On the eve of Super Tuesday, the Republicans are torn, Rubio is using Trump to boost himself and Clinton is laughing all the way to the bank

So, finally, Marco Rubio has reached that point. Ted Cruz got their earlier and John Kasich is still trying to hold back (and who cares about Ben Carson any more?). You may call it taking the gloves off, jumping the shark, sending in the artillery or getting down in the mud. Or too little, too late. However, you see it, Rubio is now taking on Donald Trump at his own game, indulging in personal abuse and mockery.

It's the time when winning on your own terms gets cast aside by the desire to win no matter what.

I've got a few observations on that:

  • It's risky for Rubio to switch from attacking Trump on policy issues (eg the lines about Trump employing foreign workers and getting his shirts made overseas, that he used effectively in last week's debate) to attacking him personally (eg his fake tan). But the goal is simple – as the media starts to report a Trump v Rubio slanging match, the media narrative suggests it's a Trump v Rubio race, and the others are squeezed out. Rubio's attacks on Trump are mostly about the other candidates, and pushing them out of frame.
  • The main risks are that a) it's impossible to out-Trump Trump because he knows no limits and b) he looks less presidential and decent. Rubio has only so many virtues to trade on anyway, given people are suspicious of his youth and political flip-flops, and while this may make him look tougher, it may also make him look less like 'a nice young man'.
  • The biggest loser in this name-calling is the Republican Party. Their team is damaging itself before it even fronts up to the Democrats.
  • The biggest Republican winner is John Kasich; a man worth not forgetting. The Ohio governor is now the last remaining candidate who hasn't descended into the mud. He can play the decent mid-westerner for all its worth. His team are saying that on March 15 he will win his home state of Ohio and Rubio will lose his home state of Florida. So who looks like a winner the establishment can rally round then? And if – IF – this comes to a brokered convention, Kasich could some through as a compromise candidate.
  • But the biggest winner of all is Hillary Clinton. From Super Tuesday on, she's expected to pull away from Bernie Sanders. Not only do her political sins pale in comparison to Trump's madness, she can use Trump fear to work on one of her biggest weaknesses thus far: grassroots fundraising. Having attended a rally of hers back in 2008, I'm still on her mailing list. And I'm getting emails such as this:

Friend --

Tonight, the Republican candidates will gather for another debate -- with Donald Trump now the clear frontrunner, we're likely to hear even more desperate attacks and extreme ideas than usual. (And that's saying something!)

I've said for a long time that Trump isn't a joke, and now, he's looking more and more likely to be the Republican nominee. The man who riles up his crowds by calling Mexican-Americans criminals and suggesting Muslims should be banned from entering this country has limitless resources to run his campaign -- and he also has a lead in the delegate count.

I promise you that I will fight to make sure he never becomes president. With just two days to the South Carolina primary and five days left until Super Tuesday, your support has never been more critical to this campaign's success -- and with Trump having won three of the GOP's first four contests, it's never been more critical that this campaign succeed.

Chip in $1 to the Super Tuesday Fund right now, and let's make sure we win this nomination:

In many ways, the attacks on Trump have only just begun. And there is certainly plenty of mud to throw, given his callous business record, the hollowness of his self-made man rhetoric, his previous "liberal" views.

To use some American imagery, he's not hard to paint as Goliath or the man in the black hat. Consider that great US Christmas film, 'It's a Wonderful Life'. Could there be a candidate more like banking baddie Henry F Potter than Trump?

Trump's campaign has been described as both a "hostile takeover" of the Republican Party and, as Jane has laid out, a natural if mutated extension of the party's increasingly extreme policies. Both are in part true. The "establishment" is being rolled aside by a Frankenstein candidate they never wanted, but they are also reaping what they have sowed, right back to Reagan and even Nixon.

Presumably with that establishment's backing, Rubio is pushing to make it mano-a-mano. But I don't think he (or they) know how this ends. Rubio had thought the natural winnowing of other candidates and Trump's own excesses would have brought it to this pass before this and without his help. But he's obviously accepted he now has to put his own shoulder to this wheel.

