|Before you trash Trump, check out Ted Cruz!|
A lot of liberals are feeling smug that the Donald Trump Express seems to be experiencing mechanical difficulties. I'm tempted to join the cheerful chorus, but these are not normal times. Not when Trump's misfortunes raise the specter of Ted Cruz. Make no mistake—Donald Trump is a crude, arrogant boor and there are invertebrates more qualified to be president than he. Still, he's just an embarrassment; Ted Cruz is actively dangerous.
Historians such as myself often consider analogies most people don't and the current GOP race reminds me the election of 1800. Huh? Let's take a look. That now-archaic institution called the Electoral College settled all early elections. Because voting was restricted to propertied white males, almost nobody voted—just 66,000 back in 1800—and that was the point. The Founders distrusted the masses and the Electoral College existed to make sure that men of "substance and bearing" (their term) could undo a "mistake" by the voters. The real action took place in small caucuses of Federalist leaders who were also electors. This select group debated who the president should be and the second-most popular candidate was VP. They never envisioned an election in which a rival political party would contest power and win, but that's exactly what happened in 1800 when Thomas Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans (today's Democrats) defeated incumbent President John Adams.
The Federalists feared Jefferson, whose radical agrarianism and take on the French Revolution was the opposite of theirs, and they weren't even sure a transfer of power could take place without a violent upheaval. More vexing still was the fact that there was nothing in the Constitution about political parties or allowing a presidential candidate to designate a VP. (That doesn't happen until the 12th Amendment was ratified in 1804.) All knew that Jefferson was the presidential candidate and that his running mate, Aaron Burr, was meant to be Vice President, but each received the same number of Electoral College votes. If you wonder why Burr didn't just step aside, you know nothing about the ambitious and amoral Aaron Burr! It took 36 Electoral College votes to determine that Jefferson would be the third president, and it hinged on a single changed vote: that of Alexander Hamilton.
Was it because Hamilton put duty above personal views? Not quite. He disliked Jefferson, but deemed him "by far not so dangerous a man" as Burr. He went on to opine that Jefferson was merely a "foolish, abstract terrorist," but that Burr was the real deal. As you probably know, in 1804 Burr killed Hamilton in an illegal duel, thereby robbing the country of perhaps its greatest mind of the day, and proving Hamilton's view that Burr was indeed a "dangerous man."
How does this apply today when voters can decide? Donald Trump is a freak show, but he's by far the lesser of two evils compared to Ted Cruz. He craves attention and says outrageous things, but he's probably not serious about half of them. Ted Cruz is. He's pro-gun and anti-everything else liberals hold sacred. He's not just anti-choice, he's part of the insert IUD cameras into the uteruses of abortion-seekers crowd. He wants to dismantle Obamacare, Affirmative Action, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and all laws forbidding discrimination against gays and lesbians. He wants the Keystone pipeline, perpetual war against foreign enemies, harsher drug laws, and a reworking of the legal code that would be an Old Testament version of Sharia law. He believes in Creationism, insists climate change isn't happening, that immigrants should be banned, that the US military should be unleashed around the globe, and that women should remain helpmeets to men. Consider: in a Senate full of nasty sons-of-bitches, even they hate his guts. If this man becomes POTUS, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaiden's Tale will seem like current events.
Here's where it gets scarier—it could happen. The Democrats are hurtling toward disaster (What? Again?) with Hillary Clinton destined to be its standard bearer. It doesn't matter whether you think her opponents are sexist or misguided; there are tens of millions of voters who despise her and think anyone else is preferable. This includes millions of Sanders' supporters—especially young ones–who will stay at home on Election Day if Hillary gets the nomination. Save your admonishments because it's going to happen.
If Trump doesn't get the nomination, he is likely to bolt the GOP and run as an independent. If that happens, I don't see any candidate getting the magical 270 electorals needed to win. If you think the Election of 2000 was bad, in 2016 it's entirely possible the candidate with the third most votes will be POTUS. Call it a reverse 1800 scenario. In a three-way race, Clinton will win the popular vote but if she is short of 270 in the Electoral College, by what magical thinking does the GOP-controlled House of Representatives give her the presidency? Or second-place finisher Donald Trump? Hello President Cruz (or a dark horse designate for whom no one voted—Paul Ryan? Jeb Bush? Mitch McConnell?)
Hillary Clinton is a terrible campaigner and, yes, I'm among the millions who neither like nor trust her, but if she's your candidate you better root like hell for The Donald to wrap up the GOP nomination. In a two-way race Clinton has a small chance of beating Trump, but in the next-to-worst-case scenario we'd end up with a foolish abstract terrorist instead of a real one.