The odd nature of the Republican presidential primaries

Today is the day of the last Republican debate before the Iowa caucuses. Donald Trump has again managed to draw all the attention to himself by announcing that he is skipping the event. There are mixed views on whether this will hurt or help him. Some observers are saying that he has finally made a move that will hurt him, that his absence will enable the other candidates to beat up on him without any pushback and that Iowa voters will feel insulted by his absence and switch their votes. But such predictions of Trump missteps have come and gone without being realized before.

Others think that his absence will lower viewership for the debate and thus hurt his rivals. I don’t think anyone really knows. One thing that is sure is that interest in the event has declined though whether it will result in lower viewership remains to be seen. Assuming it is available for free online, I will be watching it, though I don’t expect to learn anything new.

One of the odd features of the Republican race for the presidency is that while Trump is leading in the polls, you would think that all the other candidates would be targeting him for destruction. In reality, almost all the other candidates have been attacking everyone else but him, thus making his stay at the top even easier. People in the GOP are now trying to finger who is to blame for Trump’s rise and launching belated attacks on him.

Here is one ad that is being run that paints Trump as being a liberal Democrat, using his own words from the past.

It is only very late in the game that Ted Cruz has started attacking Trump. This may be because Trump’s attacks on Cruz’s citizenship question has had an effect and stalled his rise in Iowa.

In general, the other candidates seem to think that Trump will eventually and somehow self-destruct and so the race has been to see who can emerge as the clear second and inherit his mantle. There have been refinements in this strategy. The candidates favored by the party establishment (Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, and John Kasich) have been vying among themselves to end up at the top of their division. As a result, Rubio has been at the receiving end of their attacks with a Super PAC backing Bush leading the charge, as Ryan Lizza reports.

But, by late December, the group had mostly given up running pro-Bush ads or mentioning any candidate but Rubio.

Other campaigns and super PACs have also joined Bush in the destroy-Rubio strategy. A radio ad running in Iowa by the pro-Cruz super PAC Courageous Conservatives, says, “Marco Rubio betrayed our trust. Failed us. And he’s done nothing since coming to Washington but push for amnesty.” The ad campaign against Rubio may be working. While he was once on the rise nationally and in New Hampshire and Iowa, he has been stuck for weeks now.

Chris Christie has also ratcheted up his attacks on Rubio.

Rubio supposedly had a ‘3-2-1’ strategy for the first three contests, to come in third in Iowa, second in New Hampshire, first in South Carolina, and then lead the pack the rest of the way and cruise to the nomination. That does not seem to be happening, perhaps due to the attacks, in that he is at the moment third in Iowa with about 13%, fourth in New Hampshire with 10%, and third in South Carolina with 12%. So his 3-2-1 plan is currently 3-4-3.


  1. John Smith says

    That ad makes me think I should vote for Trump over Hillary Clinton, especially with the stranglehold she’s demonstrated to have on the media and the heavy smear campaign (while crying victim nonetheless!) she’s running on Sanders.

  2. machintelligence says

    I gather CNN is broadcasting the Trump fundraiser for veterans. I am curious how much of the debate audience he will siphon off.

  3. machintelligence says

    When the firing squad lines up in a circle, the best place to be is somewhere else.

  4. lorn says

    Trump scares me but egotists can often be mollified and contained, perhaps even bent to useful work if you can convince them that doing good for the nation as a whole will be good for their legacy. Worse case we spray paint a representative portion of the military gold, slap the TRUMP name on everything prominently and parade them around where The Donald can see them and he will be satisfied.

    Cruz scares me in a completely different way. He thinks being ruler, notice I don’t limit it to the US presidency, is his birthright and he is willing to say or do whatever is necessary to get there. He combines the boundless resentment and viciousness of Nixon with religious fervor, an iron-clad confidence that he is The Chosen One, and underhandedness worthy of Gríma Wormtongue.

    He has some of the same methods as Stalin. Stalin always framed the situation as epically disastrous and his own preferred option as the only way out. Of course his way will be difficult, almost as disastrous as not following his plan, but, still, clearly better. But not by much.

    By exaggerating the situation, and offering only to avoid the exaggerated version, he can deliver. No matter how bad it was, as long as you followed Stalin, you always imagined that you had dodged a bullet and avoided an even uglier fate.

    This plays on the well understood psychological dynamic that the fear of loss is approximately twice as strong as the desire for gain. people will spend $5 to gain $5. But they will spend $10 to avoid losing $5.

    Two pieces on Cruz. The Brin piece is interesting as it suggests the Cruz is playing the Nixonian long game and is shooting for vice-president this time around. The other is interesting, even as it points out that Cruz isn’t an outsider:

  5. Mano Singham says


    Do you (or Brin) think that any nominee would seriously choose an insufferable grandstander like Cruz as a running mate? He would spend his entire time trying to convince people that he should be the president.

    Also, the person who I think who paints the darkest picture of the current time is not Cruz but Rubio.

  6. lorn says

    “Do you (or Brin) think that any nominee would seriously choose an insufferable grandstander like Cruz as a running mate?”

    Cruz is a sophist convinced that his destiny is to be king. He is chosen. To get there he is willing to be the perfect supporting politician by doing or saying anything to support the cause. He has grandstanded because it was necessary to get attention. He has betrayed the party and nation because doing so was necessary to position himself as an outsider and build credibility with the Tea party faction. This moral and ethical flexibility It is a undignified, but a quite useful ability that is privately coveted by other politicians, if they assume they can put this talent to use. Otherwise he is ‘A snake in the grass’. This ethical double-jointedness is something he has in common with Nixon.

    As vice president he will be positioned to grant favors that he can call in later. This is how Nixon got nominated. Very few people liked him, but he had a lot of favors owed him.

    Brin asserts, and I tend to agree, that whoever gets the nomination is going to have to sprint wildly to the left to have any hope of wining. Cruz has been presented as, presented himself as, as a rebel and ideologically counter to the orthodox GOP leadership. He is the heir apparent to the Tea party and is currently the darling of much of the evangelical movement. As such he is the obvious choice to soften the blow to these movements, possibly explaining that it is just ‘posturing’ to get into office and their loyalty will be rewarded many time over once in office, while the GOP candidate is suggesting that the hard-right talk was just ‘posturing’ to get through the primary. Cruz has shown that he can lie passionately and convincingly without tripping up or showing any signs of stress, doubt, or regret.

    Cruz is a new and improved Nixon.

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