‐ If Trump shot somebody on Fifth Avenue, Cruz and Rubio would blame each other.
‐ After a limp finish in South Carolina, Jeb Bush ended his campaign. He was felled by the populist temper of the times, and even more by his own failure to come to grips with it. When Donald Trump or Marco Rubio punched or counter-punched, he could not respond. A good governor of Florida at the turn of the century, he had been out of the game too long. He seemed to be running out of a sense of family obligation. There may be a natural two-person limit on family dynasties at the presidential level. In the 19th century, Charles Francis Adams, son and grandson of presidents, lost a third-party nomination out of a combination of haughtiness and distaste. Now Jeb follows father and brother off the stage. Frater ave atque vale.
‐ When two publicity hounds chase the same scent, headlines ensue. Pope Francis, giving an interview on a flight home from Mexico, said “a person who thinks only about building walls . . . and not building bridges, is not Christian.” Donald Trump, taking the remark as an attack on his immigration rhetoric, called it “disgraceful.” The fight ended almost immediately: A Vatican spokesman repeated what Francis had himself said, that he was not giving voters advice, while Trump called the pope a “wonderful guy.” Yet the bad impression left by the initial dogfight remains. Pope Francis is happy to cast himself as a man of Latin America, nipping at el Norte. Trump, who questions the faith of others — recall his slurs of Ben Carson and Ted Cruz — bays when anyone yanks his chain.
‐ Washington was a surveyor, Lincoln worked on a riverboat, Reagan was a lifeguard. And how did young man Sanders pass his days? In 1963, he worked on a kibbutz in Israel. The Sanders campaign has never said which, but in a 1990 interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Sanders gave the name: Shaar Haamakim. This was a hard-left kibbutz, founded by a movement of Marxist Zionists: Ten years before Sanders went there, they had mourned Stalin’s death; in his day, they still flew the red flag and sang “The Internationale.” It recalls the youthful follies of half the founding editors of National Review — except they repented their delusions while Sanders barely modified his: running for office in Vermont as a Socialist, taking his second wife on a honeymoon in the Soviet Union. The most Sanders appears to have learned about his past is to hide it. That old red magic’s got me in its spell . . .
‐ Hillary Clinton beat Sanders in the Nevada caucuses, 52.6 percent to 47.3 percent. Do the math: She notched a squeaker victory in Iowa, a crushing defeat in New Hampshire, and a small but solid win in Nevada. On with the struggle! But do the math again: Thanks to superdelegates who hail from the Democratic establishment, she has 502 delegates to 70 for Sanders (2,383 are needed to win). Clinton swept Nevada’s black vote; blacks did the pride thing in 2008, now they want the sure thing. As a young woman, Clinton was every bit as left as Sanders (she interned for Robert Treuhaft, a pro-Communist lawyer). But she has shifted her shape so many times since that the only authentic things about her now are avarice and ambition. e. e. cummings savagely wrote: “A politician is an arse upon / which everyone has sat except a man.” Hillary’s gift to feminism is to have applied that couplet to the ladies.
‐ Killer Mike, a rapper and a surrogate of the Sanders campaign, said something at a rally at Morehouse College in February that got him into trouble: “A uterus doesn’t qualify you to be president.” The self-evident truth of the statement didn’t prevent its being deemed sexist by online commentators and Hillary Clinton supporters such as NARAL. Killer Mike protested that he had merely been repeating something a “progressive activist woman” friend had told him. Alas, even these bona fides did not placate his critics. A Vox explainer noted that it was “crude and demeaning” to suggest that the rationale of Clinton’s candidacy can be reduced “to her reproductive organs.” Someone ought to get this news to the Clinton campaign.
