I was anticipating that California's Republican primary on June 7 could be the finale for Act II, but the failures of the effort within the Republican party to stop Trump indicate it will be anticlimactic. The #NeverTrump movement is ending badly; the Kasich-Cruz cooperation, too little and too late, is poorly planned--New Mexico should have been a Cruz state, and Indiana a Kasich one--and poorly executed. If it had started immediately after the Florida primary and Marco Rubio's withdrawal (a mere 45 days ago), it could have succeeded, particularly with the skill that Cruz backers have shown to pick off possible Trump delegates in state conventions, but splitting votes in the states since then has helped ensure Trump wins in most states in the meantime.
It is clear that many in the Republican party who were appalled by the grotesque campaign of Donald Trump are finding their way to reconciling themselves with supporting him, or at least ending their opposition to his nomination. It was ever thus in the party: the magnetism of power will get the filings in line. Some will think themselves able to avoid contamination by dodging him, but it will only make them less likely to get the full support from the Republican base they will need to compete.
On the Democratic side, the eventual nominee has been obvious for months--perhaps Hillary Clinton's nomination was never seriously threatened, at least since Joe Biden announced he would not run--but Bernie Sanders did a great job of keeping the primary campaigns interesting and content-filled (unlike the Republican race, which has been shallow, echo-chamber vapidity combined with lowest-common-denominator personal insults and vulgarity throughout). Alas, for those touched by the Bern, the dream is over. Sanders' campaign has recognized the inevitable; he will keep his run going through the final primaries in early June, then work to get some favorable planks in the Democratic party platform and a say in the choice of the Vice-Presidential nominee of the party.
Clinton will be willing to concede some ground to Sanders on the former--he is essentially pushing on an open door--but I don't think she will give much ground on the latter. The work to vet Democratic VP nominees for Clinton has begun. I think the campaign will focus on the strategic choice among five alternatives:
1) A Hispanic to lock in that vote (Labor Secretary Tom Perez, HUD Secretary Julian Castro), particularly if Trump chooses a Hispanic VP;
2) A woman who can lock in that vote (Amy Klobuchar), particularly if Trump chooses a woman VP nominee;
3) Someone from the Sanders-Elizabeth Warren wing of the party, to help make peace with disgruntled Sanders supporters (besides Sanders or Warren, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, former Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson, environmentalist Bill McKibben);
4) A white male loyalist with moderate tendencies (Sens. Tim Kaine, Mark Warner, or Evan Bayh); or
5) An established Democratic liberal who is not a Senator in a state with a Republican governor (Deval Patrick or Al Franken).As you might guess, I think the first three are relatively weak ideas (though I do like my selections of Anderson and McKibben from among the many minor political figures who have endorsed Sanders), but they cannot fully be discarded until the Democratic convention begins. The choice between 4) and 5) will depend on the level of confidence the Clinton campaign will have in their ability to get a decent share of white male voters who identify as independents--if weak, that would argue for 4), if strong, 5) might help generate additional enthusiasm in the base to run up the score. I particularly like the choices of Patrick, who would solidify the feeling of smooth succession from the Obama Administration (Patrick is a favorite there), and will feel like an unforced post-racialist choice of a respected African-American, or of Franken, who could make for an entertaining and effective "attack dog" nominee to go after Trump.
Sherrod Brown, Cory Booker, and Elizabeth Warren herself are names who will merit mention but not selection, as they are Senators in states with Republican governors: the governor would be able to name some Republican who would have the inside track at holding onto the seat. In addition, their election as VP would also immediately create an absence in the Senate caucus, which will need a majority in order to organize the leadership committee chairs, etc. around support that will be critical for Clinton to govern successfully in 2017, As for Sanders, I think he is wise enough to understand that he would not be included in the decision-making in a Clinton White House and that he can be more effective in the Capitol.
Learning from an Ugly Past General Election Campaign
This promises to be an extremely ugly Presidential campaign; the only one that I can recall that remotely compares to this one in the level of crudeness we should expect was the 1972 Nixon-McGovern campaign. That disastrous result, which embarrassed us before the world in the way that Trump's primary campaign has done for us this year, featured Nixon's CREEP (Committee to Re-elect the President), bloated with dirty money, paranoia, and megalomania, and fresh off successfully stonewalling the initial investigation after its stupid Watergate break-in. The Republicans successfully framed George McGovern--a decent, but unlikely, antiwar candidate who had emerged from a contentious primary season without a unified party--with a caricature of hiss program as
the "3A's--Abortion, Amnesty, and Acid" en route to winning 49-states and 520 electoral votes. That smashing victory was, in turn, smashed by the investigation of the Watergate cover-up and Nixon's resignation (and the imprisonment of much of Nixon's team) in less than two years.
