Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Nightmare Before the Convention

It isn't surprising that the Republican establishment has no idea what is going on.  They still believe they can contain the beast within the party.  Here's David Brooks offering his erudite spin, falling far short of the mark, as events have spun out of control.

Trump, Cruz and Carson have been combining for 60 to 70 per cent of the Republican electorate in the primaries, so even if the GOP chosen one, Marco Rubio, were to garner all the establishment vote it still wouldn't be enough to put him over the top.  With Trump polling 35-40 per cent in Florida and Cruz threatening to undercut Rubio in his home state, it is very likely young Marco could be out of the primaries after March 15.  The same goes for Kasich in Ohio.  This is turning into the very two-man race the GOP establishment was desperately hoping to avoid with no establishment candidate left for the remainder of the primaries.

Of course, there is data suggesting Trump has topped off and Cruz has limited strength, but these two are proving much more formidable candidates than anyone expected, largely because the Republican National Committee underestimated the level of anger in its own party and is now paying for the consequences.

This anger isn't so much directed at Obama or Hillary or Democrats in general.  It is directed at the GOP leadership, which failed to deliver on the promises it made in 2012 to make Obama a one-term president and in 2014 to limit his authority by taking control of Congress.  In their minds, the present party leadership failed, and now the Teabaggers want one of their own in command.  One with a take-no-prisoners mentality, which is why Trump is trumping his opposition at every turn.

Trump scored perhaps the biggest endorsement in Jerry Falwell, Jr., the heir to his father's "Moral Majority," first ushered in by Ronald Reagan in 1980.  In many conservatives' minds this is the true legacy of the Reagan era.  The fact that every Republican presidential candidate for the last three presidential election cycles has gone through Liberty University is not lost on these religious conservatives.  Even Bernie paid a visit earlier this year, hoping to build a bridge to evangelical voters.

Ted Cruz officially announced his campaign at the university last May, but apparently that wasn't enough to convince the younger Rev. Falwell that he was his man.  Maybe Donald promised Jerry new dormitories, or Rev. Falwell felt Trump more broadly epitomized the authoritarian vision of the Old Testament.  Cruz seemed unruffled.  He picked up other key religious endorsements and has scored big in the heartland of America -- Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma, not to mention his home state of Texas.

So far, anti-establishment candidates have won 21 states and establishment candidates 1 plus the territory of Puerto Rico.  There are still 29 states and a handful of territories to go so all is not lost, according to David Brooks.  But, Trump has now taken Michigan, the biggest state on Tuesday's primary schedule, with Kasich and Cruz 12 points behind.  Rubio a far distance fourth. Trump and Cruz once again combined for 60 per cent of the vote.

For the past three decades there have been two competing Republican visions.  The first was a neo-conservative one built largely around big banks, billionaires and oil.  The second a religious conservative one that extolled the primacy of the Bible in all aspects of life.   Reagan had the ability to merge the two into a singular vision of a "shining city upon a hill."  Trump has combined them in his glittering Trump Plaza, from which he launched his campaign.  Neither were particularly religious men.  It is doubtful that Trump has a single religious bone in his body.  But, they are both great salesmen and they have been able to tap into the cult of a strong leader, which is at the heart of the religious conservative mythos.

You don't feel this same confidence in Cruz or Rubio or Kasich or anyone of the also-rans now pitching broadsides from the sidelines.  With each primary victory, more and more Republicans feel Trump is the second coming of Ronald Reagan.  One has to worry he could even inspire conservative-leaning Democrats who haven't warmed up to Hillary or Bernie.

But, Trump is no Reagan.  He is a lightning rod candidate, who draws more anger than he dishes out.  He scores well in a three or four-way race, but head-to-head his numbers break down.  Polls show that if it was just Ted and him, he would lose 54-41 per cent to Republicans nationwide, and if it was just Marco and him, he would lose 51-45 per cent.  So, it suits his campaign to have both stay in the race and Kasich too for that matter, as they will continue to split the opposition vote.

That's the way it has been all along, but what if Cruz decides to align himself with Trump as Chris Christie did?  At that point there is literally nothing the GOP could do to stop Trump from claiming the Republican nomination.  There is little doubt that Cruz will sell his political soul to the highest bidder.  Could we actually see a Trump-Cruz ticket?  I guess Chris would have to settle for head of the food and beverage department.

The reason David Brooks can't see what is going on is because he doesn't go back far enough.  It was his hero Ronald Reagan who ushered in the Moral Majority.  While Falwell's evangelical vanguard never represented a majority of the nation, it does represent the majority of the Republican Party today, and evangelicals feel the party leadership has abandoned them and are now demanding a stalwart leader of their own to reclaim the vision they have for the party.  One they essentially drafted in 2012 and plan to fully realize in 2016.

This isn't your political party anymore, David, if it ever was.  It now belongs to the likes of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.  Yes, the End Times are upon us, at least for the Republican Party as we once knew it.  The Holy Rollers finally have their day at the convention and it appears there is absolutely nothing the Republican National Committee can do about it.

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