I don’t want to be too melodramatic about last night’s primary results and Donald Trump’s sweep of the five states in them. Those five states don’t vote Republican much anymore, there is a grand total of one Republican senator from the five, Trump wouldn’t carry a single one as the GOP nominee in the fall and his big score out of the delegates those states have on offer was predicted by all the analysts.
Last night’s results don’t seal anyone’s fate. Trump still has to win Indiana and California if he’s going to get to 1,237 bound delegates before the convention, and if he can’t do that he’s still dead meat on the convention floor. If he can’t win the nomination on the first ballot he’s not going to win it at all and Ted Cruz will.
But there is a palpable air of frustration and foreboding in the Cruz camp. He has to put all his effort into Indiana this week, because if he doesn’t win Indiana he’s through. Cruz could conceivably repair to California for one last stand, as he has a number of states left on the primary calendar (Nebraska, Montana, South Dakota, perhaps Washington, maybe even Oregon and New Mexico his non-aggression pact with John Kasich notwithstanding) he can win and blunt Trump’s momentum in, but for all practical purposes if Cruz can’t put up a win in Indiana his money is going to dry up and a lot of his die-hard support is going to start talking about a third party.
So in six days we’ll know if the Trump fans dancing in their bathrooms this morning are justified in doing so, or if the show will go on to Cleveland.
But the fact Trump has gotten this far is what’s instructive.
Trump is the least-prepared, the least-studied, the least-organized and the least-consistent major presidential candidate in modern American history. His personal history is full of disqualifiers – his public bragging about marital infidelity, for example, and his trophy wives; his multiple business failures with a pattern of cheating suppliers, vendors and customers (the most consequential of which being Trump University, the fraud case against him arising from which was cleared for trial yesterday); his record of disgraceful and classless statements. Trump won’t release his tax returns and has proffered a clearly dishonest excuse for not doing so. He’s made countless ill-advised and, frankly, self-immolating statements showing that he poorly represents most if not all of the Republican coalition as its nominee.
There is a strong element of Todd Akin to Trump. Todd Akin was a rather dim-bulb back-bench congressman from Missouri who, in 2012, ran in a crowded GOP primary against that state’s embattled Democrat senator Claire McCaskill. The latter sized up Akin’s two major competitors and recognized she couldn’t beat either one, and thus settled on Akin as her preferred opponent. And she produced him as just that, running ads castigating Akin as “too conservative for Missouri” though there was no particular ideological difference between him and his two opponents. But a gullible GOP primary electorate fell for the ruse and Akin barely squeaked through as the Republican nominee in a race which was nearly a three-way draw.
And no sooner did Akin get the nomination but the media in the state turned on him. He was asked a trap question about abortion and proceeded to answer it with a pile of inane gobbledygook about how women who are raped don’t get pregnant, attempting to cite bad research on that topic from 40 years ago, and what should have been an easy takedown of McCaskill devolved into a death march – with the Democrats’ “War On Women” narrative resonating beyond Missouri across the country. It even damaged Mitt Romney, as the Democrats managed to turn a fairly innocent, though clumsily put, comment in a debate about “binders full of women” whose resumes were collected for the purpose of offering qualified ones positions in Massachusetts’ government when Romney ran that state as its governor, into an admission of Romney’s Mad Men-style sexism.
The point being that Akin was selected by the Democrats as their easiest opponent. There is little doubt that’s the role Donald Trump is being outfitted for.
Trump has virtually none of the accoutrements of a successful campaign. He has little or no ground game in place; when he goes through a state’s primary he leaves no organization behind for the general election and his campaign operation doesn’t grow. The campaign headquarters is a hive of intrigue and dysfunction which only seems to be getting worse as Paul Manafort attempts to consolidate power within it. He has no fundraising operation in place to speak of, and he isn’t liquid enough to self-finance a general election run. He hasn’t learned much of anything about policy or even crafted much of a coherent message, which by now you would have expected him to have done. And that Trump University case is a nuclear bomb on a timer – sure, it’s a less serious problem than the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, but you don’t seriously believe the media will cover it as such, do you?
Trump will appeal the judge’s ruling yesterday that the case will go to trial, but he’s dealing with New York judges. You can bet on two things – one, the 5,000 plaintiffs in that case and New York’s attorney general who’s leading them are not going to be shut down by an appellate court, and two, that case will be tried this fall. With the cameras running. As Trump is trying to campaign for president. And what will come out of that case regardless of the verdict? That Trump fleeced 5,000 middle-class Americans who were just trying to get ahead out of their life savings.
We’re talking about sworn testimony in a court of law that will make Trump look like Bernie Madoff. If you think that won’t be a rolling Todd Akin gaffe in the midst of a presidential campaign, you simply aren’t paying attention. And the Clinton camp will turn every damaging statement in that trial into a 30-second spot about how Trump is nothing more than a rich con artist with contempt for the suckers across the country.
Which, unlike most of what Hillary Clinton says, has the benefit of being true.
