A Week Is A Lifetime In Politics
Old sayings, while clichéd, often become so for a reason, and it would seem the old adage on an eternity being the equivalence to a week when matters of politics are involved has been proven true. Coming out of Iowa, following his unexpectedly strong showing, Marco Rubio appeared to be the man with momentum behind him. Finally, many including myself proclaimed, a clear candidate of the GOP establishment had emerged, opening the door for a proper Devil’s three-way slugfest between the Senator from Florida, Ted Cruz, and Manhattan mogul Donald Trump for the ultimate prize of the Republican Party nomination.
Then, as it often does, everything was turned on its head. Chris Christie gave Rubio a drubbing in the final debate before the New Hampshire Primary. While for the New Jersey Governor it proved to be a rather Pyrrhic Victory (oh whoever shall now tell us without respite that being a former Federal Prosecutor somehow qualifies one to be an expert on everything?), it did knock Rubio off balance, and knock him back in the polls, as newly resurrected concerns about the fledgling Senator’s readiness saw him finish behind John Kaisch and even Ted Cruz in the first primary vote of the nomination race.
This is bad news for the Republican Party establishment. As predicted, the field of candidates has been winnowed a bit by the first two state votes, with Rand Paul, Carla Fiorina and the aforementioned former Federal Prosecutor turned New Jersey governor now out of the race. However, there is of yet no sign that the vote is consolidating behind one of the remaining establishment-anointed candidates still in the running. Instead, the latest polls from South Carolina show Donald Trump still commandingly in the lead by as much as twenty points in some cases over the distantly-trailing in second Ted Cruz, with the remainder of the vote carved up rather evenly between the new three-legged race of Jeb, John and Rubio. Ben Carson who – any day now – will be returning from the world’s longest laundry session ever, is still bobbing around, but it increasingly seems like he’s there just to spite Cruz for poaching some of his votes in Iowa.
Donald Trump went into New Hampshire knowing he absolutely had to win, and by a commanding margin, if he was to prove that there was more to his campaign than bluster and bravado. He won. He won by a commanding margin. He won across all age-groups, income-classes, ideological-definitions and other demographic categories. Whether you’re a Trump hater or a Trump fan (for the record at this point I am still emphatically neither) it is impossible to deny that on that wintery New Hampshire evening the Donald did exactly what he had to do in order to staunch the bleeding from the gutting Cruz gave him in Iowa. Trump can now go forward and legitimately claim Iowa was a one-off, and for once it isn’t even a fudging of the truth for him. The last two Republican nominees failed to win Iowa. A gentleman you might have heard of named Bill Clinton famously came dead last there in his bid for the presidency, taking less than three percent of the vote! Whether he can grow his vote beyond the quarter to a third of diehard nativists and newly redundant blue-collar factory workers he’s coasted on so far remains to be seen (though with polls now showing him moving from the thirties into the forties that question is appearing more wistful by the day), but Trump has solidified his position as the front-runner in the race.
The Senator from Texas otherwise known as Ted Cruz didn’t come close to a win in New Hampshire, but no one expected him to so by the mere magical act of coming third he managed to replicate the feat of beating expectations that Marco Rubio had previously conjured up in Iowa days before. In doing so Cruz has shown that he’s more than a one trick pony, and definitely given himself a shot of adrenaline right when the race is starting to turn from a marathon into a sprint to the finish. That’s the good news. The bad is that he still is running a distant second to Trump in South Carolina, a state which is the kind of evangelical-rich environment that propelled him to victory in the Hawkeye State. Losing to Trump there would be a two-fold blow. Not only would it lead to increased doubts that he’s just another Huckabee or Santorum, able to blitzkrieg one state on a wave of religious fervour but destined to melt like a scoop of ice cream in the Congo when the contest goes national, but it would also prove that Trump, the twice divorced Manhattan tomcat, can win over the religious right that is a key portion of the GOP base. Even more disturbing, there’s a growing chorus of whispers that if their final goal-line stand fails, and it comes down to a Devil’s choice between Trump and Cruz for the nomination, the GOP establishment might actually find the former a less bitter pill to swallow. This is a real danger for Cruz, whose won himself few friends from his time in the Senate. If Marco Rubio decides he’ll have better luck in 2020 or even 2024 is he really going to endorse Cruz, a man he reputedly detests? Will Ben Carson (assuming he is ever to re-emerges from whatever suit store he has absconded too for the last few weeks)?
On the Democrat side of things, Hillary Clinton (who all assumed would have the nomination in a cakewalk) must be reeling after winning by a nose in Iowa and then being thoroughly battered in New Hampshire by Bernie Sanders. I must confess, were she not such a thoroughly detestable individual I would likely feel sorry for her. As it is I am truly torn over recent developments. Part of me, being the at times petty chap that I am, would simply love to see Clinton have the nomination she all but assumed was her snatched away from her at the last minute for a second time. I do not know what would give me greater pleasure, her own personal anguish at such a turn of events or the near hilarious outrage that would emit from the usual collection of crusty old feminists who have made electing Hillary to the presidency their one all-abiding obsession in life. On the other hand, I cannot help but shake the sneaking suspicion that Bernie Sanders might actually be the greater danger in the general election, and the thought of having a self-identify socialist (even if in reality he does not actually meet the litmus test of one) in the White House does not even bear thinking of.
What is clear as glass, however, is that the rise of Trump and Sanders, and more bit players in the GOP race like Cruz and even Ben Carson, is proof of just how utterly put out the voters of America have become. Indeed, the panic of the establishment in both the Republican and Democratic Parties can be taken as a realization on their part on just how brittle their hold over things has become. You can almost taste a palpable sense of terror at the idea that the undisputed dominance of the Enlightenment consensus that has governed our politics since the end of World War Two might actually be beginning to crack. I shall likely write more on this matter on another occasion, but for now let it suffice to say that Trump and Sanders too in his own way have succeeded in ripping open the door on something that has lain buried for much of the last half century. Just as it has increasingly been challenged abroad, it seems even in its heartland of the United States the liberal order of modernity may finally be facing its Thermidor. Whether this will prove to be a moment of an Alaric or an Augustus is yet to be written.