ROSSLYN, Virginia—I am writing this in a Best Western, wondering how I’m going to get to downtown Washington later today given that the Metro—shut down lest it burst into flames yet again—makes the MBTA look like a model of competence and efficiency.
Hunter Thompson used to grab the Gideons Bible at moments like this and try to find something appropriately apocalyptic he could quote from the Book of Revelations. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
I’ve got Gideons propping up the back of my laptop. A different kind of apocalypse was playing out Tuesday night on television, as racist demagogue Donald Trump all but wrapped up the Republican nomination. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton won big while Bernie Sanders’s increasingly implausible campaign reached the end of the line, though he’ll trudge on.
So how did we get here? And what comes next? A few thoughts.
1. Why Rubio lost. The smart money was with Marco Rubio from the beginning. On Tuesday, as it became clear that Rubio would be crushed in his home state of Florida, a 2013 Time magazine cover proclaiming Rubio “The Republican Savior” started making the rounds on Twitter. So did a tweet by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat from last September: “The entire commentariat is going to feel a little silly when Marco Rubio wins every Republican primary.”
The problem was that Rubio’s sunny optimism (which he abandoned at the first sign of trouble) and credibility with both the establishment and Tea Party wings of his party were out of step with the populist Trump insurgency.
“Rubio was prepared, much like Jeb Bush, for a reasonable dialogue in Washington policy language, offering positions that reflect 40 years of national security and foreign-policy experts,” former House Speaker (and former presidential candidate) Newt Gingrich said in a Washington Post article by Robert Costa and Philip Rucker. “All of that disappeared. The market didn’t care.”
But Rubio brought his own problems to the table as well. There was, of course, his robotic debate meltdown in the face of a withering assault from Chris Christie. But there is also evidence that Rubio and the people around him were so smitten with his essential Marco-ness that they became lazy and arrogant.
In National Review, an anti-Trump conservative outlet, Tim Alberta writes of Rubio: “He campaigned on the ground so infrequently for much of the campaign that even some supporters questioned how hard he was willing to work to get elected.” Eli Stokols and Shane Goldmacher pile on at Politico in a piece headlined “Inside Marco’s Hollow Campaign.” The subhead tells the story: “Rubio’s overconfident team refused to invest. Voters returned the favor.”
2. What’s next for Kasich and Sanders? Although Rubio might differ, winning your home state is not a big deal. John Kasich won Ohio, where he is governor, on Tuesday night, just as Bernie Sanders won Vermont a few weeks ago. Yet there is talk in the media today that Kasich and Ted Cruz (remember him?) might be able to stop Trump by denying him an outright majority at the Republican National Convention.
Boston Globe political reporter James Pindell notes that “Trump will need to win 59 percent of all the remaining GOP delegates to win a majority.” And Five Thirty Eight’s Nate Silver writes that Trump is still winning just 37 percent of the Republican vote. “Since primaries became widespread in 1972, only George McGovern won his party’s nomination with a smaller share of the vote—just 25.3 percent,” Silver writes.
At this point, it seems unlikely that Republicans will be any more successful at stopping Trump than Democrats were at stopping McGovern.
The case for Sanders seems considerably more desperate. John Nichols of The Nation, a left-liberal magazine that endorsed Sanders earlier this year, asserts that “Sanders has every reason to keep running a primary and caucus race where most of the delegates have yet to be chosen—and where his ability to influence the character and content of the competition remains one of that race’s most significant dynamics.”
Sanders has performed a real service for Democrats by holding Clinton to account and forcing her to clarify her positions. But his insurgency played out pretty much the way all left-wing insurgencies do.
3. Trump and the media. Earlier this week The Upshot, an analytics project that’s part of The New York Times, showed that Trump has received far more media coverage than Clinton, the runner-up, with everyone else far off the pace. The value of that free media in February: $400 million.
The Trump media dynamic will be fascinating to watch from here on out. A former reporter for the Trump-friendly site Breitbart.com said she was assaulted by Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski—and Trump gave Lewandowski a nice shout-out Tuesday night, when he also called the press “disgusting.” Certain unfriendly reporters are banned from Trump events, as Politico media reporter Hadas Gold writes.
Then, too, there’s the whole dynamic of what journalists will do given that they’ve been accused of enabling Trump by not pushing him hard enough on the Breitbart matter or at the thuggish violence directed at protesters—violence that began to be returned in kind last weekend.
As New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen observes, there is a “purposelessness” to much campaign coverage with its relentless focus on the horse race. “Campaign journalists have a system for determining who gets the most coverage,” Rosen writes. “They have no system for determining who deserves the most coverage.”
There has been plenty of harsh coverage of Trump right from the beginning, as Politico’s Jack Shafer recently observed. So it’s hard to say whether a tougher tone will make any difference.
4. Trump and the Jews. My friend and occasional collaborator Harvey Silverglate passed this on—an essay by James Kirchick in Tablet on why Jewish conservatives such as him despise Trump. It’s a long read that defies summary, but this should give you a taste: “To those Jews who contemplate making peace with a President Donald Trump: He is the candidate of the mob, and the mob always ends up turning on the Jews.”
I don’t agree with everything Kirchick writes. In fact, I think the Republicans’ neoconservative wing—which is not exclusively Jewish (ahem: Dick Cheney) despite Kirchick’s attempt to turn the term into an anti-Semitic slur—really does hate Trump in part because of his non-interventionist tendencies on foreign policy.
Still, if you’re going to read one lengthy piece on Trump this week, it should be Kirchick’s.
5. Obama’s continued relevance. Remember him? The president remains enormously popular with the Democratic base. And he’s doing everything he can to help Democrats retain the White House.
His choice of a Supreme Court nominee—which we may know by the time you read this—will almost certainly be a respected moderate, thus casting the Republicans as even more dysfunctional and obstructionist than they already are if they stick to their pledge and refuse to hold confirmation hearings.
And that is something Clinton will be able to exploit this fall.