I’ve been voting since Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford in 1976 (yeah, I’m old). This is my eleventh presidential cycle and it was to be my tie-breaker. I’ve voted for the winner 5 times and for the loser 5 times. Though I’m told that I’m the most liberal Southern Baptist since Jimmy Carter, I’ve been voting GOP every time and was hoping this election, reacting to the unpopularity of Obama, might vault me back above .500 for my lifetime.
Then, politics got crazy – just plain weird. Most of the weirdness can be attributed to the entrance into the Republican race of the insanity of Donald Trump. He started out as a novelty, but in a field of 17 Republicans he somehow attracted a strong following and surged out to the delegate lead. Crass, mean, vulgar, devoid of ideas, he has run pretty much solely on the force of his personality. “Vote for me and I will fix everything because I make good deals and I will make America great again.” The Trump campaign is not about a platform or about ideas, it is a messianic campaign – Trump will save us.
He has also helped to make this the most bizarre campaign ever. Consider the following
- We’ve had a socialist running for the Democratic nomination – and Bernie Sanders too, who is actually a Socialist, and not even a Democrat!
- Before the election, the Democratic frontrunner might well be under indictment!
- Because of the Democratic system, Hillary has lost something like 6 or 7 straight contests and has a comfortable lead. Superdelegates are going to her not Sanders.
(If the GOP was not waging the most bizarre campaign in history we’d be talking about how wacky the Democrats are this year. But they are coming across as relatively sane in the light of Trumpsanity.)
- GOP debates devolved into middle school foodfights with discussions focused on the size of Donald Trump’s well, you know.
- Donald Trump actually said that Carly Fiorina was too ugly to be President, among about a hundred other racially insensitive or misogynistic things he said. After each of these awful statements, his poll numbers rose!
- After waging a brutal war with Trump, the usually swashbuckling Chris Christie dropped out, endorsed Trump, then stood behind him with a “please help me I’m being kidnapped” look on his face during a press conference. Trump then told him to go home and we’ve not seen or heard a thing of Christie since.
- Dr. Ben Carson, who was once seen as the moral center of the GOP, was savaged by Trump, who questioned his faith, accused him of some heinous crimes, and treated him like dirt. Carson then endorsed Trump.
- The low point came a couple of weeks ago when Trump released unflattering pictures of Heidi Cruz and ridiculed her looks. He also accused her of being a former call girl.
- Then, after getting shellacked yesterday in Wisconsin, Trump issued a gracious statement congratulating Cruz on his win. It was the end of a long, brutal week in Wisconsin where he made misstep after misstep and misstatement after misstatement, having turned a huge lead in the polls into a 15 point loss.
Through his mouthpiece, Trump said:
Donald J. Trump withstood the onslaught of the establishment yet again. Lyin’ Ted Cruz had the Governor of Wisconsin, many conservative talk radio show hosts, and the entire party apparatus behind him. Not only was he propelled by the anti-Trump Super PAC’s spending countless millions of dollars on false advertising against Mr. Trump, but he was coordinating `with his own Super PAC’s (which is illegal) who totally control him. Ted Cruz is worse than a puppet— he is a Trojan horse, being used by the party bosses attempting to steal the nomination from Mr. Trump. We have total confidence that Mr. Trump will go on to win in New York, where he holds a substantial lead in all the polls, and beyond. Mr. Trump is the only candidate who can secure the delegates needed to win the Republican nomination and ultimately defeat Hillary Clinton, or whomever is the Democratic nominee, in order to Make America Great Again.
Folks, that is paranoia – a guy who is about to go postal (my apologies to some of my close friends who are letter carriers). Name-calling. Wild accusations. Conspiratorial fears. It’s both creepy and scary. Is Trump coming apart at the seams?
So, where are we in the race? What is likely to happen? I’ve been keeping up with things and annoying people with my analysis since long before the primaries even started. I’ve not been writing much in recent weeks, because I grew deeply discouraged and despaired of the GOP being able to stop the insanity of the Trump candidacy. But, like Jim Carrey’s character in the greatest movie never to win an Oscar said, “So you’re saying there’s a chance!” It seems that the voters may be tiring of Trump’s act. I’m not getting my hopes up too high. He’s got New York coming up, his home state, and then California, which is not exactly known for its political sanity. But there seems to be hope. So, here are some of my thoughts and predictions about politics – the national kind, not the SBC kind.
