28 April 2016
Ranting and Raging
“You think this is easy, ranting and raging?” yelled Donald Trump at a 5,000 folk capacity audience in an aircraft hangar at Hagerstown, Maryland, earlier this week. It is not the first indication that some of the Trump style and Trump rhetoric may be playing to the gallery, but The Donald is increasingly dropping humorous little hints that his bruising and outraging is only one side of this potential Presidential candidate, a side put on to attract the attention of anti-establishment crowds and engender free publicity.
If it is an act, it is working. Trump won all five states up for grabs in this week’s Mini-Super Tuesday, and his majorities are increasing. Not only that; voter analysis suggests that his appeal is widening among all categories of voters. The polls also show he could win practically every state still to vote, including Indiana and California. What looked unlikely two weeks ago – an outright convention majority – looks possible now.
That is fuelling the bad nights of the soul which the GOP leadership is having at the moment; two concurrent nightmares playing all through the dark hours. One is that Trump is what he appears to be, a right-wing demagogue driven by emotion and populism. The other nightmare is much worse – that Trump is in fact a closet Democrat whose true political identity is somewhere to the left of Hillary. This certainly accords with Donald’s previous known political leanings. Once in the White House, they fear in those just-before-dawn moments, he will rip of the dark cloak of neo-conservatism and reveal the superman suit of Democrat clothes.
So searingly convincing is this nightmare that some leading Republicans are beginning to think the previously outrageously bizarre – vote for Hillary. Several have said this in public – Charles Koch, billionaire businessman and one of the Republican’s major funders, said last week that not only is Hillary going to win if her opponent is either Trump or Cruz, she would be a better President for Republican interests than either. An opinion poll, also last week, showed that over 20% of Republican long-term supporters would vote for Hillary if The Donald turns out as the GOP candidate.
Once she has seen off Bernie Sanders stage left, is the thinking, she will slip back to her moderate rightish Democratism and become a safe pair of hands in the White House; and the Republicans can get on with preparing for the Presidential election of 2020 with a reformed party primary system that can never ever allow this to happen again. (Though how that could be done without abolishing democratic choice in the primary process is a little difficult to work out.)
Hillary is indeed close to pushing Senator Sanders off stage. She won four of the five contests this week, Bernie taking only Rhode Island. In his speech on Tuesday night, Bernie, elegant and polite as ever, said that he would fight the remaining fourteen contests as “issue related campaigns”. Bernie has brought many new activists to Democrat politics and that may well influence a Clinton campaign, and a Clinton presidency, should it come to pass. And that and his following and Bernie’s wide personal appeal all mean he keeps his hat in the ring for future influence in Washington, but for now, it is game, set, and shortly, match, to Hillary.
Now the speculators and strategists are starting to do the math on the Presidential contest. Many of Trump’s supporters are not traditional Republican supporters – he is drawing in a lot of people previously not known for engagement in the political process; turnouts out in some Republican primaries have been anywhere from 40% to 60% up on previous times. The question is, and it is not one that has really yet been focussed on by the opinion pollsters, how many Democrat votes could go with Trump. Hillary is not that popular even among Democrats, and she is the ultra-establishment candidate. In this mood of disillusionment and anger, will white Democrat blue-collar voters in the struggling industrial states vote Trump? We could be looking towards an election with unprecedented levels of voter switching. At the moment the polls say Clinton beats Trump, if that turns out to be the choice. But will the replies remain the same if that is the choice? Voter behaviour, Messrs Cameron, Clegg, and Milliband can confirm, is not always what the pollsters think it will be.
But Donald is not the candidate yet. What he has been saying is also beginning to look too true. The traditional GOP leadership will do anything to stop him. The latest Republican manoeuvre, and this surely has been brokered at a high level in the party, is that Cruz and Kasich have agreed ‘no fight’ pacts in some coming contests. Indiana, which is winner takes all, could be the crucial contest to deny Trump his outright majority at the anointing Convention this summer and Cruz is fairly close on his tail there, so Kasich steps down to allow Cruz a free run. On the polls to date, and assuming that all Kasich’s supporters switch to Ted, that gets Cruz all the votes in the Hoosier State. Not so good though if Governor Kasich’s voters just stay home.
In return Cruz will not fight Oregon and New Mexico. If all Cruz’s supporters all switch to Kasich, he wins. That seems a very odd assumption; they are much more likely to switch to Trump, so presumably the Cruz team calculates they are going to lose there anyway, so what the heck.
Maybe this will deny Trump automatic selection, though this bizarre move actually probably ensures it. Ted, at a stroke, has made himself look like the establishment candidate, when his whole success has been based on looking like an outsider. And even if works, and Donald does not get his clear majority, what then? A furious fight at the Convention? A new candidate slides in to take the mantle of Presidential candidate? Trump storms out and fights as an independent? None of those seem great election winners. As Mick Huckabee, former presidential candidate and former Governor of Arkansas said on hearing the announcement, “I wish they wanted to stop Hillary as much as the Republican candidate who is beating them”.