“Sharks have a week where they watch him.”

— The Most Interesting Man in the World, Dos Equis ad

God almighty, motel hell is taking over here. At some point in the stay at the HomeStay Inn in rural Wisconsin, the regime of waking up to Morning Joe, an MSNBC breakfast show in which ex-GOP Congressman Joe Scarborough berates co-host Mika Brzezinski (daughter of Zbigniew) for 90% of the time, while hushed and embarrassed expert guests watch on, silent, as at some hellish weekend-stay with a divorcing couple, drifting through the day with Fox News and CNN, as fresh Trumptrocities emerge, and coming back to MSNBC in the evening, for Chris Matthews, a shouty, old centre-right Democrat who interrupts his own questions in full-stream-of-consciousness mode — “so Ann Coulter is Trump the new Goldwater hey I just got a rectal itch, what’s Trump going to do about aged care, you ever used those lidocaine wipes? You ever smoked em? I here the kids do? Hows Bernie going to pay for free college, we’re back after the break” — all the way through Rachel Maddow (coming to you live from Oberlin college student union in the early ’90s) to the talk shows, trying not to miss Letterman and Jon Stewart, though it’s a wasteland without them, an episode of Seinfeld to lip-sync to (“hey, George, the ocean called, they’re running out of shrimp”, “yeah, well the jerk store called, they’re running out of you”, “who cares? You’re their biggest seller!”) while the diphenhydramine kicks in, a few hours of dream-infested sleep (Stabler from SVU appears, at an airport, he’s real, tells me to stop picking on Joe Hockey) and then repeat.

Depending on the quality and variety of the local vending machine, this sort of life can be undertaken indefinitely, but not infinitely. It’s like the time-travel strategy in Primer — if you haven’t seen Primer, you must right now, right now, this will wait — where the two guys transport their bodies eight hours backwards in time, in a machine kept in a storage unit, and in order to avoid the murder paradox of time-travel, check into a chain motel to “take themselves out of the equation” — but it can only be done for so long. You take yourself out of the equation too long, and you will emerge from room 228 of the Best Value Inn like what William Hurt turns into in Altered States: web-toed and reptilian. From having watched too much Ted Cruz, you will have turned into him.

(ATTENTION READERS: THE POLITICAL NEWS CONTENT STARTS HERE)

Aaaaaaand we’re back! Ted Cruz won the Wisconsin Republican primary last night, hammering Donald Trump by nearly eight points, 45% to 38%, a big upset for the Donald. It had been coming for more than a week or so, with Trump’s lead — between 10-20 points only a couple a months ago, shrinking rapidly over the past 10 days. In that period Trump had managed to say stuff so alarming that even his bewildered Trumpkin followers had to take note: that he wanted to see Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia get nuclear weapons to defend themselves — “because they will anyway” — and that he wanted to see abortion made illegal, and women who sought abortions prosecuted and punished.

That is a logical corollary of defining abortion as murder, as Republicans do. But it can’t be said, because it would alienate a middle group of people who are anti-abortion, but not very, and on whom the anti-abortion (pro-life) movement depends. Bizarrely, Trump’s burst of pseudo-honesty — he was pro-abortion for decades, as any New York playa would pretty much functionally have to be — turned his opponents into defenders of women, with both Cruz and Kasich presenting themselves as defenders of women as “victims” of abortionists. The next day Trump issued a clarification saying, no, women wouldn’t be prosecuted, and by Friday he was accepting that the law — i.e. the post-Roe v Wade regime — will be what it is.

This four-day rolling disaster appears to have damaged Trump on two counts. First, his already bad numbers with women went to terrible, with 70%-75% of woman voters saying they disapproved of him, including around 35% strong disapproval, which is taken as more or less immovable. Second, his image as the guy who says what he thinks was tarnished, with the repeated clarifications. Third, some people started to really think about the general election, and the electability thereof. To get less than, say, 45% of the white woman vote (and derisory amounts of black and Latina women) makes it almost impossible for Trump to get enough white men — the Republicans’ last fortress — to compensate. He would have to get nearly 70% in the general election, and he ain’t getting that — especially in swing and “new swing” (i.e. rustbelt) states, where strong union and progressive traditions survive. And so, doing the numbers, a Trump candidacy starts to looks like an epochal disaster, in which Democrats are competitive in states like North Carolina, Indiana, Montana, Georgia, and godhelpus, Utah (on the grounds that many Mormons simply wouldn’t vote if Trump was the GOP candidate).

