Saturday, March 12, 2016

Why Trump's opponents endorse him over Clinton

I’ve been following the US Presidential primaries fairly closely, partly because it’s important and partly because a lot of the coverage comes in the form of comedy monologues from late night shows I can watch on Youtube. I haven’t contributed much to the coverage myself, and up to now it’s been getting by fine without me. But now I think I may have thought of something new to say about it. I've seen some people wondering why Cruz, Kasich and Rubio still say they’ll endorse Trump if he wins the nomination, and I think I know the answer.

Here are four possible explanations which I don't think are right. First, they actually think Trump would be a better President than Hillary Clinton. It’s hard to get into the head of someone who thinks that, but these aren’t especially normal people we’re talking about, so maybe that’s what’s going on. A second possible reason is that they said they would support whoever was nominated. Politicians don’t like to be seen to break their promises, and maybe they don’t want to be seen to break this one, at least not while they’re still running for President. A third alternative is that they respect the democratic processes of their party. Cruz, Kasich and Rubio are all members of the Republican party, and might be presumed to have some party loyalty, and that includes loyalty to the primary voters. If the voters endorse Trump, they’ll endorse Trump out of loyalty to the voters. Fourth, they may be concerned that Republican primary voters think Trump would be a better President than Hillary Clinton. Lots of these people are actually voting for Trump, after all, and they made up their minds a long time ago that Clinton would be a terrible President. Maybe the candidates think that endorsing Clinton over Trump would turn voters off.

I don’t think any of these are especially implausible, but they’re not very clear-cut. You can imagine the candidates or their campaign strategists thinking quite hard about the decision, analysing polls and asking themselves fundamental questions about who they really are as politicians, and they could end up going either way. Three fairly different candidates in fairly different situations have all considered the question and all come up with the same answer: say they’ll endorse Trump if he wins. One exaplanation for the consensus is that the question is in fact a no-brainer. And I think it is.

Trump agreed he would endorse the eventual nominee and not run as a third-party candidate as long as the party was fair to him. Cruz, Kasich and Rubio all just pledged their loyalty without the fairness caveat. If Cruz says that actually he won’t endorse the eventual nominee if it’s Trump, and then Cruz wins the nomination, the agreement with Trump will clearly be broken, and not by Trump. Trump would be free to run as a third-party candidate, and why wouldn’t he? He’s rich, he’s having the time of his life, and he might even think he could win. So Trump runs, he and Cruz split the rightwing vote and Clinton wins in a landslide. In short, Cruz, Kasich and Rubio are sticking to their agreement because not doing so would doom any chance they have of winning the Presidency.

Of course, this reason for endorsing Trump over Clinton disappears when a candidate drops out of the race or if Trump actually wins the nomination. It’s unlikely he’s going to stop giving Republicans pretexts for saying that this time he’s gone too far and even Clinton would be better. It’ll be interesting to see if they’re still endorsing him in November.

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