Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Interregnum: Thoughts on a Primary Pause

Note: I've been guest blogging the presidential race for Canadians at blazingcatfur.ca. Below is what I wrote for them today.

America is currently in the middle of a hiatus in the republican presidential campaign. This consists of two weeks with no primaries or caucuses. The next primary is April 5th in Wisconsin, the state directly east of Minnesota, where I live in St. Paul.

The pause has not been refreshing. Instead, old narratives that have failed previously are doubled down upon and reiterated with greater desperation. These consist mostly of animosity and opprobrium directed toward Donald Trump. They themselves don't seem to be doing much damage but Trump appears to be close to or over the line concerning Ted Cruz's wife Heidi.

The short version is that allegations about Ted Cruz's infidelity were fed to a tabloid newspaper (we surprisingly have very few of them, which makes it difficult for the average educated American to stomach most of the British press). These allegations of multiple affairs were shopped by supporters of former candidate Marco Rubio; this much is an open secret. They have played out as a dirty trick from the Trump campaign, however.

In the Twitter back and forth Trump retweeted an unflattering photo of Heidi next to his supermodel wife Melania. This was not well received, even by such staunch supporters as Ann Coulter who complained that Trump sometimes reminded her of your 16 year old that you had to keep bailing out of jail. Naturally opponents gleefully seized upon such candor as evidence--yet again--that the wheels were coming off of the Trump campaign.

No, but the episode should provide Planet Trump with an occasion to recalibrate its approach to the election. No one expects Trump to cease being himself but the furious need to respond to each and every slight or insult must, at some level, be tempered. Personally, I think this will happen because it requires so little not to be consistently outrageous.

More substantively, Trump has hired an old hand, Paul Manafort, who knows how to collect the delegates he has won previously and keep them. The arcania, like most arcania, is tiresome so, again, the bottom line is that a campaign previously unaware of the shenanigans that can happen, leading to a stealing of delegates, is wide awake now, in plenty of time it must be said.

This underscores the fight going on mostly just below the surface: the Republican establishment seeking any and all ways of denying Trump the 1,237 delegates needed for the nomination. All sorts of scenarios are spun out daily (the media hate interregnums and fill it with airy stories about what could or couldn't happen under any given set of circumstances) but these are exercises without much effect in the real world.

The Wisconsin primary promises to be a close fought race. I believe Cruz will win it. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, as expected, endorsed him today although Walker's popularity in the state is exaggerated. Losing wouldn't be a death knell by any means to Trump. If he were to win it, however, it could be the end of any serious threat to deny him the nomination should he come within a dozen delegates or so.

The states upcoming next--Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Maryland—which vote before the end of April, then in May, Indiana, Nebraska, West Virginia, Oregon, and Washington State and finally on June 7 California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota, all greatly favor Trump. The question will be how large in each of these states will be his win? If sufficiently large he'll have the delegates necessary to put away the nomination.

Few, however, think that his wins in these states, though formidable, will be large enough to secure the requisite number of delegates. He will, however, mostly likely be very close. Mr. Manafort, consequently, will prove to be consequential. He's adept at rounding up and keeping delegates in his candidate's column. This is also a good time to remember that several hundred uncommitted delegates exist and it's assumed that Manafort is already working on bringing many of them onboard.

Trump will secure the republican nomination short of the GOP establishment detonating a suicide belt. This is not beyond the realm of the possible but unlikely overall: self-interest is a powerful motivator. No one has any idea who he would pick as his vice presidential running mate because we're all dancing as fast as we can currently. There is only so much that can be processed.

To be sure, many officials, pundits and hangers-on have self righteously proclaimed that they will not vote for Trump under any circumstances. The more special snowflakes have already declaimed they'll vote for Hillary Clinton. The base owes Trump an eternal debt of gratitude for revealing the corruption, self dealing and pandering to donors that has consumed the Republican Party.

Much is made on the right that Trump can't win, can't beat Hillary, that this or that demographic of the electorate hates him. If you only listened to establishment Cassandras, you might be deeply worried.

I, however, do not. At least not exclusively: I keep a keen eye on what the Left is saying. To its credit, they are not hiding their concern about Trump being a formidable candidate appealing to wide swaths of the electorate including very much parts of the traditional Democratic base. It's a telling indictment that the Republican establishment has more in common with the elites of the Democrats than with its own base. Once seen it cannot be forgotten.

Some on the Left can be very clear eyed as to what a profoundly weak and unappealing candidate Hillary Clinton is and will continue to be. This is something that's not much discussed by the anti-Trump faction on the Right but it remains true.

New York Magazine calls itself a publication "defining the news, culture, fashion, food and personalities that drive New York." Its articles are as pretentious as its self-description but there you have it. For what's of interest to the New York set, however, it's a very reliable bellwether. Yesterday the editor of one of its sections tweeted his alarm about the ability of Trump to win the general election. Said Jesse Singal:

"Jesus I just had my first he-could-win-the-whole thing moment."

Yes he could, hence the bi-partisan panic that will surely increase as November approaches.