in the soft America agenda and is eager to carve them up day after day.

If Trump wants to put this election away early, he announces Cotton as the running mate and allows the contrasts with Harris to begin. 

Rarely has America needed realists in both spots on the ticket.  Blow off the “we need a woman or a minority from a swing state” old think. We need straight-taking combat veteran who has “right” and “wrong” already deeply internalized and understands the country’s deep desire for clarity on such issues. 

Make the call to Cotton, President Trump, and lock in victory early rather than late. 


Send Hapless Joe Biden back to the soft-serve line at Dairy Queen and get about the business of repairing America’s largely self-inflicted damage to its reputation as a serious country that puts its citizens first. 




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