‐ “Given the track record of this president and the experience of obfuscation at the hearings, with respect to the Supreme Court, at least: I will recommend to my colleagues that we should not confirm a Supreme Court nominee except in extraordinary circumstances.” So spoke Chuck Schumer in 2007, and what he recommended was certainly within the Senate’s constitutional authority. Now that it’s a Democratic president, the New York senator is trying to explain away his remarks — and similar remarks made by Harry Reid in 2007 and Joe Biden in 1992 — to suggest that Republicans are under a constitutional obligation to proceed with an Obama nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia. But the Senate Republicans are right to say that filling the vacancy can wait. The Court will conclude oral arguments in the current term by the end of April; no justice arriving after that could participate in a single one of this year’s cases, and confirmation in time to consider even a handful of them would entail an unseemly rush. And the justices can begin the October 2016 term shorthanded without any difficulty, setting the calendar to wait until early 2017 before taking up the most critical cases. With the Court so evenly divided, with President Obama such a proven devotee of a living Constitution that simultaneously upends settled legal understandings and liberates executive power, and with an election less than nine months away, the Schumer standard — the old one, that is — has never been more appropriate.
‐ President Obama announced that he will travel to Cuba. This was a natural follow-on from his opening to the Castro regime after our midterm elections in 2014. The Castros have always dreamed of a rapprochement with the United States — on their terms. The American Left has always dreamed of essentially the same thing. With Obama, the day has arrived. Since the president’s opening in late 2014, repression in Cuba has gotten worse. The democracy movement feels abandoned. While in Cuba, will Obama speak up for democracy, human rights, and freedom? Will he insist on meeting with dissidents, as well as their persecutors? Will he meet with the dictator emeritus, Fidel, as well as the current dictator, Raúl? They both have much blood on their hands, including American blood. This is an ignominious moment for the United States. And Obama has a year to go: On to Tehran.
‐ On the same morning that the president announced his plan to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Spanish and Moroccan police arrested four suspected members of an Islamic terrorist cell, among whom is a former Guantanamo detainee. Alas, that grim juxtaposition is unlikely to dissuade the president from his reckless course. Ninety-one detainees remain at Guantanamo Bay, down from nearly 250 at the beginning of Barack Obama’s administration. The president’s plan calls for the continued transfer of Guantanamo detainees to willing countries and, where that is not possible, for housing remaining detainees on American soil. Both have always been, and remain, bad ideas. The release of Guantanamo detainees has proven calamitous, with a recidivism rate as high as 30 percent, and the president’s plan offers no way to mitigate the risk that detainees would return to the battlefield. Meanwhile, he argues that Guantanamo Bay is a drain on American coffers while studiously ignoring the prodigious sums it would require to harden, say, federal “supermax” prisons sufficiently to ensure that they would be secure enough to hold terrorists. Of course, the president’s main argument for closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center is that it inspires terrorism, against the U.S. and against our allies. But Islamist ideology inspires terrorism, and that ideology will persist whether Guantanamo Bay is kept open or not. The president is aiming to fulfill a long-postponed campaign promise, and the Congress, now tasked with weighing his plan, should keep that firmly in mind. A president’s legacy-building should not entail a risk to American security, at home or abroad.
‐ Once or twice a year, the progressives who get their news from NPR and comedians pronounce themselves shocked and surprised that they agree with Charles Koch. That is because they have taken for reality the fiction that Koch desires to drag children screaming out of their kindergartens and force-feed them crude oil before diving into a pile of gold ducats like Scrooge McDuck. The latest episode was spurred by an op-ed in the Washington Post written by Koch, in which the lifelong libertarian political activist opined that Senator Bernie Sanders, the Brooklyn socialist who represents Vermont, is right about a few things, namely that current U.S. economic practices really do favor market incumbents and that the U.S. criminal-justice system is in dire need of reform. Koch argues that this common-with-Sanders ground should be built on, “in spite of the fact that he often misrepresents where I stand on issues.” It is a longstanding part of the libertarian view that excessive regulation, subsidies, and what’s broadly known as “corporate welfare” tend to accrue to the advantage of large, established firms and politically connected business interests, and that heavy reliance on the criminal-justice system in the management of such social problems as drug addiction is unnecessarily punitive, especially for the poor. The dream of a Left–Right alliance on these issues (along with foreign policy) goes back at least to Murray Rothbard. There is a reason that dream has not come to pass, but Koch deserves credit for his eternal optimism.
