Going Bananas

The story surfaced late last year – bananas, as we know them, are suddenly going extinct. Monoculture made the only variety anyone now grows, the Cavendish, vulnerable to a nasty fungus that stays in the soil for thirty years. There’s no fix, so soon it will be no more bananas for you – and no more jokes about banana republics.

There used to be a lot of those. There was that 1971 Woody Allen movie Bananas – the Latin-American dictator goes mad and decrees that all citizens must now wear their underwear on the outside, among other odd decrees. He’s lost it. He’s deposed and the revolutionaries then make the hapless Fielding Mellish, Woody Allen, the new dictator. Don’t ask – it’s complicated – but he’s also is not very good at being the total authoritarian. He’s as absurd as the guy he replaced. It’s a comedy in the manner of Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator – although far less sentimental and didactic – and like all comedy, it’s grounded in the idea that there is such a thing as going too far, and that’s always funny, unless it’s tragic. We all laugh at the character that has gotten way too far out there, who is in over his head and doesn’t know it, while making an absolute fool of himself. That’s funny, unless someone actually dies, and then you have a tragedy – all noble tragic heroes go too far too. And then there’s Donald Trump. Are we supposed to laugh?

Even with the impending absence of all bananas, people still get the general idea:

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has adopted “banana republic” tactics because it’s getting “stomped” in the Republican ground game in states like Wyoming and Colorado, said the head of Ted Cruz’s delegate-hunting team.

“When we win, Trump whines,” Ken Cuccinelli, the former Virginia attorney general, said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “We’re playing within the rules established years ago…”

Cuccinelli, delegate operations manager for Cruz, responded to a suggestion last week by Paul Manafort – his counterpart on the Trump campaign – that the Texas senator was using “Gestapo” tactics to round up delegates.

“How about calling for riots in the street? How about threats: We’re going to go to the hotel rooms of delegates; death threats to the Colorado Republican chairman?” Cuccinelli said. “This is a banana republic approach by the Trump team because they’re getting beaten on the ground.”

It’s the Gestapo! No, it’s a banana republic! That’s the one that sticks:

Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, also responded to suggestions from Trump ally Roger Stone that the campaign will make public the room numbers of any delegate who has pledged to Trump on the first ballot at the convention but later switches. “It’s not helpful and I don’t find it to be an appropriate threat,” Priebus said today on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Priebus may have seen the Woody Allen movie, and this certainly made the Sunday morning talks shows more interesting. And for the second weekend in a row, Donald Trump did not call in to any of them – he alone doesn’t have to show up – although he did have something to say:

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said Sunday that he hopes a contested GOP convention in July “doesn’t involve violence,” The Washington Post reported.

“I hope it doesn’t involve violence. I hope it doesn’t. I’m not suggesting that,” Trump reportedly told reporters. “I hope it doesn’t involve violence, and I don’t think it will. But I will say this, it’s a rigged system, it’s a crooked system. It’s 100 percent corrupt.”

Trump said in March that there would be riots at the convention in Cleveland if he didn’t win the nomination.

“I think you’d have riots. I think you’d have riots. I’m representing a tremendous – many, many millions of people,” Trump said at the time.

Woody Allen apparently writes his lines. That’s a classic wink-wink nudge-nudge threat. Nice little political party you have here – it’d be a shame if anything happened to it. That line’s so corny they don’t even use it in gangster movies anymore, but Trump is in trouble:

The weekend was another delegate bloodbath for Donald Trump. In Georgia. In Wyoming. In South Carolina. In Kansas. In Florida. Ted Cruz put on a clinic, mobilizing his GOP activist base to capture at least 50 delegates on Saturday while Trump came away with about a dozen in another bruising defeat that undermines his chances to become the Republican presidential nominee.

