Beware the Ides of March. America’s Caesar may widen his delegate lead.

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Good day Austin:

It is March 15. The Ides of March. Bad day for Julius Caesar back in 44 BC.

From The Telegraph today:

Julius Caesar suffered 23 stab wounds on the Ides of March but only one of them, the second stab wound he received to the breast, was fatal to the 55-year-old. In his book, military historian Barry Strauss, says that the problem was that many of the estimated 60 conspirators were amateurs at murder. “Very few soldiers, even good ones, have what it takes to stab a man to death,” Strauss writes. “It takes sheer physical strength and a certain brutality to drive a dagger through a man’s flesh.” Some of the stab wounds hit rib cage bone. Excruciatingly painful but not fatal.

And who were those conspirators?

The Establishment. Senators. Romans.

Carl Cannon, Washington bureau chief for Real Clear Politics, carries this line of thought far deeper than I am able to in his RCP Morning Note:

Does Donald Trump recognize himself as Julius Caesar? Your guess is as good as mine. But The Donald’s vainglory has nothing on Caesar’s, who in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” speaks of himself in the third person when he makes his initial appearance on stage.

The play’s opening, like the 2016 primary season, features a conversation between the elites and the working man. That discussion is really a debate between “tribunes” (our version is the Republican establishment) and the commoners (Trump voters) who see what Caesar already knows: to rule Rome you need the working people with you, not the patrician tribunes.

It doesn’t take much to see U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz as Roman senators Brutus and Cassius. Appalled that a man so flawed has become so powerful, they hatch a plot to stop him.

Caesar doesn’t worry overmuch about Brutus-Rubio, but has his eye on Cassius-Cruz.

“Let me have men about me that are fat,” says Caesar-Trump. “Yond’ Cassius has a lean and hungry look; He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.”

But the senators believe that Caesar-Trump and the cult worship he engenders are the real threat to the Republic. Sound familiar now?

Casca, another one of the conspirators (John Kasich?) is astonished at how the crowd responds to Caesar’s bluster, which he compares to a circus. Presaging the real Donald Trump’s own line about shooting someone on Fifth Avenue and not losing any voters, Casca says the working stiffs are sheep who would forgive Caesar if he stabbed their own mothers.

Two thousand sixty years later the question is whether the long knives can take down the man who would be an American Caesar before it is too late.

 

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Probably not.

For starters, if polls are remotely accurate, it would appear that Marco Rubio in Florida is armed with a rubber dagger. In Ohio, where Gov. John Kasich seems likely to prevail, if narrowly, over Trump, he was backed up yesterday on the campaign trail by Mitt Romney, who just doesn’t seem to know a shiv from Shinola.

And it is unlikely that Trump will take the stage tonight at the Mar-A-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, and deliver the line et tu, Lyin’ Ted.

Cruz is still not quite prepared to go in for the final, brutal kill. While describing the prospect of a Trump nomination as a disaster for the party and the country, Cruz said Monday that there were only very limited circumstances under which he would not stick to his commitment to support Trump if he were the Republican nominee.

“I can give you one example where I wouldn’t support Donald Trump,” Cruz said. “If, for example, he were to go out on Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, I would not be willing to support Donald Trump.”

Well, there’s a line in the sand,

Back in January at a campaign rally in Sioux Center, Iowa, Trump boasted, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose vote.”

But Cruz said yesterday, were Trump to act on that impulse, he would lose at least one vote.

In fact, Cruz wants Trump to triumph in Florida and Ohio, so he can get his one-on-one race with Trump, even as he wants to beat or wound Trump in Missouri, Illinois and North Carolina. He wants the story Wednesday to be that Republicans must confront a clear, practical choice between Trump and Cruz, and quickly come to terms with that.

It will be a nifty trick, if he can pull it off.

But more likely, Cruz will find himself with Trump expanding his delegate lead over him, though perhaps not over the combined strength of the anti-Trumps; Rubio doing what it takes to keep his existing cache of delegates in place so he can control them in Cleveland, and Kasich emerging as a third alternative, who could either become Cruz’s primal enemy or de facto partner in trying to stop Trump.

Cruz will be in Houston tonight, and it will be very interesting to see how he frames the race when he takes the stage at the Hyatt Regency Ballroom.

