To listen to some of the commentary about yesterday’s primary in South Carolina, you would think that Donald Trump now had the nomination sewn up. Yesterday, the pundits crow, Trump won by a comfortable ten points, beating Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz 32.5 to 22.5 (22.3 for Cruz). Gosh. Slam dunk, what? Time for Mrs. Trump to start thinking about new curtains for the Oval Office or at least battling against whoever the Democratic nominee will be after Hillary Clinton drops out sometime (I predict) before the end of March.
But there are several things to note about yesterday’s primary that make this exercise in congratulation premature.
First of all, a scant week ago, the polls had Trump at 38, Cruz at 28.5, Rubio at 13.5. Clearly, this is one of those “plastic moments” of political fermentation that Karl Marx told us about. Things can change quickly.
Second, it is worth casting one’s mind way back to ancient times, to the winter of 2012, when Newt Gingrich won South Carolina with 40.4% of the vote. Mitt Romney took 27.8, Rick Santorum (remember him?) took 17%.
Gingrich lost no time announcing on some talk show that it was obvious that he was going to be the nominee.
It didn’t turn out that way, but he came in a respectable second in Florida and won decisively with 48.5% in the key southern state of Georgia.
How do you spell “Romney”?
I suppose it is possible that Donald Trump — the man who supports single-payer health care (Obamacare on steroids), who didn’t know about the nuclear triad until a few weeks ago, who once proposed a 14.25% wealth tax on “the rich,” and until 15 minutes ago was an enthusiastic proponent of abortion on demand, even that form of infanticide euphemistically described as “partial birth abortion” by its partisans — I suppose it is possible that Donald Trump will get the country to rally around him and hand him the Republican nomination.
As of Sunday, February 21, 2016, I doubt it. There was a moment, just a few weeks back, when I thought the choice would be between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. I have now privately reverted — well, I suppose it’s not all that private — to my earlier hypothesis that the GOP race will come down to Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.
I say this notwithstanding Donald Trump’s lead in the polls. For one thing, the polls do not really make allowance for Trump’s astronomical, off-the-charts negatives, which have yet to be adequately factored into the psephologist’s handicaps.
For another thing, the implications of Trump’s extreme proposals — deporting 11 millions illegal immigrants, for example — have not really been digested by the public. Illegal immigration is a huge issue — yuge! — and it has been made even more visceral by President Obama’s fondness for importing thousands of likely terrorists from Syria and other third-world cesspools. But I have a hard time believing that the public would be happy with the massive network of secret police that would be required to deport 11 million people.
At the same time, I must grudgingly admit that I underestimated Donald Trump’s talent as a campaigner. It’s quite unlike anything I can remember. He has an all-but-unerring instinct for the jugular.
- Jeb Bush: Bzzzt: Low energy! It took Jeb a while to collapse, but it was clear to many of us back in the autumn that he was a walking corpse.
- Bill Clinton: Bzzzt: Bill’s bimbos! Trump transformed dog Clinton from one of Hillary prime assets into an embarrassing liability almost overnight.
- And just last week we had the pope, the poor fellow. He questioned whether Donald Trump, with his plans to build a wall to keep the poor out, was really a Christian. Bzzzt: Team Trump instantly disseminated pictures of the high walls around Vatican City and vivid accounts of the highly restrictive immigration policy of that tiny principality. Was it fair? Was it even accurate? It didn’t matter. It was political stagecraft of some genius.
So, Donald Trump is a much better showman than I had given him credit for. In a way, I suppose the election will come down to whether enough people decide that they prefer reality TV to reality. I continue to regard Donald Trump as a dangerous mountebank. He is dangerous partly because of the things he has proposed to do, partly and more insidiously because he has somehow managed to inveigle some well-meaning conservatives into believing that he somehow supports the same positions, the same values, the same world view that they do.
I am a little less confident than I was a month ago that Donald Trump will not be the nominee. I still think the mantle of victory will ultimately go to Ted Cruz (my favorite) or Marco Rubio, but my conviction is edged now with doubts. We’ll know better in a few weeks.
I have no doubts at all, however, that if Donald Trump is the nominee, the GOP will rue the day. If, heaven forfend, Donald Trump is elected president, the whole country, indeed, the world will.