30 Jan Dept. of Primary Analysis


Donald Trump has, without doubt, wrongfooted the old guard and confounded the punditocracy, but these are still early days. It only seems as if the election should be around the corner because the current cycle started two months after the midterms ended. (Don’t get me started…) For most voters, the primaries are still in the entertainment phase. Hideous entertainment, perhaps, but still a few stump speeches short of a full gravitas.

Other than a smallish (though still too large) core of the less learned, would-be Birchers, and a few confused evangelicals, Trump’s support is weak. They flock to him now, cheering loudly while Donald sticks it to The Man exactly the way that they would, if anyone were listening. But the more Trump wins early primaries, and shows chances of becoming the candidate, the more that subsequent voters will second-guess their decision. Success breeds success, goes the adage, but the closer Trump approaches the top of the ticket, the warier voters will become.

After the rants and ballyhoo, Republican voters tend to opt for the predictable candidate. Eight years ago, the GOP debate lineup looked like Eccentrics Anonymous. When a moderator asked if anyone did not believe in evolution, a third of the hands went up. Then, after a season of sturm und drang, the base chose McCain, the most centrist, policy-spouting glad-hander of the bunch.

Little did they expect that the honorable warrior would, as candidate, become a grimacing panderer best remembered for his disastrous choice of a running mate. The GOP did it again during the next election, passing over the fringe crowd for the capable business exec. Mitt Romney went on to tie John Kerry for the title of Worst Presidential Candidate Ever, but given the available options, he was a safe bet.

Their problem, this year, is that the obvious establishment choices have already taken their best shots and crumbled without laying a glove on Trump. Jeb Bush seems like a nice enough guy, but next to the Donald, he comes off as boy in a man’s suit. I can only imagine what his investors – er, donors – must think right now. That $100M would have bought a whole bushel of Congressional candidates.

Rubio has shrunk in stature, and Christie’s schtick, passing off bluntness as character, never left the gate. I admire Rand Paul’s quixotic journey, but he is there to comment, not to conquer. His foreknowledge of his fate obvious in his sphinx-like mien. Ben Carson was always too far off the mark, owing early success as much to media fascination as any real chance of winning. Of them all, Ted Cruz appears to be the only one with a sharp enough stiletto to take on Trump and live to tell the tale.

If living is what you call it… Surely, I am not the only one who reflexively reaches for garlic cloves and a pointy stick when Cruz oils his way onto my screen. Everybody who does not support him, reputedly including his Congressional colleagues, dislikes him. This is a man who argued before the Supreme Court to keep a man behind bars while acknowledging that he was still imprisoned due to a clerical error. Cruz merrily shut down the government in 2013, even though it meant furloughing 800,000 workers and cost $55B. Moody’s estimated that his stunt shaved nearly a full percentage point off that year’s GDP, but he did it anyway, with no hope of a positive outcome, out of pique. When Ted Cruz speaks about virtue, it comes across as venom.

I almost pity traditional Republicans, who are living through a tough primary season. And yet… they have options. Depending on the amount of scorched earth the leadership will endure, they can topple Trump and still avoid paving the way for Candidate Cruz. At the risk of revealing the moneyed, game-rigging fist inside the populist conservative glove, the party leaders could pivot and attack their own leader in the polls. Trump has roomfuls of skeletons scattered among his penthouses; he could never withstand a concerted attack. Party chieftains could spend against Trump with one hand and, with the other hand, cut off the lion’s share of Cruz’s campaign with only three threatening phone calls: the first to Robert Mercer, billionaire hedge fund manager, and the next two to Los Hermanos Kochs.

There is still one piece missing: a candidate to run against Hillary Clinton. Yes, Hillary, despite the heartfelt wishes of nearly everyone I know… Bernie is riding high, but the Dems, too, are still testing with toes in the water. Sure, everyone in the party agrees with Bernie’s on just about everything, and they trust him more, and they would love to see a guy like him in the White House. But will they rally around him? No.

The first reason is the Clinton machine. Just because you have not seen it doesn’t mean that it does not exist. Like a stealthy submarine silently lurking off Bernie’s coast, angst-fusion engines idling, producing subsonic rumbles too low for ordinary voters to perceive but disturbing enough to trouble the dreams of sleeping whales, the Clinton campaign weaponry waits. She will not deploy it unless absolutely needed, but if that happens – look out. Hillary was surprised once by a charismatic senator riding the youth wave. It will not happen again.

The infantry battalions are carefully composed: unions, teachers, nurses, and ethnic religious coalitions. Her troops will canvas every street in America, if ordered, and then do it again, leaving so many advertising hangers on doorknobs that the handles break off. They are led by ol’William Jefferson himself, shopworn but still formidable, and squads of elite ninja operatives stashed in Motel 6’s and Red Roof Inns throughout the heartland. No starry-eyed white college kids chanting for a socialist Jew from Vermont will slow them down.

