The system is rigged.
Actually, let’s make that systems, plural.
A database search of major newspapers over the past year captures 337 instances where shadowy powers have conspired to subvert a just and natural outcome. From land-use rules in Los Angeles, to retirement savings plans, to NCAA college basketball rankings, to Sudanese elections and even the online purchase of Paul McCartney concert tickets, perfidy stalks the globe. Italian politics? Fixed. Brazilian justice? Tainted. The NHL draft lottery? Let’s not even go there.
Donald Trump knows the truth. This past weekend, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination stood before a crowd of reporters on Staten Island, N.Y., and let the world in on a secret: He’s being screwed. “It’s a rigged system, it’s a crooked system, it’s 100 per cent crooked,” Trump complained.
At issue is the Republican Party’s late-blooming reluctance to let the most divisive, least admired candidate in modern American political history be its standard-bearer in November. (It could well be that there was once someone less popular with women and minorities than Trump, say, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney in 1804, but we’ll never know, since only white guys got to vote back then.) Heading into Tuesday’s New York state primary, Trump is leading Ted Cruz by 774 to 559 delegates, and has collected around two million more votes. But it appears that the tangerine-hued billionaire will fall short of the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination and will have to fight it out on the floor of the Republican convention in Cleveland this July.
In recent weeks, the unstoppable Trump Express has started to look more and more like the 5:15 local—prone to breakdowns and delays. This past weekend alone, he was outmanoeuvred in delegate selection processes in Florida, Georgia, Wyoming and six other states, ceding crucial convention votes to Ted Cruz, a marginally more likeable figure—if you discount all the people out there who believe that the Calgary-born Texas senator might actually be the Zodiac killer.
You see, Trump made a choice to try and stage his coup on the cheap, eschewing costly ground operations in favour of splashy rallies, and all that free media coverage—almost half-a-billion worth in March alone. Per the latest federal filings, in mid-March, his campaign has spent just $35 million—about one-third of the expenditures by Cruz and his proxies. And now, suddenly, the organizational gap is showing.
Trump doesn’t think this is fair. “You’re basically buying these people,” he carped on the weekend. “You’re basically saying, ‘Delegate, listen, we’re going to send you to Mar-a-Lago on a Boeing 757, you’re going to use the spa, you’re going to this, you’re going to that, we want your vote.’ That’s a corrupt system.”
Of course, Trump owns Mar-a-Lago, a private club in Palm Beach, and flies around the country on a 757-200 with gold-plated bathroom fixtures and his name painted on the fuselage. Those are just the examples that happened to come to mind. “Nobody has better toys than I do,” he explained.
Bribes and blandishments might actually be preferable to the scenario he sketched out in the event that his political dreams are somehow thwarted. “You’re going to have a very, very angry and upset group of people at the convention,” predicted Trump. “I hope it doesn’t involve violence, and I’m not suggesting that. I hope it doesn’t involve violence and I don’t think it will.” (Now that I’ve had time to sleep on it Mr. Corleone, that offer is extremely difficult to refuse…)
America has come a long way in the 10 months since Trump officially launched his campaign by promising to oversee the largest forced deportation in human history. People hardly flinch anymore when he talks about how sexually attractive his daughter is, or the size of his genitals. He’s been dropping casual threats about “riots” in Cleveland for a month now, and only media obsessives have taken notice.
Trump is still in the lead, and the most likely scenario remains that he will become the Republican nominee—by hook, crook, or rubber bullet—this July. There is no such thing as a $10-billion underdog. But that mix of bluster and menace is what has brought him this far.
Supporters of “the Donald” fervently believe that the American system is fixed. That jobs are lost, taxes are avoided, and trade get deals signed because someone powerful has greased the skids. They aren’t necessarily wrong.
We all share a tendency to attribute setbacks to forces that are beyond our control. Trump understands and exploits that, promising to restore national greatness and transform losers into winners through the sheer force of his deal-making will.
But it turns out that even a really rich guy can’t always game the outcome. The system might well be rigged, but that’s not really Trump’s complaint. He’s just sore that for once, he’s not the guy pulling the strings.