If Trump fails to clinch the nomination by the end of primary season on June 7, the nomination will likely be decided at a contested convention in July. And Cruz, after picking up scores of loyal delegates who he expects will stick with him if the convention takes multiple votes to resolve, is radiating confidence about his ability to prevail in that scenario.

Cruz just knew how these things work better that Trump:

Local and statewide Republican Party organizations around the country held about 20 conventions and caucuses to elect national delegates, with more than 90 slots up for grabs in a shadow primary process that Trump has blasted as “rigged” against him. The contests open only to registered Republican voters – and in some cases, only to party insiders – identify individuals to fill delegate slots earned by candidates in state primaries and caucuses. Who these delegates are is crucial: Though party rules require them to vote according to the will of their states’ voters at first, most would be able to vote freely if the convention deadlocks and requires multiple rounds of balloting to pick a nominee.

So far, Cruz has dominated these delegate selection battles, even in states whose primaries Trump won handily. Though Trump won all 50 delegates in South Carolina in a Feb. 20 primary, for example, many are poised to abandon him for Cruz on a second ballot. And now, in Georgia, where Trump crushed his rivals and earned 42 of 76 delegates on primary day, dozens are set to abandon him for Cruz as soon as they can.

On Saturday, the Texas senator won 32 of 42 delegate slots available in Georgia, according to former Rep. Jack Kingston, a Cruz supporter. And John Kasich, who finished last in that primary, scored a delegate as well – state Sen. Bill Cowsert – the Ohio governor’s campaign confirmed.

And meanwhile, out west:

In Wyoming, Cruz scored all 14 delegates on the ballot at a state convention, giving him 23 of the state’s 29 slots overall. Earlier Saturday, Trump ripped the Wyoming contest on “Fox & Friends” and said he didn’t bother to compete there because decisions were being made by “the bosses.”

“I don’t want to waste millions of dollars going out to Wyoming many months before to wine and dine and to essentially pay off all these people because a lot of it’s a payoff,” he said. “You understand that, they treat them, they take them to dinner, they get them hotels. I mean, the whole thing’s a big payoff, has nothing to do with democracy.”

But someone didn’t even try:

Cruz had already won nine of the 12 delegates who had been allocated in Wyoming, where he has been organizing for months. He rolled out a state leadership team in February, and his local team and national staffers have been aggressively courting delegate candidates. The senator himself addressed the state convention there Saturday morning, holding up a copy of the slate of delegates supporting him and urging the crowd to back that slate in order to stop Trump. (“This is how elections are won in America,” Cruz said in a statement that seemed aimed at rebutting Trump’s complaints about the system.)

Cruz was the only candidate who bothered showing up. Trump was supposed to be represented by former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, but she pulled out of a speaking slot earlier in the week without explanation.

That was probably for the best – she would have made things even worse – no one wants to be lectured by an incoherent madwoman – and also, on the Sunday shows, there was this:

Ohio Gov. John Kasich dismissed Donald Trump’s accusations that the GOP nomination process is “rigged,” calling on the Republican front-runner to “act like you’re a professional.”

“You’ve got to have a certain number of delegates to be nominated,” Kasich told CNN’s Dana Bash in an interview aired Sunday on State of the Union. “It’s like saying I made an 83 on my math test so I should get an A just because I think it’s rigged that you have to make a 90 to get an A.”

“I mean, come on,” Kasich continued. “Act like you’re a professional, be a pro.”

That must sting, but Josh Marshall says it isn’t that simple:

Republican primary voters nationwide seem clearly against awarding the party’s presidential nomination to someone who didn’t get the most votes or delegates in the primaries and caucuses, regardless of who they support themselves. A new poll shows that 62% of Republicans say it would be “unacceptable” for the candidate who won the most votes not to get the nomination, if no candidate was able to clinch outright by getting to 1237 delegates.

Of course they feel that way, for good reason:

The article reporting the results quotes RNC chief Reince Priebus on Meet the Press saying the following: “If he was winning the majority of votes, he’d likely have the majority of delegates. But that’s not actually what’s happening. He’s winning a plurality of votes, and he has a plurality of delegates – and under the rules and under the concept of this country, a majority rules on everything.”

