Donald Trump

Trumpmania Indicates Possible Rough Waters for Conservative Criminal Justice Reform

Will fearmongering force back the opportunity to scale back laws?


The level of fear is yuuuuuuuuuge!
Credit: Gage Skidmore / photo on flickr

Toward the end of the first GOP presidential primary debate, Sen. Rand Paul struggled to toss in even just a mention of criminal justice reform in his closing comments. Though there has been a growing bipartisan push over the past few years to reform drug laws, mandatory minimum sentencing, and asset forfeiture regulations, it's been nearly absent as a discussion point recently among Republican candidates. Instead conservatives appear to be rushing in the other direction, yelling about crime caused by illegal immigrants, a non-existent "war on police," and premature fears of a crime surge.

I fretted about the absence of criminal justice reform as a GOP issue in August, and Talking Points Memo has a story up today exploring what's going on. Tierney Sneed doesn't exactly blame Donald Trump for this shift back to the bad-old-days of crime fearmongering, but his populist nativist appeal is warping the discussion:  

Just a few months ago, reformers were celebrating that most of the 2016 GOP pack had signaled that, at least in theory, they supported retooling America's justice system. But, as has been the case with so many other sensitive issues, the entrance of Donald Trump has changed the dynamic. Now instead of talking about criminal justice reform, the GOP primary contenders are warning of a supposed nationwide crime spike, touting the mandatory-minimums in "Kate's Law," and lobbing "soft on crime" accusations.

"I'm concerned about the impact on the push for justice reform because we're expecting a bill at some point this month," Jason Pye, director of Justice Reform at the conservative FreedomWorks, told TPM. "I'm concerned about the impact of the rhetoric on that."

Trump may not solely be to blame for the shift in tone. But in interviews with TPM before his entrance in to the race, justice reform advocates expressed cautious optimism that the GOP field had more or less coalesced around curbing mass incarceration, and they believed it was unlikely to become a flashpoint in the primary.

Trump may have conflated the issue, they now contend, by linking illegal immigration and violent crime, thus prompting many of his rivals to take harder lines, too. Coupled with warnings of a summer crime spike, the campaign trail has taken a turn back to the '90s, with candidates falling into old patterns of invoking crime fears to rile their constituencies.

Sneed spoke to representatives of several reform-minded groups (including the Reason Foundation's own Lauren Galik) worried about the impact of this new campaign of fear. All these folks are working together to hash out a compromise bill, meant to be introduced in the fall, to scale back mass incarceration.

Now imagine asking a member of Congress in this newly minted era of outrage and fear to vote for such legislation as GOP candidates accuse each other of being "soft on crime." If the "outsider" rebellion represented by Trump and Ben Carson lasts, it could well be a recipe for a strong primary challenge for Republicans who support reform.

And so instead we end up with Kate's Law, which establishes new mandatory minimum sentences for illegal immigrants who re-enter the United States after deportation. This could potentially add more than 50,000 to the federal prison rolls. Read more worries about Kate's Law here


NEXT: Harold Meyerson's wrongheaded critique of the 'American Jewish establishment'

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  1. More Trump. More use of the word huge. Great. I blame Shackford. For everything.

  2. What are you, some kind of free-market SJW?
    Why can’t want to keep black people in prison like a real American?


  3. the U.S. Sentencing Commission estimated that Kate’s Law would expand the federal prison population by over 57,000 prisoners

    Serious question (for Scott, I suppose): Does this estimate consider *only* the incarceration of re-entrants, or does it also include reduction in, um, normal incarcerations resulting from a purported deterrent effect?

  4. By “Trumpmania” are we referring to Reason’s 24/7 coverage?


      1. [singing]

        Trumpety trumpety trump truh trump….Trumpety trumpety trump trump…

    2. Donald Trump trump de trump. Trump de trumpity trumpy trump. Until one day, the trumpa trumpa trumpatrump. Trump de trump. Da teedily dumb. From the creators of Der, and Tum Ta Tittaly Tum Ta Too, Donald Trump is Da Trump Dee Trump Da Teetley Trumpee Trumpee Dumb. Rated PG-13.

  5. Every major news outlet is talking about Trump. Why does Reason have to jump on the dog pile too?

    Why not talk about Carson or Sanders instead?

    1. Because “Trump” is easier to rhyme?

    2. It’s Jeb’s turn.


    3. They don’t like Trump either.

  6. And progressivism demonstrates once again how toxic political opportunism can be. The knee-jerk identity politicking and racialism has effectively made what should have been a no-brainer reform effort, especially given where these incidents tend to occur, into another political DMZ where strays will be shot by both sides. Wonder why CAGW isn’t a political pressure-point for the GOP? Because these idiots made it into a pro-tax crusade against industry and ideological recalcitrants. And now criminal justice is headed that way.

    1. Well aren’t you smart using big words and pompous statements? Academia are ya?

  7. I must say, this constant Trump coverage almost makes me miss Robby’s Dorm Room Twitter Follies. Almost.

  8. I’ve been on vacation and in constant meetings since I’ve been back. WTF is up with reasonable?

      1. Sheeeit, man. I guess I’ll just uninstall it. Now I have to read the racist, elitist drivel form Tony and PB?

        1. Switch to FF and fascr.

        2. Yes. For me, I don’t believe in filtering. Skipping past the trolls requires my discipline remains strong.

          1. +


          2. New-post highlighting is approximately a million times more useful anyway.

  9. I wonder if the media secretly hopes for a Trump nomination. Surely they’ve noticed that the criticism of him has just made him more popular.

    Nah, they’re not smart enough for that. The hallmark of stupid people is they do the same thing over and over and expect something different to happen.

    1. Of course they’re hoping for it. It would be a talking heads’ godsend.

  10. At least the Republican frontrunner has a history of making strong statements in favor of criminal justice reform:

    “We’re losing badly the war on drugs, You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars.”

    And wasn’t Reason praising Ted Cruz, not so long ago, for supporting criminal justice reform ?

    1. That might have been before he introduced a bill that established mandatory minimum sentences. Apparently time is linear at the reason editorial offices?

      1. Needz moar wormhole aliens.

        1. The Prophets approve.

    2. Not to worry, Trump will flip on drugs, too. He’s less like a Manchurian candidate than he is a, um, some sort of spacious, empty vessel into which many people might discharge all their bilious expectorant.

      1. He’s gonna be great. He’s gonna be better than all the stupid people in DC now. You’ll see.

      2. I’m surprised Trump hasn’t been pressed on his call for legalizing all drugs. Hi sure as hell isn’t going to campaign on it but he doesn’t seem to disavow or recant any of the other shit he’s ever said either.

      3. Woo, more big words.

    3. The Republican frontrunner has a history of making strong statements in favor of just about everything. Sometimes he makes strong statements in favor of opposite sides of an issue in the same conversation.

      1. Only real smart people can doublethink well.

      2. It is human nature to be contrary.

  11. Why are there so many articles featuring the candidate at the front of the pack in one of the major political parties? What the fuck, reason? Just because that candidate’s dumbfuckery is affecting a lot of different political issues doesn’t mean you have to keep writing about him. Why can’t you guys just go on a murderous police bender? Those stories are way more fun to read.

    1. You have to choke down the vegetables of headscratching, facepalming national politics if you want the meat pudding of libertarian issues.

      1. You have to choke down the vegetables of headscratching, facepalming national politics if you want the meat pudding of libertarian issues.

        If you don’t eat yer meat, you can’t have any pudding! How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat yer meat?!

        1. I should have known someone would have gotten to that joke before me.

    2. “Murderous police bender” sounds like an episode of Futurama I want to watch.

  12. There are many issues that aren’t going to be addressed because of Trumpmania – add this to the list.

    Just like when Obama was running. Why talk about the economy, or anything really, when you can vote for a black man?



    Politics is kinda like the Superbowl but less entertaining and no halftime nipple show.

    1. By the 2032 campaign, the election process will change to call/text/email voting for your favorite candidate on America’s Next Top President.

