Those Darned Rules

Tiger Woods didn’t compete in this past weekend’s Masters Tournament, but we were reminded of a time when he was winning almost everything in sight. Being noticeably different from past golf champions he was bringing a lot of energetic new fans to the staid old game to root him on, which was great for the Professional Golf Association’s ratings, but in most cases they were fans of Woods and not of the game. In many of our conversations with them they seemed not to appreciate or even understand the brutally humbling sport, and were invariably confused about what nefarious goings-on must have been going on when their hero inevitably didn’t win.
We were reminded of this because another intriguing round of the sport of politics also occurred over the weekend, and we notice the same thing going on in both of the major party leagues. Self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, arguably the Democratic front-runner, and self-described billionaire Donald J. Trump, arguably the Republican front-runner, have been winning a lot lately, and both being noticeably different from past politicians they’ve both brought a lot of energetic new fans to the staid old game of party politics, and it really is hard to explain to either of these very disparate groups of political neophytes why their heroes suffered some unusual losses. The major parties’ nominating processes are more complicated than even the infield fly rule, and they did yield some admittedly unusual results.
Sanders won a convincing 56 percent of the vote in Wyoming’s Democratic caucus, continuing a seven-of-eight streak that includes some embarrassing blow-outs over arguable front-runner and former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and long-presumed First Woman President Hillary Clinton, but he wound up with a mere split of the state’s delegates. Trump got pretty much wiped out in the delegate race in Colorado by the described-by-everyone-as-a-conservative Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, but that happened without either a primary or caucus, which in these newfangled times is unusual. It’s all in the rule book, though, right next to the regulation about pine tar only being allowed so far up on a bat, and those who understand the game and appreciate it more than any of the players will know the rules must be enforced.
Those disgruntled Sandernistas seem to have the better gripe. Their guy keeps racking up so many convincing wins among Democratic voters that even the wags at Saturday Night Live are making fun of Clinton, but she keeps creeping ahead in the delegate count due to some goings-on that have clearly been going on for a while now, and we can easily understand why they’d think their guy is up against one of steroid-fed behemoths in one of those fixed professional wrestling shows the Republican front-runner used to produce, and well imagine their horror upon discovering that the supposed safe space of the Democratic party is so impure, but they should have the read the rules and been in the before something noticeably different attracted their attention.
These newfound fans of Sanders weren’t paying the least attention when Clinton’s fund-raising prowess and reputation for ruthlessness was scaring off all the few remaining viable opponents and getting all these rules written just in case of something decidedly different like Sanders, and they blithely figured they’d go along with any old candidate the Democrats might come up with, just as they’d always gone along with all the rest of the party’s dealmaking and ruthlessness, so there are limits to our sympathy. If their “revolution” has to occur four years from now with a 78-year-old Sanders leading the idealistic youth off the cliff we won’t shed a tear, as we’ll need them all for the alternative of a Clinton nomination.
Trump’s so loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters will rightly note that Colorado’s convention is peculiar in this age of open primaries and other newfangled democratic fashions in the Republican Party’s nomination process, but we’re long-involved Kansas Republicans and keen fans of the game, damn it, and we’re not ones to tell those Colorado Republicans how to choose their delegates. The convention system they chose has a certain appeal to our old-fashioned tastes, even if there probably wasn’t any smoke in those “smoke-filled rooms,” at least not tobacco smoke, and we think there’s an argument to be made that it used to turn up candidates such as Abraham Lincoln and William Howard Taft and Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge and Dwight Eisenhower who were on the whole better than what’s been offered up by the post-’68 moves to a more directly democratic choice. In any case the rules are chosen by the people who were chosen by the party members, and they were in place before Trump announced his candidacy, for reasons best understood by the more attentive sorts of Colorado Republicans, who surely weren’t anticipating that Trump would still be around, and Trump had every opportunity to play and win by those rules. By all accounts he barely bothered, while Cruz made every effort and every smart play, and we have no sympathy for the predictably pouting Trump.
Trump’s main argument for his candidacy is that he’s an extraordinarily competent deal-maker and manager and visionary who surrounds himself with the very best people and never gets out-played in any game, so the pouting only undermines the pitch. The professionally political Cruz was playing the Republican nominating process game back when Trump was firing Dennis Rodman on the celebrity edition of “The Apprentice,” which was played by Trump’s rules, and he’s clearly the better player. He’s also been peeling off extra delegates from states that Trump won but where the rules allow some goings-on, and with a big win in Wisconsin to add to his totals he’s pursuing a viable strategy to deny Trump the needed majority for a first ballot nomination, and carefully laying the groundwork to win on a second or even third and beyond ballot. Meanwhile Trump is shuffling his skeleton staff, speaking coyly about the the possibility of riots, allowing a surrogate to threaten to have angry supporters show up at wavering delegates’ hotel rooms, belatedly hiring someone who knows about all this stuff, and supposedly apprising himself of the rules of the game that he’s playing.
If he ever gets around to reading the rule book, Trump might be surprised to find that it was written with the intention of preventing any candidate entirely unacceptable to a broad segment of the party, such as himself, from winning the party’s nomination. A similar sense of self-preservation is the sound rationale for the even harder-to-explain Democratic rules, which are still trying to prevent a Henry Wallace or George McGovern or Bernie Sanders from winning the party’s nomination, which is admirable enough, but when the alternative is Hillary Clinton, what difference, at that point, does it make?
The current hybrid system of caucuses and primaries and conventions and unbound delegates and super delegates and whatnot seems likely to serve up the two most distrusted and disliked people in America for the office of President of the States, but it might not, in which case there will be huge numbers of Sanders or Trump fans and maybe both who will be doing some serious pouting, and no foreseeable happy outcomes for the country, but we’ll live with it for now. It’s better than what the Sandersnistas and the Trumpenproletariat would could come up on the spur of the moment with to serve their side, with no thought for the idea that just as a game is supposed to produce the best player the political process is supposed to produce the best candidate, the one most broadly acceptable to the party and most representative of its traditional ideals and most likely to win a general election, and that the people who have been involved in the party with years and sweat and tears should have some say in the matter no matter how many of those newly enthused fans who of some candidate flock to the party and openly boast of their intention to “burn it down” if their guy doesn’t win.

— Bud Norman