But of course this isn’t true. Very, very few elections in the United States have run-off voting. The “rule and … concept of this country” is that the candidate with the most votes wins, regardless of whether they get an absolute majority.

This isn’t just a gotcha aimed at Priebus since obviously the rules of both parties are clear that you need to get a majority of delegates to support you to become the nominee. But the audience for this decision isn’t the RNC or the delegates at the convention. It’s the national electorate the nominee has to target with his campaign. Here the “rule and concept of this country” – whoever gets the most votes wins – is clearly what the great majority of the national GOP electorate is thinking in terms of.

But then it gets complicated:

The 62% number is the candidate with the most “votes” – not delegates – a number that has no official relevance in the convention process at all. The number drops down a bit to 54% saying it is “unacceptable” if the candidate with the most “delegates” is not the nominee – seemingly a recognition of the imperfect connection between delegate allocation and popular sentiment.

Finally there’s this: “According to the NBC/WSJ poll, 55 percent of Republican primary voters say it’s acceptable to them if Cruz wins the nomination by convincing the delegates from other candidates to support him.”

So, they agree with Trump, and they don’t:

If Cruz wins the nomination in Cleveland, presumably it will have been by doing precisely that – getting the delegates of other candidates to vote for him. He might need various unpledged delegates too. But you get the idea. We could speculate that Republican primary voters would be okay with Cruz convincing other candidates’ delegates to support him but not by grabbing Trump’s own delegates – something that clearly is part of Cruz’s plan, both at the state convention level and after the first ballot in Cleveland. But I see little reason to interpret the numbers that way. This is just the pollsters asking the same question in different ways and getting different answers, or at least asking closely intertwined questions and getting contradictory answers.

So don’t expect riots in Cleveland. The cartoonish banana republic threats are empty. That’s what Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog argues here:

Look, I know Team Trump went into the presidential contest knowing jack about this aspect of running for president. But it doesn’t require a working knowledge of the political process to organize a riot. Maybe just a “Brooks Brothers riot” – recall that Roger Stone, the Trump advocate who’s now nominally unconnected to the campaign, was one of the organizers of the demonstration that shut down the Bush-Gore recount in Miami.

It’s clear now that the Trump people can’t finagle at this level, but if they also can’t intimidate, what have they got? All the blue-collar rage I keep hearing about hasn’t motivated his fans to show up spontaneously at these gatherings to make their displeasure felt, and demonstrations that could be organized by an energetic intern aren’t taking place, and Trump’s backers aren’t even driving by party headquarters and shooting out a window or two in reaction to these outcomes, so why should we think they can get it together to scare people at the convention? I continue to believe Trump’s going to go down relatively quietly there.

He may not go entirely quietly. He did have someone write him an interesting column for the Wall Street Journal, which Slate’s Jim Newell finds amusing:

In it, he attacks the idiosyncratic Colorado delegate selection process. Republican insiders have treated this as nothing more than whining. The rules were put in place last year, they say; if he didn’t prepare, then he has no grounds on which to take issue. To his supporters, though, these complaints ring quite true. And they have a point. Why couldn’t Colorado have just held a primary instead of skipping straight to district and state conventions that allow in-the-know types to dominate? Was 34 delegates for Ted Cruz, however impressive a feat of organization, really the most accurate representation of Colorado Republicans’ political preferences?

Trump is cleverly trying to spin his apparent lack of organization into a virtue of his candidacy: that the rules are complicated by design to prevent an outsider from succeeding. “In recent days, something all too predictable has happened: Politicians furiously defended the system,” the writer writing under the name of “Donald J. Trump” explains in the Journal. “‘These are the rules,’ we were told over and over again. If the ‘rules’ can be used to block Coloradans from voting on whether they want better trade deals, or stronger borders, or an end to special-interest vote-buying in Congress – well, that’s just the system and we should embrace it.”