McGovern's general election campaign was honorable, honest, earnest, and incompetent. The worst mistake was the mishandling of the VP nomination (the "Eagleton affair", leading to his withdrawal and replacement by Sargent Shriver; more generally, McGovern won the nomination of a divided party, split on the Vietnam war issue, roiled by the candidacy (and assassination wounding) of George Wallace, and denied the candidacy of Ted Kennedy, the most popular potential candidate, and the one Nixon was worried about when his cronies greenlighted the Watergate break-in and other dirty tricks. His general election campaign relied on the proposition of ending the Vietnam war, which Nixon countered with his "secret plan to end the war". Regardless of whether there was really such a plan (there was--the notion of negotiating a truce, then leaving after the famous "decent interval"), it was no great trick for Nixon to pretend he had one.
The circumstances are different now: Trump will be the underdog, Clinton the leader of the incumbent administration's party, and the wars are less central of an issue (because Americans are not currently dying in them). Nevertheless, there are lessons Democrats should take from that experience.
1. No Holds Barred. -- The Drumpfentruppen will come at Hillary with everything they have. Trump's approach is to go hard early, try anything, see what sticks, and then rub it in at every opportunity. While The Candidate Herself should remain "Presidential" and refrain from the low blows--something Donald can only wish he could pretend to be or do--Hillary will have a deep team of surrogates to counter his attacks with well-crafted truth, and they should be ruthless with counterattacks.
Trump has several weak spots which were exposed in the primaries: the first is his thin skin, and his shocking lack of self-esteem (given his overweening pride and ego). The second is the false nature of his appeal; blue-collar workers have nothing to gain from his tax plan, his protectionist trade policy. An additional one that I recommend is to impugn his ethics and his integrity (something the Republicans will do for Hillary); it is inconceivable--"blind trust" or no--that he can govern in a way that is neutral towards his many business interests, and I see no reason to grant that he would be altruistic or self-sacrificing in the slightest.
2. Unity of Objectives -- In 2016, there is a single imperative: crushing electoral success, from the top of the ticket, in the key Senate contests, and to maximize the gains in the House. All else--the Supreme Court seat, control of the Senate, any hope for a legislative program--will depend on that success. The loathing toward so-called DINO's, the splittist tendencies of the Old New Left, these must be put on hold, for the greater objective of putting down Trump and the other Republi-Cons. Plenty of time to work out those problems later.
3. The Issues Matter - and it's not just one issue, or just three. The good news is, our candidate has a better handle on all of them. She is well-informed, has a progressive view on most or all, and she will have the benefit of advice from among the best in the business, not least of which will be her husband, Former President Clinton (the name I think he will take in the White House), the ultimate policy wonk, with outstanding political intuitions and who still manages a sky-high approval rating. She should welcome televised debates, which will showcase her superior grasp of the issues, as long as she can prepare for the traps he will try to spring.
To return to the party platform, the Clinton folks should accommodate Sanders' on issues like the minimum wage, the ultimate objective of universal health care, climate change, infrastructure investment, and most especially, on military spending and military adventurism. Assuming Trump will be the nominee, Hillary cannot afford to be branded the "pro-war" candidate; that is the one area which could cause her to lose support among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents.
Three Things Donald Trump Has Right
Like the proverbial broken clock, and unlike his rival Ted Cruz, who is consistently wrong about every single thing, Donald Trump occasionally gets something right, and I think that deserves to be recognized.
First, Trump has been correct on the negative effects of the status of campaign financing, and that the Clinton campaign has a problem here. Though Hillary has taken a responsible position in favor of overturning the Citizens United decision, or if necessary, passing a constitutional amendment to do that, he has a superior position in being able to say that he has no Political Action Committee as an unregulated ally with secret funds supporting him, and Hillary should find a way to cut that off--she will have plenty of conventional campaign funding support for the general election, for herself and for party allies. It's true that Trump comes from a privileged position, due to his wealth, which reduces his dependency on fund-raising, but the facts remain.
On social issues--apart from those of minorities and women's rights--he has been relatively brave in his positions that run out of line with conventional Republican thinking. Though he has insisted he is firmly anti-abortion, he has not supported defunding Planned Parenthood or overturning Roe vs. Wade, and he has avoided gratuitous insults to the LGBT community on issues like same-sex marriage and the newest, the absurd transgender bathroom issue. He has also avoided parading his religious beliefs and imposing them on everyone.
When it comes to our foreign military entanglements in Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, and Iraq, he has again staked out a position at odds with conventional Republican neo-con thinking. This does not mean his position is coherent, or that his claim to have always been against the Iraq war is factual. In place of the certainty he would get us ensnared, we at least have reason to be uncertain what his Presidency would bring in this area. As in so many others.