As I watched speeches last night by Trump, Cruz, Kasich and Rubio, I think the problem facing Cruz is that, of the four, he is the least fun, or even comforting, to watch.

Maybe it was the soft blue light of twilight, but Donald Trump’s rally at the airport outside Youngstown, Ohio, yesterday was – even after a week in which Trump managed to nurture the anxiety that maybe he is the prototype of a new populist-nationalist American fascism  – strangely calming.

Or, I suppose, maybe that is the real, relax-and-enjoy-it, seductive appeal of fascism, which is not all jackboots and goose-stepping, but also the warm glow of knowing that everything’s gonna be all right because Big Pappa spins beautiful stories that says it’s going to be.

Having said that, I should note that I do not fit the authoritarian mindset that would predispose me to Trump.

From the Washington Post’s Wonkblog,

One of the reasons that Donald Trump has flummoxed pollsters and political analysts is that his supporters seem to have nothing in common. He appeals to evangelical and secular voters, conservative and moderate Republicans, independents and even some Democrats. Many of his supporters are white and don’t have a college degree, but he also does well with some highly educated voters, too.

What’s bringing all these different people together, new research shows, is a shared type of personality — a personality that in many ways has nothing to do with politics. Indeed, it turns out that your views on raising children better predict whether you support Trump than just about anything else about you.

Matthew MacWilliams, a doctoral candidate at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, conducted a poll in which Republicans were asked four questions about child-rearing. With each question, respondents were asked which of two traits were more important in children:

  • independence or respect for their elders;
  • curiosity or good manners;
  • self-reliance or obedience;
  • being considerate or being well-behaved.

Psychologists use these questions to identify people who are disposed to favor hierarchy, loyalty and strong leadership — those who picked the second trait in each set — what experts call “authoritarianism.” That many of Trump’s supporters share this trait helps explain the success of his unconventional candidacy and suggests that his rivals will have a hard time winning over his adherents.

When it comes to politics, authoritarians tend to prefer clarity and unity to ambiguity and difference. They’re amenable to restricting the rights of foreigners, members of a political party in the minority and anyone whose culture or lifestyle deviates from their own community’s.

“For authoritarians, things are black and white,” MacWilliams said. “Authoritarians obey.”

So, stipulating that I’m decidedly not of the respect/good manners/obedience/well-behaved school of parenting, or even  dog-owning, there is something very reassuring about Trump’s narrative.

Sure he is pandering to prejudices, narrow-mindedness and every bully instinct of the junior high schoolyard. But, when he’s not musing about paying the legal bills for what would appear to be a stone-cold racist supporter who sucker-punched a black protester in North Carolina, his us vs. them is, if you’re an American citizen, fairly inclusive.

Sure he wants to beat the stuffing out of old pal Hillary Clinton; sure he led the charge in the shameless Birther effort to deligitimize President Obama, but, unlike Cruz, he doesn’t seem to have a pent-up carte blanche animus against liberals, Democrats and blue America that Cruz embodies.

Of course there is also, on the wee bit negative side of the ledger, the fact that most everything Trump says is either made up out of whole cloth or just simply  wrong.

From Politico:

Donald Trump says he is a truthful man. “Maybe truthful to a fault,” he boasted last week at a North Carolina rally where one of his supporters sucker punched a protester.

But truthful he is not.

With the GOP front-runner scooping up delegates in a march toward the Republican nomination, POLITICO subjected a week’s worth of his words to our magazine’s fact-checking process. We chronicled 4.6 hours of stump speeches and press conferences, from a rally in Concord, N.C., on Monday to a rally on Friday in St. Louis.

The result: more than five dozen statements deemed mischaracterizations, exaggerations, or simply false – the kind of stuff that would have been stripped from one of our stories, or made the whole thing worthy of the spike. It equates to roughly one misstatement every five minutes on average.

From warning of the death of Christianity in America to claiming that he is taking no money from donors, the Manhattan billionaire and reality-show celebrity said something far from truthful many times over to the thousands of people packed into his raucous rallies. His remarks represent an extraordinary mix of inaccurate claims about domestic and foreign policy and personal and professional boasts that rarely measure up when checked against primary sources.

