LONG SPOONS MEASURING DESPERATION
The Republican Party and its presidential contenders
now at their respective "Rubicons"
Friday, April 29, 2016
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
It was late in the evening session of the third day of the 1968 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach, Florida when the Roll Call of the States on Presidential Nomination began: although various and sundry GOP operatives and allies of former Vice-President Richard Nixon's campaign for President had, all during that day, publicly predicted a relatively easy victory on the First Ballot for the losing 1960 GOP standard-bearer with, perhaps, more than 700 votes from among the assembled delegates (at least 33 more than the 667 Nixon would need in order to be nominated), the inner circle within Nixon's own campaign was not quite so sure as the Convention Secretary first called out "Alabama! 26 votes!" and the chair of the Republican delegation from 'the Heart of Dixie' began to publicly announce the presidential preferences of its delegation (splitting the State's vote 14-12 between Nixon and California Governor Ronald Reagan).
By all accounts, the best (as well as highest) guess within the heart of the Nixon campaign at that moment was that he was only assured of some 620 to 625 votes; the Associated Press, however, had- earlier that same day- bumped up their own twice-daily tally (one for the afternoon newspapers [back when there even was still such a thing!], the other for next day's morning editions) of firm Nixon delegate support from 613 to 629 (a welcome trend to the Nixon faithful, yes, but this 629 was still 38 short of what he needed to outright win). In fact, the very reason that particular Roll Call was seeming to be a "near thing" for Nixon and his campaign to have to "sweat out" was that, not only was Ronald Reagan's proverbial "hat in the ring" (although the California Governor had only thrown it into that ring but a couple days before, Reagan was already being touted as the natural heir to the conservative movement which had reached a "high water mark" at the GOP Convention that had nominated Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater for President four years before), but so was that of the (if only potentially) even more formidable New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller (the very man Goldwater had bested in the race for the 1964 GOP presidential nomination).
For it appeared that, in a last ditch effort to stop Nixon on the First Ballot (really the only way either of the two Governors from opposite Coasts- as well as opposing wings of the Grand Old Party- could themselves each hope to eventually secure the Party's presidential nomination now in 1968), Reagan and Rockefeller were at least attempting to somewhat work together against Nixon without-- well--- actually working in tandem (which might well have jeopardized either of their respective presidential bids in any event).
Far away from Miami Beach- in the wooded wilds of Sussex County, New Jersey (to be more exact)- yours truly was a 12 year old lad right smack dab in the middle of attending a full week of Boy Scout Camp (Sunday through Saturday that same week). As the myriad of katydids [bush crickets] surrounding the campsite continued their incessant "singing" under the night sky, my two tent-mates and I were intently listening to that very GOP Convention Roll Call on a transistor radio with the sound turned as low as possible as it could be while allowing us to still hear it (evidently, however, it was not low enough, for we were to be well reprimanded- nay, strongly upbraided- by our Troop's assistant scoutmaster for having so violated 'Lights Out'!).
As things turned out in the wee hours of what was now a Thursday morning in the eastern United States of America, Richard Nixon was to gain 692 votes on Roll Call of the States (25 more than necessary for nomination) and, thereby, would become the 1968 Republican standard-bearer: he would, of course, go on to win the White House ("Winning is a lot more fun", he would exult late in the afternoon following the November General Election that year)-- whether or not Nixon's Presidency itself (especially given how it would all so ignominously end just a little over six years, almost to the very day, after his victory on the Convention floor in Miami Beach) was as much "fun" might well be a whole other consideration!
Yes, I have thought of the 1968 GOP Convention- and, in particular, the failed effort (using the term "effort" here while yet assuming there is no way it could, in the main, ever not have failed) by a more moderate GOP Governor (Rockefeller) and a champion of more conservative Republicans (Reagan) to stop the eventual presidential nominee of their Party from gaining that prize in the first place- in relation to the reports, earlier this very week, of Ohio Governor John Kasich (playing the role of 'Rockefeller' [if only ideologically] in this particular "remake" of that old 1968 GOP "movie") and Texas Senator Ted Cruz (as 'Reagan'- a role I am certain Cruz himself might actually relish playing [were this actually a movie], given his own so evident hero-worship of 'The Great Communicator') attempting to, somehow, work (without, however, working together per se) against the now-seemingly (since the Presidential Primaries of this past Tuesday [26 April]) inevitable nomination for President of Donald Trump ('Nixon' in this remade "epic").
