Wednesday, 3 February 2016

The Realness of Donald Trump (If Not of the Political Pundit Class)

Brooks distills, as only he can, the most predictable and least informed media narrative, down to its essence.

The Trump scourge is by no means behind us, no matter how badly we may want it to be. In a year whose voter turnout shattered the previous record by 65,000 voters (a 50% increase), and saw nearly 85,000 first-time voters, Trump collected more first-time votes than any other GOP candidate. His people did turn out. His second-place finish was an under-performance only relative to the last two weeks of polling - a period during which Cruz, who already had the best turn-out operation by far and who had been the favorite in the polls - ran one of the dirtiest final-stage primary campaigns in recent history. The Evangelical winning Iowa isn't news. And Trump failing to get a larger portion of first-time voters than he did isn't news either. What is news is that he got more of them than anyone else, in a state that makes its voters caucus, despite running a fake campaign there - he didn't even have staffers telling people where to go vote! (The rest of that article is rubbish).

The unstated assumption is that after losing, a man who loves nothing so much as winning, who is all ego, and who has virtually unlimited funds, is not going to throw money at staffing and ad buys in the next several states where he has, and has long had, a commanding lead. The important - and frightening - but also interesting - question was never whether Trump could win the nomination without really campaigning; it is whether he'll win if he decides to start. Whether Trump starts winning or not is something he still has an enormous amount of control over, especially after giving the Republican side's best speech last night; it comes down to whether or not he's interested enough to stop running a fake campaign. That is the terrifying part.

Rubio's over-performance was big enough to be genuinely surprising, and his share of first-time voters does show real anti-Trump sentiment. But the fact that he collected that sentiment in Iowa, beyond the characteristics he shares with Cruz (who got a matching share), is down to his performance in the debate Trump skipped - and we can be sure that's a lesson The Donald has learned. Rubio's path to the nomination still absolutely relies on Bush, Christie, and Kasich dropping out (and Carson's voters splitting between Trump and Cruz after he leaves further complicates things). A lot of people seem sure that Bush will accept his walking papers from the Party because he's a company man; but he's also a Bush, which means he's a feuder and a grudge-holder, and right now his beef is with Rubio. I could see him bucking the Party merely to siphon off Rubio votes for as long as possible, purely out of spite. And he still has a lot of donor money. He also, along with Christie and Kasich, pretty much skipped Iowa, and Rubio has been polling miserably in New Hampshire. Christie isn't a company man and is already going after Rubio; and Kasich, besides being positioned for a strong showing next week (at least a strong third, just like Rubio got), may very well feel his highest obligation this year is to be the voice of moderation, and devil take the consequences.

There is no unity or sanity or normalcy here. Rubio is still in third, however you look at it. And even that is nothing to cheer about, because a Rubio presidency would only be marginally less disastrous than a Cruz or Trump one - and quite a bit more likely if he reaches the general. But that 'if' hasn't gotten much smaller.

Reports of the Republican Party's vitality are greatly exaggerated.

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