A Dozen Thoughts About Tonight

by Jonah Goldberg
  1. It’s no shock to anyone that I’m disappointed that Donald Trump won tonight, though I’m hardly shocked. The numbers were clear for a while.
  2. It does seem like Trump gave away some votes in the last week. If I had to guess, the debate hurt him, coming out for the health-insurance mandate hurt him, attacking George W. Bush hurt him, being exposed as a liar about opposing the Iraq War from the get-go hurt him. I suspect the spat with the pope didn’t hurt him. But the impressive thing, analytically speaking, is that it didn’t matter that much.
  3. Evangelical voters in the past were arguably too judgmental. Now, they’ve gone the other way.
  4. Anyone who says Trump’s win tonight isn’t a big deal is deluding himself. Trump has won two of the first three contests. Going by historical precedent, that’s huge.
  5. Conversely, anyone who invokes precedent to suggest it’s all over and Trump will run away with it, is missing the fact that Trump has been defying all precedents. If the normal rules of the game applied, Trump would be home watching the primaries on TV. Either business-as-usual is your friend or it’s not. It can’t be both.
  6. In many ways, the biggest news of the night is Jeb Bush’s withdrawal from the race. If you were making predictions a year ago, the craziest one would be that Trump would be winning. The second craziest would be that Bush would drop out after a crushing defeat in South Carolina.
  7. Jeb’s concession tonight typified the very best of Jeb Bush and the Bushes generally: Sincere, decent, generous, patriotic, and principled.
  8. I have been saying for a long time that a Bush withdrawal would be bad news for Donald Trump. It’s not that Jeb was ever much competition for Trump in a linear way. But Jeb represented “the establishment,” and Trump’s often gratuitous and graceless attacks on Jeb were a stand-in for attacks on the establishment. With Jeb’s departure, the claim that Trump’s taking on the establishment loses some plausibility. Yes, of course, Rubio will become a stand-in for the establishment, for sound and unsound reasons. But on a basic human level, Rubio could never symbolize the “establishment” the way a Bush could — because he’s not a Bush. I don’t think Jeb’s withdrawal is anything like a mortal wound to the Trump campaign, but I do think Bush’s withdrawal changes the context of Trump’s candidacy more than any other withdrawal would or could.
  9. It did not speak well of Trump that he couldn’t bring himself to say a word about Bush’s withdrawal.
  10. Ben Carson should get out of the race. He’s now in danger of losing the good will and admiration he’s earned over the last year. Listening to his remarks tonight, it was hard not to think he’s staying in for fundamentally selfish reasons.
  11. Cruz’s speech tonight was remarkable in the way he basically dictated his campaign spin without benefit of poetry or subtlety. He asserted he “defied expectations” (a week ago, he was beating Rubio by 7 points). He said outright, rather than suggested, that he’s the only guy who can stop Trump, etc. I don’t blame him for trying — all politicians do. But I can’t stand it when politicians read their stage direction. I always prefer it when they show rather than tell.
  12. It’s now a three-way race.

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