Roger’s Rules

Thoughts on the Meaning of the 2016 New Hampshire Primary

(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Although he lived in the sixth century AD, Gregory of Tours could have been a modern pundit. Consider the magnificent opening line of his most famous (actually, his only) work, The History of the Franks: “A great many things keep happening, some of them good, some of them bad.”

Incontrovertible, what? I thought of old Greg while contemplating yesterday’s drama in New Hampshire — you know, the tiny state upon which the country’s attention was focused, laser-like, for a few weeks. Now that the primary is over, you can already sense it slipping back into the quietude of irrelevance, whence it will subsist for four long years, gathering strength to strut and fret its next hour upon the stage.

So what did we learn from yesterday’s performance? One thing we learned was that in the Granite State, Hillary Clinton loses to every demographic group except seniors with incomes over $200K per annum. Bernie Sanders may be a goofball socialist — indeed, he is a goofball socialist — but the 74-year-old redistributionist crushed the 69-year-old crone 60% to 38%. As I have been saying for months — well before the email scandal that the FBI wasn’t investigating, except that it turns out, as we all knew, that the FBI is investigating it big time — Hillary will not be the Democratic candidate. I think it pretty unlikely that Bernie Sanders will be, either, but I have to admit that I have not plumbed the depths of the Democratic passion for self-extinction. Maybe, just maybe, they are suicidal enough to run an unreconstructed socialist dinosaur. (Really, Bernie Sanders should be in a museum, not the White House.)

Whenever I say that Hillary won’t be the candidate, I am met by an eager incredulity. “The Clinton machine” is the most frequent verbal expression of this incredulity, and I admit that the Clintons and their henchmen are a nasty bunch of folks who will stop at nothing to win, as the names Vince Foster and silenced bimbos beyond number remind us. Still, the one sentence you need to bear in mind when contemplating the swamp of corruption that is Team Clinton is printed in every mutual fund prospectus you have ignored before signing: past performance is no guarantee of future returns.

It is human nature, I think, to understand that admonition intellectually while also discounting it emotionally. “For the last five years, this guy made a 12% return; ergo he will do so again and I should shovel money his way.” There’s a lot of melancholy, as well as a good deal of logical confusion, packed into that unearned ergo, as credulous investors the world over know to their sorrow. The rancid, geriatric aroma emanating from the whole Clinton apparat — from Bill’s trembling hand and Lear-like rages to Sid “Vicious” Blumenthal’s shadowy ministrations to the waddling inconsecutive pantsuit herself — would be sad if its activities were not so ostentatiously corrupt. “At this point what difference does it make?”, Hillary peevishly demanded when testifying before Congress about the Benghazi massacre that she helped enable by destabilizing Libya, and then covered up with a very-old-wives tale about an internet video being responsible for the “spontaneous uprising” that left four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, dead.

I am regularly asked, when I go into my “Hillary won’t be the candidate” routine: “So if you say the Dem candidate won’t be Hillary Clinton, who do you think it will be?”

I doubt it will be Bernie Sanders for the reason just adduced — the instinct for self-preservation has not yet, not quite, been entirely bred out of the Democratic Party. Then who? There are several possibilities. The most likely, as I’ve noted before in this space, is Joe Biden, a seriously stupid person but one whose tenure in the corridors of power certainly gives him the credential of “experience.” And then there is New York’s head nanny, Michael Bloomberg, who would not win the general election but who might run as an independent and who would give a little frisson to some of the moping adults on the sidelines who fear Ted Cruz and who just can’t believe the candidacy of Donald Trump. Bloomberg did a creditable job as mayor of New York, consolidating the gains pioneered by Rudy Giuliani. But at a moment when one of the chief domestic issues is the encroachment on individual freedom and initiative by overweening governmental agencies, a man whose chief passions, apart from law and order, seemed to revolve around large sodas, smoking, and salt intake is unlikely to garner much support outside the larger New York metropolitan area.

Ted Cruz — my guy — confounded the public pollsters with his victory in Iowa. The comb-over candidate Donald Trump ran away with New Hampshire, as nearly everyone predicted,  snapping up 35% of the vote in a (much too) crowded field.* John Kasich, with almost 16%, came in second with Cruz, at nearly 12%, in third place. BushRubioChristieCarsonFiorinaPaul formed the caboose, and one might be forgiven for observing that while Rand Paul isn’t even running anymore, most of the caboose, with the exception of Rubio, should follow suit and take their little trains to the siding.

An intelligent and canny friend, knowing of my support of Ted Cruz, patiently explained to me why Cruz could not win. The Democrats, he said, start off the presidential race these days with some nearly 240 electoral votes (of 270 needed to win) locked up. He mentioned Oregon (7), Washington (11), California (55), Minnesota (10), Wisconsin (10), Illinois (21), Michigan (17), Pennsylvania (21), New Jersey (15) , New York (31), Connecticut (7), Vermont (3), Rhode Island (4), Massachusetts (12), Maine (4), Deleware (3), Nevada (6), and Hawaii (4) as states that would almost certainly go to Hillary Clinton were she the candidate. Then there’s Ohio (20) and Colorado (9), which, he said, Ted Cruz could not win. Bingo. Hillary (or whoever) gets to set about ordering new drapes for the Oval Office.

This is a sobering assessment. As was his next contention:

America is no longer a conservative country as it may have been in the 1980s and 1990s. It has gone substantially to the left, partly for demographic, partly for institutional reasons. We used to be able to rely upon “the people” to save us from the left wing elites; that’s what Ronald Reagan did. But not any longer.

Is this true? It has the attraction of initial plausibility. But I am not so sure. People say that generals often make the mistake of fighting a new war with assumptions based on their experience in the last war, which assumptions may be groundless or unhelpful given the novelties of the new situation. Reality has a way of unsettling our certainties. What seems inevitable today may strike us tomorrow as obviously implausible given the fact that what was predicted to happen unaccountably did not. That’s the problem with the phrase “the foreseeable future.” So little of that undiscovered country really is foreseeable. How much of the future, really, do we foresee? A week? A day? A minute?

“In a minute,” as T. S. Eliot said in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” “there is time / For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.” So much of life is a juggling with probabilities, a conjuring with uncertainties, that we often forget upon what stupendous acts of faith even the prudent conduct of life depends.

Had I been asked, on September 10, 2001, whether New York’s Twin Towers would continue standing for “the foreseeable future,” I should have answered “Yes.” And so, in one sense, they did. Only my foresight was not penetrating enough, not far-seeing enough, to accommodate that most pedestrian of eventualities: an event. An event is as common as dirt. It is also as novel as tomorrow’s dawn.

“There is nothing,” the French writer Charles Péguy noted in the early years of the twentieth century, “so unforeseen as an event.” My friend laid out a thoughtful explanation of why it would be hard for a Republican — and basically impossible, so he thinks, for Ted Cruz — to win the presidential election in 2016. I am not so certain. We are living in one of those “plastic” pre-revolutionary moments Karl Marx spoke about. A lot of balls have been tossed into the air, some by the feckless efforts of Barack Obama to “fundamentally transform the United States of America,” some by world events which, it seems to surprise some observers, do not stand by idly waiting for our permission to happen.

To return to our friend Gregory of Tours, “A great many things keep happening, some of them good, some of them bad.” I think that a vibrant, young Constitutionalist like Ted Cruz will have a much broader appeal at this time of moral uncertainty and international panic than many commentators, looking for the foreseeable future, suspect.

*[[UPDATE: I had misplaced the “35%” figure in an earlier version of this piece: it belongs to Trump in NH, not Cruz in Iowa.]]