‐ Tech giant Apple is resisting a court directive that it help the FBI gain access to the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook, the deceased San Bernardino jihadist who, with his wife, killed 14 people in San Bernardino on December 2. There are good reasons to criticize Apple. The government has overwhelming probable cause to search the phone. There is a compelling public interest in identifying other jihadists and terror plots about which the phone data might provide evidence. And in the narrow confines of this case, Apple is protecting nobody’s privacy: Farook is dead, and the phone belongs to his employer, the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health. Apple should be working with the FBI to try to catch the terrorists before we have yet another San Bernardino, or worse. Apple may be right to worry about a broader law-enforcement push to defeat encryption on its phones, but in this case it is clearly in the wrong.
‐ More than half the states in the country now enjoy right-to-work laws, following West Virginia’s decision to become the 26th, as Republican lawmakers overrode the veto of a bill by Democratic governor Earl Ray Tomblin. This success marks another development in the stunning transformation of West Virginia from one of the most solidly Democratic states to one where Republicans can compete and win, as they did in 2014, when they secured a legislative majority for the first time since the 1930s. It also highlights the continuing resurgence of the right-to-work movement, which since 2012 has notched victories in the Big Labor strongholds of Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Near-future opportunities lie in Kentucky, Missouri, and Montana. The idea that nobody should be forced to join a union never has been more popular.
‐ A few months after his concert at Paris’s Bataclan nightclub was attacked by an ISIS cell, the lead singer of the rock band Eagles of Death Metal returned to the venue for a rerun. This time, however, he brought a message to go along with his music: that all free men, whichever part of the world they might live in, have the right to keep and bear arms. The only thing that prevented November’s massacre from being worse, Jesse Hughes argued through tears in a pre-concert interview, was that “some of the bravest men that I’ve ever seen in my life [charged] head-first into the face of death with their firearms.” “French gun control,” he added, had done nothing concrete at all — except, perhaps, to deny the victims their chance at fighting back.
‐ Governor Scott Walker has signed two bills that restrict taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin. The first bill prevents Title X federal funds from going to any organization that performs abortions. That money, which in Wisconsin was being allotted entirely to Planned Parenthood, is now poised to be redirected to community health centers that serve the underserved. In Wisconsin, they outnumber Planned Parenthood clinics 17 to 1. The second bill caps the amount that Medicaid can reimburse any abortion-performing organization for prescription drugs. Neither bill touches the alleged right to abortion. Both ensure the right of the taxpayer not to subsidize abortion. The symbolic location where Walker signed the bills is a pregnancy center that offers alternatives to abortion and is eligible for Title X funding that until recently Planned Parenthood monopolized. We expect that the mothers served by the pregnancy center are thankful but largely unheard, so we add here our own exclamation of gratitude.
‐ Last year, Senator Ted Cruz proposed a bill to rename the plaza in front of the Chinese embassy in Washington after Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese democracy leader. Known as the “Havel of China,” Liu has been imprisoned by the Chinese regime since 2008. In 2010, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (in absentia, of course). Even this famous and powerful award could not open his prison doors. It is the contention of Cruz and his allies that honoring Liu, and shaming the Chinese government, would be helpful. They point to the Reagan years, when our government renamed the plaza in front of the Soviet embassy after Andrei Sakharov (another Nobel peace laureate). The Cruz bill has passed the Senate, but the Obama administration pledges to veto it. The administration says that a Liu Xiaobo Plaza would be counterproductive. We are all for quiet diplomacy, or any diplomacy that works. But, for all these years, the 2009 Nobel peace laureate — Obama — has not been able to spring his immediate successor. How hard has he tried, by the way? In any event, a Liu Xiaobo Plaza might concentrate the mind of the jailers.