And much like the "more in the mind than in reality" Reagan-Rockefeller "alliance without really being one" of 1968, the Cruz-Kasich equivalent seems headed for just such a failure as that which had occurred nearly a half century before (the only difference here being that, given the shifted political demographics within the Republican Party of 2016 as compared to the GOP of 1968, it is the more conservative Cruz that is currently in second place [back in 1968, moderate Rockefeller came in second to Nixon with 277 delegate votes: conservative Reagan, meanwhile, only ended up with 182]). All in all, the Cruz-Kasich gambit seems to have been but one desperate effort this week to stop what is, more and more, seeming to be a veritable Trump steamroller heading right for them on its way to Cleveland this summer.
Yet another such desperate measure in this regard, then, seems Ted Cruz- without, of course, having actually secured the GOP presidential nomination- having so publicly named former Republican presidential contender Carly Fiorina as his running mate. Here, once again, Cruz has been well thumbing through the playbook of his one-time mentor, Ronald Reagan:
come 1976, now-former California Governor Reagan was a full-fledged contender for the Republican presidential nomination: for much had changed over the eight years since his first brief foray into presidential nomination politics during those few days of the 1968 Republican Convention. The recent McGovern-Fraser reforms of the Democratic Party's presidential nominating process were already having a no little significant, concomitant effect on that in the Republican Party (most notably, through the expansion of the number of Presidential Primaries [back in 1968, only 1/3 of the 50 States & D.C. taken together had held such Primaries; in 1976, there were 30 Presidential Primaries- nearly twice as many!]): back in 1968, Reagan could wait to formally announce his presidential candidacy at the National Convention itself and still have the proverbial "puncher's chance" at the nomination; now, less than a mere decade on, Reagan was required to run the same "marathon" pre-Convention campaign as was the man he was challenging- incumbent, yet unelected, President Gerald Ford.
After the last votes were counted in the final Presidential Primaries of that year on 8 June 1976 (back when there was only one 'Super Tuesday' [!] and this very day had been it), the Associated Press delegate count on the Republican side showed President Ford with 965 delegates with Reagan slightly more than 100 behind (1130 were needed to nominate at that year's Republican National Convention): with the GOP Convention (to be held well after the Democrats' own, with a Republican currently in the White House) in Kansas City nearly 2 1/2 months in future, this set up a summer-long battle between Ford and Reagan for the support of formally Uncommitted delegates (many of whom had yet to be officially chosen in at least some States as the Primary/Caucus "season" itself had come to an end that bicentennial year 'Super Tuesday').
As the Bicentennial summer wore on, Reagan would gain the support of at least some of these Uncommitted delegates (whether already so designated or to be newly minted at a State GOP Convention) only to see Ford also get commitments from others among this much sought after group (if not in the same State, perhaps in a different one even in a different region or section of the country): much like what one sees in a Democratic presidential nomination race nowadays (albeit for very different reasons, of course), Reagan was finding it harder and harder to catch up (even where he might actually pick up a few to several more such delegates than Ford during a given week). Come late July, some 3 weeks before the GOP Convention was scheduled to first meet, Reagan had closed the gap to but 70 (an average net gain of some 5 delegates per week for Reagan since the end of the Presidential Primaries: but, at this same rate, Reagan would still be well behind come the Convention itself with many fewer Uncommitted delegates available to split between both himself and Ford in the meantime); meanwhile, Ford himself was already well within 50 of the "magic number" of 1130 with but those 20 or so days still to go.
Thus, the bombshell announcement by Reagan on Monday 26 July 1976 (which I myself still well remember, first hearing about this as I drove home from work [I was back in New Jersey on summer break from Boston University and my summer job- one that, but a couple years thereafter, would become my first full-time job after graduating from B.U.- was at a hosiery warehouse about a half-hour's drive from my family's suburban house] and had the car radio tuned to an all-news station out of nearby New York City [primarily so I could hear the afternoon rush hour traffic reports]) in which the former California Governor announced he was naming, well ahead of time (for this was an era still when Major Party presidential nominees didn't generally name their pick for Vice-President until the day after their own nomination, usually also the final day of their Party's National Convention), Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Richard Schweiker (up till then, a Ford delegate) to be his running mate.
The political gambit here was altogether obvious: Reagan was hoping to convince the remaining Uncommitted delegates (or, at least, as many of those who might otherwise still be induced to support Ford) to support him instead and, in addition, was also hoping to even pry Uncommitted delegates who had already indicated an at least tentative commitment to Ford to, perhaps, change their own minds (and if already Ford delegates such as Senator Schweiker also might want to hop onto the Reagan "bandwagon" [the Republicans did not, at least on the national level, have the so-called "binding" rules that Democrats referred to as "pledging" and which the McGovern-Fraser reforms, by 1976, had already required in that other Party; State Law might well set the date for, as well as regulate the conduct of, Presidential Primaries in a given State but State Law could not at all tell its own State's Republican Party how to go about handling its own delegates to a Republican National Convention which, as a national meeting of a private association of people with like-minded political leanings, was well beyond the reach of both State and Federal regulation], then so much the better!).
