Trump learns the hard way
Opponent has him running in circles
DONALD Trump is steaming mad — at Ted Cruz, at the Republican National Committee, at state Republican parties and at the entire nomination process.
“These are dirty tricksters. This is a dirty trick,” he said at a rally last week. “And I’ll tell you what, the Republican National Committee, they should be ashamed of themselves for allowing this crap to happen.”
What’s happening is even though Trump has a clear lead in votes and delegates, Cruz’s campaign is running circles around him behind the scenes. The breaking point came when Cruz got all of Colorado’s delegates last weekend because his campaign understood and managed the weirdly intricate system of district-level conventions the state party had instituted. And as the Washington Post reported this week, Cruz is securing pledges from delegates who will support him on a second ballot at the convention in Cleveland if Trump fails to win outright on the first ballot. Cruz may already have enough to ensure Trump can’t prevail if he doesn’t arrive with a majority in hand.
The lesson here is clear: guess what? Politics is hard. Even if you’re a celebrity with an unparalleled ability to garner media attention, you can’t just blow in to a process you’ve never participated in before, hire a bunch of people who don’t have much experience in it either, believe big rallies are a substitute for careful organizing and think you’re going to walk away with a victory.
One of the central rationales of Trump’s campaign is because he made a lot of money selling real estate, he “knows how to get things done,” and therefore it doesn’t matter he’s an utter ignoramus about politics, government and policy. Well, this is just a hint of what he’ll run into if he ends up becoming the nominee, and particularly if he ends up becoming president of the United States.
On one hand, Trump’s complaint is entirely legitimate. This process isn’t democratic. It doesn’t express the will of the Republican voters. Republican elites really do have contempt for their base (particularly when that base does something foolish such as almost choosing a nominee who probably dooms their chances at the White House). If it’s possible for the person who gets the most votes to lose, then something is fundamentally wrong. In most years, the complexity of the process doesn’t really matter — there’s a clear winner, and even if he had to jump through a bunch of ridiculous hoops on his way to the nomination, each posing its own organizational challenge, the outcome still ends up being what the party’s voters wanted.
On the other hand, Trump is perfectly happy to accept aspects of the process that are less than democratic but benefit him. Winner-take-all state primaries aren’t democratic either, because they eliminate the voice of all the people who didn’t vote for the person who came in first. Is it any less fair for Cruz to capture all of Colorado’s 34 delegates than it was for Trump to capture all of Florida’s 99 delegates, even though he won less than a majority of the votes in that primary?
The process is riddled with undemocratic features. It’s important to remember the nomination system isn’t a product of some singular, intentional design the purpose of which is to thwart the popular will. Instead, it’s a messy conglomeration of processes created by different people and organizations. The Republican National Committee sets some broad rules, but then individual state parties get room to move within those rules, according to their own desires. That’s what happened in Colorado.
If Cruz is able to manipulate that system to wind up as the GOP nominee despite being the choice of fewer Republicans than Trump (which is still something of a long shot, let’s not forget), it won’t be because of an elite conspiracy to deny Trump the nomination, even if there really is such a conspiracy at work. The real reason will be this: Cruz is very good at politics.
Cruz has run an incredibly shrewd campaign from the beginning. The very fact he’s in the position he is now, when there were so many more personally appealing candidates who have fallen by the wayside, testifies to that fact. Cruz didn’t win those 34 delegates in Colorado because the system is “corrupt,” as Trump charges. He won them because months ago, he and his team took pains to understand the varying rules by which each of these contests operates, and they invested the time and resources to make sure they could take advantage of every twist and turn. Trump failed because he has no idea what he’s doing.
As attention turns to the delegates to the national convention, Cruz is still doing a better job than Trump at understanding and working the system. Is it unfair that after the first ballot, delegates will be released to vote for whomever they choose, meaning Trump’s support could wither away quickly on subsequent ballots? Maybe. But Cruz prepared for that eventuality by working to get people loyal to him chosen as delegates in as many states as possible, even if many of them would be bound to vote for Trump on the first ballot. Trump didn’t look far enough ahead to do that. And now Cruz is courting other delegates in advance of a potentially contested convention, because he understands the rules and is doing everything he can to exploit them. Until a very short time ago, Trump hadn’t bothered to plan for this eventuality, and now he’s trying desperately to catch up.
This gets back to something I’ve been arguing for years, which is candidates who say, “Vote for me because I’m not a politician, I’m a businessman” are fooling both themselves and the voters. There’s a reason most of them fail to get elected in the first place, and most of those who do fail to be very effective once they get the job. It’s because politics is complicated. It requires a variety of different skills and knowledge, and the more you do it, the better you get at it.
Trump says he knows how to get things done, but the truth is he knows how to get some things done, like building a hotel or licensing his name to use on crappy steaks. And if he thinks navigating these complicated primary rules to get the nomination is difficult, just wait until he tries to do something like repealing Obamacare and upending the entire American health-care system. Then he’ll really learn how difficult politics can be.
Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump is playing catch- up to rival Ted Cruz.