Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign just ended.
Hopefully I won’t have to eat those words; it’s the risk one takes when making predictions, and there are plenty of ways I could be misconstruing the results of last night’s Iowa Caucus. I’m not a political expert, nor am I immune to the lure of thinking something to be so because I want it to be so. It would be irrational to count him out, but in considering a candidate so anti-rational as Trump, indulge me my gut feeling.
Trump’s entire appeal comes from his self-declared dominance. It certainly doesn’t come from affinity with Republican policy or the ideology of the right. Trump is not a conservative by any measure, nor is he a «classic liberal» or a moderate Republican (Rockefeller). He’s a reactionary authoritarian crony-capitalist. But that’s not even his pitch — he’s a braggart and a bully and those are his selling points. He boasts about his fortune, his IQ, his memory, the size of his penis, and predicted he would win Iowa easily. He isn’t running for President as much as the office of alpha dog. In Trump’s zero-sum world there are only winners and losers. Right and wrong mean nothing; what matters is weak and strong.
This is why it hasn’t seemed to matter what horrible things he says, how poorly-considered his policy proposals are, or how dishonest and/or deluded he may be. Acceptance or even acknowledgment of an objective reality external to his narrative would be a sign of weakness. Engaging in debate is a sport for equals, and the myth Trump spins is that he can’t be bothered lowering himself into the muck of facts. He has the gold, he makes the rules — he doesn’t follow them. Trying to win over admirers of might by proving might wrong is like bringing a slide rule to a gunfight.
This, by the way, works both ways. Freedom, in the words of Winston Smith1, is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. To those of us who espouse this notion of freedom (rather than the freedom from saying that two plus two make four) it doesn’t matter what kind of power is displayed, at least until such time as we arrive at Room 101. We’re as unlikely to be moved by Trump as Trump supporters are unlikely to be moved by reason.
The problem with this strategy, — or perhaps I should say the blessing of this strategy — is that once winning and losing are elevated above the realm of ideas, logic, empiricism, and morality, one has to actually win. There are no alpha dogs in second place. Having built his house of cards on the idea that second place is the first loser, when he has quoted Walter Hagen saying “No one remembers who came in second” what can he do to be heard from second place? Especially when it’s neither a particularly close second nor appreciably in advance of third place. (Face it, Trump and Rubio tied for second. You can carp all you want about percentage points, but Trump’s one-point lead over Rubio doesn’t win him anything. He and Rubio both walk away with seven delegates.
Trump is going to have to explain how the winner didn’t win if he wants to maintain the illusion of being a winner, but winners don’t make excuses. So where does he go from here? He has to do something different, the sort of something his supporters don’t listen to.
Of course this was a victory for Ted Cruz. First place is first place. But Cruz didn’t do much better than expected; Trump just scored much lower than expected. Rubio, by getting his people active and campaigning hard, established his spot as a front-runner. Whether he can hold on to it or leverage it into more momentum is anyone’s guess, but just looking at the results from last night? Marco Rubio is the only GOP candidate to have significantly improved his position in the last 24 hours.
That, in turn, might be good for the GOP. Rubio is generally moderate enough to appeal to undecided voters, and articulate and intelligent enough not to seem foolish or insane if he gets to debate the Democrat nominee in the general election. I don’t doubt that Ted Cruz has what it takes to secure the GOP nomination, but I don’t see him beating either Bernie or Hillary in the general election. Rubio, I think, would stand a good chance.
Ultimately, we all win when Trump loses. If Trump gets anywhere near the nomination (never mind the White House) it will be time to move to a state with minimal gun laws and start building a bunker.
- Yes, George Orwell. ↩