The Republican side of this primary season, nearing its final throes, is playing out like a vintage horror movie that features only villains. Cartoonist David Horsey captured it perfectly with his depiction of Ted Cruz as Dracula telling a fair young thing that he’ll save her from the FrankenTrump monster (and angry villagers) roaming the streets below.
For the Democrats, it’s been more like the first half of West Side Story, with lots of posturing and dancing but no real bloodshed. (That comes later…) Cartoonist Horsey captured that elaborate silliness as well, with a campaign 2016 take on the Gangs of New York.
The parallel battles for convention delegates have seemed nearly polar opposites in style. Republicans practiced what I’ll call campaign mime: the use of grand gestures to make people see things that aren’t really there. Can you play in your head right now the iconic street mime routine “these are the boundaries of the box I’m inside”? Of course you can—and so you have the concept.
One crucial difference: in campaign mime the subterfuge is performed out loud, over and over and over, at appearances and in advertising. It is truly the art of making something out of nothing—or at best, out of very little.
Sometimes it isn’t performed well. Remember Marco Rubio’s debate meltdown when he explained that “…Barack Obama knows exactly what he’s doing…” with exactly the same words, four times in a row? Every mime knows that of course you do the trapped-in-a-box routine in every show—but just once.
Well-conceived and -performed campaign mime is a creative mix of exaggeration and repetition and bombast. Pour generous amounts of each into a giant caldron. Stir in fresh bullshit daily, then season with equal parts of fear and anger. Tip that pot and out pours the frothing effluent that is Donald Trump’s campaign. Toxic and volatile, but inexplicably popular.
Not that Trump invented loud campaign mime, or is even the best at it. He’s just the current creature from that black lagoon. Most election cycles find most candidates thrashing through some nasty brackish water at some point.
The fortnight before the suddenly crucial New York primary offered us Bernie’s and Hillary’s turn at bombast. Sanders faces a daunting catch-up path to the nomination, considering Clinton’s commanding lead in delegates to the Democratic National Convention. But during the past month he actually has been catching up. What?
Her insurmountable delegate advantage has shrunk, becoming surmountable at least in the media’s perception. So: time for some broad-brush tactics.
Hillary started it by accusing Bernie of “not doing his homework” regarding Wall Street and “not having a plan at all” on other of his favorite issues. This after Bernie stumbled during an interview with the New York Daily News. The Washington Post ran a headline implying that she had called him “not qualified to be president”—which she did imply, but never said directly.
Bernie responded in kind by saying that Hillary was “not qualified to be president if…” she campaigned on special interest money. Numerous news shows waded in immediately to fan the flames over what had become an increasingly slow contest.
Oh! My! Gawd! He said she wasn’t qualified!
The truth is: both candidates were really opining that the other was disqualified by virtue of their particular sins. Very different from being unqualified. And at the same time, both were pledging to support the eventual party nominee—exactly as the Republicans had.
Fifty-cent question: do campaign pledges actually mean anything?
The press screamed that Sanders had just handed Republicans a powerful anti-Hillary commercial. Feh! The truth of thatis: Clinton’s enemies don’t need an angry quote from someone they keep calling a communist. A photo of them hugging would be more useful.
After a few days of headlines and sparring in the media, both had shifted their tone, despite continued prodding by reporters. The in-your-face (although not in-your-proximity) round of confrontations was fun to watch while it lasted. The networks thought so too; what a change from complaining/defending the DNC’s back-room magic act of debate scheduling and super delegate scale tipping.
Meanwhile, the Republicans did their own strategic switch. Up to now, their half of the campaign didn’t seem to even have a back room. It’s been a front-and-center scream-fest of campaign mime, the onstage players discovering that the only way to upstage each other was to play crazier and crazier.
Now most of that circus has retreated to smoke-filled back rooms where party wonks perform their incantations over the delegate count. Just as suddenly the story has become “Trump Meets Rules, Rules Beat Trump.” Poor guy, he’s crying foul. And Horsey captured that well with Cruz dealing the shell game to oafish tourist Trump.
But it’s no secret whatsoever that convention delegates are free to vote their hearts after their first-ballot commitment is fulfilled. The mistake Trump made was to assume that the delegates from his primary wins would stick with him for subsequent ballots as well.
Talk about walking into a deal without understanding the rules! More likely, he was vaguely aware of these intricacies, but didn’t worry because he was going to win all the primaries and triumph on the first convention ballot, easily.
Not now, it seems. Ron Paul’s behind-the-scenes delegate dealing during the 2012 campaign was observable after the fact, and apparently teachable for those willing to pay attention. Ted Cruz did, and he’s been collecting not only “unearned” first-ballot delegate votes (see: Louisiana), but also second ballot and beyond commitments as the state parties pick the actual delegates.
Trump understands back room deals, but he’s still doing the campaign mime act. He’s gotten especially loud at it too, after learning that Cruz had worked some back room magic to capture all 34 of Colorado’s delegates, without a single public vote being cast.
It’s astounding to watch a self-proclaimed master of the deal find himself on the short end of the biggest deal he ever negotiated. And then complaining that he’s a victim of rules he should have known: that’s a backhanded admission of failure!
Trump is like a young baseball fan who figured out how to vote 500 times for his favorite shortstop to go to the All-Star game, only to discover that other fans did the same thing—and team owners and sportswriters and other players also got a say. The game that he thought he had weighted in his favor was in fact weighted against him.
And his shortstop stays home for the Big Game. It’s not fair!
So let’s talk about what is not fair. Legal voter fraud was on full display during Arizona’s primary on March 22nd. Maricopa County includes Phoenix and has a majority non-white population (read: Democratic-leaning voters). This year, Arizona closed 70% of the polling stations in Maricopa County, “officially” to save money.
Not everywhere in Arizona, mind you. The rest of the state averaged 2,500 voters per polling station. In Maricopa County it was 21,000 voters per polling station. You read those numbers correctly. I watched election day reports of people waiting for many hours to vote at polls that were too few and too lightly staffed. I remember hauntingly similar scenes from swing states Florida and Ohio in 2008 and 2012—too few polls to properly offer citizens the most fundamental right of democracy: voting.
The Voting Rights Act, gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013, would have prevented that from happening. Associate Justice Antonin Scalia called the Act—and by association, the right to vote—“a perpetuation of racial entitlement.” He was wrong. Crippling that law is what represents a racial entitlement, just not for the race that Scalia had in mind.
Advance voting: limited or gone. Same day registration, forget it. Stringent ID requirements implemented. These and other roadblocks to minority voting sprang up like weeds in Texas, North Carolina, Ohio, Alabama, Mississippi, Virginia, South Carolina, and Wisconsin.
The Justice Department will take a look at the Arizona debacle, but who knows what can be done between now and November? When a state’s legislature and its governor all commit voter fraud, who is supposed to fix it? Who is able to fix it? …only those voters standing in line, literally, all damn day.
It’s depressing. But I don’t to leave you on that note.
Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani recently endorsed Trump. That’s right: the guy whose speeches have been characterized as “a noun, a verb, and 9/11” is backing the guy who claims to have lost hundreds of “friends” on that day but only last week visited the 9/11 memorial for the very first time.
Here’s a blast from their mutual pasts that I want to un-see. It’s a skit filmed for the yearly Inner Circle press dinner in 2000, featuring Giuliani and Trump—one of them in full drag!—acting cringeworthy for laughs.
Video that you later regret seems to be a staple of the Inner Circle press dinner. Just a week ago, Hillary Clinton and current New York mayor Bill de Blasio embarrassed themselves with a racist joke at the very same event.