Roger’s Rules

Sort-of-Super Saturday

Donald Trump, Ted Cruz CNN Republican Presidential Debate, Las Vegas, America - 15 Dec 2015 (Rex Features via AP Images)

Impressions

The great Ace of Spades captured the essence of last night in a headline:

Rubio Collapsed, Cruz Surged, Trump Stable

Peeking behind the headline, however, Ace shows that Trump’s “stability” is anything but stable. First, the math.  Cruz scooped up 64 delegates last night.  Trump took 49. In Kentucky, Trump’s narrow win gave him 17 delegates to Cruz’s 15; in Louisiana, it was even closer: 18 for Trump, 18 for Cruz.  In Kansas, by contrast, Cruz walked away with 29 delegates while Trump took 9. In Maine, it was Cruz 12, Trump 9 [NOTE: these figures and those below have been updated since this morning.]

Getting out the abacus and doing the sums that gives us:

Trump: 382 delegates
Cruz: 300 delegates

382 – 300 = 82

So, now Trump, who was supposed to win everything, is only 83 delegates ahead of Ted Cruz. At the moment, Marco Rubio has 128 delegates.

Turning again to the abacus:

300 + 128 = 428 

Which leads us to:

428 > 382

And that’s not counting the loose change rattling around in the pockets of John Kasich and Ben “We Remember Ye” Carson.

But how about Rubio and Kasich? Compassion dictates that we pass over last night’s wreckage quickly. Kasich didn’t even make it out of single digits on the delegate count; Rubio did but barely. Let us draw a veil. As Ace speculates, we’ll probably have to wait for another 10 days, until the next big crop of primaries, before these two candidates do their Belshazzar’s Feast routine and see “Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin” written on the wall, which, in plain English, means: “You’ve been weighed in the balance and found wanting.”

I know, I know: the campaign is heading North and West, frontiers where the denizens breath fire-water, not fire & brimstone, lands where the inhabitants are supposed to be friendlier to Rubio and Kasich.  We’ll see. To me, Kasich more and more resembles a creature that is half Tigger (from Winnie-the-Pooh, half Bill Irwin, the comic mime. (I am not talking about Mr. Irwin’s politics, about which I know nothing, merely his comic gesticulation.) And Rubio, Cheshire-cat-like, seems to be disappearing before our eyes, leaving nothing behind but that inveigling, boyish smile.

But the real news from yesterday’s psephological shindig is a phenomenon that has been building since the last couple of debates when Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz finally decided to start picking apart the mound of absurdity that is Donald Trump. It started on February 25 in Houston when (as Andrew McCarthy put it) “The Donald limped away revealed for what he is, a fraud — a liberal Democrat posing as the Republican savior.” It was even worse a couple of days ago in Detroit when Cruz gave Trump an impromptu lesson in yoga breathing relaxation techniques.

Here’s the truth: Donald Trump’s campaign has begun to disintegrate. Yes, I am aware of the polls that have him way ahead here, there, everywhere. And it is also the case that aspects of Newton’s  first law of thermodynamics [thanks to an attentive reader for this correction], as regards inertia, apply to politics: Donald Trump’s astonishing ascent to the empyrean of the Great American Political Reality TV Show was as quick as it was unexpected.  But, as I have had occasion to point out (with reference to the Montgolfier brothers), such rapid ascents are often followed by equally rapid collapses.

Just after the Iowa caucus, early in February, I asked “Have We Reached Peak Trump?”  I suspected the answer was Yes. I am not quite sure what trajectory the engineers will later plot when describing the parabola that was Donald Trump’s reentry into the atmosphere of reality. Perhaps Super Tuesday was the apogee. In fact, his performance there confounded many pundits — and The Donald himself — who had predicted a clean sweep.  In the event, Cruz took Texas, Oklahoma,  and Alaska, and came close in a couple of other states. I suspect that Trump’s peak came just before Iowa.

Which is not to say, I hasten to add, that he might not still capture the nomination. He might well.  That’s what inertia is all about.  But the heat tiles are beginning to crack and fall off the Trump reentry vehicle. How do I know?

  1. Contradiction: Trump has begun to contradict himself on central issues.  What are they? Here’s two: a. Immigration. Trump first made his name by promsing to deport everyone who couldn’t prove his family had come over on the Mayflower, near enough. Anyway, he was going to deport millions & millions of illegal immigrants and their families. Not the ones whom he employed to build Trump Tower, or at Mar-a-lago, of course, just all the rest. He was going to build a wall that Mexico was going to pay for and the wall was going to be 10 feet higher than originally planned after Vicente Fox said “fat chance” or less polite words to that effect. That was yesterday. Donald Trump now suddenly  says he is “flexible” on this and other issues.  Flexible? In two words: Flip. Flop. b. Muslims. First, Trump said that waterboarding was not severe enough for captured terrorists: “we should go much further.” Then, he said he would direct the U.S. military to start killing the families of terrorists.  When asked what he would do if his commanders refused to carry out such orders which were in flagrant contravention of the law, he said: “They won’t refuse me.“Apparently, the prospect of having the U.S. Army behave like Nazi storm troopers didn’t poll well,  because he, eventually, reversed himself on those items, too. Suddenly, he has discovered that the president of the United States is actually bound by laws.  Who knew?

