Ben Carson is out and the brokered convention is now more likely than not. This is not a bad thing, but the only thing.
First, this is a new world. Trump is the frontrunner and if this was a normal year, Trump would be (pick your favorite phrase) the prohibitive/presumptive nominee. The pressure to unite around him would be immense. Instead, we have a candidate that only 36% (or so) of the Party has supported. That’s more than any other candidate, of course, but this frontrunner has the most negatives of any candidate in my lifetime.
Most of yesterday’s (Super Tuesday) voters would not be happy with him as the nominee. He is also off the pace or barely at the pace for the numbers he needs. Of course the FOX News types, the news readers, will follow the winner. They will proclaim the Party needs to unite as “Trump is prohibitive.” Recall that he has hardly any more delegates than Cruz.
The problem with most commentary is that it keeps assuming this is a normal year, but in a normal year, Trump would have been finished several gaffes ago.
This is not a normal year. Right? Ignore anyone who keeps saying it is not normal and then proceeds to give you “wisdom” based on a “normal” outcome.
They have been wrong all along: First, Trump was “dead.” Second, Rubio was on fire. Third, Trump is nearly there with 300 odd delegates.
Second, the Republican Party will split. The only question is whether it is 1912 with a Bull Moose candidate (Theodore Roosevelt) who finished ahead of the GOP nominee or 1980 when John Anderson may have helped Reagan on the whole. One bit of Republican denial: President Obama is not (at present) particularly unpopular the way George W. Bush was in 2008. He is even today in the polls.
This means there is a narrower window for Republicans to win.
Third, a split can be better than a win.
Trump has three general election problems.
First, he has adopted views that a plurality of the GOP tolerate (Obama is, maybe, not an American.), but the rest of the public finds laughable. He has personal foibles most voters do not know. Most GOP voters still do not know about Trump U. Clinton will change that fast.
Second, he has no money. Trump is “cash poor.” Real estate has worth, though there is evidence that Trump may not really be a billionaire even there, but even if he is real estate rich, wealth cannot be cashed out quickly. Trump will need hundreds of millions to run. Clinton will not do a “Jeb” and dump millions of ads on the Libertarian: it is all coming at Trump. If he raises money (or can raise money) from the rich, he kills his brand, so he has a problem.
Third, Trump debated well in a multiple candidate stage, but as the debates have gotten smaller, he has done worse. One on one means there is no running from a line of questioning. HRC is a terrible candidate generally, but a skillful debater (ask Sanders).
Trump trails Clinton in almost every poll. Assume, however, that Trump is a Jedi master and can change his negatives, still the highest in the nation, at the end of the primary season. Assume he wins.
He will win by running a campaign that will be perceived as nativist. I have seen this done before now. Pete Wilson squeezed out a last run in California promising to cut off funds to “illegals.” He won . . .but of course his plans failed. Demographics in the state continued to change and now the GOP in California is dead. This is a state that gave us Reagan and used to be automatic for the GOP, but the Latino vote was lost for a generation and now it is deep blue.
(I am leaving aside the morality of the Wilson position . . . for the moment . . . and just pointing out the very bad politics.)
Compare this to Texas. Here our Senator Cruz can get 40% of the Hispanic vote and the state is not trending purple. The GOP in Texas is surviving demographic change. A full nativist Presidential run (or one perceived as such) would not change the nation’s demographic drift, but it would change the fortunes of the conservative party even if we won. Deport all eleven million undocumented workers and the nation is still becoming majority minority.
The GOP can become toxic for those voters. We cannot compete in the African American community (13%), because of short sighted policies. We cannot afford to make a majority of the voters Democrats for life. Let us not even count the Islamic, Asian, and other communities turned off by a full nativist campaign.
Illegal immigration is declining now. We can build a wall for billions of dollars. What will this do? It will not change the fact that there are fewer white kids in Texas schools than brown kids.
This is the argument for 1912 . . . and a Bull Moose Run. Dr. Robert Stacey, Professor at The Saint Constantine School in politics, pointed out to me that parties generally come out of splits stronger.
In short, winning a nativist election would be as bad as losing one.
Friends who support Trump will point out that his position is not nativist. This may be true, but the media do not accept this as true and the Hispanic community does not accept this as true based on what evidence we have. I am sure Pete Wilson does not think he ran a nativist campaign, but the results were the same for the Party. If your friends think you a bigot, then you may not be a bigot, but you have a problem.
But isn’t Trump crushing his foes? Trump is getting 36%-37% of the GOP vote. The GOP is a minority of the country and we must not forget this fact:
Our brand of crazy cannot sell this year. Here is a way to see why.
Let me explain something that seems counter-intuitive. Often people will say: if Cruz/Rubio/Kasich cannot beat Trump, then how can they beat Clinton? If Trump beats them, will he not be the best candidate against Clinton?
