Call me semi-prescient. Last May I opined that the problem with the Republican presidential primary process was: too many vanity candidates. The party had too many candidates who will never be elected and-- I mentioned in later posts-- could not possibly do the job.
(Full disclosure: I also suggested that Hillary Clinton might not be the Democratic candidate. As of now, that prediction does not look very prescient at all… unless a deus ex machina appears and indicts HRC.)
In my post I noted that a party full of vanity candidates looks like a vanity party and that a vanity party looks like it does not take the presidency seriously.
I might have mentioned that having so many candidates—call it an embarrassment of riches—makes it impossible for people to make a reasoned choice. Psychological research has shown that the more choices you have—for detergent, for cereal, for chips, for spouses, for candidates—the more difficult it is to select one. The more choices you have the more you will expect to find perfection.
Among the vanity candidates I identified last May were Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, Donald Trump and Lindsay Graham. Late comers to the group were Mike Huckabee, George Pataki, Rick Santorum and Jim Gilmore.
Of course, I was not all that prescient. I expected that the vanity candidates would quickly fade away. On the contrary, they have risen in the polls. At one point it seemed that being a vanity candidate was a primary qualification for the presidency in today’s Republican Party. By now, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson are descending, but there was a time, not too long ago, that they were in the top tier of candidates, a tier that is led by the ultimate vanity candidate: Donald Trump.
I did not see that eventuality. And yet, what could have been more logical than for a vanity party to rally behind the ultimate vanity candidate. God knows how I missed it, but I did.
Unfortunately, the Trump ascendance solidifies the impression that the Republican Party is a vanity party and that it does not care about whether its leading presidential candidate knows enough or has the relevant experience to do the job. It just wants a candidate who is endlessly entertaining.
I did not see that either. I had thought that the Democratic Party was the Hollywood party. As I said, semi-prescient, at best.
And, yes, I have read the arguments, presented in the comments section of this very blog, to the effect that Trump will do everything that he says he will do because he says he will do it. You might believe that. Many people do. But, let’s not consider it a rational concluision derived from an examination of the evidence.
Trump supporters seem to believe that if you do not understand the job, do not understand what can and cannot be done in the oval office… you can promise anything. And a lot of people will believe you. To me if feels like trafficking in caricatures. I am not impressed.
Moreover, if you have no record of government service and have never had to cast a vote or to implement a policy, you become the ultimate blank slate. People can project on you whatever they wish without fear of having to face the fact that your record contradicts their faith it.
My own perfectly fair and balanced critiques of Trump notwithstanding, senior figures in the Republican Party are becoming unhinged about Donald Trump. He is not their candidate. He is not beholden to them. He is not electable.
Unfortunately for the grandees, Trump presents himself as strong and makes them look weak and ineffectual. After all, two of the most qualified candidates this time around, Jeb Bush and John Kasich come across as weak. And, these days, a lot of people are looking for strong. They are so desperate to find a strong candidate that they have convinced themselves that the appearance of strength is really strength.
Never forget, people who really are strong do not act like vulgar buffoons in their public presentations. They do not appear to lose control. And they know how to work the system. You cannot work the system if you have never really worked within the system. Bush and Kasich could certainly do the job. Unfortunately, they have persuaded everyone that they are too soft for our times.
As I mentioned, one reason why French president Francois Hollande came across as strong and resolute after the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13 is that he is a professional politician. He knows how the system works and he knows how to work the system.
Anyway, media Republicans are now beginning to shift their focus away from the vanity candidate to end all vanity candidates toward a more plausible candidate: Sen. Ted Cruz. Power players in the party respect Cruz for his intelligence, but otherwise they loathe him. To them a choice between Trump and Cruz is like a choice between poisons.
Today, P. J. O’Rourke in the Daily Beast and Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal take out after the Texas senator, on the grounds that he is too much of a conservative ideologue to win. Stephens notes that Marco Rubio is the only candidate who consistently beats Hillary Clinton in head-to-head polling, and that DT tends to be the biggest loser against her. Cruz is running slightly behind Hillary, but well within the margin of error.
In any case, if Trump is a loudmouth vulgarian who has risen to the top of the polls by speaking the unspeakable, and if his support comes mostly from the less educated segments of the Republican Party—like Barack Obama’ whose major support came from the less educated segments of the Democratic Party—Ted Cruz is notably and universally recognized as a brilliant man. No less than Alan Dershowitz has stepped forth to vouch for the superior intelligence of his former student, the junior senator from Texas.
As it happens, Cruz is said to be the most disliked member of the United States Senate. And yet, since his fellow Republicans are perceived as having given away the store in the last budget negotiations with their Democrat colleagues, one suspects that the “unhinged” Cruz might be on to something.
O’Rourke wants hipsters to save us from Ted Cruz, but he seems most concerned that Cruz might be electable:
Call it “margin-of-terror.” Cruz is way too close to being electable. He’s got the crazy thing going for him, but it’s crazy like a fox or, anyway, like a Fox News broadcast. In contrast to one GOP frontrunner I could name, Cruz knows who’s buried in Lenin’s tomb. And, in contrast to another, he isn’t angling to get a sweetheart deal on a hotel and casino in Raqqa as a reward for inflaming anti-American hatred worldwide.
Ted Cruz could beat Hillary Clinton. He’s 161 years younger than she is—in dog years. Dogs are all we’ve got this election cycle, so it’s a fair measure.
Cruz has a national political record going back only as far as his Senate race in 2013. Clinton is dragging a hundred miles of public policy toilet-paper-trail stuck to her campaign shoe.
Hillary reminds every man in America of his first wife. Voters are 47.9 percent male. And 47.9 happens to be exactly the percent of the popular vote that won George W. Bush the presidency in 2000.
