There are any number of books that should be republished, but surely one of them is the “Manual for Kamikaze pilots”, prepared by the Japanese air force (it was excerpted by The Guardian; presumably they gave a copy to everyone in their management, in preparation for losing A$100 million last year). This would be invaluable advice; after all, the greatest kamikaze mission is life itself. The manual makes clear that kamikaze is, in its essence, a version of Zen Buddhism, a seeking after nothingness. “Gather your strength and transfer it into the steering column,” the guide intones. “Push forward with all your might. You have lived for 20 years or more. You must exert your full might for the last time in your life. Exert supernatural strength. You may hear a sound like a glass stem breaking …”
Yesterday, in the US, we all heard the glass stem breaking as the Republican Party ceased to exist as a functional, unified organisation. The moment has been spoken of for months, usually assumed to be coming in the convention. It came early, on a cable news “town hall” meeting — an audience Q and A — with Donald Trump, when the Donald was asked whether he would keep his pledge to back whomever turned out to be the Republican nominee. “No, I do not anymore,” the Donald said, in his Orson-Welles-plays-Caligula-in-a-B-movie style. “I have been treated very unfairly.”
That was explicit, but it wasn’t the first opt-out from party solidarity. Ted Cruz had already more-or-less opted out last week when he said that he was “not in the habit of supporting people who have insulted my wife”. This followed Trump’s retweeting of a tweet in which someone had face-mashed a pic of Melania Trump at her most silky-feline with one of Heidi Cruz, blotchy and bloated after some sort of allergy attack or something, the caption reading, “The images are worth a thousand words”. The tweet followed an ad by an anti-Trump troll-SuperPAC called “Make America Awesome” run by gonzo Republican Liz Mair, which featured an old GQ magazine photo shoot featuring Melania Trump, a bearskin rug and not much else (Melania, Slovenian, is a graduate of Ljubljana University, ’95, Go Forest Wolves! I’m still trying to trace whether she is a former student, lover or wife of Slavoj Zizek).
That squalid little exchange has probably lost the Republicans the election, no matter who wins the nomination, given what it’ll do to the women’s vote. But it also created a situation in which Ted Cruz simply could not grit his teeth and say “I will support the candidate”. What sort of man would he be to traduce his wife like that? The whole debate — about attacking and defending wives as passive property — was regressive beyond belief, but it reduced things to terms of the most basic commitment. John Kasich took the opportunity to back away from the commitment as well, saying he would have to wait and see in terms of commitment.
Thus, bizarrely, the unity of the Republican Party hung on Trump’s commitment to support the eventual candidate. Once he rescinded that, the final curtain had been torn from the temple door. No one had to pretend that anything like a unified operation existed anymore.
There will be a convention, but that will simply be an arena of contending powers: the Republican National Committee as one body of power, the rules committee as another, and the delegate bodies of candidates as formations in their own right. Big-state parties like Texas will be a power in their own right. The possibilities are multiple:
1. Trump gets the 1237 delegates necessary for victory on a first ballot — and on that vote, about 200-400 delegates walk out to a pre-arranged counter-convention and endorse a third-party candidate, such as Gary Johnson, the (likely) Libertarian Party candidate, or an alt-Republican candidate. The alt-Republican wouldn’t be able to get on all state ballots — Texas and Pennsylvania would already be closed — but on enough, together with write-in campaigns, to screw things up.
2. Trump doesn’t get the 1237, and the rules committee removes the eight-state majority rule that would bar other candidates from competing. They allow Marco Rubio to keep his delegates, and a Cruz-Rubio ticket gets the non-Trump votes, the uncommitted delegates and office-bearer votes and gets over the line. At that point, Trump himself may well not be bothered to create a separate movement, with all that entails. But his followers might. With or without Trump, 500-1000 delegates could decamp and start a separate outfit for the election.
3. Trump doesn’t get the 1237 and is defeated on the second ballot, or after. He then launches a series of lawsuits against the RNC, which severely screw up the party’s ability to run a national campaign over the next three months.
4. Trump launches pre-emptive lawsuits against the rules committee and the RNC before the convention,when they change rules to make a challenge to him easier. This makes it problematic for the convention to nominate a candidate to go into the party’s slot on official ballots.
5. Trump gets the 1237, and most of the party unites behind him. But a smaller dissident Republican group emerges. Concerned at the “down-ballot” effect of Trump, some House and Senate candidates endorse an alt-Republican candidate, simply so they can claim non-association with Trump.
6. Cruz is elevated. Trump doesn’t split the party. But a smaller group of his supporters do. They get on ballots, or select third-party candidates already on ballots, and screw up the Republican campaign. At that point, Hillary or Bernie have a shot at 40-43 states, Senate control, and regaining House control.
7. Trump gets the nomination and the whole party unites behind him.
8. Cruz gets the nomination, and the party unites behind him.
9. To head off Trump, the convention chooses a “dark-horse” candidate, such as House Speaker Paul Ryan. Simply slot that into all the above scenarios.
Even a fortnight ago, one would have said that most of these scenarios were still the perfervid fantasies of political junkies. Now, not so much. There is simply so much silted up by Trump’s daily actions that the party cannot now simply let things be. A law of inverse proportions has taken over: the more Trump energises a base and a Republican periphery, the more he alienates general election voters — especially working-class people who might have been persuaded over to him after the primaries were over — and they still have two months to run!
The latest Trumptrocities:
- His campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was officially charged with battery for grabbing a reporter by the arm and dragging her backwards, after she tried to ask Trump a couple of follow-up questions as he was walking through the crowd after a rally in Florida. The move left bruises on her arm. Trump defended his manager, brought him up on stage, and then alleged that the reporter (from pro-Trump right-wing news site Breitbart.com) had made it all up, had a history of this, etc, dared her to make a police complaint. Which she did. The investigation brought to light CCTV footage showing that the attack occurred. Trump said that Lewandowski was intervening because the reporter might have had a — I can’t believe I’m typing this — a “pen bomb” with her.
