by Joe Shea
February 21, 2016
TEARS AND SYMPATHY: THE MAKING OF A CANDIDATE
BRADENTON, Fla. -- No Republican has ever not gotten the party's presidential nomination after winning both the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries. If that precedent holds, Donald Trump is likely to face Hillary Clinton in their race for the presidency.
For those who so loudly proclaimed that Trump was a celebrity flash in the pan at the beginning of his run, and who so decisively declared that he would not be the nominee and could not be President, the taste of these victories is bitter in the extreme and cannot be washed away with another swig of Johnny Walker Red.
Donald Trump is here to stay. If, as inferred, he wins the Republican Party's nomination for the presidency, he also become the titular head of the Republican Party, the supreme boss to the myriad Republican apprentices around the country.
Is it a powerful job? Well, for one thing, it vets all the men and women who might want to be appointed to state and federal courts. Without either party's endorsement, no candidate for a federal judgeship is likely to be found qualified by the Senate Judiciary Committee, the body that ultimately chooses those who get recommended to the U.S. Senate for confirmation.
State parties work in much the same way in the selection of state court judges, relatively few of whom are elected; lack of a party endorsement is fatal on either side of the aisle.
In short, by next July, at the end of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Donald Trump will become the final arbiter of judicial appointments made by Republicans in the United States, where Republicans hold majorities in two-thirds of the states and the U.S. Senate.
In New York, where my beloved Uncle Billy, having once been elected, was appointed to various courts by two Mayors of New York City and three Governors of New York State, getting a judicial nomination for an open judgeship costs the nominee a campaign contribution of $10,000. Not all nominees and not many voters know that.
But there are other perks of the presidential nomination as well. Again, within the party's layers of village committeemen, city committeemen, county committeemen and state committemen, and of course national party committeemen, tens of thousands of lesser appointments are made.
There are Postmasters by the thousands; on every town board, zoning board and planning commission, party interests are exerted by both elected and unelected officials. That's why we think we see all the same faces, or sometimes see people we never heard of, placed in some critical position controlled by the prevailing party.
As someone who is certainly a master businessman, i.e., one who understands the politics of partisan power in the towns and cities and states of our country, Donald Trump will know precisely how to run the vast machine beneath him, and while some nominees may pay scant attention to all of it, Trump will master every detail possible, all the way down to your zoning board. That is the place where his fortune lives or dies, after all. Nothing is built that is not approved by an unelected zoning board appointed largely by the local party in power, unless it is overruled by an elected body or a judge.
While this system surely could become insidious and destructive, and occasionally does, it generally has not. While some communities do become overrun by fast-food franchises that shut down the local family restaurants and housing developments that crowd the local schools and roads, many boards operate in a quasi-benevolent manner. Particularly in affluent communities, zoning and planning boards are overshadowed by the power of wealthy families and developers who choose among themselves the town or county's highest officials, and then elect them with their contributions.
Those who believe the entire system is rigged are not deluding themselves. Political parties rig it, and party leaders do the rigging. A party's presidential nominee wins more than the White House; he wins the power that the people would probably rather keep to themselves, as our laws promise them, but rarely know is rightfully theirs.
So far as I know, this power has never rested in the hands of someone who is essentially a hard-driven, successful, master businessman. It normally rests in the hands of people who have been career politicans, themselves sometimes a little hard-bitten but whose temperaments are often leavened by their extensive contact with ordinary Americans and their problems.
No one can be completely resistant to the pathos of ordinary life, bringing with it the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" - wealth, poverty, illness, death and family - those. things that touch all of us. The billionaire is not ignorant or untouched by these things, but they rarely earn his or her focus; that, of course, is on business, and on the streaming lines of revenue that fill their bank accounts. Better, I think, then, to elect a politician than a businessman. But I am biased toward the former.
Donald Trump has stolen my attention, but not my heart, and that is the fatal flaw in his makeup. Many things about the man stir the passions and the mind, but nothing about him touches our very souls - not like the embrace Gov. John Kasich shared with a weeping supporter, or the graciousness and simplicity with which Jeb Bush ended his campaign last night.
My heart is stirred by the very deep patriotism of Sen. Lindsay Graham and the apparent kindness of Dr. Ben Carson, but their competitors, meaning Trump, Rubio and Cruz, have no appeal to my heart. If anything, I find myself unfairly opposed to the election of any Cuban as President of the United States; the inner jury is still arguing about the master businessman.
My indecision is made less painful by the fact that Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are still options. Both are humane politicians, I think, untainted by the Machiavellian cold of the master businessman. In fact, if Donald Trump suffers a major setback, I would predict it might well be an incident on the campaign trail that requires him to display or not display his essential humanity. "Laugh, and the world laughs with you; cry, and you cry alone?" Not in politics.
John Kasich and Jeb Bush are capable of empathetic tears, while Trump, Rubio and Cruz probably are not. Alone among the things that can trigger a politician's fall, I think a lack of real empathy is a unique and universal deterrent of voter support.
But circumstances do not always provide an occasion in which a candidate's empathy is profoundly tested; the death of Justice Antonin Scalia could have been one, provoking waves of unashamed tears from Rubio or Cruz. Had they come, Donald Trump would have been fatally injured by their absence from his own face. But, of course, it was tears that destroyed the promising candidacy of Sen. Edmund Muskie (D-Me.), and injured Hillary Clinton in 2008.
There is also laughter, a second opportunity for cold men to display more than their carefully whitened teeth. Anyone who can truly laugh, long and hard and from the gut, is a human being we can probably trust. Jeb Bush was such a man, but he's now gone. John Kasich and Dr. Ben Carson are still with us, but hardly anyone is listening.
No one is laughing now at Donald Trump. His ascendancy seems assured. I doubt he would have much problem defeating either of the offered Democrats. It's clear to me, at least, that only Donald Trump can defeat Donald Trump.
Joe Shea is a former New York City Republican operative, and is now a Democratic committeeman. He has been a journalist for 45 years.