We’ve been poring over all the recent numbers from the Republican presidential race, trying to decide if the party’s metaphorical glass is one third-empty or two-thirds full. In either case, it’s not at all where we’d hoped it would be.
There’s no longer any way of denying that the front-runner is Donald J. Trump, the billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul, which most certainly is not what we’d hoped for. After a double-digit win in the supposed anti-insurgent “firewall” state of South Carolina he’s two-for-three in actual voting, and following an even bigger win in New Hampshire and a respectable second-place in Iowa, and with similar leads in national and upcoming state polls, he’s looking formidable.
Still, we are not yet ready to abandon all hope. As formidable as Trump might seem, he’s only got 61 of the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination, there are still 47 states and some territories yet to vote, and thus far Trump seems stuck at the two-thirds plurality that has provided him two seeming landslides in a seven-way race. Given that the Republican front-runner is regarded unfavorably by most Republicans, and fares even worse than Hillary Clinton among the general public, which is saying something, he’ll have to find something pretty outrageous to bolster that total in a two-or-three-way race.
Trump has already bounced former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush out of the race, which deprives him of a favorite scapegoat for that darned establishment that folks are so riled up about these days, and which deprives him of the tens of millions of dollars that Bush and his supporters were for some reason spending on attack ads against Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who wound up in a virtual tie with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in South Carolina. It’s hard to imagine anyone who preferred Bush switching his support to Trump, and if Rubio had added most of Bush’s numbers to his own, which he would have, since he’s stuck with that darned “establishment” label at this point, and if he could have picked up the votes of Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who took second in New Hampshire and is still hanging in after a shellacking in South Carolina, with more to come, it would have been a win for Rubio in South Carolina. If Dr. Ben Carson had gracefully bowed out most of his votes would have likely gone to Cruz, who relishes the same iconoclastic trouble-maker reputation as Trump and makes the same pitch to evangelical Christians, many of whom for some reason or another prefer the thrice-married and proudly adulterous gambling mogul, so Cruz might have also contended in a three-way race.
The race might not winnow down to two or three by the time the delegates start piling up, which is soon, but if it does come down to Trump and Rubio and Cruz almost anything could happen. There will be some very close races in several states, with Trump’s accusations of cheating and threats of lawsuits following any narrow loss, either Rubio or Cruz could commit some disaster blunder that will derail his candidacy, although at this point we do discount the possibility that even a threatened shooting on Fifth Avenue will knock Trump below that two-third margin, and so anyone who gets very far past that two-thirds mark could win a clear plurality of the primary and caucus votes.
Anything less than 45 percent, an elusive Nielsen rating that has thus far proved beyond the grasp of even Trump, might not be enough to get to the still far-away number of 1,237 delegates. If you don’t have that you don’t win on the first ballot, and on the second ballot all the delegates are free to do whatever they want, and it’s and old-fashioned convention from way back even before our time. Trump’s mastery of “The Art of the Deal” will be sorely put to test as he deals with at least a majority of Republican delegates who are pretty much the same “establishment” that Trump has promised to tar and feather, even if they do want Cruz, who has been denounced as a “liar” and “nasty guy” by Trump, and if it comes to that it will be the first reality television show in ages that she’s been glued to.
It could wind up with Trump versus Clinton, the former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and presumptive First Woman President of the United States whose reputation for honesty and integrity is as abysmal as Trump’s and who seems to have vaunted herself back into the Democratic party’s front-runner status with an inexplicable win in a convoluted and small turn-out Nevada caucus. Both the left and the right and especially that mushy middle are all so riled up about big donor fat cats and corruptible politicians and those know-it-alls who think they know how to run an entire are about to have a choice between one of those big donor fat cats and one of the corruptible politicians that he’s paid off with big bucks and public praise and an invitation to his latest wedding, both of them have plenty of red-flag career catastrophes in their past, both offer themselves as models of competence and high moral standards, and that might be the choice.
In which case, we are reminded of an old Woody Allen commencement speech bit, where he told the students: “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”
— Bud Norman