But, you get past all of that, and Trump is mesmerizing, entertaining, and, if you’re going to have to live with a ubiquitous presence for the next however many year, good company.
And so, I found myself lighting up when, toward the end of his Youngstown appearance yesterday, he did a reprise of his bizarre dramatic reading of the Al Wilson 1969 Northern Soul classic, The Snake.
This is great, I thought.
Would it be so terrible to give Trump a whirl, for four years, maybe eight? As long as he didn’t end the world before then, or announce, a la Michael Bloomberg in New York, that circumstances really require in 2024 that he serve a third term to keep America great, or that maybe elections really were an inhibition on achieving ultimate American greatness.
In the meantime, it’s kind of compelling watching the Republican Party, conservatism, Brietbart, Fox and the component parts of  Sean Hannity himself being  torn asunder by one guy with a very big ego, his gut instincts and a staff of about three.
What snapped me out of my Trump reverie, though, was watching Kasich’s speech Monday before a hometown crowd in Westerville, Ohio, though it might as well have been Winesburg, Ohio, so evocative it was of wholesome American small-town values. With Kasich, there is no “us” and “them.’ It’s all “we.”
And, anger be damned, he says,, American has been through far tougher times before and done just fine.
I defy you to watch this without tearing up as he describes the long line of mourners at the funeral of his parents, who died in a car accident, and how his father, the mailman, had been part of the lives and ups and downs of every family, every home, he delivered mail to.
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Kasich even survived being introduced by Mitt Romney, the Damper Dan of American politics.

“Wow, what a welcome,” Romney said, kicking off the festivities. “John, this is your hometown, right?”

Romney watched with affection as Kasich worked the kind of simple rhetorical magic that could have elected Romney president.

Here’s Rubio yesterday.

I won’t dwell on him.

He talks too fast. He still appears two-cycles-too-soon, but his message is also one of uplift.

Then there’s Cruz.

Cruz finds himself in a remarkably strong position.

He and his campaign deserve a lot of credit.

But, as I noted earlier, his message is very hard-edged, and, more than Trump or Kasich or Rubio promises an America in which the pitched battle between Red and Blue America only intensifies.

Also, I would offer this piece of constructive criticism:

GET A NEW SPEECH!

I know that candidates tend to use the same stump speech ad infinitum, but I think Cruz is carrying this to a ridiculous extreme, and a self-defeating one now that his higher exposure means that viewers are increasingly going to see him speak multiple times.

Trump’s extraordinary gift is keeping the Trump Show alive and interesting, and Kasich’s gift is appearing to be speaking directly to his audience.

One other critique of Cruz.

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In his remarks yesterday, Cruz says:

You know a couple of debates ago, Hugh Hewitt asked all of us about religious liberty and the Supreme Court, and Donald Trump turned to me and he said, `I’ve known a lot more politicians than you have.’ Now, in that, he’s right. Donald has been supporting liberal Democratic politicians for 40 years. I have no experience doing that. But Donald went on to say, `Ted, When it comes to Supreme Court justices, you have got to be prepared compromise. You have got to negotiate with the Democrats and go along to get along.” Well, let me be very clear to the men and women of Illinois, I will not compromise away your religious liberty.

Good one. Except that that really doesn’t accurately characterize that exchange, and is more a reflection of words that Cruz attempted to put in Trump’s mouth at the debate than the words that actually came out of Trump’s mouth. One would think that with a candidate like Trump, who provides such ample fodder with virtually everything he says, that would not be necessary.

Here is the transcript of that exchange from the debate in Houston just before Super Tuesday.

BLITZER: Mr. Trump, thank you.

I want to turn our attention now to another critically important issue for the American people, the United States Supreme Court, where filling the vacancy left by the late Justice Antonin Scalia has become a major campaign issue. I want to bring in Salem Radio Network host, Hugh Hewitt.

Hugh?

HEWITT: Thank you, Wolf.

To me, it’s the most important issue. I’ll start with you, Senator Cruz. Do you trust Mr. Trump to nominate conservative justices?

CRUZ: Well, Hugh, I agree with you that it — Justice Scalia’s passing underscores the enormous gravity of this election. Justice Scalia was someone I knew personally for 20 years; was privileged to be at his funeral this weekend. And with his passing, the court is now hanging in the balance. We are one liberal justice away from a five-justice radical leftist majority that would undermine our religious liberty; that would undermine the right to life; and that would fundamentally erase the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms from the Constitution.

