It was an ugly weekend for Donald Trump — his first in a primary election season that for Republicans has been somewhere between a surprise and an embarrassment. Not only did Ted Cruz win two of Saturday’s four primaries and caucuses, trouncing Trump in Kansas and Maine, but Trump barely beat Cruz in Louisiana and Kentucky. Trump consistently underperformed polls going into the contests.
There was not a great deal of polling for these elections, but here are the results as compared to the RealClearPolitics average of polls in each state, with each candidate’s numbers representing his percentage of the vote received:
Kansas (caucus): Cruz 48.2, Trump 23.3, Rubio 16.7, Kasich 10.7 (Cruz +25 over Trump).
Average of two recent polls: Trump +9, meaning Cruz beat the polls by 34 points.
Kentucky (caucus): Trump 35.9, Cruz 31.6, Rubio 16.4, Kasich 14.4 (Trump +4 over Cruz).
RCP only had one poll on this race: Trump +13 over Cruz meaning Cruz beat the poll by 9 points.
Louisiana (primary): Trump 41.4, Cruz 37.8, Rubio 11.2, Kasich 6.4 (Trump +3.5 over Cruz).
Average of three recent polls: Trump +15.6, meaning Cruz beat the polls by 12 points.
Maine (caucus): Cruz 45.9, Trump 32.6, Kasich 12.2, Rubio 8 (Cruz +23 over Trump).
There was no poll of this race, but I’d bet money that a poll would not have shown this result, not least because Trump recently received the endorsement of Maine’s Governor Paul Le Page.
Donald Trump’s response was to say he wanted to “take on Ted one on one,” and that Cruz should have done well in Maine because “it’s very close to Canada.” Trump also opined that Cruz cannot win California, New Jersey, or Pennsylvania — which may well be true, at least as long as other non-Trump candidates are in the running — and he called for Marco Rubio to get out of the race.
This is something that we will hear echoed from other corners in coming days as Rubio seems to have utterly collapsed in a year when the GOP electorate has no interest in an “establishment” candidate — something Rubio has strangely become after entering the Senate as a Tea Party darling.
Trump could also not resist making another remark about his hands, a stupid running joke which has come to symbolize the stupid running joke that is the GOP presidential nominating process in 2016. Quoth Trump, using his golf drive as a metaphor for his manhood, “Do I hit good? Do I hit it long? Is Trump strong?” (At 22 min here.)
Mr. Trump skipped the annual CPAC conference in order to campaign. It seemed not to help him though for him it was the right decision since, as Marco Rubio put it, CPAC is “usually reserved for conservatives.”
Could it be that Trump’s many unpresidential utterances (or silences) are catching up with him?
- His repeated claim — until he finally backed down on Friday — that he would expect the military to follow an illegal order if he gave it.
- His outrageous statement — which he backed down on the next day — that President Bush “lied” to get into the Iraq war.
- His calculated refusal to disavow David Duke and the KKK when speaking to CNN’s Jake Tapper, later claiming that his earpiece had malfunctioned (although it was clear at the time that he understood the question); he apparently believes that Americans are racists and if pandering to the worst of America is what it takes to win, that’s what he’ll do. (On Super Tuesday night, my friend and AmSpec colleague Jeff Lord got into a heated argument with Van Jones. Jeff continued with his ongoing support/defense of Trump, but pointing out the origin of the KKK as the armed wing of the Democratic Party is utterly irrelevant to the question at hand.)
- His middle-school bully response to Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico who said Mexico will never pay for Trump’s “f***ing wall,” that “the wall just got ten feet taller.”
- His repeated claims of “flexibility,” a trait that is exactly what principled conservatives do not want to see in their presidential candidate since “bipartisanship” and “compromise” in Washington, D.C. always mean conservatives moving toward liberal positions without getting anything in return.
- His refusal to ever answer a question about policy, instead turning to insults of other candidates or to the latest polling numbers.
- His refusal to even discuss entitlement reform, the single most important domestic policy priority of any future president who wants to avoid national insolvency.
- His repeated promises to support the eventual Republican nominee and not run a third-party candidacy, followed by just as many threats to break that promise.
- His support of physical assault on protesters at his rallies.
- His mocking of a reporter’s disability and then lying when claiming he was unaware of the disability.
- His repeated false assertions that “thousands and thousands of people” were cheering in Jersey City, New Jersey, to celebrate the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11/2001.
- His implausible claims, debunked before millions of Americans by the anchors of the recent Fox News debate in Detroit, that his tax plan can be made to work by cutting “waste, fraud and abuse” and through the elimination of a few federal departments (as welcome as those changes would be). He then went on to claim that the federal debt and deficit could be substantially ameliorated by changing the federal government’s procedures for buying prescription drugs, but Trump was intentionally conflating economy-wide costs and the federal budget — which Chris Wallace pointed out in a rare and welcome bit of Trump fact-checking.