    1. You know, we really need to start thinking about what kind of a world we’re going to leave behind for Keith Richards.

    2. I really want to click that, but I don’t dare on this computer. It’s bad enough my history is rife with DM visits.

      1. Dead Milkmen?

    3. Are there any rock stars who don’t become booze/drug-addled trainwrecks after they become famous?

    4. Powdered Keith Richards, the most powerful drug of all times.

  13. Ya know Reason, you kept telling us how Rand Paul wasn’t good enough.

    Now look what we got. Trump is a walking disaster for libertarians.

    1. Pretty sure it’s not reason’s fault that millions of Americans are retarded.

    2. When did that happen?

      Also, it’s hilarious how many people here seem to think Reason controls the American political landscape. If only Reason would have been even more pro-Rand Paul he’d be leading the polls currently.

      1. They don’t think of it that way. They’re using HyR as a microcosm to say, “Your judgment of Rand Paul is on an unrealistic scale. Look instead at how he compares to Trump, who is now a very serious contender for the nomination.”

  14. I forget who said it, but the quote is something like: there are a lot of stupid, mediocre people out there; they’re entitled to some representation aren’t they?

    1. The bottom half of the bell curve needs representation too!!!

      Actually, the top half can be pretty fucking stupid too.

    2. I think it was Roman Hruska speaking of Carswell, a Supreme Court nominee in Nixon’s day.

      Let’s see if I was right…

      1. Nailed it

        Note how he contrasted “mediocre” judges with three Jewish judges.

  15. Kate’s Law

    Every law named after someone is guaranteed to be a horrible law. If that’s not already an Iron Law, it should be.

    1. That Iron Law is named “Tracy’s Law”, after Tracy Smith, who…

  16. As soon as the Democratic Party and the mainstream media succeeded in painting police reform as a racial issue, it lost any chance it ever had of appealing to the Republican base. Partly because a chunk of the base doesn’t care about black people, but mostly because decades of the Left overplaying the race card has caused people to equate “racial grievance” with “not a real problem”.

    As a result, whenever Rand Paul or any of the other pro-reform candidates bring up police reform, they are dismissed as futilely trying to appeal to black voters — as if there could be no other reason for concern.

    1. Ahh, yes, it’s the fault of the Democratic Party and the mainstream media for portraying the issue in a way that elicits a knee jerk reaction from racists. The correct thing to do, obviously, is to make sure that racists don’t think we’re being too nice to the darkies.

      1. No, we have a problem of police abuse – a problem which impacts white, black, Latino, etc.

        Race racketeers pretend that it’s just a problem with the cops having it in for blacks. Because no white people have ever been on the wrong end of a cop’s gun or fists. But no, there’s no need to appeal to white people for their support, because we all know the cops show them favoritism all the time.

        Then rioters burn stores to the ground as if to illustrate why we need *more* aggressive policing, not less.

        Not to mention driving an innocent police officer (Wilson) out of his job.

        Now criminal-justice reform is tainted by association with the race racketeers and the rioters.

        This is largely a re-run of 1968, where the race racketeers tried to pull similar shit and we ended up with a backlash which elected Nixon.

        1. Add to that the fact that, historically, plenty of black voters have supported *stricter* sentences for drug criminals – these voters simply aren’t as noisy as the Sharptons of the world.

          1. Add to that the activists and academics who are soft on crime because they think criminals are the products of a racist society, etc., and you have no end of reasons for voters to be paranoid about criminal-justice reform.

            1. I mean, if a vote against criminal-justice reform is cast as a vote for America and a vote against Sharpton, then that’s how the mainstream is going to vote.

              Good work, activists!

        2. There obviously IS a racial component to the police abuse problem, and pretending their isn’t one isn’t productive.
          If you really want to build bridges and do something to solve the problem, complaining about how people focus too much on the racial angle is just going to antagonize black people, because there really is a racial angle, and black people know it. They’re the group that this affects most, and you’re basically telling them to deny their own experiences.