- Trump did two long group interviews, one with The Washington Post, one with The New York Times, both of which published the full transcripts. The Post one was notable for its bluster, 90 minutes that went round and round in circles, in Trump’s verbose style, his constant referring back to the campaign, and how he beat everybody when a policy question was asked, and a minutes-long disquisition on the accusation that he had “small hands”. “My hands are fine. You know, my hands are normal. Slightly large, actually. In fact, I buy a slightly smaller than large glove,” Trump asserted. The Times transcript exhibited a muddled foreign policy that shifted between pre-WWII isolationism and massive intervention, often in the space of two sentences. Trump veered between massive retaliation and making sure they “don’t mess with us” to mass withdrawal and “making our allies pay for their own defence”. You could see in your mind the 2am calls at foreign ministries across the world as Trump threatened to stop buying Saudi oil, make Japan police Asia, etc, etc.
- By the next day this had morphed into a policy of positive nuclear proliferation, with Trump telling CNN that it was time that Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia acquired their own nukes — thus going against a bipartisan half-century policy that has both reduced the overall WMDs club and benefited the US more than most (by removing WMDs from potential enemies such as Libya and ex-Soviet republics).
- This morning, a new headliner. A pre-release of an MSNBC interview in which Trump — a pro-abortion-rights figure until about five years ago — urged that not only should abortion be illegal, but that there should be “some form of punishment” for the woman seeking the termination. Horrendous, but as a piece of rhetoric, it is another piece of Trump Zen truth-telling. The Christian right talks about the foetus as a human being, tries to push “personhood” amendments, double-homicide charges if a pregnant woman is murdered, etc, but never pushes the obvious corollary. They leave off it, because they know it would lose them the support of a middle band of women and men who have become anti-abortion rights under a barrage of blown-up foetus photos, pseudo-science and simple naivete about harsh realities.
What the hell is Trump’s game now? Can he still be playing the same tactic of getting relentless free media coverage through fresh outrage, feeding the news cycle? By now, these various sallies — disastrous for the general election — appear to be costing him support in the primaries too. The Wisconsin primary, next Tuesday, is now emerging as a focused battleground, a new New Hampshire, in which Trump’s vote might be taken low enough for him to lose to either Cruz or Kasich, even though they split the non-Trump vote. It’s possible Trump is simply alienating too many of a middle-ground of people, who were prepared to give him a chance.
That’s been said before, of course, and Trump has redoubled his support, but simply because it hasn’t happened is no reason to believe it won’t. Trump may have passed the same threshold Ben Carson did, when, after months of nonsense, ignorance and criminal foolishness on world affairs, Carson mused that it was possible that the Egyptians had built the pyramids to store grain. That was quickly followed by revelations that his stories of a tough childhood — using knives, attacking his mother with a hammer — were fantasies, and that he had been a rather mild kid in a tough neighborhood, who was largely left alone.
That double whammy, late last year, did for him. Carson was instantly reclassified from the guy you looked up to to the bloke in the friendship group/office/parents group who is quietly but utterly odd — likable but never to be put in any position of responsibility. Trump may now be entering that zone, and in the same way. Having assessed him as “one of us”, the regular guy who happens to be a billionaire, many may now be applying that “regular guy” judgement and refining it to what sort of “regular guy” he is. Trump, in the lunchroom/lottery ticket syndicate/big family, is the bullshit artist. He’s the guy who’s always got this great deal that never comes off, who knows everything about whatever’s in the paper, he’s the self-satisfied 9/11 truther at the end of the bar. Such people are modern gnostics, purveying the secret knowledge, eventually sussed.
That persona can be maintained in a series of business deals. By the time people realise what you are, you’ve moved on. Trump claims that he started with “only” a $1 million loan from his dad in the 1970s (he doesn’t mention a couple of subsequent bailouts afterwards). But he appears to have inherited $50 million or so when his dad, a property developer, died in 1999 — and that money came after several bankruptcies, and a series of wacko schemes to guarantee cash flow. The inheritance appears to have allowed him to reboot, license his name to big properties, and give the illusion of a vast empire. His true nature, as a manic grifter, is being slowly revealed by the relentless scrutiny of the primary process.
It has also undone the Republican Party. They tagged along for the ride and never made a decisive stand early on, hoping they could gather voters attracted to Trump’s protectionist, big government message and once again capture them for a noxious mix of free-market economics and Christian conservatism. Having now peeled off one by one — even hardcore supporters like Ann Coulter are wavering (supporting Trump, Coulter said was like “constantly having to bail out your 16-year-old son from prison”) — they have lost the ability to rally against him, and fragmented altogether. What is a party where none of the leadership candidates would express support for the other (presumably Cruz and Kasich would, but are never asked)? No party at all. The primary system was developed to harness the power of the Populist and Progressive movements that arose in the 1890s to challenge the closed party system. There has always been something paradoxical about it, especially in the media age. But the formal structures alone could not have pulled a party apart. It is only occurring because the Western right is, at its root, utterly contradictory and coming apart. The likely effect of Donald Trump is to move the political spectrum to the left, while shattering the right — to the sound of a glass stem, breaking.
Stop press: Trump is retracting his argument for prosecuting women seeking an abortion, in real time, as I write. That makes it the first retraction that has occurred before the interview proper has actually aired. Cruz is now leading Trump, 40%-30% in Wisconsin, a state where Cruz was not expected to be competitive.