WISCONSIN — Donald Trump cannot spin the results of the 2016 Wisconsin primary. He got smoked.
Ted Cruz beat Trump 48 percent to 35, taking 33 delegates to Trump’s three. Cruz won big in the Greater Milwaukee area’s middle-class suburbs, while Trump won the rural north and west. Trump technically won more counties. But he should not try to spin this, because there’s nothing to spin. In an angry Tuesday night statement, his campaign blasted the outside advertising money funding commercials against him, even though Trump used to just ridicule those ads as being un-important.
Donald Trump needs a serious wake-up call. The New York primary can be his salvation but only if he turns things around.
The reasons he lost in Wisconsin are the same reasons that he is going to run into some trouble going forward: the Establishment teamed up with the conservative movement, religious people didn’t trust him, the media trapped him on women’s issues, and modest Midwest moderates think he’s a bloviating and possibly unhinged bully who is trying to buy the White House like it’s another high-rise in faraway Manhattan – a place they consider tacky.
Donald Trump behaves sometimes like he thinks taking on the entire political establishment on both sides of the aisle in the United States of America is an easy feat. It’s not. If he wants to pull this thing out, he needs to get back on track. And fast.
Here’s what Trump needs to do:
He Needs To Take Ted Cruz Seriously
There’s a reason Ted Cruz is the last real contender standing after all of Trump’s Jungian put-downs chased the others — from “Little Marco” to “tough guy Jeb”— out of the race. It’s time for Trump to start taking “Lyin’ Ted” a whole lot more seriously.
Trump is a businessman who is running — reluctantly he claims — because he’s concerned about the country. This was the way the presidency as an institution was originally supposed to be, before FDR and nuclear weapons and John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan made it seem like an enterprise with power bordering on the supernatural. He’s not particularly religious, he doesn’t read soaring rhetoric off a teleprompter (except at AIPAC, where he proved that he’s actually pretty good at it) and he’s basically addicted to Twitter.
Ted Cruz, on the other hand, is a deeply religious trial lawyer who has been on a methodical quest to become president ever since he was a child. He grew up poor with a hyper-driven immigrant father, worked his way into the Ivy League, and no doubt internalized the inequities inherent in school, work, and life, where popular rich kids do well and un-cool nerdy poor kids need to work a whole lot harder.
Cruz’s commitment to fighting his establishment Senate colleagues over the last four years made him seem trustworthy in the eyes of conservatives. And it allowed him to play the long game: he set up a ground operation in Iowa and Wisconsin so sophisticated and with so much conservative-movement volunteer depth that it made Trump seem like a Catskills comic playing hotel ballrooms.
Ted Cruz is closer now to his lifelong goal than he’s ever been. And Donald Trump is the final rich popular kid standing in his way. Cruz is not one to be taken lightly at this moment.
He Needs To Learn What The Establishment Really Is And How It Works
The establishment is getting behind Ted Cruz right now in order to keep Trump below 1,237 delegates. That was the case in Wisconsin, where the Club for Growth ran an ad spelling the strategy out in no uncertain terms (after Trump claims he denied the Club a $1 million “extortion” bounty). Will the establishment stick with Cruz on the second ballot in Cleveland or turn on him and try to get Paul Ryan nominated? That remains to be seen.
But right now the conservative movement and the establishment are allied, and that is a very powerful force working in Cruz’s favor. But here’s the thing, and it’s the reason why Trump can’t brush the “establishment” off so easily: the conservative movement and the establishment have kind of always been allied.
Connsider for a moment this rare 2011 interview with Cruz at a RedState gathering back when Cruz was still a longshot to win his Texas Senate primary:
Conservatives and grassroots activists and tea party leaders in Texas and nationally unite around the campaign,” Cruz said. “At the national level, we’ve seen Freedomworks, Club for Growth, and Madison Project all endorse the campaign. And four stalwart conservatives in the U.S. Senate: Senator Jim DeMint, Senator Mike Lee, Senator Rand Paul, and Senator Pat Toomey all endorsing the campaign.
Club for Growth, which Cruz said was “fighting the good fight,” is part of the Washington establishment. Freedomworks CEO Adam Brandon told conservative activists in so many words not to support Trump. Jim DeMint now runs The Heritage Foundation, a bastion of the conservative movement, the establishment, or perhaps the ground where those things overlap, depending on who you ask. The Madison Project sponsored The Resurgent, a site run by fierce anti-Trump commentator Erick Erickson, who is trying to broker the convention with former Bush administration official Bill Wichterman.
The conservative movement and the establishment have gone to so many happy hours together in Washington it’s hard to know exactly where one ends and the other begins. Self-appointed tea party leaders and parasitic social media consultants made decent money riling people up against Obama. Conservatism became an industry, and that industry’s bottom line was boosted by being in the opposition. Now these people are in opposition to Trump.
Trump always just assumed that if he started winning primaries, his party would get behind him. They didn’t. Instead, they compared him to Hitler. The professional conservative movement marches in lockstep, and they march where people with money tell them to march.
But it’s not all corrupt. Out in flyover country, there are conservative activists who genuinely support Cruz just because they genuinely support Cruz. No one could make the argument that Iowa conservative radio star Steve Deace, a Cruz supporter who rails against Trump, is doing it for any kind of malevolent reason. Same goes for the conservative talkers in the Milwaukee area like Charlie Sykes. Not to mention all of the good people who canvassed for Cruz in their Wisconsin counties without any expectation that they’d get something in return.
