Many Americans had to pinch themselves on Tuesday night. It’s the end of the world as we know it, they told themselves. The party of Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower is about to anoint Donald Trump as its new leader. Republican voters in Indiana had laid the ground for the coronation, a few hours after Ted Cruz told them that Trump was an amoral bully, a narcissist and a pathological liar.
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Even though Trump has yet to collect the 1237 delegates he needs to ensure his nomination, his double-digit win over Cruz in Indiana paves his way to a first-round election at the GOP Convention in Cleveland in August. Cruz, who had described Indiana as do or die, duly suspended his campaign. And just as John Kasich finally realized his strategic goal of holding on to become the last man standing against Trump, the pundits, the experts and GOP Chairman Reince Priebus suddenly declared game over. Trump was now the “presumptive” Republican candidate for President, barring unforeseen developments such as being kidnapped by aliens.
On the assumption that Kasich won’t turn into the surprise of the century in the eleven remaining primaries, Trump has put the finishing touches on an astonishing triumph that is almost the political equivalent of Leicester City’s Premier League Championship. He carried out a hostile takeover of a party that sought to reject him, thwarted its hard-hitting billionaires and outmaneuvered its favorite sons, diluted its hard-core conservative tenets beyond recognition and could yet, as some commentators were warning on Tuesday night, lead it to victory at the polls in November, against all odds.
Beyond his abrasive style and abusive rhetoric, his instinctive connection to white men’s rage and his ability to change positions from one moment to the next, Trump owes his success to his success. In America, as in many other places, nothing succeeds like success. Trump capitalized on his image as a successful playboy who outfoxes the world while listening only to himself to make inroads with disgruntled Republican voters. His early successes then created their own momentum, which led to ever-greater victories, until he turned invincible. In the eyes of his frustrated supporters, Trump is bound to succeed where the entire establishment Republicans failed; they promised to beat Obama but defeated mainly themselves.
Against this backdrop, Hillary Clinton suffered a double setback on Tuesday: not only did she lose to Bernie Sanders, she was cast as a loser on a day her presumptive rival was declared a big winner. Clinton apparently thought that Indiana was small on her, so she skipped any active campaigning or major television buys, a startling decision given the commonly held belief that this kind of behavior was one of the main reasons for her loss to Barack Obama in 2008.
Perhaps she believed that her emphatic victory in New York and three other Northeastern states last week would steamroll Sanders to submission. But the Vermont Senator’s enthusiastic young supporters, who once again gave Sanders close to 70 per cent of their votes, along with his superior campaign organization and two million dollars worth of television ads, gave him an important moral victory just as the media had started viewing him as a has-been.
That doesn’t mean that anyone besides Sanders, his wife or his closest advisers actually believes he has any chance of winning this thing. His upset victory in Indiana on Tuesday may have been sweet, but it gained him only six delegates more than Clinton, because of the Democrats’ proportional allocation. In order to erase Clinton’s 300-delegate advantage, Sanders needs to win over 70 per cent of the remaining pledged delegates as well as to persuade hundreds of uncommitted Super Delegates to support him instead of his rival. Most Democrats think this is a mission impossible, but after his win in Indiana, they will have a harder time convincing Sanders to cease and desist for the sake of party unity and the upcoming battle against a wily and dangerous rival.
Many Democrats believe that Sanders portrayal of Clinton as a corrupt politician who serves Wall Street tycoons is causing serious harm to her image and to her favorability ratings. Many are suspicious of Sanders’ motives: they remember that he’s never registered as a Democrat or pledged to support Clinton come what may. Given what now appears to be the end of the race on the Republican side, the murmurs of displeasure against Sanders are bound to get stronger along with the potential for an open clash with Clinton that will cause her even greater damage.
Nonetheless, the Democrats’ “tsores" are minute compared to the tremors that have been wracking the GOP and which are sure to multiply now. Even before one starts to deal with the daunting demographics confronting Trump, among women, African Americans and “The Hispanics”, as he calls them, his presumed nomination could accelerate the internal convulsions in the party and bring about a possible split. 70 per cent of Cruz voters in Indiana said in exit polls they would not vote for Trump in the general elections, Cruz himself fueled further speculation by speaking of a “movement” that will continue the battle while refraining from mentioning the Republican Party at all. Eliot Cohen, a senior Bush administration figure who is considered to be staunchly pro-Israel, called in a Washington Post article for a third candidate, if not a third party, who would challenge both Clinton and Trump. At best he or she would beat the both of them, Cohen wrote, and at worst he would block a Trump presidency and enable the lesser evil Clinton to take over America’s foreign policy.
Although talk of a conservative independent candidate who would run in the elections has been going on for many months, most observers believe it stands little chance of happening. The time to register in all 50 states is short, the effort that is required to do so is great and most of the potential funders of such an endeavor have already been burned by pouring millions into unsuccessful campaigns of Trump’s many rivals. They are hesitant to spend more on a quixotic effort to defeat Trump and may also fear his potential wrath if he’s elected. Many of them are likely to join other mainstream Republican figures in rationalizing a Trump candidacy and coming to terms with reality. Better a quirky and slightly menacing Trump, they’ll tell themselves, than four more humiliating years under a condescending Clinton regime.
Nonetheless, a sizable conservative chunk of the GOP, including many figures identified with support for Benjamin Netanyahu and his policies, will refuse to play ball. The Washington Post, which has moved to the right since its 2013 acquisition by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, described Trump’s success in an editorial on Monday as “the most repugnant political phenomenon in recent American history”, no less. Bret Stephens, one of the most forceful conservative and pro-Israeli advocates in the U.S. wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the GOP was in the process of destroying itself. Lindsey Graham, another pro-Israel stalwart, concurred with Stephen’s prognosis while adding his own diagnosis that Trump was “unhinged.”
Indeed, even on a day of towering achievement, Trump seemed to corroborate Graham’s evaluation. In the morning he shamelessly quoted a nutty headline in the National Enquirer, known for its great scoops about the amoral escapades of visiting aliens as well as reports on recent sightings of Elvis, alleging that Cruz’s father was photographed with Lee Harvey Oswald a few months before the Kennedy assassination. Later in the day, as his Indiana victory was announced, Trump took time out to tweet about how Lyin’ Ted Cruz was “wacko”. That didn’t prevent him, less than two hours later, from lavishing praise on the excellent, amazing, utterly wonderful Mr. Cruz, who is a role model for us all.
Cruz had described Trump as a narcissist, but some of his symptoms are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the psychiatrists’ bible known as the DSM, under other psychiatric conditions as well.