‐ Professor Melissa Click of the University of Missouri reached a very generous — suspiciously generous — agreement with local prosecutors after assaulting an undergraduate student journalist attempting to cover campus protests that Click was instrumental in instigating, receiving only a few hours of community service after yelling at the student and then calling for “some muscle” from protesters in an attempt to spur mob violence against him. The university, which has a famous journalism program, so far has not roused itself to lift a finger to pursue meaningful action against a communication professor (albeit one concentrating in Lady Gaga studies rather than journalism) who assaulted a student journalist in response to his attempting to commit an act of journalism. The assault was caught on video, and another video has surfaced showing Click screaming obscenities at police working to clear a road that protesters had been blocking. (They were permitted to continue their protest, but not to block traffic.) One wonders when Professor Click finds the time to teach her dopey classes in “Fifty Shades of postfeminism: Contextualizing readers’ reflections on the erotic romance series.” Missouri professors, no doubt crippled with fear by the mere suggestion of personal responsibility, continue to support her, with the Chronicle of Higher Education publishing a half-literate apologia for Click written by English professor Andrew Hoberek. The University of Missouri has ejected students for using ugly language, but professors — professors with the right politics — are permitted to assault students with impunity. Check your privilege.
‐ Inefficient bureaucracy can endanger lives. A report by the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General found that numerous calls on its suicide hotline went to voicemail. The hotline has apparently struggled to accommodate 450,000 callers in 2014, a 40 percent increase from 2013. Roughly one in six calls were redirected to backup centers, where some calls went to voicemail, and where some staffers had no clue there even was a voicemail system. Many callers also complained of being put on hold for long periods. A spokeswoman said the VA will comply with the report’s recommendations for upgrading the hotline service. The agency will also hire more staff and stagger shifts to meet demand during peak hours. Veterans commit about one-fifth of suicides in the United States.
‐ The CIA is being made to actively recruit employees from “diverse communities . . . with dedicated programs for citizens of African, Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Native American descent; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Individuals; Persons with Disabilities; Veterans; and Women.” Conceding the need for familiarity with foreign languages and cultures, which one suspects the CIA had already thought of, how will having Transgender Individuals on the payroll help the CIA determine whether ISIS has nuclear weapons? The scheme is not just pointless but harmful: To keep the CIA from cheating by hiring the most talented applicants, supervisors have devised an “inclusion index” to help them monitor “diversity and gender break-down of applicant flow data and recruiting trends.” Breakdown is certainly the mot juste.
‐ Some Brits from the highest in the land to the lowest are in the habit of claiming that membership of the European Union is the indispensable key to prosperity and security. Nonsense, say other Brits, also from the highest to the lowest, EU membership is the end of representative democracy and self-government, handing decisions in important areas of life to unknown and unelected foreigners. The jolly little neologism “Brexit” is their shorthand for recovering independence by getting out of the EU. Prime Minister David Cameron had a strategy aimed to obtain the best of the two worlds. He would negotiate reforms concerning such major issues as control of borders and the limits of the welfare state, and the Brits would then hold a referendum as soon as June 23, supposedly in support of his achievement. Unfortunately for him, he has been obliged to return from frantic negotiations in Europe without the desired reforms but still stuck with the hasty referendum — the would-be statesman exposed as a fabulist. Michael Gove, the highly admired Lord Chancellor, and half a dozen other cabinet ministers have immediately come out for Brexit. When Boris Johnson, the mayor of London and also an MP, followed suit, Cameron ripped into him in full view of Parliament with most un-parliamentary venom. The Conservative party is splitting irrevocably into pro- and anti-Brexit, with the former having the better argument.
‐ The last “Soldiers of Odin” to roam Scandinavia rowed longships and pillaged monasteries. But a group by that name has taken to patrolling streets in Finland and Norway, claiming that local law enforcement has proven itself inadequate to the task of protecting natives from the crime wave that has accompanied the surge of asylum-seekers arriving in Europe’s northernmost nations. “Drugs are being sold, girls are being touched, there are assaults and violence,” the group’s Norwegian spokesman told Agence France-Presse. That vigilantes are taking to the streets in famously open-armed Scandinavia is alarming — and a reminder that, if Europe’s official powers don’t aim to control the Continent’s refugee situation, far less savory elements will.
