An Extended Conversation with Jim Rubens

The GOP Senate primary candidates, from left to right: Bob Smith, Scott Brown, and Jim Rubens

The GOP Senate primary candidates, from left to right: Bob Smith, Scott Brown, and Jim Rubens

Editor’s note: The Dartmouth Review had the pleasure of sitting down with former state senator and U.S. Senate candidate Jim Rubens. A liberty Republican, Rubens is a passionate and articulate speaker who is not afraid to take controversial positions on issues such as campaign finance and global warming, despite prevailing party wisdom.

The Dartmouth Review (TDR): Why do you think Scott Brown lost?

Jim Rubens (JR): It’s not that the state has gone liberal or that New Hampshire must be hopelessly blue now. If you look at the state level races for state house and state, the same towns where Scott Brown lost, [Republicans] were winning, we did great, including Republicans who are conservative and known to be a conservative. It wasn’t that our candidate wasn’t liberal enough; it was that he was too liberal.

TDR: One of the candidates who did really well this year, Cory Gardner in Colorado, also was the most conservative. I think it comes down to running a weak candidate for Senate.

JR: Plus the carpetbagging problem was insurmountable. The other thing that was interesting is that, according to the CNN exit polls for New Hampshire, 67% thought that Congress was behaving unacceptable—they’re talking about Republicans here—and 57% were complaining about Obama. They didn’t seem to dislike Republicans here more than in other states. We did well nationwide. What this points to is that the candidate was the problem. Washington picked this candidate, and Brown even put out an eight-point set of demands to the RNSC that had to be met before he’d run.

TDR: Do you think you ran your campaign well? Anything in particular you wish you did better?

JR: So it was basically all about money, and the media plays into the money. The media determines whether you’re a credible candidate and therefore covers or does not covers you based on your access to sufficient sums of money. So it’s a chicken and the egg problem. Where does the money come from? I’m unique as a Republican finding fault with the corrupt money system. The money comes from people and organizations that have agendas in Congress. $47 million was spent on Shaheen-Brown. I was at $2 million. It’s hard to get the media to cover your candidacy, which I had extreme difficulty with until the last two months of the primary because I didn’t have big chunks of money. Then this super PAC came in mid-July and put me on the map. It pledged $1.5 or $2 million, and the media said “let’s cover him.” If you don’t have the money or the perceived capacity to get money, you don’t get media coverage and then voters give up on you. You can’t organize, you can’t hire people, and you can’t raise money that follows other money.

TDR: You’re out of step with most Republicans on campaign finance. What really motivated you to take that position?

JR: I’ve had that position since 1998. I’ve seen the problem, and it’s only grown worse. It’s distorting democracy. I was serving in the state senate and have seen this problem at the state level, which is very tiny compared to the national level. If you’re not an incumbent running for governor in New Hampshire, you can’t possibly win unless you have your own money. Look at Walt Havenstein; he had his own money. I don’t know of any candidate running for governor, non-incumbent, who could prevail without writing a check. National organizations typically don’t come in. The only time policy outcomes are in sync with voter preferences is when those outcomes are aligned with big money preferences. So voter don’t get what they want out of politics, and this frustration that voters are feeling is at record levels. The sources of candidates that make candidates viable are usually not aligned with the national interest, and not even partisan or conservative interests. So candidates that may be capable of doing a great job are not viable in most cases. I think this leads to this intense frustration and the fact that we have major challenges to our country unaddressed. Our country’s bankrupt. Did you hear any debate among the candidates anywhere in the country about how to reform Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the ACA? We heard nothing. The economy is being floated on printed money to the tune of $4 trillion.

TDR: We heard about abortion, we heard about Ebola, and we heard about contraception. That’s about it.

JR: Those are issues, but they’re not the issues on which America is going to perish or survive. Did we hear anything about systemic reform to drive a growth economy over the next two generations? We heard no proposals. Have we heard from either Shaheen or Brown a long term strategy to deal with threats to U.S. national security? We did not. This is emblematic of the fundamental problems with our elections. Would it be controversial if a candidate put forward a governing agenda as I did in the primary? Does it make it more difficult for you to get elected? Yes, but how can the country be governed without candidates demonstrating that they have a handle on a positive governing agenda? Hidden in their back pocket is a governing agenda. It doesn’t work that way. If candidates don’t proclaim and present a governing agenda during the campaign, it’s not going to happen when they’re in office.

TDR: Do you think this has anything to do with the fact that we have a two party system?

JR: No, I don’t think a more fragmented party system would necessarily resolve these problems. I think we need a political system where more quality candidates, more people willing to take risk, more people whose motivations are purely to serve America, can and do run for office. The money screen is so constraining that most people who would be good candidates don’t bother to run. It shuts out debate. It prevents progress on national issues. You get to Washington, your motivation is not the national interest, it’s career perpetuation.

TDR: Along with campaign finance, do you think term limits would help?

