Trump learns the hard way

Op­po­nent has him run­ning in cir­cles

Winnipeg Free Press - SundayXtra - - OPINION - By Paul Wald­man

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.

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