‐ Cease-fires are proving to be elusive in Syria. After the United States and Russia brokered a cease-fire deal early in February, it collapsed before it could be implemented — reaching its nadir as American-allied militia groups battled each other near Aleppo. Now there’s hope for another agreement, in which the warring parties have once again agreed to confine hostilities to attacks against ISIS or the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate. But no one should be under any illusions: This cease-fire will last only so long as the Assad regime and its Russian masters believe a cessation of hostilities bolsters its strategic position. The Assad regime has made important gains on the ground, but it is stretched thin. A cease-fire allows it to consolidate its gains, rest, and refit. Expect it to end the instant Russia is ready for another offensive.
‐ When Ronald Reagan went to Eureka College, he was on the football and swim teams, did drama and debate, wrote for the newspaper and edited the yearbook, served as student-council president, washed dishes and worked as a lifeguard to pay his tuition, and still found time to major in economics. But that’s nothing compared with the crushing load borne by today’s students at Brown University, who (according to the student newspaper) spend so much of their day “confront[ing] issues of racism and diversity,” “organizing demonstrations with fellow activists,” and “demand[ing] the diversity and inclusion action plan’s revision” that they have no time left to cram for punishing courses such as “Television, Gender, and Sexuality” and “Beauty Pageants in American Society” — particularly with “stressors and triggers” flooding them “constantly,” to the point where students are “breaking down, dropping out of classes, and failing classes.” Worst of all, “the decision of completing activist work or studying for an exam, . . . often made by students advocating for increased diversity on campus, ‘has systemic effects on students of color.’” We have now come full circle: Fighting injustice is itself an injustice.
‐ Students at Williams College invited John Derbyshire to speak, and the president, Adam Falk, has just disinvited him. “Whatever our own views may be, we should be active in bringing to campus speakers whose opinions are different from our own,” Falk wrote in the student newspaper back in October. Why now the reversal? “We have said we wouldn’t cancel speakers or prevent the expression of views except in the most extreme circumstances,” he explained on the Williams website, but “there’s a line somewhere,” and “Derbyshire, in my opinion, is on the other side of it.” By Falk’s logic, he should also forbid students to stand on a dais and read aloud from Derbyshire’s work. A private institution, Williams is not bound by the First Amendment. But when Falk exercised his license to curb freedom of speech on campus, his previous paeans to the importance of seeking diversity of opinion evaporated. We have had our own disagreements with John Derbyshire but never claimed to be a forum for those “whose opinions are different from our own.” The “line somewhere” that Falk refers to is one he drew himself, and then crossed himself.
‐ In mid February, a man entered the Nazareth Restaurant & Deli in Columbus, Ohio, with a machete and began swinging, injuring four people before he was shot dead by police. Law enforcement is investigating the incident as a potential “lone wolf” terrorist attack, but according to officials, why Mohamed Barry — a Somali native who had previously come under FBI scrutiny for “radical comments” — attacked the Israeli-owned shop remains “unclear.” Perhaps he just really hated the pastrami-on-rye.
‐ Boutros Boutros-Ghali had a career as Egypt’s foreign minister, and then as secretary general of the United Nations. This was a great feat for a Copt, that is to say an Egyptian Christian, but the preeminence of his family proved an unlikely advantage. In the days of the British, his grandfather became prime minister, only to be assassinated by a Muslim fanatic. In turn, his father had been a cabinet minister. Boutros-Ghali himself was an old-world cosmopolitan with an academic background and a fastidious expression on his face conveying that he did not expect much of the human race. He accompanied President Anwar Sadat on the historic visit to Jerusalem to make peace with Israel. Dealing at the United Nations with large-scale catastrophes in Yugoslavia, Somalia, and Rwanda, he could not hide his disdain for President Clinton, Warren Christopher, and Madeleine Albright, who between them practiced and handed on a foreign policy that to the end of his life he continued to condemn as “utterly confused.” Aged 93, he has died in Cairo. R.I.P.
