Further Complications

Another Tuesday, another primary, and more complications:

Republican Ted Cruz won the Wisconsin presidential primary on Tuesday, dealing a blow to front-runner Donald Trump’s hopes of amassing the delegates needed for the party’s nomination ahead of the July convention and boosting the chances of a rare contested convention.

Cruz’s win was a breakthrough for Republican Party forces battling to block the controversial New York billionaire, and it raised the prospect of a prolonged nominating fight that could last to the July convention.

Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders also won in Wisconsin, gaining momentum in his fight against front-runner Hillary Clinton and trimming her commanding lead in delegates.

So this isn’t over, or it is over and this is noise. The signal-to-noise ratio is our politics seems stuck on one-to-one, but the Washington Post’s Dan Balz tries to cut through the noise:

After Sen. Ted Cruz’s big victory in the Wisconsin primary, Republicans enter a new and critical phase in their volatile nomination battle, with Donald Trump’s rivals and those in the party establishment who are determined to stop him all sharing a single objective: to keep the GOP front-runner as far short of a first-ballot convention victory as possible.

That makes this important, as these things go:

The Wisconsin race represents a potentially important turning point in the GOP race, one that will embolden Trump’s opponents. A contested Republican convention has now become more probable. Whether that comes to pass will be determined by what takes place in the trench warfare that will play out over the next three months.

The Republican race is about to become granular. The coming battles will be waged in targeted congressional districts where Trump shows weakness regardless of his statewide appeal, in hand-to-hand competition at state party conventions where the delegates are being selected, and ultimately in a battle for the hearts and minds of the men and women who will go to Cleveland, bound or unbound on the first ballot but free agents after that.

In short, these primary elections don’t determine much:

Up to now, the nomination fight has been portrayed, rightly, as a series of state-by-state contests, where victories beget momentum and bragging rights. In this competition, Trump has won more than anyone else – the most votes overall and the most delegates.

From here on, delegate accumulation matters above all. For Trump and Cruz, winning states certainly remains important. But every delegate denied to Trump will be considered a small but important victory by the anti-Trump forces.

The convention delegates choose the nominee, and those delegates, mainly old party hands, can ignore all the voting and do what they think is right for the party. Someone needs to sweet-talk each of them, and Cruz has the staff for that, and Trump doesn’t. All he can do is to scream that that’s not fair, and maybe it isn’t – but that’s how these things work.

Josh Marshall explains that this way:

Donald Trump was still considered the overwhelming favorite for the Republican nomination. Now it’s considered at best a 50-50 proposition. And there’s an evolving consensus that if he can’t clinch the nomination on the first vote, he’s finished. This change is not based on nothing. …

We heard yesterday that Republican Party majority shareholder David Koch has his eyes set on giving House Speaker Paul Ryan the nomination in Cleveland. Others are still pushing Mitt Romney. Karl Rove says the party may need a “fresh face” at Cleveland. A friend of mine told me a couple days ago that he was worried that a combination of the hard right and the media were going to knock Trump out and lead to a Ryan nomination. …

I’m skeptical about the level of damage Trump has sustained – a skepticism which has served me well so far. But speaking as someone whose main and really only goal in this election is seeing a Democrat win the White House, I share some of those worries. 

We should all be worried:

A Trump nomination is a genuinely catastrophic outcome for the GOP. The polls are now abundantly clear on that point. I don’t think many people still believe the always improbable notion that there is any substantial constituency of working class white Obama voters in the industrial Midwest who Trump could pull into the GOP column. But again, the big picture: all the establishment dream scenarios – Kasich, Ryan, Romney, Generic Unicorn – are only marginally less catastrophic than Trump.

Perhaps they’re even worse.

All of the alternative scenarios are ones that – if we weren’t focusing on Trump – would seem clearly like catastrophic decisions. If he could win a Republican nomination, I think Paul Ryan might be a formidable candidate. But walk through the scenario – at least a big plurality of the Republican voters supported Donald Trump. Most of the rest will have supported Ted Cruz. A lot of Cruz’s current support is placeholder anti-Trump votes meant to deny Trump the nomination. Still he’s the candidate of base conservatives, movement conservatives, the dingbat Braveheart against the ‘Washington cartel’. The fact that he’ll have gotten a decent share of his votes from people who hate him but fear Trump more is not something you can expect him – or ideological fellow travelers – to focus much on.