JR: I do. I’m in favor of an Article V convention process [to amend the constitution]; I don’t believe Congress is capable of reforming itself. The public overwhelmingly would like to see term limits. The Framers never imagined the system we have right in Washington with the intoxication of careerism and power. Term limits are only one reason we should have an Article V convention. The immense overgrowth of the federal government. The minute regulation of our lives. The fact that we have a government that is printing money to operate what seems to be a drunken orgy of spending.

TDR: Your platform has a section on accountability and corruption. Many of these proposals reminded me of Mark Levin’s The Liberty Amendments. Did you draw upon that book?

JR: I didn’t because I don’t agree with all of the amendments. But I support the Article V convention process. It’s interesting that very conservative people see that there is no other way to reform government than to bypass Congress.

TDR: After the Republican primary, it came out that Rand Paul was in the tank for Scott Brown all along, even though he waited until after to endorse. Do you have any comment?

JR: The NRSC and the Republican money sources were singed by the 2012 experience with “wacko candidates” being nominated and therefore losing. So the NRSC and the money sources such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reached agreement sometime last year to be much more careful in preventing “wacko candidates” from prevailing in the primary. They did not want wackos winning the primary or damaging the anointed candidate. Republicans are gloating about that process right now, which was reasonably effectuated. The NRSC made their choice sometime middle of 2013 and persuaded Brown. He decided to move here and run. A wave of high ranking New Hampshire and national Republicans endorsed Brown before the primary. It sent signals to Republican activists and made it very difficult for anyone else.

TDR: How did you get the Liberty Caucus endorsement?

JR: They were very careful. They interviewed all three of the candidates for several hours, and I was the unanimous pick.

TDR: How do you think having your friend Bob Smith, a more socially conservative candidate, in the primary influenced the results of the primary election?

JR: People have told me I would have won the primary if Bob Smith didn’t run. I announced my intention to explore in May 2013. My first phone call was to Bob Smith, and he said he wasn’t running. He called me back in November or December, said he changed his mind, and I had gone in way too far by then. There was a very strong desire for an authentic New Hampshire candidate, not Scott Brown. Because it was split, people who were against Scott Brown basically gave up on working as intensely as necessary for either Smith or myself. Had it been a clear one against one we would have been looking at a [Dave] Brat situation. A very clear Washington’s pick versus someone who’s authentic and from the grassroots. Someone with a thoughtful, robust conservative governing agenda, which is what I did do. Had I had a one to one, a few points would have tipped it. And social conservatives would have in large measure comfortably gone for me. But Bob Smith was pure. Pro-life leaders privately told me they were fine with me. They couldn’t go public, but they could see I’m reasonable. If conservatives want to win primaries and general elections, we’ve got to deal with these social issues. The liberty wing of the Republican Party has an approach. It breeds consternation in the eyes of social conservatives, but we’ve got to come to terms with it. The extremely conservative New Hampshire house elected in 2010 voted 2 to 1 to keep gay marriage. That issue is laid to rest here. In a nation where there are such fundamental irreconcilable differences, we find a way to live with one another in a pluralistic society. Some people are going to want abortions, and they’re going to get them, and they’re going to get them on the black market if we try to ban them; that’s a reality. The awful word “compromise” is live and let live. The American public is strongly supportive of restrictions on abortions—it may be the number of weeks—but they’re also supportive of exceptions to those restrictions. Also, government should not fund abortions. Government should not promote abortions. Scott Brown tried to the left of Jeanne Shaheen. That’s like a hot poke to the eye to social conservatives. That’s not going to work for Republicans, but nor will the proposal to ban all abortions. That will not yield victories in elections.

TDR: How would you have gone after Shaheen in a general election?

JR: There are a large number of places where Shaheen was wrong, out of step with New Hampshire voters, and it’s not just that she voted with Obama on the ACA. It’s a much longer portfolio. Scott Brown could not run against her on these issues. A controversial one is the military strategy. Why didn’t Brown attack Shaheen on strengthening, arming, and training ISIS? Because he has the same position. That’s why he couldn’t attack her. Another issue is the national debt. Brown was the single Republican vote to increase the debt ceiling. Also, the two candidates we nominated both agreed on the money printing. Shaheen was a weak, beatable candidate. She supports corporate cronyism, for one thing. She is also not a leader. What has she done? She has not led on these huge issues of national security, the nation’s bankruptcy, and the health of our economy. It would be necessary to pull conservatives together with a positive, conservative governing agenda. Scott Brown did not motivate conservatives. He voted 78% of the time with Obama. Shaheen voted 99% with Obama. They had to say he was better by 21%, which doesn’t motivate conservatives. On the gun issue, he had to say “I am a pro-gun candidate, I believe in the Second Amendment, I am not going to be taking your guns away.” You have to be able to say that to the conservative voter, to say it in public. You can’t waffle on gun rights, not in New Hampshire. You can’t do that in New Hampshire and expect to unite Republicans around your candidacy. Thousands or tens of thousands of conservatives use that as a critical issue. It’s one of those issues that many voters in this state will not compromise on, even when the establishment says you’re going to vote for this person because he’s the lesser of two evils.

