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Gordon Campbell on whether Donald Trump has peaked

Gordon Campbell on whether Donald Trump has peaked

For the past ten days, the world has been daring to hope that the wheels may finally be coming off the Trump bandwagon – sufficiently at least, to deny Trump the nomination outright. According to this narrative…. perhaps come August, when the Republicans will finally get to anoint their candidate at their convention in Cleveland, Trump’s fortunes will have waned and the delegate count will be sufficiently deadlocked as to create a ‘contested convention’ whereby the party might then be able to turn to a different, dark horse candidate – such as House Speaker Paul Ryan – and thereby save the day, and the GOP’s bacon in the November election. Yesterday’s result in Wisconsin – where Cruz crushed Trump – will have fed such hopes. Maybe, by the time Cleveland rolls around, Trump won’t have reached the magic figure of 1,237 delegates he needs to clinch the nomination.

Dream on. There are reasons why the Republicans probably won’t find deliverance via a contested convention, although the theory does have its believers. According to Nate Silver’s 538 site, Trump has to win on the first ballot or it will be curtains for him in Cleveland. The Politico site has also been beating the ‘contested convention’ drum for a while, and has set out its logic here in detail.

Surely, so this story goes, the fact that Trump has withdrawn his prior pledge to faithfully support whoever gets the Republican nomination is a sign he recognizes he’s now vulnerable, and is therefore threatening to run as an independent if the Republican Party should try in Cleveland to thwart his will. Yet why does this ‘contested convention’ theory still seem somewhat fanciful? Its not simply because the contest is now shifting back east into areas where Trump is far more popular, though obviously that’s relevant. Before Wisconsin, Trump already has 752 delegates, and will pick up a handful more in Wisconsin. He hasn’t got far to go, and on April 19 in New York, he’ll be on home turf with a swag of delegates up for grabs.

That’s part of the story of Trump’s success. He not only wins states outright – but also wins some delegates even when he loses. The US doesn't have much truck with proportionality – but as Nate Silver explains in this post the Republicans have at least five main ways of delivering delegates, who are bound to candidates with varying degrees of elasticity. (At one extreme, Pennsylvania’s 54 delegates will go the Cleveland convention as uncommitted.) In other states ( eg Wisconsin) the Republicans divvy up the delegates in FPP ways that award (a) some delegates according to who wins statewide, (b) some according to who wins which precinct, and (c) a few more chosen by party apparatchiks. Silver believes that these various delegate selection methodologies will inevitably favour Cruz if - come Cleveland - a contested convention does eventuate.

Point being: by focussing solely on who wins the state ballot, the media tend to miss the point: the candidate isn’t decided directly by popular vote, but by the delegate count. Yesterday in Wisconsin for instance, Bernie Sanders won the state but the delegates were shared proportionally with Hillary Clinton, and barely put a dent in her commanding lead. On April 19 in New York, she’ll be back on home turf, too.

Along the way though, Trump’s process of delegate accumulation has shone a useful spotlight on his support base. Initially, when the media first discovered Trump’s appeal to non- college educated white voters, many observers (including me) speculated that he might increase the turnout in this segment sufficiently to ride it all the way to the White House. Then it dawned that any nativistic angry white male voter uprising would be bound to trigger a corresponding surge among women, Hispanic and black voters, such that these factors would virtually cancel things out, or worse, for Trump.

There is even some evidence that he isn’t even really lifting the white working class vote significantly. And even worse, check out the favourabality ratings in this week’s ABC/Wapo poll:

The ABC/Washington Post analysis put Trump's favorability ratios at 14-85 among Hispanics, at 18-80 among voters under the age of 35, at 29-68 among white women, and at 23-74 among white college graduates. This is a long, long way from looking like a winning coalition.

Interestingly though, where Trump does seem to strike paydirt is in racially mixed so called majority/minority areas, where white non-Hispanics account for less than 50% of the population. So his appeal is not among angry whites per se; it is particularly so among angry whites feeling outnumbered, and/or battling for jobs and trying to hold their shaky place on the income ladder. In and around racially charged Ferguson, Missouri, Trump swept the board. In inner city neighbourhoods that vote Democrat, Trump is amassing Republican delegates. It's a way to win the nomination, but not the presidency.

Look Out, Cleveland

Lets assume - just for argument’s sake - that Trump hasn’t got to the magic 1,237 delegate mark before the convention in Cleveland in August and thus (b) fails to clinch the nomination on the first ballot thereby leaving (c) Trump delegates free to go elsewhere on subsequent ballots and this process finally (d) hands the nomination to whatever noble knight the Republican Establishment can conjure up to save the Party from disaster, come the November election.

Unfortunately, there’s a problem with this ‘contested convention’ theory and – fittingly – it is a noose that the Republican hierarchy happened to fashion for themselves, back in 2012. It is called rule 40b. Rule 40b has a history, and the veteran Democratic Party strategist Ed Kilgore has described it here.