But that is the obvious problem here:

How does it go over if Trump gets denied, Cruz gets denied and the prize goes to a guy – at least the type of guy – who, it is not too much to say, got firmly rejected through the entire primary process? He’s a Rubio wrapped in a Bush inside a Scott Walker. I don’t deny that Ryan may be a more effective politician than any of those three. But he is the establishment and he is also a wholly owned subsidiary of the Koch Brothers. It is hard to imagine any scenario in which the substantive, expressed will of the GOP primary electorate was more thoroughly rejected at the convention meant to ratify it.

Under normal circumstances, I think any political professional, any close observer of politics would say that a candidate chosen in such a way is simply doomed. I see no reason to believe it’s any different this year. Perhaps, as David Kurtz suggested to me yesterday, it’s just that the insiders need something to talk about. So they keep chatting up reporters with new plans to untie themselves from the train track before the Trump-Cruz Express slices them to pieces.

But there’s simply no way you build a unified party out of that. Cruz may be bought off or silenced, though I’m dubious. Trump definitely won’t be.

And Wisconsin solved nothing:

There was talk yesterday about Trump and Cruz trying to force convention rules that prevent John Kasich’s name from even being placed in nomination since he hasn’t won eight states. That makes sense. And together, they should have more than enough delegates to do it. But I see something else going on. Both Trump and Cruz have an obvious and overwhelming incentive to prevent any other potential nominee for being considered – since neither of them has more than trivial support among establishment Republicans. I don’t think they’re so much worried about Kasich as they are trying to create rules that make it incredibly difficult to go outside the primary process to find a nominee – i.e. Ryan, Romney, Unicorn. And I think the institutional and legitimacy logic of the situation will make it easier for them to do so than many people realize.

But that only makes things worse:

Republican stakeholders wanted Rubio, or Bush or maybe Walker. Who knows? None survived first contact with Republican primary voters. It’s easy to indulge the idea that with the voters out of the way and after one inconclusive ballot the same folks who couldn’t get any of their favored candidates through the process can just anoint their guy and that will just over fine. That’s silly. The notional freedom of the convention to do anything it wants inside the convention hall seems to blind people to the fact that it has no such freedom or inherent ability to make that work outside the convention hall. The same core divisions remain. They’re just easier to paper over.

People keep saying, ‘After the first ballot, all bets are off!’ But they’re not. On the second ballot you still have two candidates who will do anything to be nominee and a convention hall full of their delegates. Some of Trump’s delegates may be stalking horses. None of Cruz’s will be. Good luck moving on to anyone else.

This will end badly:

The Republican establishment, to the extent such a thing exists, is at war with half or two thirds of its primary electorate. In the Trump party fracture, so-called ‘movement conservative’ elites have turned viciously on Trump supporters as a population of racist, feckless losers who are destroying (their definition of) conservatism, because of their own cultural and economic failings. In some cases it’s a principled and honest rather than a venomous appraisal of the fissure. But in either case it amounts to the same thing. Whether it’s establishment versus electorate or that patina of elite opinion which goes under the heading of ‘movement conservative’ versus Trumpites, it has all the logic and pathos of an officer corps firing its army.

None of this really changes at the convention. It just becomes easier to pretend. Until you actually try.

Add to that the less-than-gracious Wisconsin concession speech from Trump:

Donald Trump neglected to give a speech or press conference after losing the Wisconsin primary to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on Tuesday night. Instead, his campaign sent out a statement accusing Cruz of coordinating with Republican Party bosses “to steal the nomination.”

“Ted Cruz is worse than a puppet – he is a Trojan horse, being used by the party bosses attempting to steal the nomination from Mr. Trump,” the statement from Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks read. “We have total confidence that Mr. Trump will go on to win in New York, where he holds a substantial lead in all the polls, and beyond.”

The Trump campaign charged that Cruz only won Wisconsin because of the endorsement of “establishment” figured like Gov. Scott Walker (R) and the “countless millions” spent by Super PACs opposed to the New York businessman’s campaign.

Actually, that wasn’t even a speech. He had his people handle things for him, and anyway, earlier in the day, he had made his bold move to impress every angry conservative in America:

Donald Trump says he would force Mexico to pay for a border wall as president by threatening to cut off the flow of billions of dollars in payments that immigrants send home to the country, an idea that could decimate the Mexican economy and set up an unprecedented showdown between the United States and a key regional ally.

