Founder: Jesus Christ
— sign on shopfront church, Queens, New York City
These are the end times for the Republican Party as we know it, or so we are told. Certainly seems that way, with the appearance of “Lucifer” amidst the chaos. As we came out of the east-central primaries, and headed towards the Indiana primary — the last chance to stop Trump getting the magic 1237 delegates before the final California showdown — former speaker John Boehner was invited to give his thoughts about Ted Cruz, the only realistic alternative to Trump: “a prickly character we can work with”? “I will support the nominee”? Haha, no. Boehner, freed of all official roles, said that the second-run candidate for the nomination was “Lucifer in the flesh”. And the hall, a Stanford University, exploded. Boehner waited for quiet, and then went on:
“I’ve got Republican friends, I’ve got Democratic friends. I think I get on with a lot of people. I’ve never worked with a more sorry son a bitch in my life.”
And the hall exploded afresh.
My god, Cruz is loathed. He appears to have been loathed by many for decades. He appears to have been loathed from college on, identified as an arsehole. At some point he appears to have become the whole of it, committed to arseholeness. The Lucifer comparison is exact; thrown out of heaven, of love and respect, he determined to rule in hell, conservative American politics — joyless religiosity, deprivation at home and violence abroad.
But Lucifer needs a Queen of the Underworld, and yesterday that was supplied with the underwhelming announcement that Cruz had, haha, “chosen” his vice-presidential candidate, and Carly Fiorina came out on to stage. The applause was, erm, polite. Fiorina’s politics aren’t that different to Cruz’s, and she never managed to get more than a few per cent, leading up to New Hampshire. Her inclusion is a gender agenda, nothing more — a hope that the combo might offer an alternative to women on the right, who find Trump toxic. By the middle of the day, people were joking about it as Cruz’s second marriage, after the very brief Cruz-Kasich non-alliance earlier in the week. General hilarity ensued, especially when they released an ad in which they both did the “authorised by …” voice-over, one line at a time, like a nauseating couple’s voicemail message from the ’90s.
Though the ridicule was widespread, and Fiorina’s anti-charm combines together with Cruz’s anti-charm in some sort of double annihilation, it may have been a bad move. Cruz at least had the audacity to try something, anything, to interrupt the air of inevitability, of the Trumpiad. And it’s all about shaving a few points — both in Indiana, and then in California, where Fiorina might have something of a base, even though she is also loathed there for mass lay-offs. But the weird atmosphere of Cruz’s “nomination” seemed to call out yet more hate and exasperation, and it seems to have called out Boehner’s remarks, and much more besides — not least Trump’s cry that he’s “the first guy in the history of this process to nominate when he’s losing!”. Actually, he’s not: Reagan, in 1976, running behind Ford nominated a liberal Republican as his veep, in order to make an end-run around Ford.
Much of this was happening in parallel with Trump’s much-vaunted speech on his foreign policy, which he gave, to general bewilderment and mild fear, yesterday. The fear was not from those worried at what Trump would do — that will come — but at what he had failed to do, i.e. announce a coherent foreign policy. “America First”, his speech, done lifelessly through teleprompter, is a contradictory mishmash of massive force, isolationism, “winning”, military buildup, selective withdrawal. The one thing it came out against — large-scale nation building — is the one thing everyone’s against these days. For the rest of it, you can’t read off a clear framework that would let you know what’s he likely to do in a new situation. Trump wants to let Russia run Syria — something that the Republicans howl at Obama against — but he wants to destroy Islamic State, by “surprise”. Even the slobbering sycophants at FOX News couldn’t spin it.
Whether that will matter to Trump’s followers remains to be seen. Overwhelmingly, they appear to have latched on to Trump the business guy, who isn’t the politician. But part of that was his one sentence on foreign policy (and domestic, trade, and everything else): “We’re going to start winning again.” Once you start parsing that into a foreign policy that’s as confused and necessarily muddled as everyone else’s, the gloss is knocked off a little.
But only a little. Those who like Trump, really, really, like him. As his sweeping wins in Connecticut and Rhode Island showed, though the crowds at his rallies are a self-selecting group of the white-working class, he has a cross-class appeal, extending to men with college degrees, and managerial, etc, positions. No surprises there: that’s the sports bar crowd, the booyah crowd, the punch-the-air-all-the-time gang, the American authoritarian personality. Cruz is hoping that there are enough women matching those men who, quietly or otherwise, might vote for Cruz-Fiorina as a vote against Trump. Indiana is an absolute winner-take-all state — 57 delegates — so even three points might be vital. There’s five days to go. God knows what humiliations Cruz will put himself through for Lucifer’s Hail Mary pass. Signs of the end times.