Hope Springs Eternal

“This is not the end, nor even the beginning of the end, but it might just be the end of the beginning.”

                                                                                                                           Winston Churchill


The runaway Trump train may have finally begun to run out of steam. More accurately, the Trump Express may have lost just enough momentum to roll to a steaming, trembling halt just short of enough votes to secure Trump a first-ballot victory in Cleveland, and the Republican nomination for President.

One can only hope. In every way that matters, Trump has shown himself to be intellectually and temperamentally unfit for high office.

Trump briefly lost momentum because of comments about women that were ill-considered and offensive even by his standards, as well as positions on foreign and defense policy revealing a comprehensive ignorance of the sources of international stability and prosperity after the Second World War. But in the last week, both in his home state of New York and elsewhere, he has achieved dominant victories.

Trump’s complaint is that the voting process is rigged, which is true, though not wholly in the ways he means. Each state party has its own rules. But the combination of all the various state-specific rules has resulted in Trump controlling a larger percentage of first-ballot delegates than he has received of the total primary vote. In this sense, the system is indeed rigged — for front-runners like Trump, and against second-tier candidates.

Polls suggest that most Republicans believe the candidate who arrives in Cleveland with the largest delegate count should receive the nomination, even if he fails of a majority. They misunderstand both the nature of the rules and the history of their own party. The Grand Old Party’s second nominating convention, in Chicago in 1860, began with no candidate near a first-ballot victory. The two front-runners were Senator William Seward of New York and Governor Salmon Chase of Ohio. Both had alienated key segments of the party. Seward carried a commanding lead on the first ballot, with Lincoln a distant second. But having failed of a first-ballot majority, the front-runner from New York saw his support began to erode as delegates sought a less-divisive and more broadly-appealing alternative. The Keystone State of Pennsylvania switched to Lincoln on the second ballot, and Honest Abe won the nomination on the third.

So the precedent exists for a bad-tempered jerk from New York to come close on the first ballot, and still be denied the nomination. And the precedent exists for my home state of Pennsylvania to have, every century or two, a consequential influence on the Republican nomination for President.

When I get home from work tonight, I’ll cast my Republican primary ballot against Trump, hoping to do my small part to save my party from intellectual and moral ruin. If you can, I urge you to do the same.

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