“Once you give up your integrity, the rest is a piece of cake.”
-J.R. Ewing, “Dallas” oil baron
With the first votes about to be cast in this year’s presidential campaign (Iowa caucuses next week; New Hampshire votes the week following), it’s time to contemplate whom the respective political parties are going to end up with as their nominees later this summer.
On the Democratic side, the odds still favor Hillary Clinton, provided she can hold her coalition together against the spirited efforts of Bernie Sanders to wrest the nomination from her. Sanders needs to break through with minority voters to have a real chance. He may well win in Iowa and New Hampshire, but South Carolina and many of the states where major delegate numbers will be decided will be won by the candidate who pulls the majority of the black and Latino vote, and that’s where the Clinton campaign is strongest at this point.
There’s a bit of irony in that calculus, since it was the minority vote that Hillary couldn’t hold against Barack Obama eight years ago. Obama combined that part of the party’s “base,” with the part Sanders is attracting (young idealists and old-line progressives/liberals) to overwhelm Hillary’s appeal to mainstream Democrats. This year Sanders doesn’t have the same appeal for the minority voters that Obama had. He is trying to make in-roads there, but it might be too much to hope for, since Hillary is viewed so favorably by that particular constituency now. The odds here look 60-40 in Hillary’s favor at this point, which is far from a lock, but Sanders needs a big break to turn it around. (A major media boost by scoring wins in Iowa and New Hampshire would certainly help; an indictment against Clinton for the e-mail scandal—unlikely, but possible—would probably do it.)
And then we have the Republicans, who have continued to provide most of the amusement and intrigue in the pre-voting stage of the race, all courtesy of The Donald, who looks more and more like the equivalent of J.R. Ewing in a political role. I don’t claim to be a psychologist, but do you think the man has any sense of what the word integrity means? Just think about what he and his campaign reveal about himself.
First of all, consider the man. He proudly displays his talents and is very direct in praising himself. In fact, he does so constantly, often to the point of being embarrassing (except that he is too full of himself to ever get embarrassed). As a business tycoon, he plasters his name everywhere, on everything he owns or builds. And he loves the attention, or at least he certainly seems to.
And then consider the kind of campaign he is running. It’s all a show, isn’t it? He fills arenas with cheering fans and then plays to them like a stand-up comic. His talking points are mostly about himself, about how much better he would be than anyone else. Or he will act the part of the political novice, claiming not to really know, but questioning an opponent’s character or background or policy position. It’s all the work of a master showman who loves the attention and craves the approval.
And then, finally, consider the substance, or the lack thereof. Trump isn’t so much shallow; he’s just ignorant in many areas of domestic and foreign policy. You’ll never hear him talk about a significant policy initiative other than headline grabbing one-liners. Think about it. What do you know of Trump’s plans on the economy (other than that he will create more jobs than anyone)? What do you know about his foreign policy plans (other than that he will destroy ISIS)? What do you know about his immigration plans (other than that he will deport – “very humanely” – all 11 million undocumented immigrants)?
Put these three points together – the man, the campaign he’s running, and the substance he offers – and you get a charlatan with a massive ego and no real sense of personal integrity who loves playing the role of a presidential candidate.
Now let’s consider the people he’s running against. The field has been winnowed out a bit since the whole thing started last summer. From as many as 17 candidates, there are only six or seven (depending on whether you consider Ben Carson still viable) left. One of these, Ted Cruz, is so hated by most of the power-brokers in his party that he can only continue to be viable if he is the sole anti-establishment candidate. As it is, he is now locked in mortal combat (campaign-style) with Trump, and he isn’t scoring many points. He really has to win in Iowa to maintain any real shot at the nomination. The others (again discounting Carson) are all fighting with themselves to secure the position of being the sole surviving mainstream candidate.
Of the four, Marco Rubio seems the most likely to make a long run. He had the tea party pedigree initially, so he could be a cross-over candidate, appealing to both the old-line Republicans and the far right. But Cruz isn’t making that position easy for him to secure, and he’s also been getting hit hard by the other three (Christie, Kasich and Bush). The best bet to stop Trump would be for one of those three to emerge from Iowa and New Hampshire with a clear win over the others. Then, the losers would drop out and from among Trump, Cruz and that third candidate, a majority could support the non-Trump, non-Cruz candidate.
And then there’s the other striking possibility, which would occur if Trump got the nomination and half the party walked out on him. That’s probably unlikely, but if it happened, someone like Jeb Bush, with all the money he has in big donor contributions, might choose to make what would then be an independent/non-party run. Against a tarnished and scandal-ridden Hillary Clinton and a distrusted and downright scary Trump, that candidacy just might have a chance.
Meanwhile, Trump marches on, ever playing the J.R. Ewing role.