2. Ignorance: Donald Trump’s ignorance of world affairs and foreign policy is breathtaking.  The public is beginning to wake up to that melancholy truth.  Can we really entrust America’s military might to a man who until fifteen minutes ago did not know what America’s nuclear triad is?

On a good day, Donald Trump is 90 percent bluster and 10 percent fraud (vide Trump University, or talk to anyone who has done business with him).

So why the inertia, i.e., the tendency of a body in motion to continue on its path unless obstructed by a countervailing force?  There are several reasons. Here are a few:

1. Toadies. That would be folks like soon-to-be-former-Governor Chris Christie and, it pains me to say it, Jeff Sessions who consulted their soothsayers and concluded that Trump, who was on the way up, was going to win it all.  Chris Christie began practicing his acceptance speech to be attorney general of the Untied States or secretary of State. Who knows what Jeff Sessions wants or was promised. And then there are the legion of pundits who, a few short months ago, repudiated Trump in the harshest of terms but lately have decided that he might just become president of the Untied States and it would be better to be inside the tent, even with Frank Underwood, micturating outwards, than outside the tent, which, politically, is nowhere. The point is that the accumulated ballast of toadies, opportunists, and men with their eye on the main chance and their lips stitched firmly to the engorged teat of political patronage means that the rolling wreckage that is the Trumpmobile will take longer to roll to a stop. It might even make it across the finish line to the nomination. (It is then that they will absorb this wise but sobering bit of wisdom from Disraeli: Next to knowing when to seize an opportunity, the most important thing in life is knowing when to forgo an advantage.)

2. Paparazzi, in which category I include not only the photographers but also the many scribes and television personalities who, much as they might loathe Trump,  are positively addicted to the brittle bubble of celebrity with which he surrounds himself — and by extension, surrounds them. Trump is news—or if not news, exactly, is at least gilded copy, selling headlines, campy but arresting performance art, like the Kardashians but without the understatement or finesse. All the ink, virtual as well as literal, has greased the track for Trump’s carriage and that, too, will extend its run.

3. Democrats. The DNC might just be Donald Trump’s secret weapon to gaining the Republican nomination. Who knows whether Hillary will be conducting her campaign from Chappaqua or Leavenworth. But what a day brightener it must have been to the Democratic puppet masters when they realized that Donald Trump had somehow gone from being a joke to being the Republican frontrunner.  That he was the Republican frontrunner was especially rich, of course, since throughout his career Trump had espoused positions at least as “progressive” as those (sorry) trumpeted by Hillary Clinton. “Ha, ha, ha.  These Republicans are even stupider than we thought.”  And the best part of it is that Trump will never win in a general election, even agianst the felon-to-be Hillary Clinton. Too many Republicans will stay home or (sad to say) vote for Lady Macbeth.

Anyway, Sort-of-Super Saturday confirmed my feeling that while it is late, it is not yet too late. From where I sit, the candidate who has the best chance of derailing the Trump Express is Ted Cruz.  He performed far better than predicted on Super Tuesday and Sort-of-Super Saturday. His talk at CPAC was a masterly performance, full of humor, insight, and sober political analysis. Watch it. Unlike Mitt Romney in 2012, he has a superb ground game.  And Donald Trump’s not-so-slow-motion implosion gives Ted Cruz some momentum of his own.  It’s by no means a sure thing. It will be an uphill struggle. But the most savvy candidate is also the one most committed to returning the country to its tradition as a constitutional democracy governed by the rule of law and a deep respect for individual liberty.

The disaffected masses who have been impressed by what they think Donald Trump represents should give Ted Cruz another look.  He is the real insurgent candidate in this race, the one who will bring us back from the disaster of crony capitalism, executive overreach, and rule by an alphabet soup of unaccountable regulatory agencies.  Like Reagan, he understands that America’s goal on the international stage must be “peace through strength,” that weakness is dangerously provocative, and that Roman historian Vegetius was right: si vis pacem, para bellum — “if you want peace, prepare for war.”

Representatives of what Cruz calls the “Washington Cartel” assure us that he is unelectable because–why? Because people like them do not like Ted Cruz. They are right to dislike him.  Were he elected, the gravy train that is the D.C. Limited would screech to an abrupt halt and we’d replace business-as-usual with business in Washington, D.C.  We’d also return enormous quotas of political prerogatives to the states and to local governments.  That’s what the Founders envisioned.  Yes, it’s late, alright.  But I take some solace from Lord D’Abernon: “An Englishman’s mind works best when it is almost too late.” An American’s too, I trust.