By all accounts, however, the very gamble taken via this impromptu Reagan/Schweiker (potential) "ticket" backfired rather badly: seemingly, nobody within the Grand Old Party was all that pleased! Conservatives backing Reagan (whether delegates or not) were, for the most part, appalled that he had picked such a "liberal" running mate (Schweiker was a moderate Republican in the Nelson Rockefeller mold: it surely did not at all help such matters when, during his very announcement of his VP pick, Reagan declaimed that Schweiker's "basic beliefs" were "compatible with my own"); on the other hand, many Ford delegates and other Ford supporters (in Congress, for example) were sincerely hoping for a "GOP unity ticket" (Ford for President, Reagan for Vice-President) that they honestly thought would be the strongest to put up against the Jimmy Carter/Walter Mondale ticket that had already been nominated by the Democrats some ten days earlier (Reagan/Schweiker certainly killed that "dream"!); meanwhile, some Republicans- delegates or no (whether pro-Ford, pro-Reagan or neutral)- thought the whole thing just plain politically stupid (adjectives like "aberration" and even "political whore" were being so openly bandied about within the GOP in the days immediately after Reagan's bombshell announcement; Schweiker, in particular, was himself the target of much such opprobrium ["What kind of guy is this?", one Ford delegate plaintively asked about the "turncoat" Pennsylvania Senator]).
That this was all taking place with a virtual battle between Ford and Reagan over Mississippi's 30-vote GOP delegation (led by the rather colorful Clarke Reed) going on at the same time made the former California Governor's announcement even more startling (where not also so irking, especially for Reagan supporters). Mississippi was, by the mid-1970s, one of those Deep South States already in the process of (albeit slowly) turning from a solidly (populist) Democratic State into, eventually, a (conservative) Republican one and Reagan was, thereby, at least as competitive as the incumbent President therein. In the end, Reed would endorse Ford by the end of that same week (killing any real chance of Reagan gaining any traction via the Magnolia State and, instead, putting Ford that much closer to the nomination [Mississippi's State GOP had actually invoked a 'unit rule' requiring its own National Convention delegates to vote all of a piece, even though this violated national Republican Party rules banning just such a 'unit rule' at GOP Conventions-- but, if the delegation all voted as one voluntarily...!]).
Reagan had only one card left in his hand to now play as the Convention in Kansas City loomed and Ford moved ever closer to the 1130 delegates necessary to nominate (by all best accounts, Ford had gained support of at least 1130 delegates over the weekend prior to that Convention being gaveled into session; contemporaneous media reports of this milestone did not, however, "break" until during the first day of the Convention itself [which is why so many, to this day, consider '1976 Republican' to have been a "contested Convention"-- I, however, do not]):
At the same time Reagan had announced Schweiker as his running mate, he had also said that "I now feel the People and the delegates have a right to know, in advance of the Convention, who a nominee's vice-presidential choice would be". Now the Reagan campaign would seek to have the Convention itself adopt a rule- if so adopted, it would become Rule 16(c) of the then-Republican Party rules- that would require any candidate to be nominated before that body (meaning: anyone whose name was to be formally placed in nomination- and seconded- for President before the Presidential Nomination Roll Call) to have to also name his/her own vice-presidential pick/running mate before being so nominated/seconded. Reagan had, of course, already picked his own ahead of time: now he wanted to force Ford to have to do the very same thing in a last ditch hope of Ford, perhaps, naming someone equally, if not even more, obnoxious as a running mate (Ford had, even before the first Caucuses/Presidential Primaries of 1976, ruled out his own [and equally unelected] Vice-President, Nelson Rockefeller [already obnoxious to the conservative wing of the GOP Reagan himself represented], from being on the '76 GOP national ticket, so the incumbent President would eventually- should he win the presidential nomination- have to choose a running mate anew in any event).
As things turned out, Reagan's proposed Rule 16(c) went down to defeat by a Convention vote of 1180 to 1069 (and President Ford would go on to win the 1976 Republican presidential nomination on the First, and only, Ballot by a vote of 1187 to 1070 [which is why, not being a multi-ballot presidential nomination, '76 GOP was not really "contested" in my opinion] and then end up losing the Presidency to Jimmy Carter come November; Ronald Reagan, of course, would make a "comeback" four years later, winning the GOP presidential nomination in 1980 and then besting President Carter in the ensuing Presidential Election: he would, as we all know, end up serving two 4-year terms as President of the United States [Schweiker, meanwhile, would serve in Reagan's Cabinet for a time]).
