Postmodern Conservative

Trump or Trump Busts

So I only have time for some quick observations on the outcome of Super Tuesday.

First, I vote in the precinct of West Lindale in Floyd Country, Ga. Lindale is a mill town where the mill has been closed for over two decades. The mill was never unionized, by choice of the workers. When I went to vote, there was quite the huge line, and it was clear that the diverse — but just about all white — array of voters were mostly for Trump. There are a lot of reasons, no doubt. One, though, is that they really think their town was ruined by NAFTA and they want a guy who’ll be strong on protecting American jobs. They also want an American patriot and someone who respects the lives of men and women who really work for a living. In my county, Trump won about everywhere, but Rubio prevailed in two suburban, relatively affluent precincts. Cruz came in third, with little evidence of voting by Evangelical identity politics in a pretty darn Evangelical county. The turnout exceeded all estimates across the board.

One of the threaders complained quite astutely that I was hardly experiencing a fair sampling of local public opinion at the chain restaurant Panera yesterday, which is everywhere a center of white-collar sophistication. If I were a serious social scientist, I would have conducted interviews at the Dragon Diner (locally owned and very good) just several blocks from where I live. (We ate there pretty often when it was open for dinner.) 

If you look at yesterday’s results closely and in a mood to spin, it’s easy to spot vulnerability in Trump’s totals. He didn’t do as well as the most recent polls suggested, and he didn’t come close to reaching the 40 percent mark nationwide. His delegate total, due mainly to Texas, might be regarded as disappointing. On the other (bigger) hand, he seems to have been the cause of a huge turnout almost everywhere, and he has lots of support everywhere, from Massachusetts to Georgia. If it were anyone but Trump, it is true enough that party leaders (whoever and wherever they might be) would applaud the energy and new voters he’s brought into a fairly decadent party.

Well, Cruz did much better than expected in Texas, and, as I predicted, he also took Oklahoma (and Alaska). He got an impressive number of delegates. But remember (please!) that this should have been his best week. He tanked in the South, revealing the very clear limits of his appeal. His claim that he’s putting back together the Reagan coalition is pretty much a fantasy. His one remaining route is to get everyone else to drop out and get nominated as the sole alternative to Trump. Even Lindsey Graham, who basically said he wanted Cruz dead, is on board. That won’t happen. First, Rubio and Kasich won’t drop out. Second, being simply the anti-Trump isn’t enough, not even close. For one thing (among many), those public-spirited liberals who are voting Rubio Republican (see suburban Virginian) to take Trump out would mostly draw the line at Cruz.

A ray of hope for Cruz (and maybe Rubio) is that there’s limited but real evidence that closed primaries (and caucuses) are better for him — see Oklahoma and Iowa, for examples — and the primaries around the corner are all closed. But in Massachusetts, the number of independents voting for Trump didn’t make that much difference, and many of those guys would have changed their registration to Republican if need be. And in Georgia, the sad fact is that voting is way too much on racial lines, and most white people would be Republicans if they had to choose. And to say Cruz would have won the Republican primary in South Carolina if it had been closed supposes that there wouldn’t have been a lot more Republicans registered in South Carolina under a closed-primary law. Still, there’s little doubt that Trump benefits from lax laws that allow disaffected folks to decide at the last second which primary in which to vote, and a bit from Democrats crossing over to mess with the Republican brand. So it’s possible Trump could lose all four contests next Saturday. 

Rubio now is clearly mostly the candidates of the suburbs, of prosperous Republicans — Romney Republicans. That’s not even what he wants to be. He’s more promising than Cruz simply because he has more appeal in the generic North and industrial states with big cities and the corresponding suburbs. Although his delegate count was anemic, he generally did as well as he thought he would (a little worse in Texas and a little better in Virginia). The states to come, he claims, are mostly more like Virginia and Minnesota than Texas and Oklahoma.

The best hope, in my view, is for all existing candidates to stay in and wage war in their own ways against Trump. How will that work out? Darned if I know. Maybe Trump can be authoritatively discredited, but don’t ask me how.

But the takeaway: The Republicans need Trump or, more precisely, Trump voters to win. The Reagan coalition — social conservatism, free enterprise, and aggressive foreign policy — is toast. Even the progressive–conservative distinction might not correspond to any reality today all that well. The Republicans also need, of course, more than Trump voters. This is a huge challenge of statesmanship.

I add with reluctance: All the candidates in both parties last night were somewhat unpleasant shouters but Trump, who had an engagingly presidential news conference.

No! I’m not for Trump and I still say he won’t win. He really is a pandering snake-oil salesman unworthy of the struggling ordinary Americans who have mistakenly put their confidence in him.

Peter Augustine LawlerPeter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the acclaimed scholarly quarterly Perspectives on Political Science and served on President George ...

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