Hillary Clinton all but officially knocked out Bernie Sanders in Tuesday’s round of voting. Despite trending hashtags, #FeelTheBern, and sensational news coverage, Bernie Sanders will not be the Democratic nominee for president. That race is clear, if depressing.
The Republican race is muddier. Sen. Marco Rubio failed to carry his home state. All of Florida’s 99 delegates went to Donald Trump and Rubio left the race. John Kasich did manage to carry his home state of Ohio with the help of some strategic voting endorsement, most notably Rubio’s campaign manager calling for Rubio supporters to vote for Kasich there.
In the other states, Trump prevailed due to the fractured opposition. Tight pluralities are the basis of Trump’s perceived success. He has only managed more than 45 per cent of the vote in a few states.
Somehow Kasich now thinks that his Ohio win gives him leverage. He still refuses to suspend his campaign, even though he has no mathematical possibility of getting the nomination. Worse, by the current convention rules, he won’t be eligible to have his delegates even counted in the first round. In the second they are likely unbound. As a practical matter, he is nothing more than a Trump vote proxy.
Cruz still has a mathematical shot at winning before the convention. He certainly can walk in with a plurality of delegates and win on the second ballot. (The most established Republican nomination rule requires that the nominee receive a majority of the delegates. A plurality has never sufficed.) So this isn’t over yet.
But it was Rubio’s exit speech, or really the reaction to it, that caught my attention last night. After countless articles on how the base feels betrayed by political leaders who promised one thing yet did another, I am shocked by the number of people who still think oration is evidence of leadership.
Last night, Rubio supporters lamented that he gave his best speech ever, inspiring and positive. They said it was the kind of rhetoric that would have devastated Hillary Clinton’s campaign in the general election of November. While Rubio’s speech last night might have been his best, it certainly wasn’t his only fine oration this cycle.
And those moments of grand oration did not fail because people are awful, stupid, or any other populist insult de jour. Those moments failed because oration isn’t leadership. True, the talent helps leaders lead, but what politicians say and what they do form the foundation of leadership. How they explain what to do, that’s tactics.
I thought of this when a young colleague asked what happened to the Reagan Democrats of the 1980s. These traditional Democrats crossed over to the Republicans to vote for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984. They started to fall away with George H.W. Bush, who was not the limited government conservative that Reagan was. Bush I started offering conservative big government and lost to Bill Clinton, who as a Democrat could offer a little more big government and not alienate his base.
Newt Gingrich tried to recover the Reagan Dems with the Contract for America in the mid-1990s.
It was a smashing election success but failed on follow through.
Since then, Republicans have won one election by a hair and another due to national security, both for George W. Bush. The rest have been utter failures orchestrated by a consultant class that has ignored that this and this is what the map looks like when we run a consistent limited government, constitutional conservative.
And how have they ignored the success of limited government ideas? By hiding it under Reagan’s reputation as “the great communicator.”
Limited government holds no appeal for the consultants and DC elites. Even in Reagan’s second landslide, Washington DC did not vote for him. They think our choice is red big government or blue big government; find the right blend of social and economic issues and an orator to talk about them and we win.
Rubio was groomed to do this. He is young, Hispanic, and a happy warrior who endeavoured to tick all of the GOP establishment boxes on immigration, foreign policy, abortion, and religion. He was that right blend, yet he couldn’t even carry his home state.
Reagan was indeed a great communicator, but that wasn’t why he won two landslide elections. He won those because he was a limited government, constitutional conservative. It’s where he led us that mattered. It is the ideas and principles that he communicated that mattered.
His communication skills just made his job easier.
(Image: Gage Skidmore)