Posted by on February 19, 2016

The South Carolina primary, scheduled for this Saturday, is shaping up to be a pivotal event in the GOP nomination.  There is a very good chance that this vote will produce the winnowing of the field that will mark the beginning of the end of the Donald Trump phenomenon.

As I have mentioned before, Trump has a hard core of supporters of about 6-8% of the US population, equal to, and probably 100% overlapping with, the part of the population that believes the moon landings were faked.  When the GOP field was 17 candidates, this looney core loomed large.

But the field is now down to six and, after this weekend, there is a very good chance that it will drop to three: Trump, Rubio and Cruz.  Carson, Kasich and Bush are trailing in the polls.  Unless one of them pulls off a major surprise, all three will likely succumb to huge pressure from the Republican Party and their donors to disappear so that the non-Trump vote can coalesce around Rubio or Cruz.  Because, as the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows, Trump loses by double-digit margins to either of these candidates mano a mano.  And every day that Trump continues to drag the GOP down to his level is a day closer to an ultimate Republican Party loss in the general election.

Fortunately, the party is getting help in this battle from its greatest ally: Trump himself.  I did not see the Republican Party debate in South Carolina but I have seen these clips – you can’t really call them “highlights” – from CNN.  The one constant in each of them is Trump running his mouth, usually interrupting someone and invariably spouting nonsense, including, most egregiously and recklessly, the claim that George W. Bush lied about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.[1]

The only word for Trump’s performance in this debate is “obnoxious.”  I am not the only one to come to this conclusion.  Here is The Economist on the debate:

Considering Mr Trump’s lead in opinion polls, which naturally he touted, spreading his calumnies so wildly seems needlessly risky. Perhaps, beneath the bragging, he feels threatened. Or he may simply be unhinged.

The “unhinged” explanation gets my vote.  The definition of mental illness for me has always been someone who acts against his own interests, but who can’t help it.  The recent WSJ/NBC poll shows that Trump falls into this category.   After his debate performance, his numbers dropped by seven percentage points, losing his leadership for the first time in a long time.

The US Constitution requires that a president must be at least 35 years old.  Trump is threatening to sue Ted Cruz over his Canadian birth, reprising his justly ridiculed attacks on Obama’s birth certificate.  Trump better watch out or someone will sue to extend the Constitutional limit to the mental field.  You can’t consistently act like a 8-year old and expect to be president.

Justice Scalia R.I.P.

I have already sent around a great BloombergView article by Megan McArdle on the fight over the Scalia replacement.  The article begs for an end to the politicized judiciary.  McArdle was too polite to assign blame for this.  But I’m not.  And neither is the Wall Street Journal.

As I pointed out a long time ago, the four Democratic nominees to the Supreme Court can be counted on to toe the party line and vote in unison.  The Republican nominees, conversely, scatter their votes, proving that they strive for a legal conclusion rather than a political one.  The Wall Street Journal has also noticed this pattern.  Here is how an editorial in yesterday’s paper put it:

We know this because this is how all Democratic Justices have voted for more than a generation.  Not since Byron White retired has any Democratic appointee broken with the liberal lockstep on issues that truly matter to the left. Justice Stephen Breyer provided a rare sixth vote after the Sixth Circuit said the people of Michigan couldn’t ban racial preferences (Schuette, 2014), but the liberals had already lost that case.

Otherwise the four current liberals are a solid bloc that never breaks. Among Mr. Obama’s appointees, Elena Kagan is a more nuanced thinker than Sonia Sotomayo, but on big cases they vote the same. By contrast, Republican appointees Harry Blackmun, John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Sandra Day O’Connor, Anthony Kennedy and John Roberts all broke with conservative political preferences on major legal issues. For that matter so did Justice Scalia, albeit for more principled legal reasons.

Obama has signaled that, with his forthcoming nomination, he has no intention of deviating from this pattern.  He has said that he will nominate someone who has a track record of impartiality and adherence to precedent, but who would also use his or her “own ethics and moral bearings.” In other words, someone who will make political decisions.  This is inevitable with the Democrats.  Their vision of a large, activist and centralized US government is fundamentally in opposition to the Constitution.  Therefore, they are obliged to promote politicians who create the law of the land and not jurists who interpret it.

Soft Power

I have just come back from Southeast Asia where I was struck, once again, by how favorably the world views Americans.  There is always a lot of affection, even though sometimes it is the indulgent affection normally reserved for a naïve and bumbling child.  But in nearly all cases it is sufficiently large to overwhelm the darker side of America that foreigners also see.

Contrast this with the mainland Chinese, who appear to be pretty much universally detested.  Even the Thais did not have kinds words for them.  The temples in Thailand have dress codes.  Our Thai guides took clear delight in upbraiding Chinese tourists who violated these.  One got the impression they learned Mandarin primarily for this purpose.

In our geopolitical battles we derive a huge amount of “soft power” from this affection.  This has been of tremendous benefit to us in our geopolitical battles with Russia and now China.

Donald Trump repeatedly says that he is going to make the US military “so strong” (whatever this may mean).  He is talking about “hard power,” the kind the comes from the barrel of a gun.  I certainly hope that he is right.  Because there is nothing that could display the dark side of America more clearly or dissipate American soft power more effectively than electing this “bloviating ignoramus” to our highest office.

Roger Barris

Weybridge, United Kingdom

“I trust that many of you are familiar with the story of Peter Pan, in which it says, the moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it,” by Haruhiko Kuroda, the Governor of the Bank of Japan, revealing the intellectual inspiration of Abenomics

“I know what is around the corner – I just don’t know where the corner is,” by Kevin Keegan, a famous UK football player, manager and commentator

[1] Dubya may be an idiot, but he isn’t an outright fraud.  As this editorial in the WSJ points out, Colin Powell spent nearly a week with the CIA going over the WMD evidence before delivering his UN Security Council speech.  Powell is not an idiot.  And he, unlike others in the Bush administration like Cheney, is not an unprincipled warmonger.  The Bush administration was wrong on Irag but it wasn’t criminal.

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