World

Op-Ed: Trump and the Ides of March madness

By Jonathan Faull 3 March 2016

Momma doesn’t want the baby. The machine begat a monster. It’s doomsday time for the Grand Old Party (GOP). By JONATHAN FAULL.

Having stumbled in Iowa, Donald Trump is now unequivocally, and — for the grey-suited brokers of Republican power — unfathomably, the frontrunner for the Republican partys presidential nomination. A barnstorming February run through New Hampshire and South Carolina eviscerated the millions of dollars dedicated to rekindling the Bush dynasty, and burned moderate New Jersey Governor Chris Christie out of the race, only to bring him back to political life as a Trump surrogate.

The nomineesfate will be sealed by delegates allocated through state primary and caucus contests. Despite the terabytes of data spilled, at midnight on leap year day just 5 percent of the GOPs delegates had been allocated. By the close of Super Tuesday (March 1) 31 percent of delegates had been parsed through the primary mill, powering the Trump tsunami, and pushing the candidate further ahead of his competitors. Trump has now won in states in a diversity of political cultures: New Hampshire, Alabama, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia are galaxies apart in the universe of American politics; yet Trump swept the board.

To date, the arcane machinations of state-level primaries and caucuses have allocated delegates to candidates through proportional formulas. In order to avoid a repeat of what the party denizens deemed to be an unduly long 2012 primary contest which unduly battered Mitt Romney ahead of going head-to-head with incumbent Democratic President, Barack Obama, the Republican National Committee designated first-past-the-post, winner-takes-all contests in the delegate-rich states of Ohio and Florida, as well as a winner-takes-all by congressional district race in Missouri.

All of these states will be in play on Super Tuesday Redux (appropriately scheduled for the Ides of March, on the 15th of the month), and at this point in the polling cycle, Trump is projected to defeat Rubio (a sitting Florida senator) and Kasich (the incumbent Governor of Ohio) in their own backyards. When the dust settles, a full 60 percent of the GOPs convention candidates will have been allocated, and the field will inevitably narrow.

Trump’s candidacy remains deeply divisive within the GOP. While he stands clear as the frontrunner in the GOP contest, he is yet to win a statewide contest with 50 percent of the vote. Hes attacked the pope, called one of his primary opponents a pussy”, fanned a war of words with two former Mexican heads of state, and only quasi-disavowed the endorsement of his candidacy by a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

The presumptive nominee of the party of Lincoln — the party that freed black slaves from bondage — appears happy to indulge and fan nativist white racism. In the context of a historically diverse Republican field, the call of the dog whistle bristles in Trumps stump rhetoric, inspiring and affirming the most base of American racist traditions.

Commenting recently to This Week, one of the influential weekend political talk shows, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley — the child of Indian immigrants to America, a rising star in the establishment and a Rubio surrogate — said of Trump’s frontrunner status: “It’s scary… I think what he’ll do to the Republican Party is really make us question who we are and what we’re about.”

One would think, under the current circumstances, that the GOP establishment would embrace such a reflection. But she went on to add, “and that’s something we don’t want to see happen”. Therein lies the rub.

Since Nixon’s Southern Strategy — formulated to woo Democrat-aligned southern whites at the height of the Civil Rights Movement — the GOP has consciously used race and racism to inform their political strategies, exercised gerrymandering to corral the influence of black voters, and implemented regulations to stymie the rights of voters of colour.

Over the course of the entire Obama presidency the party fanned the flames of anger within their overwhelmingly white grassroots and projected the causes of white working class malaise on to the country’s first black presidency, despite the obvious legacy of the economic crisis presided over by George W Bush, and the hollowing out of industrial capacity in its wake.

Nativist bigotry wasn’t invented by Donald Trump, nor was policy unburdened of content at sea in an ocean of baseless promises. The rise of the Tea Party sounded the bell for the fight for the soul of the Republican Party. In Donald Trump the firmament at the base of the party has merely found a voice.

The party must now face in the full light of day the prospect of a Trump nomination. The establishment has yet to relinquish the contest. The party needs to broach the prospect of its first brokered convention since 1976 when Gerald Ford edged out an insurgent Ronald Reagan in Kansas City. The Rubio and Kasich campaigns have already briefed the media on strategies for a hung convention. But such an outcome would risk alienating the swathe of Trump supporters that has energised the primary contest, and prejudice any nominee in November’s general election.

It’s a nightmare scenario for the GOP. Hillary Clinton is steaming ahead on the Democrat side of the ballot in a comparatively collegial race that has helped both candidates refine and improve their candidacies. The chicken is coming home to roost, and he has a ginger comb(over). DM

Jonathan Faull is an independent political and policy analyst based in Washington DC.

Photo: Republican 2016 US presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump (R) speaks, after being introduced by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (L) at a Super Tuesday campaign event in Palm Beach, Florida, USA, 01 March 2016. The Florida presidential primary is 15 March 2016. EPA/RYAN STONE

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