I don’t often do process stories; I’m more interested in policy. All the endless handicapping of the political horse race, the obsession with who’s up and who’s down and who’s going negative and what it might all portend, while fun, isn’t really my thing. Plus, I’m not very good at it. But political prognostication can be irresistible at times, and no more so than right now, after Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
A day or two before the South Carolina primary, the consensus was that the Republican race was tightening, and that Ted Cruz might very well overtake Donald Trump. The night before the vote, Trump told a horrifying story. A century ago, in the Phillipines, General “Black Jack” Pershing captured fifty Muslim prisoners. He ordered fifty bullets to be dipped in pig’s blood, and then used those bullets to execute forty-nine of the prisoners. The lone survivor was released, and told to tell the story to a group of pesky terrorists who had been plaguing Pershing’s soldiers. This, Trump suggested, is the kind of thing we Americans should do now, today.
This story is almost certainly apocryphal. It’s also, of course, quite horrifying. The Council of American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group, condemned the speech:
By directly stating that the only way to stop terrorism is to murder Muslims in graphic and religiously-offensive ways, he places the millions of innocent, law-abiding citizens in the American Muslim community at risk from rogue vigilantes. He further implies that our nation should adopt a strategy of systematized violence in its engagement with the global Muslim community, a chilling message from a potential leader. We pray that no one who hears this message follows his gospel of hate.
Marco Rubio also condemned Trump’s speech, as did both Democratic candidates, properly so. This is after a week, we should note, in which Trump also attacked the Pope. And one might imagine that that speech, on the eve of an important primary, would be seen as so offensive and so extreme that it should hurt, and could even destroy Trump’s candidacy.
Not so. He won South Carolina in a landslide. And he especially won counties with large Christian evangelical communities. That’s the astonishing thing about the Trump insurgency. He says extreme, wacky things that would hurt most normal candidacies. And his supporters . . . like him even more. Every time.
Meanwhile, in South Carolina, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz essentially tied for second. Trump won every delegate. And Jeb! Bush pulled out of the race, endorsing Rubio.
Here’s what I think is going to happen next. Or, at least, this is what might happen next.
Bush was running consistently at around 8%. If those voters gravitate over to Rubio, he pulls closer to Trump.
Dr. Ben Carson is still in the race, and I think I know why. It’s traditional for candidates, when they drop out, to endorse the candidate whose views most closely mirror their own. Dr. Ben’s main appeal is to Christian evangelicals, which suggests that he might endorse Cruz. He hasn’t done it yet, because Dr. Ben Carson absolutely loathes Ted Cruz personally. (Joke: why do people hate Ted Cruz immediately after meeting him? Saves time.) But as Carson fades, his supporters will, I think, shift over to Cruz.
So assume we have Trump polling at around 35%, and Rubio and Cruz both polling at just shy of 30%. I don’t think it’s at all unlikely that we could see a brokered Republican convention. That is to say, a convention in which none of the candidates have enough delegate support to win a first-ballot nomination.
If that’s the case, I suspect that the Republican establishment will find a way to make some kind of shady back-room deal to give the nomination to Rubio. Reince Priebus (roll those R’s Germanically when saying it aloud), the Republican National Committee chair, could figure something out, possibly by offering the VP to Ted Cruz. (Which would be hilarious, actually, since Cruz and Rubio also can’t stand each other).
And Donald Trump is so offended, he launches a third party candidacy. And Hillary Clinton wins the resulting landslide. Or Bernie Sanders–I’m willing to be agnostic on that point.
Is any part of that scenario implausible? I don’t think so. Rubio, Cruz and Trump appeal to very different Republican constituencies. Vox.com thinks a brokered convention is quite possible. If it were to happen, then the movers and shakers in the party would step up, led, probably, by Priebus.
Trump has insisted that he will stick with the Republican party as long as he’s treated fairly. No one knows what he means by that, but if he shows up at the convention with the most delegates and doesn’t win the nomination due to some kind of shenanigans, that would constitute ‘being treated unfairly,’ would it not?
I’ll grant you that this whole scenario is a fantasy. I’m rather clinging to fantasies right now, considering how horrific all three leading Republican candidates appear to me. Trump now appears to be endorsing hate crimes; certainly, he’s intent on disregarding the Geneva conventions. And that’s in addition to starting trade wars with China and Mexico. Cruz is now supporting Trump’s odious proposal to deport 12 million resident immigrants, and all three candidates would unilaterally cancel the Iran nuclear deal. And the economic plans of all three candidates constitute some kind of bizarre fantasy world in which tax cuts are a panacea and spending doesn’t need to be paid for. My son and I spent part of Sunday debating over which of them would make a worse President; suffice it to say that we concluded they would all be dreadful choices.
But a brokered convention, resulting in a Trump third party candidacy isn’t really that implausible. And would ensure the victory, in the fall, of a grown-up. Sounds good to me.