Letter From Houston: Has Trump Wrapped It Up?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because the stakes are high — and the wall might be too.
CEO and co-founder of OZY
And so it seems that the Donald will win the Republican nomination. Back in Iowa, having believed that Ted Cruz defied the polls and legitimately won, I pronounced the candidacy of Donald Trump finished, over, kaput. But I was wrong — wow, wow, wow, I was wrong — and from here, it looks like Wharton’s most famous grad will be the GOP pick.
Now, of course there are scenarios where he is upset: Cruz holds Texas, Marco Rubio surges, a truly disqualifying scandal emerges or even a health issue (not impossible at age 69). But absent an act of God, I sense a New York showdown in November. Here are some other things to look forward to in the lead-up to Super Tuesday.
Canary in the Rubio Mine?
Tonight’s debate was another scorcher, but Trump seemed immune. The reality is that Rubio, who seemed to wake up tonight, has probably waited too long to respond to Trump’s taunts. At this point, prognosticators say, Trump has such a big head start that he needs less than 40 percent of the delegates at stake on Super Tuesday to stay on pace to win the nomination; if he beats Cruz in his home state on that same day, this thing could be effectively over.
Besides the polls and tonight’s debate, my data points include a conversation today with a top GOP operative. A month ago, the operative held that Trump would ultimately wobble. Indeed, he loathed Trump. But today, he seemed to acknowledge, for the first time, that Trump could be the nominee and even win the presidency. The conversation was marked by less bitterness and more potential resignation than I’d have expected. The ice is melting; Trump is on his way.
The Coming Bum Rush
Should he win big on Tuesday, one of the fun things to watch come Wednesday will be how many politicos run for the Trump Towers. You’ve started to see a trickle. But just wait until someone significant moves that way — Kevin McCarthy, Richard Shelby … wait for it … Paul Ryan. (OK, Ryan won’t go there that soon. But you get the point.)
Strategy and Strategery
Among the Donald’s underappreciated genius moves has been to embrace the news media. Most politicians wouldn’t have considered it. Now, Trump hasn’t spent extended periods of time with the media as an insurgent looking to curry favor, à la John McCain’s Straight Talk Express in 2000. Rather, he’s acted as the front-runner, the anointed one, and he’s got a strategy.
Every minute Trump’s on air with CNN, Fox and others, he’s not just getting free air time, he’s also starving his opponents. When Trump appears on Meet the Press every weekend, Rubio isn’t likely to be on for nearly as long. Trump’s openness (and, let’s face it, his entertainment value) has earned him probably more than $100 million in free media coverage in the last six months. And should he succeed, his willingness to go heavy on press interviews will be lauded as an unusual, and unusually successful, move.
A New Race Has Begun
I have been wondering about John Kasich recently. Watching his often smiley performances, I thought I understood why he’s still in it: Why not? Plenty of fun in this race, and anything could happen. But as a friend recently pointed out, the Ohio governor may be doing the John Edwards thing. Back in 2004, long after it was clear that Edwards could not win the nomination, he remained in the race — not the race for president, really, but the race for the VP slot. Edwards was generating support and proving his chops to the ultimate nominee, John Kerry.
So watch our friend Kasich. He may not be leaving the race any time soon and may stick around until the VP slot is his. After all, Trump would want to win Ohio, and he has said he will want someone who knows D.C. They wouldn’t make the most diverse team, but you never know.
One of the things that I am reminded of as I watch Cruz, and even Trump, is just how exhausting this race is if you are seriously in it. It has been said before, but the presidential race is an endurance test as much as anything. Having said that, you have to admire Trump, a near-septuagenarian, who always seems energized and ready to bite. More than 50 years ago, John F. Kennedy Jr. proclaimed his ability to operate on limited sleep one of his advantages. Clinton did the same. Trump may one day have a Red Bull lesson to offer us all.