The problem for the Republican "establishment", whether of its own making or not, is how to handle it without destroying their own party. If Trump doesn't win the nomination now, given the states he has won and is expected to win this week, it would be without precedent. No-one's lost from where he is. While American politics is full of stories of people breaking those kinds of rules, Trump is not one to accept being one of history's losers.

So does the party accept Trump as nominee, somehow hoping he can change tack and become a serious candidate against Clinton? If he doesn't, and numerous Republicans with some sense and integrity speak out against him, it's internal war. If they rally behind him, his powerful and negative brand becomes one of the defining marks of the party, and potentially poisons it.

If, at the convention, the party forces him out, it risks Trump pulling down the building as he leaves it. He could run as an independent and split the vote. Or he – and what would be seen as an anti-democratic process – could terminally wound Rubio or whichever candidate the party rallies behind.

While I think it would be easy to over-egg the Trump phenomenon – as Rubio likes to point out, even most Republicans are voting against him at this stage – he's certainly a living, shouting lesson for politicians today.

The idea of the 'majority' culture as victims is growing and cannot now be ignored. Without defending the dark side (racism, ignorance) of some of the so-called 'silent majority', those with even a little power (a job, a home) are not unreasonably the first to question how much they should be asked to sacrifice to those worse off than themselves.

As Trump has shown, the unscrupulous can harness that sense of injustice and aim it against the powerless rather than the powerful. How important it is that those with power elsewhere try to moderate it instead. We had a glimpse of it in New Zealand after Don Brash's Orewa speech, and while that passion has been soothed, it won't have gone away.

In the US, much stems from the inequality and hardship caused by the global financial crisis (how ironic than a billionaire of any kind might benefit from that). But in a rapidly changing and unstable world, it's worth learning that you can only ask so much of people, when they are feeling hard done-by themselves.

Comments (23)

by Lee Churchman on February 29, 2016
Lee Churchman

The "establishment" is being rolled aside by a Frankenstein candidate they never wanted, but they are also reaping what they have sowed, right back to Reagan and even Nixon.

I don't think this is very helpful. It's been nearly 50 years since Nixon was elected. Radical right populism is not new. The internet just makes it a lot easier to organise and much harder for traditional media to exercise its gatekeeper role and in general has led to a much less reasonable society (in the sense that rationality is largely a social and institutional phenomenon).

In a sense, the Democratic establishment is lucky to have an established candidate like Hillary. Were there no such candidate, Sanders would be much more of a threat. It's quite amazing the sheer amount of money he's been able to raise and where he's gotten it from.

by Fentex on February 29, 2016
Fentex

 He could run as an independent and split the vote. 

No he can't - if he's defeated at the Republican convention the dates for being put on the ballot in most states will have passed. He would have to run demanding his supporters write his name in and that is not a threat to anyone else's vote really.

Trump needs ~50% of the vote to be the nominee otherwise, and the negotiating would be fierce, one of Rubio or Cruz will trade something good to king the other.

What I find a bit more interesting than their obvious incentives is - what if Trump falls from the lead after Super Tuesday? What a soap opera his sticking to the convention and playing up becoming Kingmaker would be.

by Fentex on February 29, 2016
Fentex

I ought point out, about that date thing, that obviously the Republican candidate wasn't known so how could the date for being on the ballots have passed? Well, it's one of the ways the U.S has legislated it's two party system - independents and third parties are discriminated against in many regulations across the U.S.

by Andrew Geddis on February 29, 2016
Andrew Geddis

Trump needs ~50% of the vote to be the nominee otherwise, and the negotiating would be fierce, one of Rubio or Cruz will trade something good to king the other.

Trump needs >50% of the delegate vote at the convention to become the nominee. And the way that states award their delegates varies widely - meaning Trump can get a majority of the delegates without having to get anywhere near 50% of the vote at primaries/caucuses. So the longer both Cruz and Rubio (plus Kasich & Carson) keep in the race, the better for him.

This from the Washington Post helps to explain.

 

by Fentex on February 29, 2016
Fentex

Boy, the U.S is weird.

I've so internalized PR this FPP-like weirdness seems alien (even though I voted in about as many FPP elections as we've had PR ones).