In a two-page memo to The Washington Post, Trump outlined for the first time how he would seek to force Mexico to pay for his 1,000-mile border fence, which Trump has made a cornerstone of his presidential campaign and which has been repeatedly scoffed at by current and former Mexican leaders.

They will pay, or they’ll feel the pain:

The proposal would jeopardize a stream of cash that many economists say is vital for Mexico’s struggling economy. But the feasibility of Trump’s plan is unclear both legally and politically, and it would test the bounds of a president’s executive powers in seeking to pressure another country.

In the memo, Trump said he would threaten to change a rule under the USA Patriot Act antiterrorism law to cut off a portion of the funds sent to Mexico through money transfers, commonly known as remittances. The threat would be withdrawn if Mexico made “a one-time payment of $5-10 billion” to pay for the border wall, he wrote.

“It’s an easy decision for Mexico,” Trump said in the memo, on campaign stationery emblazoned with “TRUMP Make America Great Again!”

Kevin Drum assesses this:

Trump would also threaten to raise tariffs, cancel visas, and raise visa fees. But if Mexico writes us a big check, all the threats go away and we can be friends again.

Trump didn’t threaten to send troops over the border, but otherwise this is a very Roman Empire approach to foreign affairs. In that sense, it’s reminiscent of his threat to pull out troops from other countries unless they pony up big bags of tribute to pay for protection. Trump really does believe that the biggest, richest, most militarily dominant country in the history of the world is just a poor little waif being taken advantage of by everyone else.

Needless to say, anyone with a handful of working brain cells knows that Mexico would never pay this extortion money. Their voters wouldn’t put up with it any more than ours would. If Trump actually went through with this – which is questionable since it would end up in court on day two – he’d create a permanent enemy on our Southern border – just what we need. And Mexico would probably retaliate by encouraging even greater illegal immigration into the US.

The bottom line:

 I really don’t know what we did to deserve this.

That is a mystery, and the headline at ThinkProgress was this – Trump Now Wants to Block Immigrants from Sending Money to Their Families – but perhaps that’s the point. In the first days of the Trump administration our soldiers will bust down doors all across America and round up these eleven million people and put them in boxcars headed south, but that will take a while, so in the interim we can make sure their families in Mexico suffer as much as possible. Those folks, in another country, have nothing to do with any of this, but they must suffer – unless Mexico pays up. The idea seems to have been that the Republican base would love this, but it came too late to swing the vote in Wisconsin in his favor.

What did we do to deserve this? Here, Josh Marshall suggests we got stuck with a real estate wheeler and dealer:

Trump thinks the economy and the global economy works on ‘deals’. That’s obviously true in the sense that many trade agreements are endlessly negotiated to address the needs of all parties. But sustainable trade deals create mutually beneficially rules frameworks in which private commerce can operate by efficiencies and supply and demand and all the other factors by which capitalist economies function. When you have a ‘bad’ deal it’s seldom because one or the other party got hoodwinked (after all you can always scrap the deal) it’s because it’s written to benefit only certain economic actors in each country.

Rules are the key. Is it pure laissez-faire, or a framework of minimum worker and environmental rights which allow the workers to benefit with business and to reduce some of the extreme disparities between advanced and developing economies?

Trump’s view of ‘deals’ comes from the often predatory world of the Manhattan real estate market, where the sharks often do ‘win’ in absolute terms, sticking other parties with ‘deals’ where they win and the other guy loses. This has all come into sharper relief as Trump has started talking about a withdrawal from various US foreign alliances in Europe and Asia. If you look closely, he’s not really talking about pulling out, he’s talking about demanding what amounts to protection money payments from these countries for US security protections, payments he seems to think end up helping pay off the national debt.

So Japan, you want a great power protector from a rising China? What’s it worth to you? You and Germany are going to need to pay up maybe $100 billion a year for protection and also to cover whatever trade deficits you’re running with us. This is, to put it mildly, a way of thinking about national economic policy and foreign policy that is fundamentally geared to rent-seeking, poorly functioning markets, ones geared to force and non-mutually-beneficial trade. This also seems to be Trump’s mode of extracting wall building money from Mexico, getting some sort of cash payment in exchange for the current trade deficit.

Just so we’re clear: It is a very legitimate debate over whether the US can continue to fund what amounts to the world’s only dominant military force, when other countries are becoming wealthier every day. It’s also a legitimate question whether increased trade liberalization are smart for the US. But coming to good decisions on those questions is an altogether different matter from the bluff and bluster bully tactics that Trump proposes to bring to the world stage.