Donald Trump has a problem on the Right. In his press conference at D.C.’s Old Post Office ahead of the Arizona primary, he finally seemed to acknowledge that, assuring reporters that he was working on his Supreme Court shortlist with Jim DeMint and the Heritage Foundation. DeMint also showed up to Trump’s meeting with Newt Gingrich and other Republicans in Washington. Trump should probably cultivate that connection, at least for appearances.
After all, as Tea Party Patriots honcho Jenny Beth Martin proved when she had Trump headline her Iran-deal rally then turned around and savaged him at CPAC….he can always burn these bridges later.
He Needs To Feature His Policy Team
It’s shocking how few people, even conservatives, know anything about Donald Trump’s tax plan. Trump’s tax plan closes corporate loopholes while slashing business and personal tax rates across the board, giving poor people who make less than $25,000 a year (or $50,000 for married couples) the privilege of not having to pay any income taxes. It sounds pretty conservative to me.
Trump needs to get his policy people out there.
His foreign policy crew is a veritable team of rivals who will do a good job articulating Trump’s instinct that we should have a strong military without declaring World War Three on Russia.
Joseph Schmitz is linked to Frank Gaffney, Walid Phares advised Mitt Romney, and Carter Page seems to have a genuinely reasonable view about why neoconservatives are wrong to want to have, again, a World War Three with Russia. He should get these people out there and start hitting Cruz on foreign policy. Cruz, after all, used to try to buddy up with Rand Paul’s libertarian-minded supporters in Washington before becoming the most vocal proponent of what he makes sound like a World War Three with Iran.
Trump has former Jeff Sessions adviser Stephen Miller on immigration, but recently Miller has been in two different situations where he made headlines for weighing in on women’s issues in a bizarre way — first by defending Trump’s re-tweet of an unflattering Heidi Cruz photo, and then when he went off on “genital mutilation” during a panel with Hillary Clinton’s friend Neera Tanden. Stephen Miller should definitely be out there talking about trade and immigration, but he should not be talking about women’s issues (where is Katrina Pierson these days when Trump needs her?).
He Can’t Let The Media Trap Him On Women’s Issues
When Donald Trump’s recent abortion comments hit the headlines based on a leak from an MSNBC town hall that had yet to air, this reporter had one reaction: Why is Donald Trump doing an MSNBC town hall?
Trump is fine on Morning Joe where Mika and Scarborough like him, but he should never have taken on the challenge to debate Chris Matthews head-on. Matthews is an Irish guy who likes to argue, Trump obviously respects him, and so Trump let his pride lead him directly into a trap.
Trump said that there should be “some form of punishment” if we lived in a country where abortion was banned. It was a completely hypothetical question, but so be it. MSNBC had their big score. As soon as the town hall was over, Rachel Maddow aired a dramatic segment in which she chased after Hillary Clinton in the hallway of some building because she just NEEDED Clinton to weigh in on this contemptible affront to women’s rights.
Trump rebounded by saying that the laws on abortion are already “set” and that he doesn’t plan to punish women, but maybe punish abortion doctors if we lived in a country where abortion was banned. But the damage was already done. In one split second, a formerly pro-choice New Yorker just made himself the typical Republican boogeyman for feminists everywhere, emboldening the narrative that American women who get abortions are really the victims in our society.
Trump could have avoided all of this by just sticking to his generally socially liberal worldview in the first place, which probably wouldn’t have cost him any support with Republicans voting for American sovereignty and getting our jobs back. But it’s too late for that now. He just has to be careful about getting trapped in a quote that will be played on opposition TV ads from now until November (and make no mistake, the abortion one will). What did Trump even hope to gain from doing an MSNBC town hall? Did he think he looked good sitting there while some kid who’s probably feeling the Bern asked him about transgender rights? Trump, flustered, said he’ll defer to the laws on the books. He kind of looked like Nixon when he said it.
It’s Time To Be A Global Ambassador For New York
Now, don’t get me wrong: it’s not all doom and gloom for the guy. He’s still winning in delegates and he still has a shot at 1,237 if he wins a landslide in New York and takes some of the remaining winner-take-all states.
The New York primary is Trump’s opportunity to show America who he is, why he’s in this race, and what he wants to do for our country.
The establishment may be against him, but Trump has a big plus: he is an actual real-life celebrity who is famous in a way that Ted Cruz will never be. Trump used to be Mr. New York. He used to be the Macy’s Day Parade. It’s time to get back to that.
Get Ivanka out there in front of the cameras with the new baby. Go stand in Times Square with Regis. Do a live Today Show. Lock down the Rudy Giuliani endorsement that he clearly wants to give. Show people what “New York values” are really all about. Go to Ellis Island and read stories of people who came over in the nineteenth century. Talk about trade against the backdrop of the port. Show people across America what capitalism used to mean in this country and what it could mean again. And most importantly: show people who Donald J. Trump really is, not the caricature by which millennials who don’t remember his old “Letterman” appearances have come to know him.
If Trump wins big in the New York primary, he will give himself an opportunity to finally pivot to the general election … in more ways than one.