In the vanguard are commentators who flood the Sunday talk shows and drive time radio to repeat this haunting question: Do you really think that Bernie Sanders has a prayer of winning in a general election? If he even knows what prayer is?

The second reason is reality. Modern elections hinge upon the sliver of undecided voters in the center. Clinton, perhaps, could win them over. OK, there’s the email thing, but… it could happen. Sanders, never. You’re thinking that this was the man who was right about the banking crisis when everybody else was wrong. That’s fine, but this is a man who honeymooned in the Soviet Union, and this is still the USA. There are questions which will keep coming: “Raise my taxes so some bum gets health care?” “Which one already knows her way around the White House?” “What would Sanders do about Putin?” “What about Iran?” “What about the real enemy: Republicans?”

Once the voice gets in your head, it is difficult to swat aside. Like a mirror opposite of the Republicans, the more Sanders stands a chance of winning, the more voters will desert him to cast ballots for a probable victor in the general.

The top GOP brass, too, will relax in face of the inevitable. They may carp in public, but deep down, in the frackish chambers of their hydrocarbon hearts, industrial moguls know that they have nothing to fear from a Clinton administration. She stands for continuity – good for business. With oil low, and Wall street high on finance and M&As, the reign of Hillary the 1st could be a corporate golden age. Besides, they always have Congress to keep her compassionate side in check. Yes, better a Hillary in the White House (again) than the unpredictable Trump, who is liable to order an invasion just to get better dinner reservations. Or Cruz, who is a genuine bomb-throwing threat to the system, and a glum character, besides.

The math is undeniable: A Republican candidate requires the support of the Tea Party faction to win, and the GOP leadership will never allow such a candidate to run. Therefore, they must run someone who will lose, and they will still get to make champagne toasts on election night. If I were them, I’d pick John Kasich. Sure, he’s only polling 2%, behind even Carly ‘Send In The Sixth Fleet’ Fiorina, but consider the following: He is a two-term governor of a Midwest state, and therefore vaguely plausible, which is more than can be said for most of the other candidates. He is tall, which is statistically proven to increase electoral votes than military experience or a coherent policy plan. With some coaching, Kasich could probably deliver a decent speech. What’s more, the reason that he is polling so low is partly due to greater moderation, and less mouth-frothing, about social issues, which would stand him in good stead in the general election if Clinton’s plane crashes.

His choice of VP is wide open. Clinton, of course, would never leave her VP selection to fallible humans. In a disused mine shaft beneath the Adirondacks, ex-Google and Facebook employees are huffing nootropics and writing next-gen VP algorithms to find the perfect mix of height, background, gender, ethnicity and charisma. Rumor has it that, if the perfect candidate does not exist, they will speed-clone politicized stem cells to create him/her, fabricate a digital history and activate hidden app on your cell phone (they know your number, of course they do) to reprogram your memory into believing that him/her existed all along.

Whoever Kasich (or another sacrificial lamb trotted out at the sure-to-be-rigged convention) announces as VP, it will not matter. Clinton will make mozzarella out of them. But the unholy specters of Trump and Cruz will have been stopped, and the country will endure, sort of, until the next cycle starts two years and one month later.

There is one other option, if the leadership has the huevos for it: Mike. Imagine if the Republican Central Commissariat deserted their own party and threw their support behind Mike Bloomberg, the data-driven former cyborg mayor of New York. A billionaire who still feels the need to work, and make the world a better place, and could self-fund a campaign without batting a robotic eye. All he needs to do is to cut a secret deal with the gun lobby and he’s in. What’s that? You gotta problem with the greater good? Machiavelli would have done it. Clausewitz would have done it. And neither of them were in Mike’s league by a long shot.

Clinton against Bloomberg. Steel against steel. Forcing each other to remain on point, debate based upon actual facts and offer genuine policy solutions. Be still, my heart.

Will it happen? Based on the current trajectory – no. The Republican party will eat publicly eat its own liver for another few years, demeaning democratic values, dragging down the public discourse, and generally abrogating the responsibility to govern during a critical time in global history. The Dems will rightly conclude that this is a difficult milieu for making progress, and wrongly settle for more of the status quo while the international situation deteriorates into further avoidable misery (a topic for another time).

The Democratic Party outcome is predestined. It is the Republicans that, by virtue of fielding the zaniest primary candidates ever, hold the reins of the future in their hands. All they need to do is to repudiate everything that they have stood for over the last decade or two.

C’mon, guys. After all that you have done, this should be a cinch.