“Let me ask America a question,” the writer continues. “How has the ‘system’ been working out for you and your family?”

It’s all one big conspiracy. Yeah, yeah, but Newell says that’s his escape plan:

It’s useful to read this column and listen to the rest of his ravings about the flawed process as him articulating his contingency plan in the event of a loss. In such an event, he would argue that the party used every trick it could muster to stop him, the people’s choice, from winning the nomination. In this, he would be right and wrong. The party will have used every trick it had to stop him. But that he has gotten as far as he has demonstrates the dearth of tricks available to the party, since winner-take-all or winner-take-most rules frequently allowed him to turn his narrow pluralities into majority delegate pickups.

But that’s fine:

Trump may be denied the nomination, but that won’t stop him from saying he won it anyway. He will argue until his death that he actually is the rightful GOP nominee but that the RNC pulled some rules run-around on him to deny him his crown. Trump should be able to successfully spin that to his need, and his need is simply to avoid being labeled a choker every place he goes for the rest of his life. What it doesn’t mean, though, is that he would be a gracious loser in defeat (not that anyone is expecting this), or urge his supporters to move on and to back the eventual nominee. That would not help his brand, and the brand comes first.

Perhaps that’s so, but Fareed Zakaria argues that Trump (and others) has got this all wrong:

Having recently discovered how the nomination process works in the Republican Party, Donald Trump is furious. “They wanted to keep people out,” he bellowed. “This is a dirty trick.” In fact, Mr. Trump is right on the first count and wrong on the second. Political parties do have mechanisms to “keep people out.” But far from being a trick, they are the crux of what makes parties valuable in a democracy.

The point actually is to keep certain people out:

Clinton Rossiter begins his classic book Parties and Politics in America with this declaration: “No America without democracy, no democracy without politics, no politics without parties.” In a large and diverse country, to get things done, people need devices to navigate the political system, organize themselves, channel particular interests and ideologies, and negotiate with others who have differing interests and views. Political parties have traditionally played this role in the United States. And they have often played it as a counterweight to the momentary passions of the public.

Someone has to keep things from getting out of hand:

At the heart of the American political party is the selection of its presidential candidate. This process used to be controlled by party elites – mayors, governors, legislators. In the early 20th century, an additional mechanism was added to test a candidate’s viability on the campaign trail: primaries. Still, between 1912 and 1968, the man who won a party’s presidential primaries became the nominee less than half the time. Dwight Eisenhower was chosen not by primary voters but in a complex, contested convention.

1968 was the year things changed. The radicalism that swept the Democratic Party also cast aside its rules for selecting nominees, favoring direct primaries over all else. The Republicans copied the Democrats, and soon the parties ended up with the system we have today. To choose their candidates for the November election, the parties simply hold prior elections. In this regard, the United States is almost unique among advanced democracies. Mostly everywhere else, political parties have not turned the nominating process into a plebiscite.

The result of these changes has been to hollow out political parties, turning them into empty vessels for the most successful political entrepreneur of the moment.

We all know who that is, and Zakaria notes that he has been saying this since 2003:

I wrote that without strong parties, all you needed to run for president was name recognition and a fundraising machine. I predicted that the partyless system would be good for “political dynasties, celebrity officials and billionaire politicians.” The front-runners in both parties in 2016 fit this description.

What is the harm of this new open system? We can see it now. A party without internal strength and capacity cannot shape the political agenda. Instead, it simply reflects and amplifies the noisiest popular passions. The old system steered toward moderation because it was run mostly by local and state officials who had won general elections and then had to govern. Today, delegates are chosen by primary voters, a much smaller, narrower and more extreme slice of the country. It is ironic that the old smoke-filled rooms were in some sense more representative of the general voter than the open primaries of today.

