“Codoxol: warning. Do not take codoxol if you are allergic to codoxol.”
— current TV ad
Well, I had heard of this “History” thing, never seen much of it up close. But now here it is. With the ever-forward march of Donald Trump, right before our eyes, the Republican Party is coming as close to rupture as it has in its 160-year history. He has won big, but not big enough to ace the nomination before the party convention rolls around in July.
In doing so, he has generated sufficient opposition within the party for dozens of figures to come out and say that he represents the greatest threat to the party in its history. With the rise of a #neverTrump movement, and public commitment by Republican senators and governors, the rupture has already begun. Were it to run all the way through the fabric, the party would become two. That might not occur, but it is hard to see how something extraordinary cannot occur now — a political recombination that in turn changes the character of American power in the world.
Donald Trump scored a solid win in yesterday’s Super Tuesday primaries, but it wasn’t as total as he might have hoped. His best realistic hope was a 10-1 result, with Ted Cruz taking Texas. In the end, Cruz took two other states, Oklahoma and Alaska, and Rubio took Minnesota, and ran him close in Virginia. John Kasich ran him close him Vermont. For want of a nail … Had Rubio and Kasich got the extra 3% for those last two states, Trump would have won only five of 11 states, and much of the gloss would be off. The anti-Trump forces would be further emboldened and have a legitimacy to their argument that “non-Trump” is the majority vote, and talk openly of blindsiding him at the convention.
As it was, the seven out of 11 result gave Trump the opportunity to stage a bizarre press conference/victory speech from a Florida resort, backed by half a dozen flags on gold-tipped staffs, and introduced by his new lapdog Chris Christie — “Mr Trump is the only person to restore American greatness”, “Thanks, Chris” — who then stood behind him, like a henchman or a betrayed wife. The presser was widely held to mark the appearance of a new and more presidential Trump — which was surely its point — but it included lines such as: “Well, of course I can work with the House Speaker Paul Ryan, and if he doesn’t work with me, well, he’s got a big problem.” It was hilarious, like watching a mobster who forgets he’s gone legit: “Well, uh, we will be pursuing our interests in the civil courts, and if that don’t work, well, we’ll whack ’em.”
Whatever the new style, it hasn’t reassured any in the “never Trump” movement, and last night and into the morning, all sorts of scenarios were flying around. It had become clear to many that the time for a single alternative challenger to Trump had passed; there is no single figure who could win over disparate states and deprive Trump of the big yields from the winner-take-all states from here on in. Now, the party Plan B reads: Marco Rubio takes Florida, John Kasich takes Ohio (both their home states).
That, and some other possible victories — Cruz in Missouri, Rubio or Cruz in Arizona, and the late state of California — would give the anti-Trump forces about a 15-25% edge over Trump, maybe more. They would then grit their teeth, find an alternative candidate — either Rubio or a draft-in like Paul Ryan — select him, maybe make Cruz VP, and weather the shitstorm, for a shitstorm it would be. This would be setting up to lose the election in order to save the party. After defeat, you can be sure that the party would change the rules to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.
The reason the GOP might take this nuclear option is that Donald Trump can now no longer make good on his threat to take a third-party candidacy to the election. Some states close their ballots by mid-May — Texas among them — and about 20 states close their registration before the July party convention. The third-party threat only worked if he had lost Iowa and New Hampshire, and then jumped out immediately, created a separate organisation. He would have needed 90,000 signatures in Texas alone to get on the ballot.
You’ve got to be in place before the primaries to do this. So if Trump does not have 1237 pledged delegates by the convention, after a first ballot (after which most pledgers are released from their pledge), Trump could be squeezed out. The task of the party then becomes an anti-Hillary tirade with literally billions of dollars behind it. If Trump is excluded, every billionaire super PAC comes back on board. Should Trump prevail — a pro-Planned Parenthood, protectionist, statist candidate — the super PAC money goes away. And Trump cannot self-fund a general election campaign.
So when you game it out, there is every incentive for the GOP to do anything, anything to exclude Trump. Polling suggests that up to 20% of Republican conservative voters would not vote for Trump — offsetting any people he might bring across the divide — and that is not simply a matter of them not much liking “centrists” like John McCain. It’s a matter of them refusing to vote for someone they believe to be a fraud, a false-flag and an agent of Satan.
The GOP is already in a defensive mentality, as they were in 1996 with the hapless Bob Dole — defence of the Senate majority becomes more important than gaining the White House. The Republican nightmare is that with Trump they lose the White House and the Senate, and in 2017, Clinton gets to appoint the late Antonin Scalia’s successor to the Supreme Court. In 2018 Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter retire, and she replaces them. If she wins the lottery, Clarence Thomas dies, and a solid “living constitution” majority is installed for decades. In terms of the culture wars, that’s the ballgame.
That’s why, IMHO, Trump won’t get the nomination. Unless he wins it outright. And if he does, a whole section of the party will get behind third-party candidates, either the Libertarian or Constitutionalist Party candidates, who will already be on the ballot. Meanwhile the Democrats, with gritted teeth, will unite behind Clinton. That’s how it will go. Do not take History if you are allergic to it.