The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal’s “Best of the Web” at The Wall Street Journal written by the editor, James Taranto.
News of the Tautological
“#NeverTrump Group Refuses to Accept Trump as Nominee”—headline, Washington Examiner, May 3
The Upset in Indiana
“Bernie Sanders Declares War on Reality,” declared the headline of a Monday column by the Boston Globe’s Michael Cohen:
Instead of coming to grips with the overwhelming evidence that Democratic primary voters prefer Hillary Clinton be the party’s 2016 presidential nominee, Bernie Sanders continues to create his own political reality—devising new and creative excuses to explain why he’s losing to her and why he should be the party’s standard-bearer in November.
Then came Tuesday and another primary win for Sanders, in Indiana. DecisionDeskHQ puts him ahead 52.5% to 47.5%, with 2% of precincts still outstanding.
To be sure, his likelihood of winning the nomination is close to zero, as she leads him with pledged delegates and (by a mile) with unelected superdelegates. It is difficult to imagine a scenario not involving the FBI in which she fails to win the nomination. But that’s more by default than overwhelming preference. Sanders, the closest thing she has to a serious primary opponent, isn’t even a Democrat.
Meanwhile, the GOP race is over. Trump swept the Hoosier State, beating Ted Cruz 53.6% to 36.5% and taking all the state’s delegates. Vox’s headline says it all: “Donald Trump Is Really Going to Be the Nominee. This Is Actually Happening.” It is an event of such world-historical importance that Vox actually published a true story.
Can Trump win in November? It’s possible we’ll look back after the election and say the answer was always no, but at this point that is just a guess. Many of the Republicans who confidently guess not were just as sure six months ago that he wouldn’t win the nomination. Why should we assume they know the national electorate better than that of their own party?
Trump certainly has problems—OK, that’s an understatement—but he’s also shown himself to have talents that few observers initially spotted. As for Mrs. Clinton, she has continued to provide examples of her political maladroitness.
One was her response last week to Trump’s assertion that “the only card she has is the woman’s card.” Mrs. Clinton told CNN: “I have a lot of experience dealing with men who sometimes get off the reservation in the way they behave and how they speak.” As DailyMail.com reports, that led to an abject apology from Amanda Renteria, Mrs. Clinton’s national political director:
Posting on Twitter—where complaints about the phrase had accumulated under the hashtag #OffTheReservation—Renteria apologized for the “divisive language.”
In the first of two Tweets, she said: “About the use of an expression today that has some very offensive roots . . . Divisive language has no place in our politics.”
She then added: “@HillaryClinton meant no disrespect to Native Americans. She wants this election to be about lifting people up, not tearing them down.”
That wasn’t the only problem with the remark. CNN noted that Mrs. Clinton “did not elaborate which men she was referring to,” but we cannot have been the only one who immediately thought of Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct and the attendant marital/political drama.
And men vote, too; they constituted 47% of the November 2012 electorate. How smart is it to stereotype almost half the electorate as rogues who need to be kept on “the reservation” by the dominant 53%?
Then there was her exchange with a laid-off coal worker in West Virginia who asked about her pledge, in a debate with Sanders, that “we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” Fox News has the video, in which she tells him: “I don’t know how to explain it other than what I said was totally out of context from what I meant.”
That’s an evasion worthy of “the meaning of ‘is.’ ” West Virginia votes next week; not surprisingly, the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling has Sanders ahead in the Mountain State, 45% to 37%. In 2008 she beat Barack Obama in both Indiana (which was close) and West Virginia (which wasn’t).
Cartoonist Scott Adams—one of the few commentators to spot Trump’s abilities early on—notes that Trump erred in saying the “woman’s card” was the only card Mrs. Clinton had to play:
[Mrs.] Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta, has started to make the case that Trump is too “risky” to be president. That signals a shift from arguing about policy and experience to pure persuasion. . . .
Regular readers of this blog might recognize the “too risky” persuasion play. It was the play that took supply-side economics off the table during the Dole/Kemp campaign against Clinton/Gore. When things are going well, you don’t introduce risk. Jack Kemp wanted to overhaul the tax plan in the United States while the economy was working fairly well. It makes no sense to introduce risk when things are going well. As soon as Bill Clinton and Al Gore labelled supply-side economics as “risky” it was all over. It was a kill shot.
This time, however, Adams argues Podesta is “using it wrong”:
In 2016 the mood of the country is that things are trending in the wrong direction. That is the opposite of the country’s mood when Clinton/Gore ran for reelection and everything looked good.
The entire reason that Trump is so popular is that the public sees the system as broken and also sees no standard/normal way to fix it. When things are broken, and trending in the wrong direction, that’s exactly the time you want to introduce risk.
Sanders’s surprising strength, Adams argues, is further evidence of the public’s appetite for risk. His analysis is consistent with behavioral economics—specifically prospect theory, according to which people who have no good options tend to be risk-seeking, because the psychological cost of a bad outcome diminishes the fear of a worse outcome.
“To be fair,” Adams adds, “Trump scares the pants off of about one-third of the public. So ‘risky’ will hit home for those voters.” That includes some affluent Republicans, and it may help explain the intense Trump-aversion of many conservative intellectuals, who have reason to fear a loss of status and influence in a Trump-led Republican Party.
The widely held assumption that Trump is a sure loser in November is based on two premises: that he will lose a portion of the Republican base, and that Mrs. Clinton will hold the Democratic base. The former premise seems likely to prove true, although the magnitude of the loss is anyone’s guess. But since Republicans have struggled in recent presidential elections, her holding the Democratic base should be sufficient in any case.
But the latter premise could well turn out to be faulty. Futile though Sanders’s campaign for the nomination may now be, his continuing strength could portend weakness in November for Mrs. Clinton.
For more “Best of the Web” from The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto click here.