So because each states GOP branch uses it's own way of assigning delegates and some do it winner-takes-all and others all sorts of hybrid nonsense being ahead becomes enough at some point and Trumps heading there in about two weeks.

I wonder if they'll be some changes in the process?

by Tim Watkin on March 01, 2016
Tim Watkin

Fentex, thanks I'd forgotten that. He'd likely need to switch this month at the latest, which now seems highly unlikely.

As I understand it, the GOP tweaked the system to try to get a candidate sooner and more clearly... never expecting this candidate would be the frontrunner.

by Andre Terzaghi on March 01, 2016
Andre Terzaghi

Then there's the Electoral College weirdness used to actually elect the President. Where different states have different rules for allocating electors. And low population states like Wyoming or Alaska get one "elector" per 200,000ish population, while high population states like California get one "elector" per 700,000ish population.

Back to Trump, if he leaves the Republican Convention feeling he was robbed of the nomination by back-room deals, it'll be quite a show with all the different ways he could go feral.

by Andrew Geddis on March 01, 2016
Andrew Geddis

I wonder if they'll be some changes in the process?

and ...

As I understand it, the GOP tweaked the system to try to get a candidate sooner and more clearly... never expecting this candidate would be the frontrunner.

Tim is right - the process was rejigged for 2016 to try and put an end to "insurgent" candidates (like Santorum/Huckabee/etc) being able to keep in the race against the frontrunning "establishment" choice (like McCain or Romney). The hope was that doing so would give the Republican nominee more time to focus fire on the Democrats, rather than keep fighting off internal rivals through to mid-year. Unfortunately, the party rule-makers never considered what would happen if the insurgent candidate was ahead at the start of the process!

by Andrew Geddis on March 01, 2016
Andrew Geddis

Oh! And as for:

Boy, the U.S is weird.

Yes. Yes it is.

Point to remember is that a "national" election there really is the sum-total of 50 (+ territories & DC) individual contests held in places that have a large degree of freedom to set their own rules about how to choose their representatives.

by Andre Terzaghi on March 01, 2016
Andre Terzaghi

Umm, Andrew, citizens resident in the territories (Puerto Rico, Guam, Virgin Islands...) don't get to vote in the Presidential election, and they don't get to vote for actual members of Congress. They get non-voting "Commissioners" that get to watch everything but not actually vote for legislation.

Citizens resident in D.C. get to vote for Prez (3 electors in the Electoral College), but don't get to vote for any members of Congress.

There's weirdness at every level you look...

by Andrew Geddis on March 02, 2016
Andrew Geddis

Umm, Andrew, citizens resident in the territories (Puerto Rico, Guam, Virgin Islands...) don't get to vote in the Presidential election, and they don't get to vote for actual members of Congress.

But they do get to vote in the party primaries!

by Andre Terzaghi on March 02, 2016
Andre Terzaghi

"But they do get to vote in the party primaries!"

lol - I'd never taken on board that little absurdity before.

by KJT on March 02, 2016
KJT

Saunders is the best hope for the world at the moment. Unfortunately he is likely to be assassinated if he wins the nomination.

by Tim Watkin on March 02, 2016
Tim Watkin

KJT, I think his life is safe. Hillary losing from here is unlikely.

by Andre Terzaghi on March 03, 2016
Andre Terzaghi

If anyone's up for yet another dose of US election weirdness, check out the Colorado republican caucuses. They aren't even bothering to formalise their preferences now, they're just selecting a bunch of delegates to go to the convention, and the delegates can make up their minds once they get there!

by Fentex on March 03, 2016
Fentex

Saunders is the best hope

No, he's not. Bernie Sanders has some good policies and would likely be a decent President but he's a useless Democrat.

The more important battle for the U.S to improve it's fortunes and situation is to wrest governance from the Republicans and that means supporting Democratic Congress candidates and working as a team which Sanders just does not do and Clinton always has.

Hillary's endurance is a weakness in that younger people have known of her all their lives, she's a feature of a system they resent, and they've spent lives hearing vitriol and propaganda attacking her so to their ambitious hopeful ears she seems like part of the problem. They are wrong.

