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The week before this past one Hillsdale was on spring vacation, and I was on the road — first to DC to give short talks about my book The Grand Strategy of Classical Sparta: The Persian Challenge at a dinner sponsored by the Bradley Foundation and at another held at Hillsdale’s Kirby Center, then on to Claremont McKenna College on the outskirts of Los Angeles, to attend a Montesquieu conference sponsored by the Salvatori Center.
While in DC, I had breakfast with Michael Barone — who arrived armed with a map xeroxed from Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community and proceeded to try out an idea on me — to wit, that Trump appeals powerfully to those who, so to speak, “bowl alone” and has little appeal for those who “bowl in leagues.” If true, he told me, this suggests that Trump will falter in Wisconsin and do poorly in North Dakota, South Dakota, Washington, and Oregon. Ten of the 11 states, he explained, where people most emphatically tend to “bowl alone” have already voted. Trump won them all, but there are not all that many states of this sort left.
Michael has now laid out this hypothesis on the Washington Examiner website where you can read a more refined version than he excitedly presented to me.
The upshot is interesting. If Michael has it right, Ted Cruz has a real shot. For the road ahead is littered with primaries and caucuses in states where Republicans tend to be socially connected. There are, of course, still some states where he is apt to lose. But he may well win enough delegates in the next couple of months to endanger The Donald’s bid.
To this one can add that, at least in some quarters, Donald Fatigue is beginning to set in. Even Ann Coulter, who was an enthusiast, has remarked, “Do you realize our candidate is mental?” And she has complained that her attempts to defend the bizarre things he says are “like constantly having to bail out your 16-year-old son from prison.” As Peggy Noonan has observed, as Trump’s statements aggregate, remarks that once seemed refreshingly frank begin to seem not just strange, but daft.
It may all come down to California, which distributes most of its delegates in a winner-take-all fashion by Congressional district. What makes this possibility especially intriguing is that there is no one — or next to no one — who knows much about the composition of the Republican vote in Congressional districts where the Republicans are always or nearly always outvoted (i.e., in most of the Congressional districts of California). This primary would be a pundit’s nightmare.
But the bottom line is that this operatic melodrama is not apt to be over until the fat lady sings. Even if Trump has a plurality of the delegates going into the Convention, if he falls short of a majority, he will not win on the first ballot — and once his delegates have been released to vote individually as each sees fit (as will be the case after that ballot), he will almost certainly be toast. In such a situation only John Kasich could save The Donald (which — in return for, say, the vice-presidential nomination — he might well do).
In the meantime, Hillary seems to be losing ground in the battle with Bernie. This year we may have not one but two contested conventions. If the future of my country were not at stake, I would regard this whole business as a fascinating spectacle. Where is H. L. Mencken when we need him?