Thus (to now come back to the present from, admittedly, all too much "Memory Lane"), Ted Cruz now having done much the same thing as had Ronald Reagan four decades before presents much the same risk to his own campaign (although his having picked Carly Fiorina does not seem to have resulted in quite the same level of negativity [well, except from, perhaps, Donald Trump himself] as was once heaped on Richard Schweiker) as he seeks to, somehow, stop Trump from winning the 2016 Republican presidential nomination outright.
But at least Reagan/Schweiker was an earnest effort (however flawed in its execution) to ideologically balance the GOP ticket: for how much different, really, was the Reagan/G.H.W. Bush ticket that would actually emerge from the Republican National Convention only four years later, in 1980? Despite his having made his political "bones" in Texas, the man who would later become 'Bush41' was, nonetheless, still very much the patrician Republican his own father- Senator Prescott Bush of Connecticut (who was one of my native State's two U.S. Senators at the time I myself was born [in the very same hospital in which Senator Bush's grandson- the man who would become 'Bush43'- had been born nearly a decade before me])- had himself once been (meanwhile, there is no question whatsoever that 'George W.'- although he and I might so coincidentally have shared a New England birthplace- was Texan to his core!)...
by comparison, Cruz/Fiorina hardly provides all that much ideological balance (nor is there really all that much geographical balance: for the former Carly Sneed was born in the Texas Ted Cruz himself now represents in the United States Senate).
Tying the two things (Cruz-Kasich "allied", Cruz/Fiorina "ticketed") together here seems to indicate a rather strange- yet not all too unexpected, given how the GOP presidential nomination race has played itself out so far- political "dance" going on within the Republican Party as the Presidential Primary/Caucus "season" now enters its final phase:
there is, of course, ever the ancient proverb (modernized here): If you are going to dine with the devil, 'tis best to use a long spoon.
The Republican Party as an institution- principally represented by its leadership cadre- is now at its own 'Rubicon' undecided, as yet, whether or not to cross it (though more now seem willing to at least try): do they now live with Donald Trump as the Republican Party standard-bearer or do they still try to figure out some way to stop him from gaining the prize (even if this might entail a rather nasty fight- one vicariously visible to the world via television- on the floor of the Convention in Cleveland itself)? There is enough of a split within the GOP to have many within its higher ranks still mulling over that very question (or at least now making quite sure their own silverware is at least somewhat lengthy!)...
but you can bet your bottommost dollar that Donald Trump has the longest- as well as shiniest- spoon of all! Trump may well now talk about how many Republican Party functionaries have now been 'making nice' with him, for instance calling him on the phone: yet the cold, hard fact is that the GOP (at least those more and more within the Grand Old Party who might want to) is coming to Trump on his terms, not the other way round!
Surprising? Well, let us not here forget that many of those who were calling Ronald Reagan a "political whore" and such back in 1976 were the same people who, not all that much later, so easily bought into his fatherly- nay, even grandfatherly- persona as "The Gipper" (named for one of Reagan's more well known roles in his earlier movie career): for the same man who could so famously, and firmly as well as forcefully, declaim "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall!" could also be altogether self-effacing in public, even ceremonial, settings...
why, then, can't Donald Trump be (as he himself says) "more presidential" (thus, more acceptable to at least more within the Republican 'Establishment') the closer he gets to 1237 committed delegates over the remainder of the pre-Convention process? (And why, then, can't at least some of the very same people who once found Trump so appalling mere months ago now find him at least somewhat more appealing as we get closer and closer to the GOP Convention in Cleveland?). Politics can, indeed, so "turn on a dime"!
By comparison, Ted Cruz has a much "rougher road to hoe": after all, the very Cruz-Kasich "alliance" (kinda) comes equipped with many a long spoon (say, didn't former Speaker of the U.S. House John Boehner, only yesterday, refer to Cruz as "Lucifer in the flesh"? This from an only too recently Republican leader of national import from John Kasich's own State of Ohio!).
Four "players"- the Republican Party leadership, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich- each now find themselves at their own respective political 'Rubicon': all deciding whether- and, if so, just how- to cross it. Does the GOP as a Party now reach out to Trump? Does Trump reach out even more in return (or does he still simply make 'Reception' have the Party "cool its heels" for at least a while in the gilded lobby of a building bearing his own name)? How much, or how little, do Cruz and Kasich still deal with each other- however indirectly or not- in relation to their own last ditch effort(s) to stop Trump from becoming the 2016 Republican standard-bearer? In the midst of all this, is the Cruz/Fiorina "ticket" no less a political fantasy, in the end, as was once Reagan/Schweiker (and, therefore, in but a few weeks or so, to be looked back on as merely a "sideshow")?
Whatever one does in these regards, make sure to bring one's longest spoon!