‐ Umberto Eco lived a rich, productive, and apparently happy life. He gave much happiness to others. Eco was many things: a scholar, a professor, a critic, an essayist, a novelist, a popular journalist. His main field was semiotics, i.e., the study of signs and symbols. Indeed, he taught many of us what semiotics was. He had a big academic career, hopping from continent to continent, and conference to conference. He was the Norton lecturer at Harvard and so on. Mainly he taught in Bologna. He loved spending time with students, having a great appetite for banter, argument, and instruction. On the weekends, he wrote novels: seven of them, starting with The Name of the Rose, his most successful. A medieval who-done-it, the book sold more than 10 million copies, and deserved to. It was later made into a movie. The author’s unusual name, Eco, has a tale behind it. According to this tale, it was given to the author’s grandfather, a foundling, and is an acronym. It stands for “ex caelis oblatus,” or “brought from the heavens.” Umberto Eco has died at the age of 84. R.I.P.
‐ In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee wrote a good-and-evil fable expressing the liberal racial idealism of the early Sixties, set in a child’s-eye reminiscence of the small-town, Depression-era South. The rest was silence. She helped her longtime friend Truman Capote find and interview subjects for In Cold Blood (Capote callously gave her only perfunctory credit). Go Set a Watchman, published in her old age as the sequel to Mockingbird, was in reality an abandoned first draft. Was her greatest book a great book? No, though it became something almost equally impressive: a piece of the furniture of daily life. She died, age 89, in Monroeville, Ala., where she was born. R.I.P.
An Originalist and an Original
The sudden and untimely death of Justice Antonin Scalia is a reminder of two things — first, how much he himself meant to the rule of law and the integrity of our Constitution; and second, how very much is at stake in this year’s presidential election. Justice Scalia was a champion of textualism and originalism in the reading of both statutes and the Constitution, and he was the reliable anchor of the Supreme Court’s originalist wing in an era of deep division and conflict with the “living Constitution” approach to jurisprudence that holds down the other wing of the Court. His passing leaves the contending sides slightly less evenly matched, if anything maximizing the influence of Justice Anthony Kennedy, the notorious swing vote who alternates between constitutional constraint and progressive abandon.
Scalia was already an important figure in conservative legal circles when he was appointed by President Reagan in 1986 — present at the creation of the Federalist Society as a professor at the University of Chicago, and for four years an accomplished judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. His nomination to the Supreme Court was confirmed 98–0, an outcome that would have been unlikely if he had not been succeeding William Rehnquist (who was elevated to chief justice at the same time), with Republicans in control of the Senate. (Witness the furor a year later when Reagan nominated Robert Bork to succeed the swing-vote Lewis Powell, with Democrats in the majority.)
Scalia was a devout Catholic, the patriarch of a large family, famously on good terms with his jurisprudential opposites Ruth Bader Ginsburg (they shared a love of opera, among other bonds of friendship) and Elena Kagan (whom he introduced to hunting), and a beloved friend and mentor to countless people in the conservative legal movement. No doubt thousands of lawyers, judges, constitutional scholars, and students count Scalia as an inspiration. To his widow, Maureen, his family, and his many friends and admirers, the editors of National Review extend our deepest condolences.
With his brilliance, his tenacity, and his devastating wit, Justice Scalia transformed the terms of debate in American constitutional law. Under his commanding intellectual influence, constitutional discourse both on and off the Court took an originalist turn. By far the most eloquent and effective writer of judicial opinions in the past 60 years of Supreme Court history, Scalia was equally ready to advance his views in books, articles, and public appearances — and to spar cheerfully with those who disagreed with him.
It would take many pages to give an adequate accounting of the contributions Antonin Scalia made to our legal order. Eschewing “legislative history” in the reading of acts of Congress, Scalia brought new standards of rigor to the art of statutory interpretation. In constitutional law, Scalia championed the structural features of the separation of powers and federalism, led the Court in the recognition of Second Amendment rights, advocated a color-blind reading of equal protection, and reminded his colleagues and his fellow countrymen that property rights (especially as protected by the takings clause) are no less important than the “civil liberties” prized by the Left.