          What you’re trying to say “this affects everyone” yes, that’s true, but when you change the conversation to start talking about how it shouldn’t be about race, you’re discounting realities that millions of people have lived, and you’re changing the conversation to be about whether it’s about race or not, instead of being about criminal justice reform itself. And that turns it into just another boring racially antagonistic argument. You’re actually contributing to making it a racial issue by making an unjustified stink about people covering it as a racial issue.

          1. Hazel, unless you’re saying that you are fine with police brutality provided all races suffer it equally, there is no rational reason to give a crap if it affects one race more than another. It is enough that the problem exists.

            When you try to convince the country that this is a “black problem”, you are (a) lying to them and (b) telling them 85% of them, implicitly, “this isn’t a problem that will affect you or your family in any way”. Not because of racism, but because it is very difficult to get anybody to care about injustices if you tell them “this doesn’t affect people like you”.

            In short, you’re helping the police on this issue.

      2. Yes, Hazel, anyone who disagrees with the principle that peoples’ concerns should be addressed or ignored based on their skin color is ipso facto a racist.

        1. Pretending there isn’t a racial component to the issue is itself racist. You’re basically refusing to acknowledge that blacks could in any way be victims of injustice, disproportionately to whites. Why? Why is it so hard to acknowledge that black people just maybe are getting the shorter end of the stick?

          1. Here are two facts for you:

            1. Black people disproportionately suffer from police violence.
            2. Black people disproportionately commit violent crimes.

            Two correlations. Should we really be quick to assume causation? There’s a lot more in play than just skin color, in both cases.

            1. Here’s some more facts:

              1. Black people get longer sentences, for commiting the same crime.
              2. Black people serve as much time in prison (on average) for drug offenses as white people serve for a violent crime (on average).

              There are all sorts of statistics out there that show that black people are treated disproportionately harshly by the criminal justice system.

              When you see your brothers/sons/husbands going to prison for the same length of time for a victimless crime as a white person gets for murder, how do you think that would make you feel?

              1. 1. Black people get longer sentences, for commiting the same crime.

                The flip side of that is that criminals who victimize black people receive longer sentences than criminals who victimize white people. The vast majority of criminals victimize members of their own racial group.

                Black people serve as much time in prison (on average) for drug offenses as white people serve for a violent crime (on average).

                This is due to sentences for “three strikes” laws. For obvious reasons those disproportionately affect groups that commit more felonies.

                Anyway, you didn’t really respond to my point. Is race the reason why so many more black people are criminals? I don’t think so. But you seem to think that race is the cause of everything else bad that is associated with black people. So what’s your reason for NOT thinking that?

                1. I don’t need facts and stats, I rely on my intuition and common sense stemming from years of observation. Blacks commit more crimes than other races. There are likely reasons why they get longer sentences (such as being repeat offenders, perhaps, or maybe because they live in judicial areas where there are fed-up judges who see these cases on a daily basis, get sick of it and throw the book at ’em?) I postulate that there is something wrong with the brain of African-Americans that will be discovered many years from now. There is some kind of genetic defect in SOME of them, NOT ALL.

                  It seems to affect American Blacks the worse. I don’t see this type of behavior in Blacks from Africa or most other countries, who I have found to be polite, nice and respectable people. American Blacks I have had enough of. And I am a huge fan of Allen West and many other American Blacks; Colin Powell, Condaleeza Rice, etc that have risen above the BS and made something of themselves. My two cents…

      3. Ahh, yes, it’s the fault of the Democratic Party and the mainstream media for portraying the issue in a way that elicits a knee jerk reaction from racists.

        You misunderstood me, or at least are pretending to have.

        The knee-jerk reaction from anti-black racists is the lesser part of the problem. The bigger part is that the Left has, for many years now, been crying wolf on white racism while embracing anti-white racism. When the average Republican voter sees Al Sharpton et al blaming white racism for something, he doesn’t think “oh, maybe Al *finally* has a legitimate grievance after a lifetime of fraud”. He thinks “oh, this shit again”.

        1. Or maybe the average white Republican voter has long been in denial about the reality of anti-black racism in America, and still is.

