Give Donald Trump credit for planning ahead. He is preparing to be a sore loser.
Trump’s complaints that he is being undone by a rigged system crafted by a corrupt Republican Party is the dress rehearsal for his campaign’s closing argument should it come up short in Cleveland. Trump will, in his telling, have been stabbed in the back by insiders and be fully justified in wreaking a terrible revenge on the party that he briefly sought to lead.
Facts and logic don’t particularly matter to Trump or his mouthpieces, yet the “rigged” charge is absurd even by the standards of his standard-less campaign.
Colorado occasioned the latest Trump fusillade. Listening to him, you would think that the state is run by a cross of the Pendergast Machine and Tammany Hall (which voted more people than existed in the voting population of New York City in one period of the 19th century). Colorado’s offense against fairness and decency was Ted Cruz winning all of its delegates in the same caucus system it has used for years.
The only change in the state, implemented back in August, before many people took Trump seriously, was canceling its presidential preference poll, which didn’t have any role in binding delegates anyway.
The Colorado system — precinct caucuses electing delegates to district and state assemblies, where they are selected for the national convention — isn’t undemocratic. But it rewards a different, more demanding and engaged sort of participation than a primary.
An accent on grass-roots organizing is not, by the way, a hallmark of establishment politics. In fact, it is the opposite. The classic conservative insurgent excels at organizing as a means to bypass the party’s gatekeepers and to make up for a lack of resources and media attention. Although the Cruz campaign is well-funded, it has the grass-roots DNA of this kind of insurgency, which it began as and, in significant respects, still is.
For understandable reasons, Trump would prefer that every contest be an open primary. The Republican calendar has plenty of those. But it has other varieties of contests as well, reflecting the different histories and characteristics of the state parties. The diverse, patchwork system forces a candidate to demonstrate strength all over the geographical map and in myriad ways. If Trump is a master at message and free media — both driven by his outsized personality — the delegate game has shown Cruz’s campaign is much more technically proficient.
For all of Trump’s complaints, the nomination system was set up to favor the front-runner and get him over the top as soon as possible. He’s won about 37 percent of the vote and 45 percent of the delegates.
Still, the whining serves several Trump purposes. It feeds his psychological compulsion to never admit he’s been beaten or outmaneuvered; it creates something for the media to chew on until he runs away with the New York primary next week; and it sets the predicate for his argument at a convention (it’d be “unfair” if he didn’t get the nomination), and, more importantly, for ditching the party if he loses.
It is hard to think of a major presidential candidate, let alone a front-runner, who has ever had so little regard for the unity or interests of his own party or is so clearly preparing to bring it down, like Samson at the temple of Dagon, if it doesn’t bend to his will. Trump is doing all he can to delegitimize the GOP in the eyes of his voters.
Trump portrays himself as a perpetual winner, yet also cultivates a sense of aggrieved victimhood that is clearly part of his appeal to his supporters. Most unsuccessful candidates seek to avoid the appearance of being a sore loser, no matter what their true feelings. In another departure from the rules of politics, Trump would embrace the role with gusto. His signature line would go from “Make America Great Again” to “We Wuz Robbed.”
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.