Contemplating Trump: Five Perspectives

Most participants in American democracy are casual observers; some have a self interest to pursue; many are trying to figure out what they should do about the Trump phenomenon, with lots of mental cross-currents. On the Republican side many have seen their favorites vanquished – some several times.  To a large extent the “what to do” answer depends on which of several intermingled perspectives are the most important to you.

As a base, let’s recognize that Hillary will beat Bernie well before the Democratic convention; that John Kasich cannot get enough delegates prior to the Republican convention; that Ted Cruz is unlikely to; and that Donald Trump will either get slightly more than the 1237 needed (see this Rasmussen analysis), or be a bit short (see this FiveThirtyEight analysis.)  How can the average citizen play in this multi-dimensional chess match?

Most of the discussion is about who can get the Republican nomination.  Those with experience, informed analysis, and political cunning – Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, Lindsey Graham, Carly Fiorina – have determined that Task One is to deny Trump the necessary 1237 delegates from the primaries and caucuses. This can generally best be done by supporting Cruz in most of the remaining states and Kasich in the Northeast. That is the face of the Establishment’s last gasp plan.

– As of today Trump has about 755 delegates, Cruz 466, and Kasich 144, and 296 belong to the other departed candidates or are elected but uncommitted, with 811 remaining in 19 states. On the surface, Trump needs 482 (59%) more to win, but it isn’t really that simple – in some cases the delegates come uncommitted regardless of the public vote; in some they are selected at subsequent state or district gatherings; the delegates for candidates who have suspended their campaigns are more loosely attached. The most interesting upcoming battles are Wisconsin (42 delegates, April 5; a shaky Kasich focus), New York (95 delegates, April 19; “winner take all” if Trump can pass 50%) and California (172 delegates, June 7; mostly by Congressional district), but the other 16 remaining states each has a story and the trajectory must change if Trump is to be stopped.

– Conjecture about a contested convention is ugly. The Rules Committee and the Credentials Committee will be busy, but in general, delegates will only be bound for the first vote, so the campaigns will place a high premium on loyalty in selecting delegates – in places such as California where they are chosen by the candidates. The ugly news is that in some states they are chosen by the state party establishment; in others they will be influenced by top state politicians – Senators running in close reelection campaigns will not want Donald Trump at the top of the ticket.  The composition of the convention is also nudged upscale by the personal cost of $5000 to $10,000 for credentials, hotels, travel, and meals. In this domain the Cruz campaign is the best organized while Kasich has the establishment roots.

A more important question is who can beat Hillary? Today’s polling shows Kasich winning by 6%, Trump losing by 11%, and Cruz losing by 3% – but those are national numbers and the dynamic will change after the nomination. Trump promises the ugliest campaign in memory (and some of that might actually be fun) and his reality TV skills were greatly under-appreciated by a string of Republican experts. In any case, severe healing will be necessary, based on an understanding and respect for what motivates Trump supporters and to date there is little evidence that the Republican establishment has any interest in acknowledging the validity of his themes, focusing instead on the flaws of the messenger. #BeatTrump will need to transition to #BeatHillary.

The most important question is who would be the best President? For the good of the country, and to persuade the electoral middle.  Aside from Trump himself, the most striking aspect of the election is the willingness of most Republicans to abandon experience as a major qualification. We’ve had an ideologue one term senator; Cruz would be a second and Trump has less relevant experience than that. Kasich, the last surviving governor, comes from central casting in terms of experience but a majority of the Republican electorate do not want anybody attached to the party which has abandoned them in the House and the Senate. As president, Cruz presents less risk than Trump.

The fourth question is who will build or destroy the Republican Party? Here the greatest risk is Trump. Yes, he can complete the transition of white working class America from Democrat to Republican, but in the process he is creating a face of the party which will take a generation to expunge unless the party does that itself. Cruz would create a narrower party of the ideologically pure with no animus toward minorities. Both feel like California, where Pete Wilson won the governorship in 1994 on a platform of denying services to illegal immigrants and 22 years later the party retains a robust conservative wing and a 28% party registration.

The fifth question – and the one that helps retain sanity – is who would make you feel good about yourself and enhance your reputation with your family and friends. Contribute, contact your friends and neighbors, and get ready for the very difficult healing that will be needed if we are not to have a third Obama term.


This week’s video is President Obama’s 45 second response to the attacks in Brussels – before his apology tour moved on to the Tampa Rays – Cuba baseball game and his tango lessons in Argentina. Separately, the administration made it clear that the president would not let terrorist attacks affect American policies or activities.

www.RightinSanFrancisco.com – 3/25/16

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