Trump is not going to be able to overcome that. What he’ll find, once he’s the nominee, is the $2 billion in earned media the TV networks have given him in the primary will begin to dry up rapidly – or if it doesn’t, it’s going to become a lot more hostile. He’s not going to get softball questions about Trump University, or any of the other “revelations” the media will suddenly discover in the archives of the New York Post. The friendly exposure he’s been getting, and if you don’t believe he’s gotten friendly exposure so far you will soon, is going to change for Trump the same way it did for John McCain, another media-chosen Republican nominee who found himself surprised by sudden hostility from his erstwhile network pals. The continued homerism by Sean Hannity and Eric Bolling won’t be enough.
And with Trump’s disapproval rating already sky-high, the game will be up.
We should not be in this position as a country. We should not be faced with the prospect of two disreputable, dishonest and disqualified people sitting atop the two major political parties in so consequential an election. Only a broken country with a broken electorate would produce such options.
But that is what America has become.
Last week it came out that, amazingly, life expectancy for white women in this country actually declined from 2013 to 2014. This comes on the heels of a study last year showing that mortality among middle-aged white people has been increasing since 1998, something which despite the steep societal decline in Western Europe is not happening there. New figures from the National Center for Health Statistics peg the suicide rate in the United States at a 30-year high, with that rate among white middle-aged women increasing by a shocking 80 percent from 1999-2014. White people aged 25-34 now have death rates approaching that of black people the same age, according to a study by the New York Times, and it’s due to suicide and substance abuse. We spend a lot of time fulminating over the hopelessness and negativity in the black community; that hopelessness has spread to the country at large.
Heroin addiction has now become a problem among middle-class white kids. Heroin.
What accounts for such a collapse?
It’s not fair to blame the whole thing on Barack Obama, of course, because these problems were progressing before he took office. But under Obama it’s clear they’re accelerating, and while it’s not clear he’s acting to accelerate them there is certainly no credible argument to be made that he isn’t.
Obama has made it clear that he doesn’t care about middle-class, middle-aged white people and his party has completely abandoned them. The federal government is at war with the core groups traditional American society has consisted of, because it wants the new core to consist of Democrat constituencies – blacks, Hispanics, gays, unmarried women and so forth.
And so one thing which has traditionally brought America together and smoothed over cultural differences between our diverse citizens has been economic growth. Obama has for eight years done everything he can to stymie that growth, particularly among the middle class (the rich are rich largely because they know how to make money and already have it; even in bad economic times that is and always has been true). And therefore we have 93 million Americans out of the labor force, with nothing to do but drink and take pills and brood over their failure.
We are seeing those Americans, who have never really felt themselves to be on the margins of American society, stranded on the margins. And they are responding as marginalized people typically do. They’re becoming aggrieved, and envious.
And Trump is the beneficiary. He’s preaching a proto-message that, more clearly articulated, would be identifiable as white nationalism. He’s talking about screwing China out of jobs which ought to go to Americans, he’s suggesting Mexico is dumping its criminals over the border, he’s demanding a ban on Muslim immigration. He hasn’t done anything yet to explicitly alienate blacks, but few would be surprised if and when he does. And the message is that white America doesn’t have to lose anymore, white America can win. How it can win is patently undefined, but that’s how nationalist movements are articulated.
Jesse Jackson and Louis Farrakhan don’t articulate victory, other than with respect to making specific villains pay for their sins. Jackson has built a lucrative extortion practice on that very issue, but he can’t articulate a strategy for how Black America can improve its lot.
And in fact if that ever happened Jesse Jackson would need a new line of work.
Trump already has a separate line of work. His presidential campaign began more or less as a lark. But he’s setting himself up as the leader of a grievance movement not dissimilar to Jackson’s, running a campaign based on fighting for the same static resources the Democrats’ constituency groups squabble over. That’s why Trump, the supposed financial genius, hasn’t articulated an economic strategy or tax reform plan anyone believes would grow the nation’s GDP.
And nobody seems to be asking him to. There is no demand for economic growth among the electorate, because we’ve forgotten what it looks like and don’t recognize how essential it is. We’re more interested in bitter recriminations – gay vs. straight, black vs. white, citizen vs. immigrant – than coming together for common prosperity.
Those are Obama’s footprints. There have been fewer businesses extant in America every year since he took office, and that means fewer hopeful entrepreneurs, fewer risk-taking employees getting in on the ground floor of a new business, fewer new suppliers, vendors and customers and fewer competitors for old, sclerotic, possibly politically-connected legacy companies in need of some creative destruction by the market. And with the private sector economy no longer dynamic or even interesting, our people have fewer productive pursuits to fill their time.
So instead it’s drugs, pills, suicide and grievance. That last, fueled by an accurate perception that the government is actively hostile to their interests and is keeping them down.
And instead of a conservative who could make a withering indictment of the corruption and failure they’ve inflicted on the country, the Democrats are finding themselves faced with a white nationalist as an opponent whose way has been paved by the damage Obama has done. Claire McCaskill, and Hillary Clinton, couldn’t be so lucky.