Now, I think the voters of Texas, the voters across Super Tuesday are assessing everyone standing on this — this stage. In the past, Republican presidents always promise to nominate strict constitutionalists. So I’m certain if you took a survey, everyone would say they would do that.

But the reality is, Democrats bat about 1,000. Just about everyone they put on the court votes exactly as they want. Republicans have batted worse than 500, more than half of the people we put on the court have been a disaster.

I’ve spent my whole life fighting to defend the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. I can tell you, for voters that care about life or marriage or religious liberty or the Second Amendment, they’re asking the question: Who do you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, who do you know will nominate principled constitutionalists to the court? I give you my word, every justice I nominate will vigorously defend the Bill of Rights for my children and for yours.

(APPLAUSE)

HEWITT: Mr. Trump, Senator Cruz mentioned the issue that keeps me up at night, which is religious liberty. Churches, Catholic and Christian colleges, Catholic adoption agencies — all sorts of religious institutions fear that Hobby Lobby, if it’s repealed, it was a five-four decision, they’re going to have to bend their knee and provide morning-after pills. They fear that if Bob Jones is expanded, they will lose their tax exemption.

Will you commit to voters tonight that religious liberty will be an absolute litmus test for anyone you appoint, not just to the Supreme Court, but to all courts?

TRUMP: Yes, I would. And I’ve been there. And I’ve been there very strongly. I do have to say something, and this is interesting and it’s not anybody’s fault. It’s not Ted’s fault. Justice Roberts was strongly recommended and pushed by Ted. Justice Roberts gave us Obamacare. Might as well be called Roberts-care. Two times of the Supreme Court, Justice Roberts approved something that he should have never raised his hand to approve. And we ended up with Obamacare.

That is a rough thing. And I know Ted feels badly about it. And I think he probably still respects the judge. But that judge has been a disaster in terms of everything we stand for because there is no way — no way that he should have approved Obamacare.

Now, with that being said, these are the things that happen. But Ted very, very strongly pushed Judge Roberts, and Justice Roberts gave us something that we don’t want.

HEWITT: Ted Cruz, Senator, the chief justice got Hobby Lobby right, but what do you make of Mr. Cruz’s criticism?

CRUZ: Well, listen — Donald knows that it was George W. Bush who appointed John Roberts. Yes, it’s true, I supported the Republican nominee once he was made.

But I would not have nominated John Roberts. I would have nominated my former boss, Mike Luttig, who was the strongest proven conservative on the court of appeals. And I’ll tell you, Hugh…

(APPLAUSE)

… you know, it’s interesting now that Donald promises that he will appoint justices who — who will defend religious liberty, but this is a man who, for 40 years, has given money to Jimmy Carter, to Joe Biden, to Hillary Clinton, to Chuck Schumer, to Harry Reid.

Nobody who supports far-left liberal Democrats who are fighting for judicial activists can possibly care about having principled constitutionalists on the court.

And what Donald has told us is he will go to Washington…

(BELL RINGS)

… and cut a deal.

HEWITT: Mr. Trump…

CRUZ: So that means on Supreme Court…

HEWITT: … can I…

CRUZ: … he’s going to look to cut a deal, rather than fight for someone who won’t cut a deal on the Constitution, but will defend it faithfully.

(APPLAUSE)

HEWITT: Can I trust you on religious liberty?

TRUMP: Well, let — let me — let me just say — let me just say this. Look, I watched Ted — and I respected it, but he gets nowhere — stand on the Senate floor for a day or two days, and talk and talk and talk.

I watched the other senators laughing and smiling. And when Ted was totally exhausted, he left the Senate floor, and they went back to work. OK? We have to have somebody that’s going to make deals.

It’s wonderful to stand up for two days and do that. Now, Ted’s been very critical — I have a sister who’s a brilliant…

HEWITT: Mr. Cruz, will you make a deal about religious liberty?

TRUMP: … excuse me. She’s a brilliant judge. He’s been criticizing — he’s been criticizing my sister for signing a certain bill. You know who else signed that bill? Justice Samuel Alito, a very conservative member of the Supreme Court, with my sister, signed that bill.

So I think that maybe we should get a little bit of an apology from Ted. What do you think?

HEWITT: Let me — Senator.

CRUZ: Let me tell you right now, Donald, I will not apologize for a minute for defending the Constitution. I will not apologize for defending the Bill of Rights.

(APPLAUSE)

And I find it amazing that your answer to Hugh and to the American people is, on religious liberty, you can’t have one of the these crazy zealots that actually believes in it. You’ve got to be willing to cut a deal.

And you know, there is a reason why, when Harry Reid was asked, of all the people on this stage, who does he want the most, who does he like the most, Harry Reid said Donald — Donald Trump.

Why? Because Donald has supported him in the past, and he knows he can cut a deal with him.

(BELL RINGS)

You know what, Donald…

(CROSSTALK)

HEWITT: Senator Rubio.

CRUZ: … I don’t want a Supreme Court justice that you cut a deal with Harry Reid to undermine religious liberty, because that same justice will also erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: When you say crazy zealot, are you talking about you? Crazy zealot — give me a break.

HEWITT: Senator Rubio, you’ve heard this exchange on religious liberty. You have said that religious liberty will trump even the ability of people to stay away from same-sex marriages, not provide flowers, not provide baked goods, et cetera. Are you satisfied with this exchange on religious liberty?

RUBIO: Well, I think you ask a very important question, because the issue here — the next president of the United States has to fill this vacancy.

Justice Scalia — in the history of the republic, there has never been anyone better than him at standing for the principle that the Constitution is not a living and breathing document — it is supposed to be applied as originally meant.

And the next president of the United States has to be someone that you can trust and believe in to appoint someone just as good as Scalia — plus there may be at least two other vacancies.

So you ask Mr. Trump to respond and say that he would, and he says that he would. But the bottom line is, if you look at his record over the last 25 or 30 years, on issue after issue, he has not been on our side.

Now, if he’s changed, we’re always looking for converts into the conservative movement. But the bottom line is that, if (ph) you don’t have a record there to look at and say, “I feel at peace that when Donald Trump is president of the United States, he’s going to be firmly on our side on these issues.”

In fact, very recently, he was still defending Planned Parenthood. He says he’s not going to take sides in the Palestinians versus Israel. These are concerning things.

And so, yes, I have a doubt about whether Donald Trump, if he becomes president, will replace Justice Scalia with someone just like Justice Scalia.

HEWITT: Mr. Trump?

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: Well, let — let me just say — let me just say, first of all, I have great respect for Justice Scalia. I thought he was terrific. And if you talk about evolving, Ronald Reagan was a somewhat liberal Democrat. Ronald Reagan evolved into a somewhat strong conservative — more importantly, he was a great president. A great president.

As far as Planned Parenthood is concerned, I’m pro-life. I’m totally against abortion, having to do with Planned Parenthood. But millions and millions of women — cervical cancer, breast cancer — are helped by Planned Parenthood.

So you can say whatever you want, but they have millions of women going through Planned Parenthood that are helped greatly. And I wouldn’t fund it.

I would defund it because of the abortion factor, which they say is 3 percent. I don’t know what percentage it is. They say it’s 3 percent. But I would defund it, because I’m pro-life. But millions of women are helped by Planned Parenthood.

(APPLAUSE)

Finally, per President Obama’s visit to Texas last week, I thought the president had one unfortunate line as he mocked Trump – and his product line of steaks, wines and such – at a Democratic fundraiser Saturday in Dallas.

You know that’s like some $5 wine.’They slap a label on it. They charge you $50 and say it’s the greatest wine ever.

Has anybody tried that wine. How good can that wine be?

OK, I get it that Obama is saying that Trump is ripping folks off. But he also comes across as a bit of a wine snob, and that has a whiff of the condescension he displayed most notoriously at a San Francisco fundraiser in 2008 in which he attempted to explain to his wine-and-cheese crowd what makes folks tick in what might now be called Trump Country.

You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

Based on his remark in Dallas, it seems he might now amend that analysis to suggest that those Trump Americans are clinging to their guns, their religion, their nativism and their Two  Buck Chuck.

 

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