Sanders looks like a paladin standing as a bulwark against evil to people who are blinded by his shield but it's really rather rusty. He hasn't done much, doesn't help those who should be his allies, and votes as much for what he now rails against as Clinton ever did.

I don't like Hillary Clinton, I think Sanders would likely be a better President, but the U.S should elect Hillary because she's the stronger politician and more dedicated Democrat committed more strongly to defeating the Republican cancer and achieving actual effective victories over  'Conservative' (read racist, misogynist and theocratic) forces.

by Lois Griffiths on March 05, 2016
Lois Griffiths

If the US had proportional representation and if corporate money were kept out of politics, then the US would probably be  a different country. Of course these two 'ifs' will never happen.

There is actually a Green Party presidential candidate , Dr Jill Stein, who has so much to offer but whom the media ignore. She is the only one who criticizes the obscenely bloated military budget and the continued giving of many  millions to Israel. These are taboo topics.

I don't understand the previous commentator's remark "Sanders would be a better President , but". Hillary Clinton is a dangerous woman. She receives more financial support from the military corporations than any other candidate does. They know she is on their 'side'. Remember the illegal destruction of Libya?

Candidates never disclose who they would choose to be Secretaries of State and Defence. Without this information, voters are really kept in the dark .  I would love to know who Sanders would choose.  

by Andre Terzaghi on March 05, 2016
Andre Terzaghi

Lois, I have a real problem with Green Party candidates standing in US presidential elections: Ralph Nader delivering us Bush instead of Gore in 2000 is unforgivable.

by Stephen Todd on March 05, 2016
Stephen Todd

Lois, if you haven't already seen it, this article by Chris Hedges might be of interest to you.

Fairvote (fairvote.org) in Maryland advocates PR by STV (wise people) to elect the US House of Representatives, but it's an uphill struggle.

It truly amuses me how the political elite (especially) in the US never stop saying how the US is the greatest democracy in the world, when in actual fact it is pretty much the worst.  One example: the determined efforts to prevent people from registering to vote - absolutely shameful.    

 

 

 

by Stephen Todd on March 05, 2016
Stephen Todd

Andre, your problem is not with the Greens / Ralph Nader - or it shouldn't be - it is with the 18th Century FPP electoral system, combined with the now-ridiculous "keep-the-mob-at-bay" Electoral College mechanism.

Adoption of the National Popular Vote (http://www.nationalpopularvote.com/) would be a significant improvement. 

by Lois Griffiths on March 06, 2016
Lois Griffiths

Andre, Ralph Nader didn't 'deliver us Bush' in 2000. The US Supreme Court did by stopping the Florida recount. Furthermore Al Gore caved in without putting up a fight.

by Fentex on March 06, 2016
Fentex

Andre, Ralph Nader didn't 'deliver us Bush' in 2000. The US Supreme Court did by stopping the Florida recount

Although I agree the Supreme court appeared to make an entirely partisan decision to advance Bush by preventing careful recounts, if I recall correctly, after the fact examination of the Florida vote (carried out post election by several newspapers) concluded Bush did win the states popular vote.

When it comes to worrying about the integrity of the U.S Presidential vote I think the machines used in, and odd results of, Ohio at the next election are far more worrisome.

by Moz on March 07, 2016
Moz

I think the republican problem is that if Trump loses he could quite easily pivot to support Hilary. It would be completely unheard of and against all the normal processes... where have we seen that recently? The question is whether it would work.

I think it would, because the people supporting him are not so much partisan as p*ssed off. If he starts focussing on the way the billionaires have bought the GOP process so blatantly and talks up Hillary as less bought, I think all bets are off. If he went for his natural ally in Saunders it would get very hard for the Democrats - I think a 3rd way coalition like that is extremely unlikely, but it would also amuse me immensely.

It's also worth looking at actual Trump policies rather than the performances. His whole anti-immigration thing is about making sure poor (read black) people get jobs rather than using Mexicans who ship money out of the country. There's a few things like that and the Tea Party is quite unhappy about them.

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