Your church explains this to you. In my own church, there is a streak (no kidding) of monarchist sentiment. Late at night or with a few drinks, you might get people to daydream about the Byzantine Empire being restored. One could imagine a parish where a forceful advocate for monarchy won a plurality of the vote for his cause (against a divided field) and then went off to the broader Christian community to discover . . .everyone else thinks he is nuts.
You know I am right: we all have ideas we toy with that the “outside” will not even consider. The GOP is no different.
Let’s pick three issues that will make Trump look bad in the general election that are our kind of nuttery. First, Trump is a birther. He is dubious that Obama was born in the USA. This is, to be blunt, nuts. GOP primary candidates don’t attack it because it is our kind of nuts. Second, Trump has weird views on autism and vaccinations. This view is not just nuts, but dangerous. Sadly, many GOP voters buy this weird idea so it does not make him seem nuts to us. Third, Trump has very extreme views on immigration. Since most GOP voters are tired of “open borders,” this is good in the GOP primary. Sadly, most of the nation is not for any form of deportation. In every case, the broad public supports some form of “amnesty.”
No GOP candidate dares say it, because that is not where the Party base is, but most Americans think that is nuttery.
Trust me the Democrats have their own brand of nuts. Just discuss a football team praying before a game at your local Texas high school and you can get some Democrats envisioning The Handmaidens Tale and theocracy. That is nuts. The list could grow, but you get the point.
Trump can win our nomination with his brand of nuttery, but he is not the sort to be able to survive it. For example, suppose a person is widely viewed as “compassionate.” That is their brand. They can get away with a tough position on something because they have cover. If you are widely viewed as a genius, you can say nutty things (see Gary Hart) and have people say: “Oh, that Gary.” Check out social media for Trump. Academic genius is not his brand. It will not be fair . . . but then he created his brand.
Republicans cannot lose college graduate Anglos and win.
Now some friend is offended with me for calling his or her idea “nuts.” Let me concede that, in fact, your ideas are factually correct (It is reasonable to think Obama born in Kenya. It is reasonable to link autism to vaccines. It is reasonable to deport all illegals.) : most Americans think they are nuts. This is the problem and these are not issues about which the Party needs to die. We might be willing to suffer for a candidate who stood for a (now) unpopular view of marriage as between a man and woman, but I have no desire to watch commercials about birtherism.
Recall: in academic discourse nutty ideas can be good. Sometimes they are even true! I am a young-earth creationist. This is an idea many of you think is nuts . . . and is a good reason I will never be President. In my community, I can get a hearing. If I am right, then I hope over time to prevail. In the general public, in an election, my “weird” view would drag me down. Even if true, it would be electoral poison.
Now some years are so GOP or Democratic (2008) that a party can take risks. This is not that year.
This amount of prominent nuttery is why the Party will not treat Trump like a Gingrich, Huckabee, or Santorum nomination. They will treat it as they would have treated a Pat Robertson nomination.
There are too many issues with Trump that will not be fatal in the primaries that are in the general. The Democrats might be able to nominate a socialist, but good luck in the general. It is the same idea with Donald J. Trump.
What of Carson?
Carson is the top news of the day and though he was not going to get more than single digits, his leaving matters. Why? First, Carson gave the frontrunner, Donald Trump, a break in the debates. Several times when the heat was on, either Dr. Carson or Governor Kasich would speak and the thread of the conversation was lost. This particularly hurt Cruz who makes “lawyerly” arguments that rely on a series of exchanges.
My sense is that Carson voters are “outsiders” and early on that would have helped Trump, but his voters also very “religious right.” They will not go Cruz due to Iowa, but they might go Rubio with the right persuasion. Mostly, I think they will stay home in the primaries. At this point, they are a small enough group that in immediate terms this will be insignificant, but in the long term this is less distraction from the non-Trump candidates. If you want Trump, you are with him and Carson is no longer an option. Serious pro-life voters are down to Rubio or Cruz.
In Texas, we saw motion from Carson to favorite son Cruz. Don’t overlook how little most people follow the details of the campaign (Iowa! Belt buckles!). Many very serious religious conservatives liked Carson, but now they are not the sort of religious people Trump has run well with so far.
What is the bottom line?
If Trump gets a majority of delegates, he will be the nominee. The Party will split and he will lose.
If Trump gets a minority of delegates, he will not be the nominee. The Party will not split as Trump cannot run as a third party due to sore loser laws in many primary states. The GOP nominee may lose as Trump voters stay home, but Clinton is a very bad candidate. In all probability, none of the people presently running will be the nominee in a brokered convention situation or the result would be a Cruz/Rubio ticket (or Rubio/Cruz). Assuming together they received a majority of votes in the primaries, most of the Party will accept this.
Don’t confuse volume on social media with numbers. The one unalterable fact of this election: demography is destiny if the Party alienates the Hispanic community by nominating a Pete Wilson. It need not be if it does not go “full nativist.”
Clinton is blessed. She has drawn the only hand that gives her a shot at winning. The GOP is fractured, no matter what this round.