The old parties drew their strength from neighborhood organizations, churches, unions and local business groups. The new parties are really just Rolodexes of Washington professionals – activists, ideologues, fundraisers and pollsters. These professionals are more extreme and less practical, and seek to turn large, diverse parties into ideological battleships. Rossiter’s declaration on democracy has a last phrase: “no parties without compromise and moderation.”

So will it be no parties? Zakaria hopes not:

The old system is almost dead. In the current Republican race, it is trying to revive itself to save the party from a dangerous demagogue. This is not an assault on democracy. The people will vote in November, and that vote will be dispositive. Meanwhile, we have an effort by one of the core institutions of American politics to shape the choices facing voters in the November election. Sometimes to strengthen democracy, you have to restrain it.

That’s a hard sell. Don’t expect to see that on a bumper sticker. No one seems to believe in restraint any longer, and Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir suggests this:

Our political system is profoundly broken, and although many of us have understood that for years, this has been the year that fact became unavoidable. Both political parties are struggling through transparently rigged primary campaigns that have made that ludicrous process look more outdated than ever. Nobody cares about the Democratic vote in Wyoming and it’s not going to matter, but when Bernie Sanders dominates the caucuses in that empty, dusty and Republican-dominated state and wins seven of its 18 delegates, doesn’t that sum up the whole damn thing?

Both parties are also struggling to control long-simmering internal conflicts that have come boiling to the surface this year, and in both cases the leadership caste is wondering whether it’s time to burn down the village in order to save it. In the larger analysis, both parties are struggling to ignore the mounting evidence of their own irrelevance.

This will not go well:

There could definitely be a dark historical irony at work here, if the year we elect our first female president – rather late in the day, it must be said – is also the year when our political system enters a period of unmistakable and perhaps terminal decline. If Hillary Clinton wins in November, it won’t happen because America has gotten over sexism or because the Democrats have forged a pathway to the future. It will be because she was nominated by the party that is dying slowly and somewhat politely, rather than the one that just blew itself up in public with a suicide vest. It will happen because many people will conclude they’d rather have a president they don’t particularly like or trust, but who is pretty much a known quantity, than a third-rate comic-book supervillain. Of such choices, history is made.

Of such choices, banana republics are formed – but they’re never as funny like in the Woody Allen movie. They’re only just as absurd.

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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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One Response to Going Bananas

  1. The comments are apt. However awful politics can be, and it is often awful, at least the somewhat organized political parties (I am a strong Democrat) bring a certain amount of order to the process of trying to avoid chaos in this nation of over 320,000,000 people.
    A few days ago we had one of those occasional family arguments on-line, where my sister in Rochester NY was asking about the primary there. Imperfectly, I said this: “The current season, in my opinion, is made, bought and paid for by the media complex which makes an immense fortune off of contests, polls, advertising, etc., etc., etc. I happen to be active as a Democrat. Monday night I spent two hours with a dozen fellow citizens going through resolutions presented at our Senate District caucuses in early March. In my opinion, the drudge work done by we folks is important, and the Senate District Convention next weekend is important also, as is the Congressional District Convention, later, and the State Convention after that. All of these represent the imperfections of society at large, (a “committee of the whole”) but they’re one hell of a lot better than the anarchy of government by the individual at any level who feels that his or her opinion should be the opinion of everyone!”
    Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders for that matter, benefit by being able to able to appeal to ideologues who can, and do, make a dramatic impact in the short run, but in the longer term, on a national and international policy scale, are off on either fringe, if they are even interested in keeping the ship of state from running into an iceberg. They are zealots, identical twins, only ideologically 180 degrees apart.
    In my family, three siblings agreed with me, but one did not, quite aggressively.
    So it goes, out in the world.
    My Senate District meets this weekend. Even we are not “birds of a feather”. One House district is contested between three candidates, and there may end up being a primary. But at least we’re willing to debate inside a large room.

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