Justice Scalia was no mere ideologue; some of his most notable opinions had “liberal” results for criminal defendants, and he voted to strike down bans on flag-burning under the First Amendment. But his abiding contribution was in trying to stem the tide of government by judiciary. When puncturing the pretensions of “levels of scrutiny” or skewering the progressive invention of “rights” to abort the unborn or to same-sex marriage, Scalia was the Great Dissenter of our age.
This election season, assuming Senate Republicans stand firm and block an Obama appointment, the GOP candidates for president — especially the eventual nominee — must place the politics of the judiciary squarely before the people. They must show them that the only way toward a less political Supreme Court is through a more openly political debate about its future. If this happens, Antonin Scalia will have done, in death, one last service for his country. Whatever happens next, Justice Scalia has our abiding respect and gratitude. R.I.P.
Still Against Trump
Donald Trump won solid victories in South Carolina and Nevada that were made all the more, uh, impressive by a series of what would have been disqualifying statements if uttered by anyone else. He stood by his past position in support of George W. Bush’s impeachment; repeated the poisonous smear that Bush lied us into war; touted his supposedly prescient opposition to the Iraq war before it began, when he had in fact supported it at the time; praised the good work that Planned Parenthood does; and endorsed the individual mandate in Obamacare.
Trump still beat his conservative rivals, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who essentially tied for second, by more than ten points in South Carolina, and smoked the second-place finisher, Rubio, by 20 points in Nevada. It is clear that Trump has bonded so strongly with his base of blue-collar supporters and voters repulsed by politics as usual that he might well be able to shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not see his poll numbers decline, as he boasted several weeks ago.
The nomination battle is now effectively a three-man race. Jeb Bush, an honorable man who ran an honorable campaign, did the honorable thing by dropping out after South Carolina as soon it became painfully obvious he had no path to the nomination. John Kasich and Ben Carson, in contrast, aren’t letting the implausibility of their campaigns stop them from continuing, and perhaps robbing Cruz and Rubio of valuable votes at the margins. It is hard for us to see what legitimate purpose either of them serves by remaining in the race.
Even in a drastically compressed field from what it was three weeks ago, Trump has a distinct advantage. He will probably rampage though Super Tuesday. Ted Cruz had a bad night in South Carolina, where he lost Evangelicals to Trump and finished disappointingly in a southern state where he had staked much. Marco Rubio surged at the end in South Carolina and Nevada, but he hasn’t won any of the first four contests, and it’s not clear where a victory might be in the offing soon.
The race is hardly over. The crucial winner-take-all states don’t arrive until March 15. But there’s hope for stopping Trump only if he is taken down a notch or two, which will require a more concerted and wide-ranging counter-assault from the other candidates and outside groups than we’ve seen to this point.
The case against him must be broader than ideology. In particular, Trump’s spotty business record — something he is very sensitive about — is a major vulnerability and might dent his populist appeal. Yet it hasn’t received the critical scrutiny it deserves. Trump has gained a reputation as a truth-teller in this race, but his history of exaggeration, duplicity, and backtracking is very long and very current. His opponents need to exploit it. He should be pounded on his refusal to release his tax returns, which one assumes he would be eager to do if they were the testament to his fabulous wealth that he asserts. Trump can’t be trusted even on his core issue of immigration, where he advocates a “touch back” amnesty on a grand scale — promising to roust and deport every illegal alien and then bring many of them back into the country, in one of the largest and most pointless police actions in American history.
Finally, a word on Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio: We admire both men and backed them early in their Senate races. We understand the dynamic of a hotly contested primary race, but much of the back-and-forth between them has been unedifying at best and unworthy at worst. We know it is unrealistic to call for a cease-fire, but an awareness that the larger enemy is Trump and not each other would be helpful. Unless Trump is slowed and diminished, neither of them will win the nomination.
Trump has taken a big step toward his hostile takeover of the GOP. That should increase the urgency and focus of conservatives who believe that our ideas and principles are the only way to make America great again.