The other day I tweeted this about the ongoing primary battle on the Republican side:
“The reason Trump is doing well so far is that the clown state is engaged in a diligent search for a bright red nose.”
But this requires further development, along with other related observations need to be made about where we are in this primary process.
The primary system in American politics is a lurid and gaudy spectacle. Foreigners who dwell in our midst might be hunting around for an appropriate word to use in order to describe their sensations in watching it, and if they have not already found one, might I suggest the word gobsmacked?
First you gather all those who are closest to you ideologically, and you fight them all to the death. The last driver in this demolition derby then goes out with his battered Chevy to face the dented survivor of the other party’s related efforts.
In the course of the Republican primary campaign, those who backed the eventual also-rans had made sure to rummage through their lexicons of political insult in order to tar the eventual winner in the hope that he would not be the eventual winner but such that, if he is, they will have an awful lot to walk back when they come back round to back him against whatever commie the Democrats have selected.
The logic of this is hard to refute. You put 17 Republicans into the pool that the nominee will eventually have to swim in, and urge them all — since most of them will only be in the pool for a short time — to pee in it now.
Another thing we do during this exhilarating and festive season is called “spin,” or “managing expectations.” The bowler lets the ball go, and it is thereafter going to do what it is going to do, but he dances around at the end of the alley in front of reporters, hoping that his antics will retroactively affect the physics of the thing.
Whatever is communicated by such antics needs to be played to the advantage of whatever candidate is involved. The spokesman, or the candidate, interprets everything to his own advantage, even if that advantage is hanging by the slenderest of hairs. Rubio took second in South Carolina by a margin of . . . what? Because one of the “get out the vote” buses for the Cruz campaign ran out of gas?
This is how Expectations are played. Cruz won Iowa, but this doesn’t count because he was Expected to. Rubio came in fifth in New Hampshire and this was a stunning setback because he wasn’t Expected to. Not only do staffers try to manage expectations, but so do the minions on Facebook. Thus it is that fans of Rubio — who thus far has finished third, fifth, and photo-finish second — have been calling on Cruz — who finished first, third, and photo-finish second — to drop out.
Now the results of the South Carolina primary are quite interesting, but nothing there to cause panic yet. I say this despite the distracting prospect of the bright red nose. This is an elimination tournament, and although it is a very unusual one, it is nevertheless working just fine. Let me ‘splain.
The primary started out with 17, count them, 17 candidates. That means, divided evenly — with that fairness method that Sanders would use — each candidate’s share of support would be around 5.9% of the electorate. So it makes sense that in order to get anyone to their rousing crescendo of momentum, a lot of people have to drop out first. That’s the way this thing works.
That process is proceeding nicely. That’s what processes do. They proceed.
First the no-hopes drop out, then the also-rans, then the close-but-no-cigars, and then you have a race. At the conclusion of that last series, you have a nominee. We kind of have a race now, and we will definitely have a race after Super Tuesday — and it will almost certainly be between Trump, Cruz, and Rubio.
Those candidates who quixotically refuse to face reality, insisting that they will remain until the last dog is hung, will find that their supporters won’t exactly have the same tenacity. In order to stay in effectively, you have to have people show up for rallies, and you have to have donors who are willing to sign checks. If those two things don’t happen, at some point in the near future it doesn’t matter if the candidate drops out formally. Carson and Kasich are already embarrassing themselves; if they remain longer it will only get really embarrassing. Who wants to be the next Gilmore? Wounded pride can line you up for the real humiliation.
The second thing to remember in all this is that Trump supporters are not to be reasoned with right now. Although I do fault them, I do not blame them in the first instance. This spectacle is not primarily their responsibility. They are having a collective hissy fit over the fecklessness of our political ruling class, drumming their heels on the floor, and it is not in the nature of such inarticulate protests to make too much sense. Sense can be made of it, but not from it.
So one thing about it does make sense. A significant portion of the electorate has decided that integrity and honesty should be determined on the basis of how outrageous a candidate is willing to be. Trump just talks, and he says whatever it was that comes into his head, contradictions with last week be damned. His supporters are not looking for integrity in his measured convictions over time. They are looking for integrity as measured by a willingness to be unscripted, unrehearsed, unmanaged, un-PC, and ungovernable. This is a really bad idea, but given the behavior of all the regular politicians in their experience — scripted, rehearsed, managed, PC, and preeminently governable — it is an understandable really bad idea.
But remember that we are in an elimination tournament. We went from 17 to 6 in three elections. Now what is the upper limit for Trump support? Whatever it is, the chances are pretty good that it is a lot lower than the upper limit for the other remaining candidates, whoever they might be. When candidates drop out, what percentage of their support will go to Trump? Precious little of it would be my guess. Trump would fare a lot more poorly, in other words, against one other candidate, than he has done thus far against 16. And we have plenty of time to get to that place.
At the same time, this electoral season has been weird enough to caution anyone against saying a Trump presidency is impossible. He could get the nomination, and Hillary could get indicted at the worst possible time for her, and Trump could stagger across the finish line with a plurality, and the Electoral College might be gummed up, and the House of Representatives might not save us. In short, it is possible that God might judge these United States with a Trump presidency.
And there we would be, as Gutfeld put it, with “Obama in orange face.” It would be a judgment from God, but I have to confess that — having reviewed the Scriptures on the topic — it would be the funniest judgment I have ever heard of.