Ah, what is a political commentator to do? The presidential campaign has not even gotten to the stage of the first voting in Iowa yet, and the whole thing is already a parade of fifteen or more clown cars. What am I supposed to do? I look into my tool chest, and I am already running low on colorful adjectives.
And anything I might want to say about Trump will now just Palin comparison.
So let us start at the beginning of this sad business, when John McCain first selected her to be his vice-presidential candidate. What has happened since then? How did we get here?
There are five basic possibilities, as I see it. The first is that Palin is now revealing her true colors. She was a populist all along, not a principled conservative, and now is apparently the time to declare herself. The second possibility is that she is a conservative, but one who has out of misguided desperation become a one-issue conservative. That one issue would be immigration. She has become convinced, as Ann Coulter apparently has, that immigration is absolutely the only thing that matters anymore, and that it matters almost absolutely. Because Trump is talking like an absolutist on that subject, it is time to go all in for him. The third possibility is that she was a conservative, but is now an apostate. Chased from the governor’s office by her enemies, she was hounded into the surreal realm of reality television, where a world of flatterers awaited her. That kind of thing is not good for anybody’s soul. Fourth, she is right where she used to be, fairly conservative, and understands that Trump is a rootless and godless individual, one who is willing to pander. That means he is willing to pander to the right if it gets him what he wants. This fourth option is simply political opportunism, which may be mixed in with personal opportunism (e.g. the vp slot). And last, there is the “black box” option. This would be some form of deal-making, log-rolling, horse-trading, and/or blackmailing, the terms of which are sealed to us. Out of all these options, I do not know which is the most likely.
Now look at it from Trump’s side. This is all about stopping the one serious threat to him, which is Ted Cruz. If Ted Cruz wins Iowa, then there is still a race after New Hampshire. But if Trump wins Iowa, and then New Hampshire, and continues to dominate in the national polls, he might well be able to finish out the primary campaign with his hands in his pockets, whistling as he goes.
In the meantime, Hillary Clinton appears to be on the verge of disintegrating — legal troubles, email troubles, Sanders troubles, unlikable personality troubles, horny Bill troubles, and foreign policy debacle troubles. She still might not collapse, but if she does, what a glorious time we shall all have! If Sanders wins Iowa, and then New Hampshire, and then Hillary is indicted, the Democrats will realize with dismay that a Sanders nomination will make the McGovern campaign look like a stirring victory, and so a “draft Biden” campaign will begin. And we, the voters, deserving every stroke that the rod of God’s justice might deliver to us, will be faced with a choice between Biden and Trump. Think of it! The man that Iowahawk affectionately calls “Uncle Choo Choo” would be going up against the Trumpoline. And I have a massive load of colorful adjectives on order. I just hope the semi can make it up our driveway.
This whole thing brings to mind a comment attributed to Marx. History repeats itself — the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Three guesses as to where we are.
Now readers of this blog know that I have long been friendly to Sarah Palin. I have read a couple of her books, and have defended her against the Ivory Soap purists. If you need proof of that, here are a couple of posts from the past (first one and then another). For example, I voted for John McCain — something I would not ever ordinarily do — and I did it simply because of her presence on the ticket.
What does this all mean, in practical terms? First, Trump is a fool, but he is not stupid. This was a shrewd tactical move. For someone whose entire public persona is built on dismissing others as “losers,” he can ill afford to lose in Iowa. And all the indications are that he would take it personally and with an unbecoming grace. Sarah Palin need not be a hot commodity across the country anymore — she just needs to be a hot commodity with undecided Tea Party Iowans. This was simply and solely a “stop Cruz” move, and should be evaluated as such.
Second, Palin doing this elevates Trump slightly (but in a constituency that counts for him), but it diminishes her far more than it helps him. She will be “helped” eventually if Trump wins the whole shebang, and some form of patronage comes back her direction (see #4 below). But failing that, her credibility with principled conservatives is now shot. It is certainly shot with me, and I am done defending her. But am I shocked? No, not really. Remember that I am a pastor, and helplessly watching people make poor choices is part of how I make my living. People are people, and people screw up. There have been indications for a few years that something like this was in the offing from Palin, but this really is a royal screw-up.
Third, as someone who has been regularly chided by the “realists” for not voting for the Republican ticket (not to vote for Romney is to vote for Obama, varlet!), I am wondering if this group has begun running the thought experiments yet. If it is Trump v. Clinton, or Trump v. Biden, or Trump v. Sanders, I am quite prepared to throw a grand party in order to welcome all the newcomers who are now (finally!) prepared to “throw their vote away.” Because I may as well announce it now — I would rather be dead in a ditch than vote for Trump, and I will enthusiastically throw my vote away. I will vote third party, or write in somebody. If I vote for “the Donald,” it will be because I wrote in Donald Duck. Whatever it is, I will make sure it is a vain gesture. But I wonder if there will be more people with me than usual.
Of course, while not voting for Trump, I will certainly hope that he wins against whoever he is up against. This would simply be for the sake of the entertainment value. I will have many adjectives in storage still unused, and if the Republic insists upon pitching itself into a morass of blue ruination, then I will insist that we make a gaudy time of it. To change the metaphor, if we demand a clown car review, then at least the clowns should all have bright red noses.
The fourth consideration is that there will be others (many others) who will adapt to the prospect of a Trump administration with remarkable flexibility. Where there is money, where there is power, powerful rationalizations will necessarily follow. The throne rooms of history have more than once been occupied by miscreants and demagogues, and whenever that happens, the number of flattering courtiers does not go down.
And last, what to do? If this kind of talk scares you, as it ought to, then there is one practical thing that remains to be done. Trump really needs to lose in Iowa. And that means that principled conservatives in Iowa need to rally behind Cruz. This is a pressing need — and other issues are secondary to it. There would be no inconsistency for a thoughtful Rubio supporter in Iowa to go for Cruz. That is because if Cruz wins there will still be a Cruz/Rubio contest later. If Trump does, then that is hard to imagine.
Other things will be easier to imagine.