That would oblige the Republicans to actively defend a half-dozen states they could otherwise regard as in the bag — while the Democrats could focus on the big four: Colorado, Virginia, Ohio and Florida. A stonking Dem victory would set them up for eight years in the White House, retaking the Senate and a chance at retaking the House, at a time when half the Supreme Court is due for turnover. It’s epochal, and its epochal nature is concentrating the mind of the GOP on saving the furniture. They now want a candidate that their marginal Senate candidates — in Illinois, New Hampshire, Ohio, Colorado and elsewhere — can actually be seen with. Otherwise you have a problem in September-October every time your candidate Trump comes to town. What are you going to do? Appear with him? Pretend to a scheduling problem? In New Hampshire? In northern Illinois? It’s bullshit. You spend your time playing candidate hide-and-seek, or you repudiate the candidate entirely. And to repudiate the candidate is … well. Better to have a noble losing candidate you can ally to, win your seat back as the White House goes bye-bye.

So, #neverTrump. But never Cruz either, because that rancid little pudding-man, with his mock oratory and his shiny fat face like offal wobbling on a butcher’s marble slab, is no better in the north than Trump is, and maybe worse. That’s why folks are talking wistfully of a brokered candidate at the convention, a drop-in like Paul Ryan or, haha, someone mentioned Bush 41 — “he’s still constitutionally eligible” — as one presumes, an aid to sharper thought.

Now, after Wisconsin, Trump faces a real challenge in New York, his home state, on April 19. He’s leading 52%, one of his few clear-majority margins, but he was leading by 45-33 in Wisconsin a fortnight ago. That was before he got hammered by a bunch of conservative commentators in Wisconsin — a result, in part, of unity created by bitter left-right battles in Wisconsin over the past decade. Now, in New York, there are many, many forces who would love to pull him down there — and anything less than a stonking Trump victory in New York would be a loss. New York is winner-takes-all, but congressional district-by-district, so Trump could be pushed to big losses in upstate New York, far from (and antagonistic to) his Manhattan proving grounds.

Trump is also facing another problem — he has no internal party apparatus, and that means to ensure that a primary victory holds. Long answer short is a primary victory only guarantees you a pledged delegate on the first ballot in most states. After that, the delegate is released to their conscience, so who the delegate actually is, is of vital importance. That’s someone like Eugene G. Dollbutt, orthodontist, from Bismarck, North Dakota, and he’s chosen by a state convention running on incredibly obscure lines.

Trump is now whingeing that Cruz is accumulating delegates (i.e. second-ballot delegates) in Louisiana and Colorado, the former state ones he though’t he’d won. That exposes the Trump campaign as a PR operation with no deep roots. Trump has already said that if a plurality candidate — i.e. him — is denied nomination, “there’d be riots”. Today, one of his supporters, Roger Stone, said they would know the “hotels and the room numbers” of the delegates, just about the clearest expression of possible thuggery yet. This tip into outright Sorelian violence-worship won’t thrill many Republicans (though it may thrill the “anti-politics” crowd, who have adopted Trump as an answer to their own political failure), but they won’t object overmuch either; they are too cowed.

The whole right has spent decades encouraging a populist anti-elitism. It’s here now, threatening to turn a party convention into a brawl, the ultimate result of their work. The roll call of the people who got them here would include all of Murdoch’s minions in his comment pages, who are currently squawking about how Obama is to blame for Trump. If he is, that’s our good work; he can screw up the right for a decade and more.

On the bright side, Bernie beat out Hillary in Wisconsin, by a stonking 13 points, 56-43. Two months ago, you would have said that Wisconsin was Hillary country — union, socially conservative etc, despite the strong student left-progressive contingent in Madison, the capital, and elsewhere. By a fortnight ago, it was clear that it was an even fight. By a week ago, Hillary had quit the state, to turn to New York. By the final weekend, she was back here, purely to limit the amount of the loss with a weekend barnstormer. Had she not come back, it might have been 20 points.

By Tuesday night, Bernie was already in Wyoming, a caucus state, where he expects a win. So does Hillary, who won’t even be in the state before Saturday. She’s 10 points ahead in NY, where she was a senator, and which she calls “home”. But of course, she was dropped in here, and people never warmed to her. She’s defeatable, easily, and if Bernie does that, then Clinton’s campaign is in a bit of a crisis.

On Morning Joe this morning, as your correspondent prepared a Russian coffee — hint, don’t do that in the actual machine — Hillary was going in hard on whether “Sanders was ever a Democrat anyway”. He may not have been, but most of his supporters are, and too much of that, and they won’t be. And then we drift on to the morning shows, and it might be better to get out of the motel and move onto New York …

Peter Fray

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