It goes like this. Back in 2012, the maverick candidacy of the libertarian Ron Paul had spooked the Republican leadership by mopping up a reasonable number of convention delegates, despite Paul faring fairly poorly in many of the primary and caucus contests. The Paulites planned to use their delegate bloc to fight for Paul’s Ayn Randian views and doomed campaign right on the convention floor, in front of the TV cameras. (This was a guy who named his own son Rand, after all.)

It didn’t happen. Formerly, the convention rule had been that no one's name could be placed in nomination without support from the delegations of at least three states ; with the aim of that small barrier being, as Kilgore says, to cut off the pure favourite-son candidates, thus making the convention’s business look more tidy and attractive to the television networks. Came the Paulites in 2012 though, and the party mandarins decided tougher measures were required. So the party hierarchy stacked the Convention Rules Committee and came up with rule 40b, which goes like this:

Each candidate for nomination for President of the United States and Vice President of the United States shall demonstrate the support of a majority of the delegates from each of eight (8) or more states, severally, prior to the presentation of the name of that candidate for nomination.

Eight state delegations, not three. That’s hardball. In 2016 though, and this rule has boomeranged on the Republican hierarchy. The party mandarins hate Trump and Cruz with equal passion. As many have said, that comes down to choose your poison: arsenic or strychnine. Rule 40b has given Cruz and Trump every reason to act together, to form a duopoly and block everyone else. For obvious reasons, Cruz is not going to help the Party get off the hook by allowing them to scramble together a new Rules Committee position that could (for example) turn the likes of Ohio governor John Kasich into a genuine contender.

Given Rule 40b, a contested convention will have to struggle far harder to get meaningfully on the rails. Only a prolonged Trump/Cruz deadlock would make it possible. And for the reasons enumerated by Nate Silver in the link above, delegates would probably break in favour of Cruz if things go past the first ballot. And then the world can stop worrying about President Donald Trump and start worrying in earnest about President Ted Cruz.

At the very least, rule 40b means that the Republican hierarchy will really have to struggle to create the opening for their saviour knight. And who would that brave knight be…Paul Ryan? Would Ryan really want to win the nomination and head into a campaign without having earned any democratic mandate whatsoever from the voters, beforehand? That looks more like a suicide mission.

Menstrual trolling

Just in case you thought Trump was the nutty extreme of American politics, there’s this situation in Indiana:

Indiana Governor Mike Pence recently signed a bonkers anti-choice bill into law that will not only hold doctors liable if a woman has an abortion because of a fetus's race, sex, or diagnosis of Down syndrome or any other disability, but also requires fetal remains to be cremated or buried, whether from an abortion or a miscarriage. Providers would likely pass the costs of these funerary services to patients. Plus, women seeking an abortion would need an ultrasound 18 hours before the procedure.

To which there has been this interesting response:

One Indiana woman recently created the Facebook page Periods for Pence where she encourages others to call the Governor's office to report their periods, since they could technically be having a miscarriage. "I would certainly hate for any of my fellow Hoosier women to be at risk of penalty if they do not 'properly dispose' of this or report it," she says.

Some of the subsequent recorded messages to Governor Pence’s office have been hilarious. They’ve included:

Me: "Good morning. I just wanted to call and let the good Governor know that I am still not pregnant, since he seems to be so worried about women's reproductive rights."
Irritated lady on the other end of the phone: "And can I get your name, please?"
Me: "Sure, it's Not Pregnant Laura." Click.

And this:

Them: "Good Morning, Governor Pence's office"
Me: "Good Morning. I just wanted to inform the Governor that things seem to be drying up today. No babies seem to be up in there. Okay?"
Them: (Sounding strangely horrified and chipper at the same time) "Ma'am, can we have your name?"
Me "Sure. It's Sue."
Them: "And your last name?"
Me "Magina. That's M-A-G-I-N-A. It rhymes with--"
Them: "I've got it." Click.

Followed by this, after being transferred directly to voicemail:

"Hello, this is Sue Magina again. I just hit a pothole on I-70. It was a doozy! I'm worried it might have shaken something around up in there, and I wanted to make sure that was addressed in this new abortion law. I knew Governor Pence would be worried. Thanks."

And finally:

Hi there, I was just wanting to know if the Governor could refer me to a good gynecologist? "
“Ma'am, you know that's not something he can help you with.”
“But I thought he could! I thought he knows all about that kind of stuff!"
Long, uncomfortable silence.....
"Is there something I can help you with?"
"Well, can YOU recommend someone? Do you like yours?"
"No." Click.

Which doesn’t alter the law in question. But it is a genius form of activism, in the cause of exposing the Indiana law’s offensive, intrusive idiocy.

Love Letters, straight from the heart

Ketty Lester’s 1962 hit version of the old “Love Letters” standard is still an atmospheric one-off wonder. She sings beautifully, helped out by a session team that included (on drums) the great Earl Palmer, who played on an astonishing number of hit records, from the mid 1950s onwards. Here’s a link to the single.

This striking clip however, involves a slightly different quasi-live version that Lester performed on the Shindig TV show.

Dozens of people have covered ‘ Love Letters’ since. Yet for my money the other great version is by Elvis Presley, whose 1966 take on the song also became a Top Twenty hit.

And as an extra, here’s another terrific one-off hit from the same period, by Barbara Lewis:

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