At this point, it is a triumph of hope over experience to believe that supporters of Mr. Trump will realize that his candidacy, right down to its slogan “Make America Great Again,” is as vacuous as President Obama’s “Hope and Change.” Trump’s is a campaign about nothing, intentionally designed to be a magnet for anger rather than principle, for ignorance rather than for honest debate about critical issues facing our country, about bullying and xenophobia rather than about the exceptional character of an exceptional nation.
He has diminished the office of the presidency — already so sadly weakened by the current president — by his very presence in the race; one can only imagine the decline in the American people’s respect for our government should this man sit in the Oval Office proclaiming his anti-constitutional, proudly Know-Nothing views while simultaneously “getting along” with Democrats.
The question is whether the rest of the electorate will be willing to settle on (and for) one of the three remaining candidates, each quite imperfect in his own way yet each a far better choice than a man whose fascist temperament is better suited to the 1930s than to the 21st century.
One must be careful when invoking the term “fascist” when writing about current politics; it can easily sound like hyperbole or gratuitous insult. I mean it as neither, but rather as a description of the same mindset — of both the politician and of his supporters — that allowed the rise of the modern age’s worst dictators less than a century ago, and of a philosophy that urges the appropriation of economic activity for the benefit of the state, something which Mr. Trump’s support of the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision embodies.
In his seminal work, A Conflict of Visions, Thomas Sowell defines “constrained and unconstrained visions” before discussing hybrids “which do not fit into either category completely.” Here I quote Dr. Sowell at some length and ask you to consider — as honestly as you can, Mr. or Mrs. Trump-Supporter — whether you can see The Donald in Sowell’s words:
One of the hybrid visions which had a spectacular rise and fall in the 20th century is fascism. Here some of the key elements of the constrained vision — obedience to authority, loyalty to one’s people, willingness to fight — were strongly invoked, but always under the overriding imperative to follow an unconstrained leader, under no obligation to respect laws, traditions, institutions, or even common decency.… Fascism appropriated some of the symbolic aspects of the constrained vision, without the systematic processes which gave them meaning. It was an unconstrained vision of governance which attributed to its leaders a scope of knowledge and dedication to the common good wholly incompatible with the constrained vision whose symbols it invoked.
Although recent debates have weakened Donald Trump, he remains the clear front-runner. It seems likely that Marco Rubio and John Kasich will remain in the race at least through March 15 when their home states of Florida and Ohio, both large winner-take-all states, are up for grabs. Current polling shows Trump with a massive lead over Rubio in Florida and a small but surmountable lead over Kasich in Ohio. It seems unlikely that anybody will beat Trump in Florida, although a #NeverTrump Floridian who supports Cruz or Kasich should consider voting for Rubio in order to deny Trump that state’s 99 delegates. Similarly, and more achievably, Ohioans should rally around Kasich, at least for that day.
There is a lot of talk about a contested convention. Such a process would be extremely damaging to the Republican Party if Trump goes into the convention with a near-majority of delegates. Many of Trump’s supporters will sit out the November election if the nomination is felt to have been stolen from their man. The only way to blunt this perception is for voters to deny Trump anything over 40 percent, perhaps even 35 percent, of the delegates going into the August convention in Cleveland. The tactics to accomplish that, such as whether it is easier to stop Trump with more candidates in the race rather than fewer, will be much discussed by consultants and pundits, almost all of whom have completely misunderstood the dynamics and misunderestimated the anger percolating through the 2016 campaign season.
In the meantime, Trump’s slight weakening over recent days is also showing up in at least one credible poll of a head-to-head matchup between Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton: The most recent Rasmussen Reports poll shows Trump falling further behind the mendacious former secretary of state (and that was before Saturday’s disappointing results for Trump).
In the RealClearPolitics summaries of recent polls, Trump loses to Clinton in six of the seven surveys taken since February 1 and in 16 of 18 surveys taken since December 1. Meanwhile, Ted Cruz has been steadily improving in the head-to-head with Clinton: After consistently losing in polls taken through mid-December last year, Cruz ties or beats Clinton in nine out of eleven polls taken since then, including beating her in each of the four most recent surveys.
Trump says he would look forward to debating Hillary Clinton. Which such a debate might have Trump win on entertainment points or insult count, the experienced Clinton would have Donald Trump looking like the unmoored politically inexperienced blowhard that he is. Undecided voters (of whom there are surprisingly many) will fall in large numbers toward Clinton simply because — and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but in comparison to “Isn’t Trump strong?” it’s true — she will seem prepared to be president of the United States whereas Trump will seem not quite ready to be president of Delta Tau Chi.