by Rod D. Martin
September 11, 2015
Most important political fact of the week: Hunger Games politics.
Politics, like the blockbuster movie franchise, is a zero sum game: somebody has to win, everybody else has to lose. But how you go about winning is very different when there are 17 candidates rather than 2 or 5 or 10.
Successful Hunger Games contestants – each facing 23 murderous opponents – figured this out quickly (partly by watching 10 of the 24 die in the first 2 minutes, sort of the big screen equivalents of Lindsey Graham and Rick Perry). Their strategy? Make alliances: obtain strength in numbers – for a while – while keeping future enemies focused elsewhere.
The current campaign has provided plenty of such opportunities and will continue to do so. This week, for example, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump co-hosted an immigration rally in Washington. They are not agreed on every point, but in showing a united front they each gained significantly: they drew more media attention, they drew a bigger crowd, and they labeled everyone not present as untrustworthy and suspect on their issue.
Jeb Bush may well think that’s a good thing: he, like many other candidates, don’t want to be identified with Cruz or Trump’s positions. But Cruz and Trump are betting more Republicans agree with them, and anyway, can anyone remember where Jeb was this week? No, they cannot.
The Hunger Games strategy is especially powerful when used to make a point that rises (or ought to rise) above the level of individual candidacies. As the Kim Davis saga has unfolded in Kentucky – and whatever you think of Mrs. Davis, surely you can agree that it would be better if America didn’t become the sort of banana republic where we jail political dissidents – the Republican Presidential field has taken very different tacks. Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal and others came out strongly for the embattled clerk. Jeb Bush, Donald Trump, and Carly Fiorina opposed her. Most fence-sat.
The principal argument against Mrs. Davis is that she cannot disagree with the new orthodoxy without thereby being a bigot, or in the parlance of the day, “a hater.” The corollary argument against her candidate-supporters is that they must be pandering Faubus-like to their ignorant, troglodyte base: they cannot possibly be sincere, they cannot possibly believe what they’re saying, they cannot possibly just believe the First Amendment protects individual conscience (something the left used to quaintly refer to as “tolerance”).
The Hunger Games approach is vital here. Candidates standing together for a shared principle can change the narrative. We’re not used to seeing such things, and when it happens, we tend to believe their sincerity, their authenticity. Without that their position cannot win. Moreover, without the perception that that is true, they cannot win.
So it was especially disappointing, disheartening, and generally heartbreaking to see Mike Huckabee play by the 20th century playbook this week, and refuse to let any other Presidential candidate on “his” stage while he supported Kim Davis. Though I know it to be true, it did not ring true that he would “go to jail for her” – especially since no one believes there’s any actual chance of that happening – while his supporters responded to the backlash by saying “this was Mike’s campaign event.”
It was his campaign event? Seriously? So all that stuff about religious liberty and principle and standing up to the enveloping tyranny was really just about your campaign? Really?
No, not really. That’s not who Mike Huckabee is.
But this week, when he could have been the head of a modern civil rights movement with one or more Presidential candidates rallying behind his lead, he instead let the world believe he’s as cynical and insincere as his opponents claim. In the words of Napoleon Bonaparte, that “was worse than a crime: it was a mistake.”
Second most important political fact of the week: the outsiders continue to dominate.
In yesterday’s CNN poll, Donald Trump hit an astonishing 32%, with Ben Carson in second at 19%. Next was Jeb Bush, falling to a mere 9%, followed by Ted Cruz, rising to 7%. And Sanders is now leading Hillary in both Iowa and New Hampshire.
This is the landscape, and it’s not going away. Yesterday’s politics is not only not working, it is actively distasteful to most Americans. As we discussed last week, a lot of this is driven by a cultural change that is as unstoppable as the technological shift underlying it. Ignoring it, or hoping it will just go away, is the biggest reason most of the 17 Republicans will lose. It already killed Hillary once before.
Which leads us to the third most important political fact of the week: Hillary’s troubles aren’t going away either. And since they are completely within the control of Barack Obama – who is drip-drip-dripping scandalous details in a manner calculated to drive her out of the race if not outright send her to prison – we can assume something big is going to break. Hillary must cut a deal with Obama, or must face the very real prospect of indictment.
It’s hard to see what Obama gains from a deal. So it is very, very likely that Obama is backing his Vice President, or even possibly Bernie Sanders. And two things follow from that if true: the end of the 25 year long Clinton joyride; and the likelihood that the Republican nominee will face an opponent no one has prepared for.
Finally, the fourth most important fact of the week is that Donald Trump is finally flirting with disaster. His ugly, gratuitous attack on Carly Fiorina’s appearance was not the defiance of political correctness for which many love him. It was just ugly. And his absurd denial that he was speaking of her appearance only served to confirm Megyn Kelly’s claims that he had earlier spoken of her menstrual cycle and, more importantly, that he is misogynistic.
Is any of that true? Who knows? And maybe no one will care. But while this is not the sort of “implosion” many have predicted, it is the sort of cumulative confirmation of a certain narrative that over time can erode a candidate’s support, and possibly wipe it away. Remember poor framed Herman Cain? There were no real facts to support his accusers, but the sheer number of them (“drip, drip, drip”) proved his undoing.
So it could be with Trump. The other important point in that CNN poll? A lot of his gain is due to a 13 point surge among women. At what point might that melt away?
Probably around the point where they decide he doesn’t like them.
It’s a new day. New rules apply. Some candidates are handling that better than others. Some don’t seem to realize it’s not the 1990s. And the more things develop, there is nothing to make me believe that the latter group has more than a prayer.