1. Hillary is going to be the Democratic nominee, even though she is losing state after state.
That party has rigged their process so that even though she is losing a lot of primaries and caucuses, she can rack up superdelegates and win the nomination anyway. The problem is passion. Bernie and his supporters have it; the Hillary camp does not. That passion is likely not transferrable in the general election. Hillary, even without her legal issues, is a eminently beatable candidate this fall, if the GOP were not committing political suicide-by-Trump.
2. If Trump is the GOP nominee, it will likely be an unprecedented bloodbath in November.
As this has become a one-on-one, Trump’s weaknesses have become more apparent, as was seen in Wisconsin. In a three month general election race, Trump would stumble, fall, and take the House and perhaps the Senate with him. What is worse than a Hillary presidency? A Hillary presidency with a Democratic House and Senate!
3. The candidate gaining momentum is #NeverTrump.
I say this with trepidation, because Cruz supporters tend to be pretty passionate about their guy – they seem to believe he will align the planets and bring balance to the force. Cruz’s speech last night, as would be expected, claimed that the GOP is uniting around him. I think the GOP is uniting around #NeverTrump. Trump still hasn’t received a majority in any state (though he probably will in New York), which means that the majority of GOP voters have voted against him in every single state. In spite of his cheerleaders like Sean Hannity trying to anoint him as the nominee, he is losing ground now. Cruz is gaining support, but most of us who are supporting him are doing so less out of Cruz passion and more out of a desire to see Trump defeated.
Why do I say this? Cruz needs to be careful not to overplay his hand. He’s not the point man of some great movement. He’s the last man standing. He needs to be presidential. He needs to seek to unify the party. He needs to avoid some of his crazier policy initiatives and just be what he is – and acceptable alternative to Donald Trump. I’m not saying he shouldn’t be himself, or outline his strategy, but he needs to stay out of the Trump gutter and avoid some of the more extreme views he has (like his plan to patrol Muslim neighborhoods).
4. Cruz has NO hope of 1237, Trump is unlikely to get there.
Though Wisconsin was a great night for Cruz and for #NeverTrump, the math still favors an open convention for the GOP, at least according to the experts I’ve seen opine. There seems to be little hope of Cruz getting to 1237, unless Trump is struck by lightning. He’d have to win NY by a landslide and then also take California – unlikely events.
The good news is that the math no longer favors Trump getting to 1237 either. Best case scenarios have him hitting something near 1200 and falling about 40 delegates shy. His allies at FOX news were saying last night that since Trump is such a good dealmaker, he should be able to get over the hump. That seems like absolute nonsense to me. Those members of the GOP who pray are asking for deliverance from Trump! He’s not likely to pick up many unlocked delegates. Those not committed to Trump and mostly committed against him. If Trump doesn’t win the nomination outright, he’s not going to get the nomination at all.
A simple point here: Trump is talking about the GOP “stealing the nomination.” That is typical bluster. He has to win it. No one has to give it to him. If he does not win 1237 delegates, he has not claimed the nomination as his own and the GOP is perfectly within its right to pick someone else. Consider this, Trump (and supporters). In every race and throughout America, a vast majority of Republican voters have said, “NO!” to Donald Trump. Yes, he’s gotten more votes than the other candidates, but the majority of GOP voters has said loudly and clearly that we do not want him as our nominee. He has no right to the nomination unless he wins it.
5. An open convention is not the apocalyptic disaster pundits make it out to be.
There is great moaning and groaning in the pundit class about the disaster that an open convention would be. There hasn’t been one since 1976, and Gerald Ford didn’t lose because of that.
The simple fact is that an open convention that chooses another candidate will be orders of magnitude less disastrous than a Trump candidacy. There will be almost four months between the convention and the election, that is an eternity. If the GOP selects a GOOD candidate at its open convention there is a great chance he (or she) can win against Hillary (or Bernie) in the fall.
- But Trump will run as a third party candidate. Let him. He will likely draw as much support from Hillary as he does from the GOP, and his support will probably dwindle as things go on. As a third party candidate he will not be tied to the GOP pro-life stance and he will likely abandon it. He’s not pro-life at his core. He will get more and more bizarre and at the end only the most passionate loyalists will remain.