 This really is nutty:

US economic clout, by most measures, is clearly declining in relative terms. This isn’t necessarily bad and it is obvious. 40 years ago India and China were barely players on the global economic scene. They, along with Brazil, are now emerging as major economic powers, particularly China. Growth and peace isn’t what you get from Trump’s ‘deal-making’ vision of the world. But even if it were, is the US in any position to shake Germany or Japan down this way?

Trump says yes, but he’s been wrong before:

There was a funny moment reported in Trump’s recent meeting with RNC Chief Reince Priebus. Trump was threatening to sue the RNC over Cruz’s ‘stealing’ his delegates in Louisiana. Then Priebus had to explain to Trump that, Donald, these are the rules of how this works. You have to organize at the convention level to do this. It’s not cheating. To which Trump apparently said some version of “Oh…”

Donald Trump may have cut a lot of ‘deals’ in China. But President Trump may be having a lot of ‘Oh…’ moments coming fast and furious from day one.

And meanwhile, on the other side, Philip Bump explains what’s up there:

Bernie Sanders has accomplished something remarkable and completely unexpected. A year ago today, Hillary Clinton led Sanders by 55 points in the Real Clear Politics national polling average. Now, he trails by only 7 points on that same index – and in three polls over the past two months, he has tied or led Clinton nationally. He has reshaped the conversation in the Democratic race and, despite Clinton’s assertions to the contrary, pulled Clinton to the left to meet him. And he’s stuck around thanks to a fundraising engine that is surpassing Clinton’s and reaching a far wider group of donors.

Sanders made all of these points during his victory speech on Tuesday night, shortly after TV networks and the Associated Press called the state of Wisconsin for him. That victory got rolled into the points above to present a theme: Momentum. Sanders has momentum, Sanders said. His campaign is what momentum looks like. And that momentum, he suggested, will carry him to victory.

Well, this was impressive:

The recipe he used is the recipe he’s used elsewhere: beat Clinton with white voters enough to offset her strength with black voters. He was aided by Wisconsin having a relatively small black population – a population that preliminary exit polls reported by CNN suggest gave Clinton 7 of every 10 votes. Clinton and Sanders appear to have tied with Democrats, but Sanders won 7 in 10 independents, a group that made up nearly 30 percent of the electorate. So: Sanders wins.

He was supposed to. Those demographics suggested that he would. After Super Tuesday, a night in which Hillary Clinton vastly expanded her delegate lead, FiveThirtyEight outlined the odds of a Sanders victory in each of the next eight states. In seven of the eight, the demographics and past primary results suggested, Sanders would win. He’s won six of the seven that have voted. In most cases, it seemed like he’d win by wide margins. He did.

Is that momentum? Sanders and his advocates say that it is. Others have pointed out how uncommon it is for a front-runner to lose so many races so late in the process, though a top former staffer for President Obama notes that it also happened in 2008. National polling suggests that the race has tightened two points since the beginning of March. Does that count?

Maybe, or maybe not:

Sanders’s path to victory is now about as cumbersome as Ted Cruz’s. Like Cruz, Sanders has almost no way to get the delegate total he needs before the convention; like Cruz, Sanders is hoping that convention delegates will be moved by his late charge to hand him the nomination if both he and Clinton come up short.

Wisconsin didn’t change anything:

Momentum feels important. It feels important to win states, just as it feels important to string together a number of singles and doubles in an inning even if you’re trailing by 11 runs. It feels like you’re getting somewhere. All of this feels like it’s offering more than it ever should have, that it’s positioning Bernie Sanders to be a candidate in a way that no one ever dreamed – perhaps including Sanders himself.

But here, in the hard math of the Democratic delegate process, in a series of contests where Clinton has still gotten millions more votes than Sanders – that momentum is mostly a mirage. It looks like water, shimmering there in the desert.

It’s not.

Will that tear the Democratic Party apart? No, because as soon as Wisconsin was called for Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton sent out this tweet:

Congrats to @BernieSanders on winning Wisconsin. To all the voters and volunteers who poured your hearts into this campaign: Forward! – H

She’s the pragmatist. He’s the idealist. But they both want the same things, even if they argue a lot. There was no need for further complications. Leave that to the guys on the other side. With Republicans there are always further complications. Perhaps we should wait a few years for them to straighten it all out. We can move forward without them.


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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