TDR: You supported anti-gambling initiatives before running for Senate. How do you reconcile that with supporting liberty?

JR: If you look at the state House votes, where there’s a very robust liberty caucus, every single liberty Republican voted against the gambling proposals. The proposals were all about corporate cronyism. They were about government handing a monopoly for slot machines for a hand-picked out-of-state business, and only that business. Liberty Republicans are fine with slot machines, but don’t hand the franchise to one business.

TDR: I’m assuming you ran for Senate and not some other office because of the really big issues facing this country.

JR: Our country is burning down. The core problems aren’t in Concord. The economy isn’t working very well. It’s on a sugar high. This never ends well. You can’t deflate a bubble; it always pops. There will be economic chaos. I don’t think our zero interest rate policy, under present circumstances, can end with Congress’ addiction to deficit spending. If the 10 year treasury goes to a normal rate, we’re looking a $1 trillion a year by 2020 just do debt service. It’ll cripple our country’s ability to do anything. If we abandon the zero interest rate, we go to market interest rates, and the country can’t exist. Congress won’t cut spending. Republicans talk about cutting spending. Let’s see what they do with a Republican U.S. Senate and a Republican U.S. House. Zero interest rates are crazy. They tell people not to save their money. It totally distorts the economy. When you invest, it tells you to artificially escalate your appetite for risk. It’s completely wrongheaded for people in or near retirements. You have to buy into speculative bubbles in forest lands, gold, real estate, the stock market. These Fed is basically allowing Congress and both parties to continue this profligate pattern of spending.

TDR: For our readers who didn’t attend the panel on climate change, could you just expound your position on that issue?

JR: Republicans got a problem. Climate change is a problem. It’s not a problem necessarily this year, but it’s a problem. Conservatives need to accept publicly that it’s a problem. I don’t buy this conspiracy theory that scientists are falsifying evidence. In the beginning of my campaign, I was proposing a revenue neutral carbon tax. Conservative economists almost to a person think it’s the right approach. It’s the proposal where the heavy hand of government is least visible. It’s internalizing externalities. That’s all it is. You can cut taxes on income and payroll and grow the economy. Yes there are negative impacts, but you can mitigate those problems. I abandoned this proposal because it’s dead on arrival. Acknowledging the problem of climate change would be very helpful to Republicans. It’ll bring young people back to the party. What I propose at this point is to simply beef up R&D. I believe the solution to global warming is to get alternative energy sources cheaper than coal. All over the world, energy users will simply buy it because it’s cheaper. I’m proposing eliminating all subsidies and all preferences, letting the marketplace decide what energy source is the right one. In New Hampshire right now, without subsidies, geothermal energy is cost effective. There’s going to be different types of energy sources that’ll work in different circumstances. The government getting involves takes away from you the choice of the economically optimal energy sources. There is a role for government in pre-commercial R&D. The government ought to solve global warming in the most liberty-minded possible way. Materials science, batteries, solar, advanced nuclear, thorium reactors—we’ve got to be looking at all this stuff. Some of these are going to work, some are not. It’s not economically feasible for companies to support this research because it’s too blue sky.

TDR: Would you be open to running for office again?

JR: Quite possibly.

TDR: As someone who attended Dartmouth, do you have any comment on the social issues facing our campus?

JR: Well, I would certainly say it’s not the role of Congress to tell the College what to do with the Greek system.

TDR: Now that we’re past Election Day, how do you think you’re going to stay busy?

JR: I’m probably going to be working toward an Article V convention. We’re going to take some question associated with balanced budgets back to the people to alter the Constitution and put some handcuffs on Congress and deficit spending. I don’t think Congress can stop by itself. I don’t think there’s any path to get there but an Article V convention, bypassing Congress. There’s no other way to stop Washington careerism from substituting the national interest for careerist self-interest.

TDR: A girl remarked “I don’t understand how someone who’s not a white man be a Republican” as I was standing by the shuttle to the polls. Do you have any comment on that and how we can reduce that type of attitude?

JR: It’s a social issues problem. It’s in some measure a science problem with global warming. On social issues, either of the two schools of thought attempting to impose its opinion by force of law on everyone is not consistent with the pluralistic society where we can live with one another and tolerate differences. Republicans have to come to terms with that. If we did that on the social issues, the science issue, we could say “I believe in a country that will be economically strong enough so that you can have a career and retire and send your kids to college. I believe in the United States continuing to be the economic leader in the world and through the force of our culture and social example bringing more freedom and prosperity into the world.” We cannot have a fiscally responsible government without Republicans. That’s why I’m a Republican. And then you can make that case without apologizing.

TDR: Thank you for talking to us. It was an absolute pleasure, and it’s always interesting hearing from an independent perspective that really represents concerns in New Hampshire.