Roger’s Rules

The Ides of March

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

When Caesar’s personal soothsayer Spurinna got outside his coq au vin or whatever rara avis  he mucked about with to perform his accustomed divination on the feast of Lupercalia in February 44BC, the signs were not good.  The next 30 days, through the Ides of March, he warned, were ominous.  When the morning of March 15 rolled around, Caesar is supposed to have said to Spurinna, “So the Ides of March have come.” “Yes, Caesar,” Spurinna replied, “but not gone.”

Despite some bluster to the contrary, the last few weeks have not been good for Donald Trump. The man who had been declared impossible last summer was suddenly anointed as inevitable sometime in December, but it hasn’t turned out that way.  He was supposed to win all the primaries by a huge margin. That hasn’t happened. And his vulgar attack dog routine, once so amusing to large swathes of the viewing public, suddenly looked strained and almost panicked once Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz began picking him apart at the last two debates.

Tonight at 8:30 ET there will be another debate. Expect to see the bully bullied. I hope there are more questions about the fraud that was Trump University and more particulars about Donald Trump’s other business dealings, including renewed demands that he release his tax returns.  Though he long ago promised to release them, Trump has recently said he couldn’t because he has been audited for the last 12 years.  1) Why would the fact of an audit prevent one from releasing one’s tax returns? 2) What has he done to spark an audit 12 years running?

The widespread suspicion is that a look at Donald Trump’s tax returns would show that he is far less wealthy than he claims, which would go a long way towards eroding whatever reputation he still has for being a savvy businessman among the credulous.

Like everything he says, Trump’s claims about his wealth vary widely, but he attributes a considerable portion of it — $3 to $4 billion — to his “brand,” as if the name “Trump” were something other than a patent of unspeakable vulgarity dressed up in a sad, bordello-inspired faux glamor. A friend of mine, helping out with some research into the specifics of the Trump brand, had lunch at a Trump refectory the other day.  The report was just as I expected: bling surroundings, outrageous prices, inedible Trump-themed food and drink. Also of note was the patronage, which was sparse indeed.

The point is that the closer you look at any aspect of Trump’s many enterprises and licensing schemes — the steaks, the wine, the “educational” initiatives, to say nothing of the high-ticket items like casinos, golf courses, and high-rise buildings — the closer you look, I say, the worse things appear. It’s a rickety empire poised upon a heap of debt and riddled with bankruptcies. Kevin Williamson provided a good overview of the wreckage in The Case Against Trump. Many others have contributed to filling out the gruesome picture.

Two things have happened since the feast of Lupercalia 2016.  One is that a host of Republicans, most of whom couldn’t abide the name “Trump” a few months ago, have decided that he might actually win and so have scurried, with varying degrees of caution, to support him.

The other thing that has happened is that resistance to Trump has stiffened and criticism has become more vocal, detailed, and thoroughgoing. As I say, you can expect to see more of that tonight.

And you can also expect to see the practical results of this criticism on the ground on the Ides of March, when a number of important primaries, including Florida and Ohio, take place.

The polls still have Trump ahead in all of the races, though John Kasich is closing in on him in Ohio.  I believe that the situation is far more fizzy than most observers allow.  I think we’ll see some seismic shifts in the next week. Marco Rubio, for example, is widely rumored to be under pressure to drop out. If he fails to take his home state of Florida, as seems likely, that will be curtains for his candidacy. Some sources are reporting that he is under pressure from his campaign to bow out before the Florida primary. We’ll see.

The chief novelty of the last week is that Ted Cruz, once a Republican pariah, has suddenly been retrieved from Siberia. It’s said that he and Lindsey Graham were talking—and Graham, remember, joked just a few weeks ago about how to get away with murdering the Texas senator. Cruz is picking up endorsements left and right (well, mostly Right) and you are seeing an abundance of headlines like “To Stop Trump, GOP Must Rally Behind Cruz.”

I think that’s correct, but it doesn’t go far enough. According to the RealClearPolitics polling averages, Ted Cruz beats Hillary Clinton in the general election.  And while I am not at all convinced that Hillary Clinton will be at liberty to compete in the general election, the point still holds: Ted Cruz is likely to prevail against a Democrat. Let’s see what the Ides of March reveals.