Well, it’s been another all too interesting week in the bizarre world of Republican presidential primary politics. Much has happened, with the Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses, yet another debate, and still more elections on Saturday, and I’ve had mixed reactions to many of these things. Overall, I think that we have moved ever closer to crowning Donald J. Trump as king (oh, sorry, I meant nominee) of the Republican party, something which should fill reasonable people with dread. I do see a couple of glimmers of hope that might indicate there is a chance, however slim, of a different result, but that may be wishful thinking. Beyond that, though, I’ve found some of the week’s events and the reactions to them terribly discouraging in thinking about our society as a whole.
I may return to this point, but I think it’s important to look at some of these things in the proper perspective. For example, looked at on their own, the Super Tuesday results were pretty bad for those of us opposed to Trump, since he won 7 of 11 states. However, not that long ago, there was speculation that he might actually sweep all of the contests in dominating fashion. Instead, Ted Cruz won his home state of Texas by a comfortable margin and also gained victories in Oklahoma and Alaska. Marco Rubio was able to win in Minnesota, and the results in some other states were quite close. (Sigh... If only Trump could have been defeated in those, as well...) As a result, while Trump obviously got good press for so many wins, his challengers picked up a lot of delegates, too, and he is not in as commanding a position in the race as he might have been. So, there is some reason to think the recently increased efforts to combat Trump may have made a difference and to hope it is still possible for someone else to wind up winning the nomination, but it is still a long shot.
During the week, there was increasing talk about possible scenarios that could defeat Donald Trump and about the growing number of Republicans saying they could never support him, even if he is the party’s nominee. It’s terrible that we are even facing this prospect, and it would be nice if more people had fought to prevent Trump’s success long ago, but I’m still glad that many people are not just accepting and rallying around the frontrunner. On Thursday, Mitt Romney gave a speech listing many of the reasons Donald Trump should not be president and expressing hope that Republicans will yet choose another nominee. I need no convincing on these matters, of course, but I think Romney made many good points. Unfortunately, I don’t know how many people would be persuaded by his remarks, since the people disposed to support Trump are also likely to dismiss Romney as just part of the “establishment” and, as Trump does, as a “loser.” As a side note, I’d just like to say that I think Romney has been treated rather unfairly by many on the right, and it’s my opinion that one of the reasons he lost to Obama was the failure of Republicans and conservatives to have his back at different points during the campaign. It’s interesting, as well, that many of those who found Romney to be an unsuitable Republican nominee because of an insufficiently conservative past record, changes of position, etc. or who didn’t like him because he was an unrelatable rich businessman are now perfectly happy to support Donald Trump, even though all of these factors apply to Trump to a much greater degree. Of course, Romney, who was seen as too boring and polite, is also a good person, while Trump, the supposedly entertaining “fighter,” is not, and I think it’s a shame that so many people seem to prefer the current candidate to the former.
I gather that many people found Thursday night’s debate to be a particular lowlight for the entire Republican party, but I just saw it as yet another occasion on which Donald Trump showed once again why he is so obviously unfit to be president. In addition to bringing his vulgarity to a new low, he also put on a dizzying display of inconsistency, egotism, shallowness, and dishonesty. Regarding temporary visas for high-skilled foreign workers, he declared that he was changing his position from the opposition stated on his campaign website because “we need highly skilled people in this country,” a view he’d also expressed in one of the early debates last year. Later that night, his campaign put out another statement retracting the earlier position reversal and taking a tough line about visas and their abuse. (It must be difficult for his staff and advisors to keep track of Mr. Trump’s ever-shifting positions on various issues and to try to clean up after he makes so many problematic statements, but I can’t say that I have any sympathy for those choosing to work for his campaign.) When asked about an off the record interview he did with the New York Times editorial board, rumored to contain material that might call his tough campaign immigration pronouncements into question, he said that he wouldn’t ask the paper to release the tape of the session, but he did express, more than once, the need for flexibility on different positions, including his supposedly signature issue of immigration, in order to get things done. Trump’s answers continued to be nearly free of policy and knowledge. When he was asked to discuss important things like foreign policy or the Supreme Court, his main response was to call his opponents names like “Little Marco” or “Lying Ted.” The only things he seemed to want to discuss in detail were his numbers in various polls -- but, naturally, not the ones showing him losing to Hillary Clinton in the general election. In addition to trying to explain away contradictory statements made during the campaign and shown in video clips by the moderators, Trump continued to lie outright about multiple topics from the poor Better Business Bureau rating received by Trump University to denying he’d said positive things about Vladimir Putin. His arrogance knows no bounds, as he claimed that he deserved sole credit for increasing participation in Republican primaries and declared that the military would not refuse to follow orders he would give, even those related to his stated (illegal) intention to kill family members of suspected terrorists. (Once again, the day after the debate, we heard a different tune in a release from Trump’s campaign, saying that he wouldn’t issue orders that would violate international law, etc., but, since he’s been sticking to the opposite position for months, I see no reason to accept a reversal now as resolving the issue and making everything OK.) In summary, Trump presented anyone paying the least bit of attention overwhelming evidence that should disqualify him from consideration for their vote, but the really sad thing is the (probably true) assumption many of us have that, for a very large group of people who support him, none of this will make any difference whatsoever, and he will remain the overwhelming frontrunner in the race. What does that say about American society today? Nothing good.
I wouldn’t criticize the overall debate performances of the other candidates, and I appreciated that Senators Cruz and Rubio once again challenged Trump and avoided attacking each other. It was definitely not pleasing to hear all of Trump’s opponents say that, in the end, they would support him if he does become the nominee, but it wasn’t unexpected. After all, as Cruz said, they all pledged months ago to support the eventual nominee. I thought this was unwise at the time, and I think there has to be some point at which such a promise is not the highest consideration, but I won’t hold it against Trump’s challengers now.
Four more states held their caucuses or primaries on Saturday, and the results held both good and bad news. I consider it a positive any time Donald Trump does not win a state, so I was glad to see that Ted Cruz won in Kansas and Maine. On the negative side, though, Trump still did win in Louisiana and Kentucky, giving him more things to brag about. Also, while it’s encouraging that Trump won his states by a margin of only a few points, it is also troubling that he did receive over 40 percent of the vote. (I guess anti-Trumpers may need to adjust the claim that 65% or more of Republican voters don’t want him as the nominee...) His level of support seems to actually be increasing, at least in some places, and he is still winning states even as he continues to say and do outrageous things that would not have been accepted from any other candidates in the past, and despite accelerated attempts to make the case against him to the voters. Again, I’m afraid this does not speak well of the public right now.
Each upcoming primary will play an important part in either bringing us ever closer to the dangerous brink of a Donald Trump nomination or keeping the possibility of a far better outcome alive. There are a few more contests this week, before the stakes get even higher on March 15 with large states each awarding all of their delegates to the winners. As long as there is still a chance that Trump can be stopped, I’ll hold out hope that his opponents will work as hard as they can to defeat him and that voters will realize he is not the person who should be president. The situation does look bad now, but if things had gone more as predicted this past week, it could have been even worse. I don’t think anyone knows what will happen next, but it does seem clear that those of us distressed by the Trump phenomenon won’t be able to rest easy any time soon.
Note: I’m splitting my comments this week into two separate, but somewhat related, posts. The second post is now available here.