- Won’t Cruz be the nominee? I don’t know that. It’s more possible now than it was. Cruz supporters often don’t realize how uniformly hated Ted Cruz was in Washington. That’s a good thing, right? Not when you need the support of the party at an open convention. If Cruz has a lot of passionate delegates and gets within a hundred or so of Trump’s total, he might get there. My suspicion is that it will be someone else.
- Kasich will be the nominee! Who? You mean the guy who is helping Trump by taking votes that could be going to someone else? He’s making himself more of a joke week after week. I don’t think so.
- Who will it be? The smart money is on Ryan or Romney – I hope not. I don’t mind Ryan that much, but it’s best if they don’t go for someone in the power structure. Of course, I’d be delighted if they resurrected my man Marco, but I doubt that at this point. If I were a delegate (I probably could have been), I’d have supported Ben Sasse of Nebraska.
- My guess at this point is that if Cruz keeps winning, if he makes a good showing in NY, he has the best chance. Second best is Ryan. Third choice is a dark horse.
But don’t let the pundit class convince you that a brokered or open convention is the disaster it’s been made out to be. It is far better than the name Donald being at the top of the ticket.
6. The 2016 race may change politics in the USA forever.
Depending on what happens from here until November, the following is possible.
A true third party may form. The Marty Durens of the world may finally see their dreams come to fruition! But what would that look like? It depends on what happens.
- A truly leftist party may form, those dissatisfied with Hillary (wow, Hillary isn’t liberal enough for you?) who supported Bernie and feel shut out by the machinations of the Democrats. There have been some leftist parties but this could be a coalition of radical parties that might actually gain ground. The various protest groups, the unashamed socialists, the campus radicals – they could organize.
- A family values party. That’s a terrible name, but it would be conservatives, mostly GOP folks, who are disgusted by the GOP nominating Donald Trump and burn their GOP membership cards. This would be where I am. I am a FORMER Republican on July 18 if Donald is the nominee. But this party would splinter over things like immigration. Some in this group want a harsh “ship ’em to the border” response and others are committed to a more compassionate response that allows people who have been here illegally but are productive members of the community to find a path to legal residency. Also, this group is divided over the proper use of the American military – a growing isolationist (they object to that term!) tendency exists among many conservatives.
- The Trumpist party. If the GOP manages to avoid a Trump-topped ticket, his ego may drive him to run as an independent. But his people could join together as a third party as well. They are radical conservatives with an extreme nationalistic bent, a tendency toward a civil religion that cross-identifies the USA and the kingdom of God, has a tendency toward a more extreme isolationism. This party has little chance of long-term success, since it is largely built on anger and anger is destructive. That anger against the establishment will eventually be turned against one another. It’s human nature.
- The moderate party. It is possible that a middle-ground party will form, a majoritarian party of people tired of the extremes on both sides. This might well be a dominant force in American politics – moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats, plus independents, people who want civility and peace and niceness and hugs and flowers and candy. This would actually be disastrous for us conservatives. They would make issues we care about such as abortion, marriage issues, and other moral concerns verboten. This party could win elections and render both current parties null and void.
7. Politics matter but must be kept in perspective.
It is hard to maintain a balance when it comes to politics. Some would tells us that politics matters not at all and that we should only preach the gospel. Others have abandoned the preaching of Christ to preach a toxic mixture of American civil religion. The truth lies in between. We have been give a unique privilege as Americans to not just submit to our government (which we must do) but also to affect its direction.
Paul didn’t have that. I don’t know how politically active the early church would have been if they’d had democratic citizenship. Paul took advantage of his rights as a citizen at times. We will never know. But we have a unique responsibility to shape the government to which we must submit and we should do what we can.
But we must never forget that our work is not to save a country or to promote a candidate or political party. We preach Christ and our duty is to take his name to the ends of the earth. Finding that balance between responsible citizenship and being ambassadors of Christ may be more difficult for us as American Christians because of our privilege of shaping our government’s future.
The church cannot abandon it’s role as the prophetic voice, calling sinners to salvation, but neither can we abandon the public square, seeking to make our nation better. It is a tricky tightrope walk, one we will always tend to fail. Our gospel work must always come first and be our highest priority, but our citizenship here on earth also matters.