          1. Perhaps. Then again, when most of the evidence for a problem turns out on inspection to be fake, one has to wonder how pervasive the problem can really be.

    2. Are you Dr. Bongard (who I think was also a Daniel) of UHS-CMS faculty?

  17. The problem with the criminal justice system is that so many prison inmates are non-violent offenders. One can be in favor of BOTH reform that reduces the prison population AND maintains harsh sentences for violent felons. One can favor relaxed immigration policies and still want to keep violent felons out of the country or at least off our streets.

    Shackford has entirely misrepresented Kate’s Law which focuses solely on re-entry immigrants who have committed aggravated felonies.

    1. Remember, Reason writers think of immigrants–especially those who cross the Southern border–the same way that certain religious sects think of angels: benevolent beings who come from afar to do us only good. This explains why any criticism of immigrants gets anathematized as xenophobic.

      1. Shackford did no such thing and moreover did not misrepresent the bill in question.

      2. No, we think of immigrants as human beings with the same basic rights as US citizens.
        If US citizen have the right to live and work where they choose in order to pursue happiness, then so do impoverished Mexicans, Central Americans, and everyone else.

        The right to pursue happiness is a human right, not an “Americans only” right.

        1. The right to pursue happiness is a human right, not an “Americans only” right.

          It is a human right respected by no country on Earth and enjoyed by exactly zero people on Earth.

          It certainly isn’t enjoyed by Americans. Try walking over the border into Mexico and working there. They’ll arrest you and kick you out again. Ditto if you do it in Canada.

          If you stay here, you also have no right to live and work where you choose. You’re subject to zoning restrictions, to minimum wage laws, and to countless other regulations. If you’re just starting out and a local electrician offers to let you live in the back room of his shop in exchange for helping him out on the job, you and he are both guilty of a laundry-list of criminal and civil violations.

          So sure, Hazel, immigrants should be granted rights to live and work as they please. After Americans have been.

    2. Shackford has entirely misrepresented Kate’s Law which focuses solely on re-entry immigrants who have committed aggravated felonies.

      No, he has not, and no, it does not.

      From H.R. 3011, “Kate’s Law”:

      Section 276 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1326) is amended?

      (1) in subsection (a), in the matter following paragraph (2) by striking “fined under title 18, United States Code, or imprisoned not more than 2 years, or both” and inserting “imprisoned not less than 5 years and not more than 6 years”;

      8 USC 1326:

      (a) In general

      Subject to subsection (b) of this section, any alien who-

      (1) has been denied admission, excluded, deported, or removed or has departed the United States while an order of exclusion, deportation, or removal is outstanding, and thereafter

      (2) enters, attempts to enter, or is at any time found in, the United States, unless [certain exceptions],

      shall be fined under title 18, or imprisoned not more than 2 years, or both.

      There is no mention of primary criminality of any sort in that subsection. The law does enhance penalties for migrants with criminal records as well as those without.

      1. “primary criminality” should be “prior criminality”

  18. Kate’s Law: We don’t like them foreigners coming in our country taking our government money. Let’s lock them here! On the public dime!

    Am I missing something?

    1. I think the reasoning is that it’s cheaper to keep them in prison than to repeatedly deport them. Also, that the prison sentence will deter others from entering the country illegally.

      1. Heck, most US prisons are better than life outside prison in many third world countries.

    2. Not “lock them here”, kick them out and keep them out.

  19. Maybe we need as a compromise people to say: I know! Let’s make sure to give heck to the people who need heck given to, & stop giving heck to the people who don’t need heck given to.

    I’m simplifying, but surely we could get some kind of consensus behind an effort to turn up the contrast rather than fiddling w the brightness control up or down.

  20. Dude does make a lot of sense. Wow.

  21. Dude does make a lot of sense. Wow.

  22. “…linking illegals and violent crime”. Now I am going to be told that there is no correlation whatsoever, despite of what my intuition, observation for over twenty years, and common sense has told me? My brain is wrong, correct? Ignore those thousands of news articles I have been reading all these years relating to illegals committing all kinds of crime? Deporting them certainly would not hurt this country any.

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