Apparently, O’Rourke is no longer, if he was ever, a conservative.
He seems most bothered by the fact that Cruz does not believe in legalizing marijuana, opposes abortion, doesn’t believe in climate change and opposes gay marriage and most forms of immigration.
On the point about climate change, unless you belong to the Church of the Liberal Pieties, you should have some doubt about the proposition that human activity is causing the climate to change. In truth, everyone believes that the climate changes. Cruz and many serious scientists—see Richard Lindzen—do not buy the argument that human activity is causing the climate to change and that we can stop the change by repealing the Industrial Revolution.
O’Rourke is positively lathered up over the fact that Ted Cruz is going to take away his weed. What was O’Rourke smoking, anyway? And, does O’Rourke recognize that most of the issues he puts on his hipster list are of no interest to the American electorate?
For O’Rourke the worst thing about Cruz is his refusal to criticize Donald Trump. For all we know this refusal has helped Cruz vault to second place in the polls, so perhaps it isn’t as crazy as all that. Everyone candidate who has gone full frontal on Trump has seen his poll numbers decline.
And besides, Cruz did point out, in the last candidate debate, that he would build a wall on the Mexican border, and, as he said, get Donald to pay for it.
Perhaps it was too subtle for O’Rourke’s smoked-out brain, but it was certainly a clever riposte to Trump’s absurd contention that he is going to make the Mexican government pay for the wall. Sometimes humor is more effective than ranting and name-calling.
If you want to find an extreme position, one feels constrained to note that Marco Rubio, the Bret Stephens candidate of choice, opposes a life-of-the-mother abortion exception. How do you think that will play in the general election?
As for Stephens, he is convinced that a vote for a solid conservative like Ted Cruz is guaranteed to give the election to Hillary Clinton. After all, Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin and Glenn Beck like Cruz. Beck, for one, has said that he will never vote for Trump.
In the recent past Stephens has expressed himself fully about the horrors he sees in a Trump candidacy, but lest we skip over the point too quickly, Trump is anything but a conservative thinker.
So, Stephens is really targeting Cruz here, a man he calls an “oleaginous debate champ.” If that isn't a withering criticism, I don't know what is.
Anyway, Stephens feels that the Republican Party is hell bent on making Hillary Clinton president:
Let us now pledge to elect Hillary Clinton as the 45th president of the United States.
Let’s skip the petty dramas of primaries and caucuses, the debate histrionics, the sour spectacle of the convention in Cleveland. Let’s fast-forward past that sinking October feeling when we belatedly realize we’re going to lose—and lose badly.
Let’s move straight to that first Tuesday in November, when we grimly pull the lever for the candidate who has passed all the Conservative Purity Tests (CPTs), meaning we’ve upheld the honor of our politically hopeless cause. Let’s stop pretending we want to be governed by someone we agree with much of the time, when we can have the easy and total satisfaction of a president we can loathe and revile all the time.
Let’s do this because it’s what we want. Maybe secretly, maybe unconsciously, but desperately. We want four—and probably eight—more years of cable-news neuralgia. We want to drive ourselves to work as Mark Levin or Laura Ingraham scratch our ideological itches until they bleed a little. We want the refiner’s fire that is our righteous indignation at a country we claim no longer to recognize—ruled by impostors and overrun by foreigners.
Stephens has a point… up to a point. If the Republican Party is going to hitch its future to the great comet called Donald Trump it is destined to flame out in a blaze of glory. Trump appeals to around 40% of the electorate, at best. He is very well known. He is not going to rise very much further in the polls. If the choice is between the insult machine that is Trump and the congenital liar that is Hillary, the nation will most likely choose the latter. If only because Hillary will bring Bubba back the White House and, rightly or wrongly, people believe that Bubba knows how to do the job. Remember Lurleen Wallace?
And yet, when Stephens argues that Republicans must nominate someone who is electable, he is not on very firm ground. Ask Presidents McCain, Dole and Romney. Nominating someone who does not seem to have any principles, who seems willing to bend over for the Democrats has not worked in the past. Anyone who remembers watching Mitt Romney wilt in the second presidential debate against Barack Obama does not want to put up another debater who will try to be conciliatory while he is being attacked, who has brought a flower to a gun fight.
If we want to go full psycho here, we might reason that Republican voters were utterly humiliated and traumatized by the performance of their standard bearer in the second 2012 presidential debate. They are not going to nominate someone who is soft on Hillary, who is going to defer to her, who is going to try to hard not to look tough. They are not going to nominate someone like John McCain who came rushing to defend Hillary's close friend and adviser Huma Abedin when Michele Bachmann declared, correctly, that Huma’s family is seriously involved in the work of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Everyone understands that Trump is capable of trading insults with the best of them and that he has been willing to call out Hillary in the most vulgar terms. He is so tough that he has even gone vulgar against Megyn Kelly.) Apparently, the two will have another showdown in the next Fox News debate. And yet, one suspects that vulgarity has a half life, and that its entertainment value will eventually wear off. Besides, Trump is underinformed about nearly all of the issues. This fact will probably become a negative on the campaign trail, if not in debates.
If not Trump, then which candidate is most likely to stand toe-to-toe with Hillary? Who, if not the “oleaginous debate champ,” Ted Cruz.
It’s good to talk about how much Trump has alienated Hispanic voters, but, if I recall correctly, Nate Silver crunched the numbers and discovered that their numbers are not that large. Mitt Romney would have needed to win 70% of them to be elected.
And one hastens to point out, Cruz is of Cuban background. The simple fact that he is Hispanic will certainly play in his favor in the Hispanic community.
As will the Stephens preferred candidate, Marco Rubio. And yet, Rubio has been coming across as a bit callow and somewhat weak. But, the much loathed Cruz has been trying to soften his image by posting campaign commercials like this one: