One of Those Little Problems in Life

Who do the Republicans want to be their nominee for president this time around? That depends on which Republicans you ask:

In addition to landing multiple endorsements from several billionaire donors, a new poll shows that Sen. Marco Rubio is the top GOP presidential candidate among wealthy voters. According to a CNBC Millionaire Survey, 26 percent of Republican voters with at least $1 million in investable assets support the Florida senator, while 16 percent back Ben Carson and 15 percent support GOP front-runner Donald Trump.

“What surprised me was where Trump is among these voters,” said George Walper, president of Spectrum Group, which conducted the survey. “They’re wealthy but don’t see Trump as one of them.”

Back in April, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush took lead as the top GOP pick in the millionaire survey with 37 percent. However, his support has since dropped down to 11 percent, according to the most recent poll.

Republican millionaires can’t seem to decide which of these folks seems to be one of them – but somehow it’s not Donald Trump – and they’re not alone:

The Republican establishment has flexed its muscle in New Hampshire’s presidential primaries for years. But in the unpredictable 2016 election, the state’s standard political playbook faces challenges on two fronts.

Donald Trump’s brash brand of populism is resonating with voters, and he’s sustained a commanding lead in statewide preference polls for months. While several experienced politicians are well-liked, some party elites fear none will emerge as a consensus choice in time for the Feb. 9 primary, allowing Trump to win a plurality.

“If the center-right doesn’t coalesce here, it runs the risk of allowing a far-right, ideological candidate to go unchecked,” said Tom Rath, a New Hampshire-based Republican strategist backing Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Okay, Republican millionaires – are there any other kind? – think Donald Trump is a jerk, and the centrist folks, who prefer (relatively) sane and experienced candidates like John Kasich, want nothing to do with Donald Trump either. But Rubio is going nowhere, and Kasich has become a total afterthought. Trump need not worry about this, but he is, finally, worried about his evil twin:

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump had a new target on Sunday, calling fellow White House contender Ted Cruz “a little bit of a maniac” as the U.S. senator passed him in an Iowa opinion poll.

And Trump used to say such nice things about him, but Cruz suddenly opened a ten-percentage-point lead over Trump in Iowa, all the while saying Trump was a fine fellow and they were best buddies, except for this:

Last week, he questioned Trump’s judgment at a private fundraiser, according to the New York Times, after the billionaire developer advocated temporarily banning Muslims from entering the United States.

That certainly got Trump’s attention:

“I don’t think he is qualified to be president,” Trump said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“I don’t think he has the right temperament. I don’t think he’s got the right judgment. When you look at the way he has dealt with the Senate, where he goes in there like a, you know, frankly, like a little bit of a maniac – you are never going to get things done that way.”

Now his best buddy is a bit of a maniac, but Trump has a point. The government shutdown of 2013 was orchestrated by Cruz – Congress would authorize no further spending at all, on anything, unless Obama agreed to their budget provisions to defund Obamacare and thus dismantle the whole thing. Cruz shamed just enough of his fellow senators to get the Senate to go along – they didn’t want to be seen as cowards and insufficiently conservative – and he met secretly with the key Tea Party players in the House. They were also Republicans. He showed them how they could tell their own party’s leader in the House, John Boehner, who wanted no part in a shutdown, to shove it. Cruz led an uprising in the House, and with the Senate, Congress cut the money, and Obama called their bluff and the government shut down for over two weeks. The public howled. Congress caved in. The government reopened. Not one thing about Obamacare changed. That was a disaster.

What maniac thought that was a brave and wonderful idea? Cruz’s colleagues knew the answer to that question:

High-ranking party members were angry that colleagues forcing a shutdown had backed them into a corner and left them shouldering much of the blame. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stated party leadership had come to the conclusion in July that defunding the ACA had no chance of succeeding, while Senator Kelly Ayotte started a “lynch mob” against Ted Cruz in a closed-door meeting with other Republican members, demanding that he and his backers stop attacking party members for not supporting the defunding effort. Many other Republicans publicly criticized Cruz, including John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Bob Corker. Tea Party members responded: Cruz blamed the failure to get meaningful concessions from Democrats on moderate Senate Republicans for refusing to back their colleagues in the House, the Senate Conservatives Fund began sending out emails attacking McConnell for his role in ending the shutdown, and Sarah Palin suggested high-ranking moderate Republicans who voted in favor of the final bill would be targeted by Tea Party members in primary challenges. Representative Peter T. King suggested this in-fighting was aiding Democrats, and has led to questions over whether “friendly fire” could jeopardize Republican chances of winning the Senate and maintaining control over the House.

That’s what Donald Trump was talking about on a Sunday morning two years later:

Trump touted his ability to get along with liberals and conservatives and said that was the hallmark of the “world-class businessman” he is.

Cruz had a lighthearted response to the “maniac” label on Twitter later on Sunday, posting a link to a video clip from the 1983 film “Flashdance” showing star Jennifer Beals dancing energetically as the hit song “Maniac” plays on the soundtrack. “In honor of my friend @realDonaldTrump and good-hearted #Maniacs everywhere,” Cruz said in his tweet.

But perhaps no one remembers that 1983 movie:

Alexandra “Alex” Owens (Jennifer Beals) is an eighteen-year-old welder at a steel mill in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who lives with her dog Grunt in a converted warehouse. Although she aspires to become a professional dancer, she has no formal education, and works as an exotic dancer by night at Mawby’s, a neighborhood bar which hosts a nightly cabaret.

There has seldom been a movie more preposterous, but perhaps Cruz loves the preposterous. Donald Trump seems to know that:

Trump – whose comments on Muslims have drawn widespread criticism but may not dent his lead in several national opinion polls – made a sarcastic reference to Cruz’s respectful treatment of him.

“He’s been so nice to me. I mean I could be saying anything and he’d say, I agree I agree,” Trump said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

On the Fox program, he also criticized Cruz for talking about him behind his back.

Trump was saying this Cruz guy is preposterous, even with that twenty-one-point jump in October – and Rubio, doing a bit better, was still at ten percent, and Jeb Bush at six percent. There was nothing to worry about, and Rubio even helped out Trump a bit:

Rubio, who has seen an uptick in his own poll standings in recent weeks, criticized his Senate colleague on defense spending, saying Cruz talked about carpet-bombing Islamic State while voting to cut the military budget.

Rubio was measured in his criticism of Trump on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” saying: “There’s a lot we have a difference of opinion on, but we can’t ignore that he’s touched on some issues that people are concerned about.”

Cool. Trump was sitting pretty, and he knew it, so he decided to rub it in:

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump responded in an interview aired Sunday to reports that GOP officials had discussed what they would do in the case of a contested convention. Trump said in the interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace that he was “sorry” to the Republican leaders.

“Look, I understand what they’re going through. I wasn’t supposed to be here. I was a member of the establishment seven months ago,” Trump said. “I’m not supposed to be doing this. You see I’m supposed to be on the other side writing checks and having people do whatever I want, puppets, like puppets.”

Wallace asked Trump what his response was to the GOP officials.

“I say, folks, you know, I’m sorry I did this to you, but you’ve got to get used to it,” Trump said. “It’s one of those little problems in life.”

Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall sees their problem:

I’ve got to think this over. But Ted Cruz’s rise nationwide and now his jump into a big lead in Iowa looks like a perfect storm of awful for the GOP. Especially on the GOP side, folks who win the Iowa caucuses have a pretty poor record of winning the nomination. But with Trump far ahead nationwide and in the lead in virtually every other state this looks more and more like Cruz will end up as the alternative to Trump. At least, he looks likely to prevent someone else from emerging with enough primary support to take him on. To put it in the appropriate firearms argot, you’ve got Trump making off with the Crown Jewels while Cruz stays at the door laying down a line of fire to prevent any normal Republican from chasing after him. And I actually think it’s possible that Cruz could do worse in a general election than Trump.

Help them Rubi-Wan. You’re their only hope.

Rubio, however, is not a Jedi Master. These are not the droids you’re looking for? He can say that. It won’t do any good, but as for that contested convention, at Salon, Paul Blest explains what a mess that might be:

For the GOP, it just keeps getting worse: The news that top Republicans are “preparing” for a brokered convention should Donald Trump win the primary, and that the compromise candidate could actually be Mitt Romney, has spilled out into the open, and already, the party’s outsider candidates are raising hell. Ben Carson is threatening to leave the party should Republicans nominate a candidate who wasn’t even in the race; Ted Cruz is hedging his bets by calling Trump “terrific” after implying to a private group of donors that “gravity” would bring Trump and Carson’s campaigns down; and Trump, even before the most recent news, told CNN’s Don Lemon that “all options were open” if he felt the party’s leaders were disrespecting him.

The Republicans cannot let this happen, but then, they have only themselves to blame:

Since 2010, when the Tea Party first helped the Republicans win back the House, hardline conservatives have sought to gain control of the party at the expense of a partnership with the establishment it swung into the majority. The culmination of this was the resignation of Speaker John Boehner to avoid the indignity of being tossed from his chair, followed by his second-in-command Kevin McCarthy dropping out of the race to replace him, after which time it threatened to elect a Freedom Caucus member as Speaker of the House before finally voting for Paul Ryan.

All the while, Donald Trump has been absolutely crushing his competition in the Republican primary based upon his complete lack of government experience (a plus), a willingness to advocate for openly racist policies (ditto), and a tendency to blame everything on the great evil of our time, political correctness.

They’ll get what they created, and not like it much:

The problem is that Trump, as a general election candidate, is utterly unelectable, and even if he weren’t, he can’t really expect to build an electoral coalition based solely on people who hate immigrants, Muslims, and politicians more than anything else. He’s not a traditional tax-hating conservative like Ryan; he’s not a neo-con like Rubio; nor is he even a Tea Partier like Ted Cruz. His rise in the polls is based solely upon his propensity to say stupid things and not apologize for them. …

Because of that, he’s completely uncontrollable, which is why party elites are considering the brokered convention. This is not, however, the Republican primary of 1952, the last time there was a brokered convention; nor is it even the Republican primary of 1976, the last time a convention opened without a presumptive nominee. This is the 21st century, where most voters think that the (admittedly insane) presidential primary process is like any other actual election, as it should be, where the candidate with most votes wins.

That may be the real problem here:

If Trump is somehow able to win a plurality of votes throughout the country and come into the convention with even half the lead he currently has over the other candidates in the polls, the Republicans have two choices: first, nominating Romney or another candidate from the floor and watching the party descend into complete and utter chaos on live television. Plan B is letting Trump win and sacrificing this election in order to possibly save the party going forward.

Consider the worst-case scenario here:

If Republicans nominated someone that didn’t run in the primaries at all, it would still be controversial; nominating Romney would go over about as well as John Roberts closing the convention out with a three-hour speech about his Supreme Court vote on Obamacare. In the aftermath of the 2012 election, conservatives blamed Romney’s lack of conservatism for his loss to President Obama, and given how various Republican candidates have been ganging up on Romney during this campaign, his reputation hasn’t regained much ground among the right-wing of his party.

Because of this, Mitt Romney is not some great unifying figure in his party. He is not Dwight Eisenhower, who was able to win the nomination in 1952 through a brokered convention not only because he was a national hero, but because most states didn’t even have a primary process back then, and both Gov. Earl Warren of California and Gov. Thomas Dewey of New York preferred him to the much more conservative Robert Taft. Nor is he Ronald Reagan, the last candidate who was considered for nomination from the convention floor.

Even disregarding their hatred of Romney as a candidate, the idea that the GOP establishment (often the biggest target of their criticisms) would essentially render the entire primary process meaningless would probably be the nail in the coffin of the coalition between Republicans and the Tea Party; as Carson himself said, if GOP Chairman Reince Priebus and others try to maneuver the nomination out of Trump’s hands, this could be the “last Republican convention.”

So we have this:

Republican elites already look dismayed at the possibility that Trump could win this thing, and if either Trump or Carson decides to run a third-party campaign to derail the Republican nominee, it would give the Democratic nominee a broad mandate to shape policy for at least a few years. And after six long years of the GOP establishment placating and pandering to the most intolerant and uncompromising wing of their party, really: isn’t that what they deserve?

Perhaps so, but Ted Cruz will win this thing. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza says so:

Cruz (R-Tex.), as of today, has the most direct route to the Republican presidential nomination – assuming that the past history of GOP nomination fights works as a broad predictor of where the 2016 race is headed.

Consider this:

Cruz is positioned as the most conservative candidate in the race. Although Trump gets all the attention for his over-the-top statements, Cruz has staked out a position on the far right on virtually every major hot-button issue, including immigration, Obamacare, national security and the fight against the Islamic State militant group. And, tonally, Cruz comes across as aggressively and unapologetically conservative – a less controversial and more electable version of real estate magnate Trump.

A Washington Post-ABC News November poll showed that Cruz’s numbers are in the stratosphere among voters who identify themselves as “very” conservative; 69 percent had a favorable opinion of him while just 21 percent regarded him in an unfavorable light.

In a Republican primary – particularly one in which the GOP electorate is mad at everyone (including those in their own party) for an alleged lack of commitment to conservative principles – being the guy all the way on the ideological right is a very, very good thing.

And this:

Cruz has raised the second-most money in the Republican race. Bet you didn’t know that! Yes, former Florida governor Jeb Bush is by far and away the fundraising leader in the race. Not only did we know that would be the case, but we also now know that it has done him, roughly, zero good. Cruz’s money, on the other hand, is – or at least was – unexpected.

Cruz’s $65 million raised is all the more impressive because, unlike Bush, who raised the vast majority of his money with the support of his Right to Rise super PAC, Cruz has a relatively even balance between the funds raised for his campaign committee ($26.5 million) and those collected by a universe of supportive super PACs ($38 million). Having so much money in his campaign account means that Cruz will get more bang for his buck, because candidates get the lowest unit rate on TV ad buying while super PACs have to pay full freight for their airtime.

Cruz’s money is also what separates him from other candidates who secured the mantle of “most conservative candidate in the primary.” Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and former senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum won the Iowa caucuses during past campaigns – more on Cruz and Iowa below – but they were unable to capitalize on that win or sustain their support because they had so little money.

Cruz is the best-case scenario for those who want to see a movement conservative nominated: He’s of the conservative movement but has the fundraising ability of an establishment Republican.

And now there’s Iowa:

Recent history makes clear that you need to win one of the first three states – Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina – to have a realistic chance of being the party’s nominee. (Remember how well former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani’s “wait until Florida” strategy worked in 2008? Thought so.)

Cillizza has much more, and eventually adds this:

Yes, Cruz has weaknesses – most notably that he has shown little ability to appeal beyond his conservative base and that he is far less likable than, say, Rubio, if it comes down to a one-on-one fight between the two. Rubio of Florida is also trying to make an issue of Cruz’s immigration stance – insisting that Cruz has less of a hard line on the issue than he lets on. But Trump (being Trump) and Rubio (what early state does he win?) also have problems. And Cruz’s strengths are considerable, particularly when you consider how these races typically play out.

In short, Cruz is perfectly positioned to make him the last man standing, although Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog adds this:

We still have no reason to believe that any Establishment candidate is going to emerge from Iowa in a position to be truly competitive. It’s still the case that the only candidates who’ve led any polls since summer are Trump, Cruz, and Carson. The Republican race is still dominated by candidates no sane person would want within a mile of the nuclear trigger.

That is a problem, and we’re left with this:

Trump still seems to be leading everywhere else, which suggests either that Iowa is going to be an outlier (as it often is) or that states with Republican electorates that are just as Christian-conservative as Iowa’s will gravitate to Cruz. It’s my impression that Southern Republicans think religion is a big driver of their vote, but what their religion tells them is that the world is starkly divided into the pure good and the pure evil, and the kind of candidate they’re really looking for is someone who sees life on earth the same way, with the intention of bringing vengeance to the evil. On that score, Trump still has a considerable edge on Cruz (and on the rest of the field). Iowa Republicans seem to care more about religious conservatism in and of itself than even Southern Republicans do. What do they love in the South? College football. Every Saturday in the fall, in every contest, there’s one winner and one loser. Trump is still the candidate who’s most inclined to talk about everything in that way, and to turn campaign appearances into rah-rah tailgate parties.

And that makes this a two-candidate race:

Maybe one or two good debates could give Rubio a poll bump – I assume that’s what the party was hoping for when it added a debate a couple of weeks before Iowa – but Jeb Bush’s refusal to withdraw and the media’s tendency to hype any signs of life in Chris Christie’s campaign will probably prevent Rubio from getting real traction in the early states. My guess is that Rubio will be a distant third in Iowa, Bush and Christie will do just well enough in New Hampshire to spoil any chance Rubio has to shine there, and none of these guys will drop out before South Carolina and Nevada. And Trump and Cruz will win all of the first four contests, with every other candidate looking weak and second-rate. After that, it might be Trump or it might be Cruz, but I don’t think it will be anyone presentable – or, let’s hope, electable.

That sounds about right. What did Trump say? It’s one of those little problems in life? He also said he was “sorry” about that. We all are now.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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