The craziest primary, hands down

By Steve Brawner
© 2016 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

I cannot believe I’m writing this, but last week saw two of the four remaining Republican presidential candidates commenting about the size of Donald Trump’s “hands.” I’m 46 years old, which means I’m at the age when I start looking at the past through rose-colored glasses, but I’m pretty sure presidential elections have never sunk this low in my lifetime.

How did we get here? Donald Trump ran for president and appealed to a part of the electorate that wasn’t inspired by anyone else. The other candidates each thought he would eventually go away, so they ignored him and focused on each other. Then one day, they realized that, dang, Trump was winning this thing. So Florida Sen. Marco Rubio nicked him with a few zingers and, reveling in the attention, decided to go straight to the gutter by saying Trump has “small hands.” Trump joined him, or was already there waiting for him.

The other two remaining candidates, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, refrained from discussing body parts. Of the two, Kasich has the more proven record as both a congressman and governor, and he has run a positive, unifying, Reagan-esque campaign, to the point that he alone often refused to join the competition in insulting Democrats.

In Arkansas, he won less than 4 percent of the vote March 1.

Trump, meanwhile, won almost 33 percent of 409,828 votes cast in the Republican primary. He beat Cruz, who had 30.5 percent, by more than 9,000 votes.

How did he do that? An analysis by the consulting firm Turtle Target and by the media outlet Talk Business & Politics found a high percentage of this year’s early voters had participated in only one or none of the last three primaries. Most of the early voters were above the age of 50, and two-thirds voted in the Republican primary.

Something about this election was different enough that it motivated those people to vote. Trump is the most different candidate.

Until Tuesday, it looked like Trump’s act might be wearing thin. After basing his candidacy on being a straight-shooter, he’s been flip-flopping lately, including on immigration, his signature issue. The establishment finally is hitting him hard. But he won Michigan, Mississippi and Hawaii, while Cruz won only Idaho.

Can Trump still lose? Sure. No one can say for certain what will happen next in this crazy primary season, including the pollsters. In a recent speech at the Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock, pollster Andrew Smith said polling is much harder during the primaries, when voters are choosing between like-minded party candidates, then in the general election, when it’s the Republican versus the Democrat. In primaries, voters wait very late to decide. In New Hampshire this year, 47 percent of Republican primary voters made up their minds in the last three days before the election.

That’s one way you get such wild swings as what happened recently in Michigan, where Kasich went from having 15 percent support in a CBS News/YouGov poll taken March 2-4 to 33 percent support in another poll by American Research Group taken March 4-5. That second poll occurred entirely after that Fox News debate in Detroit when Trump said his “hands” were big enough while bickering the entire night with Rubio and Cruz. Kasich stayed above the fray and was generally considered the night’s winner.

Other polls had Kasich still behind Trump, and on Tuesday, he came in third place in that state, just behind Cruz.

Next are Wyoming and the District of Columbia March 12. Then comes the big day, March 15: Florida, Ohio, Illinois, North Carolina and Missouri. If Rubio and Kasich lose their home states of Florida and Ohio March 15, they’re out. They’ll have lost the only poll that matters, the one in the voting booth, among the people that know them best.

Trump is increasingly looking like the nominee, though I’m not predicting that or anything else this year. Not only is he winning among the Republicans, but on the Democratic side, the Clinton machine can’t put away a 74-year-old socialist who’s not even a Democrat.

Crazy, huh?

10 thoughts on “The craziest primary, hands down

  1. I am still following your column and unhappy that our paper is no longer running it. And, yes, this is the most puzzling and also revealing primary election. Are we seeing the result of exposure to 24 hour news, anger filled radio stations, reality television, and advertising focusing more on sensuality and glamour than on the products being hawked so that our values are skewed to the degree that a Trump can have this kind of following. Was the movie WALL STREET right? Is greed beautiful?

  2. Steve, I’ll turn 72 next month, and I can tell you that there hasn’t been a presidential race with this kind of vulgarity, anger, and hate in my lifetime. From Eisenhower-Stevenson on this type of behavior has been unthinkable. We know what’s happening. People are mad as hell on both the right and left but especially on the right. Republicans feel let down in lots of ways and especially by their own leaders. They want an outsider who isn’t tainted by beltway politics, and they especially want someone who can restore an America that they feel is slipping away. The table is perfectly set for a demagogue like Trump. The world watched Germany in the 1930s as a scruffy little Austrian with next to no personal accomplishments began to appeal to the anger and nationalistic urges of the people. There was surely no way such an insignificant and flawed man could rally a whole nation to his purposes, right?

  3. And, yes, your column should still be in the newspaper. All voices of reason and moderation are being pushed away everywhere. I never thought I would see such angry polarization. It means that we Americans can’t come together on anything. We don’t even have big ideas anymore because the cooperation to do anything just isn’t there. It’s a miracle that we even get our trash picked up once a week.

  4. Thanks for the kind words, Mrs. Ross (sorry, I can’t call you “Georgia”) and Sandy. Of course, Trump is not Hitler, but we are seeing this election, as we did in 2008 with Sarah Palin, that a person unqualified to be president can get awfully close. The sad thing is that I’m not sure he’s a lot worse than some of the other choices this year. We’ve been trending this direction for a while. So either this is the worst it’s going get, and after this election we’ll get it out of our system. Or it will get even worse than this.

  5. Let me add my voice to those who miss your column in the newspaper. It was such a refreshing change from the cage match that often appears in their editorial pages. As for Trump, I can understand that people are angry with the status quo, but I cannot for the life of me imagine how so many people can let that anger rob them of all vestiges of common sense.

  6. Sandy, it is great that you mentioned Adlai Stevenson in this regard. I am reminded of a story attributed to one of his presidential campaigns where a woman told him, “Senator, you have the vote of every thinking person.” To which he replied, “That’s not enough, madam, we need a majority.” 🙂

  7. To be fair, Sanders calls himself a “Democratic Socialist”, not a socialist. And every mature economy has elements of capitalism and socialism, including ours. I don’t think anyone would want to go back to the days of child coal miners, no work place safety rules, and such, all “socialist” ideas that would not be proscribed in a purely capitalist system.

  8. I agree, Joseph, and I think that it’s kind of hypocritical of people to be so horrified of the word. Polls show most tea partiers oppose any cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and most people still have their children educated in public schools, at a cost to taxpayers of more than $10,000 per child. Most people accept that there comes a point when a senior citizen might have to receive care in a nursing home, often at taxpayer expense. But they’re against “redistribution of wealth.”

  9. I do think this is a direct result of an unrelenting assault from the right on government. Continually propagating this reductionist argument that all government programs are ineffective and inefficient and that all regulation is bad and antithetical to the free enterprise system… add in a little nativism and xenophobia and the result is an hysterical, non-serious person on the verge of capturing the Republican nomination.

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