Politics & Policy

Trump Finished Second but Is Hardly Finished

(Joe Raedle/Getty)

How should we react to last night’s results? If we were to take the approach that some of Donald Trump’s fans have mastered of late, we’d have no choice but to respond like this:

The people have spoken. Ted Cruz is the winner. Now, it is time for the Trump crowd to get on board. Something is happening in this country, and the dissenters are at risk of being left behind — and, worse, seeing their dying magazines and advocacy groups go out of business. Trouble is, the Trump fans just don’t understand what’s appealing to conservatives. It’s not talk of tariffs or China or ethanol or the wall — nobody cares about any of that — it’s free markets and constitutionalism and debating prowess. It’s not populism; it’s shutting down the government. #Cruz

Moreover, we’d need to point out that, by their own logic, there is no way now that Trump’s acolytes can defend their guy’s claim that he speaks for the “silent majority” — at least not without taking some farcical “vanguard of the revolution” attitude that would translate into English as “Well now the people have gone and done it; they’ve voted against the people!” If, as was the case yesterday, Trump’s “winning streak” represented both the argument for his candidacy and the case against the so-called establishment, then today that argument is shattered, and in its place we should install some other sweeping, premature, attention-seeking argument.

RELATED: Ted Cruz’s Long Road to Iowa Victory

Or, perhaps, we should not. Rather, we might consider marinating our analysis in a bouillabaisse of “maybe,” “perhaps,” and “I don’t know.” However tempting it must have been in recent days to write wide-ranging pre-mortems and issue brave hostages to cruel fortune, it is now clear that those who drew their broad conclusions before a single vote had been cast should have waited until the snow had settled and the reporters had left and the ever-capricious voters had arranged themselves into a more permanent constellation.

The GOP is a divided party with a divided base, and it has only just begun making its deals.

What does Iowa “really mean” for the future of the Right? Even now, who knows? The GOP, as so often, is a divided party with a divided base, and it has only just begun making its deals. To draw exhaustive conclusions from a race whose runners finished within a few thousand votes of one another is folly, today as it ever was. And yes, that goes both ways: Just as it would have been ridiculous to treat a Trump victory as a sign that nobody cares about limited government any more, so it would be ludicrous to treat Cruz’s win and Rubio’s third as an excuse to ignore the plurality of Buchananites within the party that has put Trump on a pedestal for the last half-year. Note well, lads: Donald Trump was beaten last night. But he wasn’t vanquished. Nor, for that matter, were his fans wiped off the face of the earth. Had a handful of votes changed hands, the story would be quite different this morning; perhaps even diametrically opposite. It is in man’s nature to look for patterns wherever he goes, but that is not to say that he is especially good at it. Reflection, not triumphalism, should be the order of the day.

#share#Which is to say that if you have been annoyed by the endless Trumpite drumbeat over the last few months, you should also be annoyed by the nonchalance with which many are now proclaiming the man’s death. The New York Daily News described Trump this morning as a “Dead clown walking.” I’ll give them “clown” — he is, as I have suggested before, P. T. Barnum in Roderick Spode’s shorts — but “dead”? Dead? Trump has come second in one state out of 50 — a state that, truth be told, he never really expected to win. Had Trump gained 6,239 more votes, he would have won. And then what would the Daily News have said? I’ll tell you: They’d have said that he was the all-conquering hero, that he had taken over the GOP, that he was now inevitable. They’d have said, in other words, what many in the press will say if Trump wins New Hampshire and goes into South Carolina with a victory and a second place under his belt.

#related#Schizophrenia is never a good look in politics, and yet the traveling press suffers terribly from its ravages. After Bush’s reelection in 2004, it was popular to propose that the Democrats were finished as a national party, and that, unless they picked someone like Jim Webb in 2008, they’d be consigned forever to the frozen, craggy wilderness. In 2008, that argument was flipped on its head: Because John McCain lost by seven percentage points amid a terrible financial meltdown, conservatism was “dead” and progressivism was the new American creed (an identical claim was made, almost ubiquitously, in 2012). Today, we are witnessing the construction of a new theme: That Trump was beaten roundly, despite expectations, and that he should now be deeply chastened and begin to prepare for failure. Because I loathe the man and want him to flounder, I am rather enjoying the hurt feelings, dull astonishment, and absurd conspiracy theories that are now emanating from his camp. But I cannot revel in the triumphalism that is being trumpeted proudly from some quarters. There’s a long way to go in this election, and the clown is proudly still wearing his nose.

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