Why Donald Trump is keen on talking about a “Contested Convention”
I think I get the new strategy now. I think I do.
Of course, there are real limits to my “understanding” the Trump campaign. At a profound existential level I do not understand at all how so many people can abandon the most fundamental moral and intellectual responsibilities of being an adult to the point where they can vote for Donald Trump. My understanding fails.
But I can recognise the defining qualities of a kind of political appeal (I think) even if no part of me can share it. Belief in “Trump” is detached from any kind of political coherence. The fact that the things that Trump says are either verifiably false, logically impossible, or contradict other things that Trump has said makes no difference to people who believe things that Trump is saying because he is saying them. For such people Trump is more powerful than God – or at least the Yahweh of Judeao-Christian tradition – because Yahweh is limited by Laws, by consistencies of character and by fixed principles.
Right now, Trump is playing at victimhood – which is something that all powerful and privileged people like to play at these days. His only credible opponent – the maniac and charisma bypass known as Cruz – has been boasting that Trump is stoppable – that Trump won’t get the votes he needs to prevent a contested convention.
Now instead of denying this claim, Trump is using it to declare “the system is rigged”. By stressing Cruz’ reliance on the machinations of convention politics (“convention” providing an implied epistemic root for “conventional”), Trump is able to revivify his campaign by shoring up his outsider status. Vote for me – I’m not really a politician.
The new Trump campaign repeats this mantra about “the system is rigged” over and over again to the point where it is hoped that any vote for Cruz is no longer a vote “for” Cruz at all – but rather “for” the rigged system. If you vote for anybody other than Trump you are voting for a bunch of fat cat politicians doing back room deals at the convention.
And, like all politicians who are unashamed to deploy fascist techniques, Trump now mutters stuff about violence at the convention if he’s not elected. Frightening people with the idea of violence while blaming others for the violence is a long-standing fascist technique? Is Trump ideologically coherent enough to be a fascist (or anything else ending is ‘ist’)? Perhaps not, but as a landed aristocrat who has grown up without anything resembling shame, he has no problem adapting successful political techniques from any source.
With his New York delegates, Trump is now well placed for the next set of primaries. With his new Vote Cruz = Vote Sinister Convention Machinations mantra, he may well get the delegates he needs to win the nomination outright. Even if he doesn’t, he will be so far ahead of Cruz by the convention and his supporters will be so riled up that we will see the violence he’s been threatening.
When Republican bigwigs say that “the process is the process”, they merely reinforce Trump’s bizarre appeal. Of course these party nominations are not simple majoritarian plebiscites. Of course, they were always designed to allow for negotiations and third party consensus candidates to emerge. But Trump’s campaign has always been based on the idea of rejecting time honoured procedures. These procedures are now time-contaminated. Trump refuses to “understand” how things are done, not so much because he’s ignorant (although he is), but more importantly because he celebrates ignorance as a matter of principle.
If the only answer to Trump is Cruz, then Republicans need to take a long hard look at the question. Longer term – anti-politics is here to stay. It’s just a question of whether the rejection of the status quo can (in the future) be based on reason rather than rage.
Trump’s nomination will also demonstrate the depressing extent to which many voters fundamentally despise themselves – despise themselves so much that they are willing to prostrate themselves in front of something which they must know in their heart of hearts doesn’t make any sense. Between now and November, a great many people will need a hug.