Primarily Preposterous

The people of the state of Iowa, Norman Mailer once observed, are incapable of realizing any political reality short of having a bomb dropped on them. The state motto of New Hampshire is “Live Free or Die,” by which they mean, be like us or we will kill you. Both states have minuscule populations; Iowa has less than one percent of the US total, New Hampshire less than half of one percent. Yet, every four years, these parochial backwaters of America become, serially, the centers of national attention, as first the Iowa caucuses and then the New Hampshire primaries perform the first two electoral winnowings of declared candidates for the presidency. For decades, the fawning media have descended upon each of these inconsequential provinces, breathlessly spewing reports of the campaigns there with hyperbolic, inflated verbiage more suitable to accounts of major wars and natural disasters.
As a result, the locals, for their part, have become insufferably smug, conceited and self-important to a nauseating degree, apparently convinced that God Almighty has appointed them the arbiters of American presidential destiny. And thus it is that an evangelical pig farmer with an eighth-grade education or a taciturn Puritan Yankee apple picker wield influence in such decisions which eclipses that of entire congressional districts in Los Angeles, Chicago or New York City. Why people gnash their teeth and rend their garments over gerrymandering and redistricting, while being serenely sanguine in their acceptance of an institutionalized tyranny of bumpkins such as this remains one of the great conundrums of our political culture.
Both those orgies of democratic absurdity concluded this month, with absurdly predictable results on the Republican side. And just plain absurd results in the Democratic primary, where, because of a tiff between New Hampshire, which has enshrined its “First in the Nation” status in the state constitution, and the Democratic National Committee, which has decided to declare the first official Democratic primary this year to be that of South Carolina, Joseph Robinette Biden, incumbent president of the United States, had to win the New Hampshire Democratic primary as a write-in candidate.
On the Republican side, of course, Donald John Trump, rapist, bigot, fraudster, grifter, insurrectionist, conspiracy theory nutcase, compulsive liar, general sociopath, quintessentially unmannered boor and former President of the United States, beat all the other Republicans who lacked a likewise fulsome resume of such qualifications, some subset of which are apparently now mandatory for success as a Republican politician. A second place finish by a not completely unqualified opponent, Ron DeSantis, resulted in his withdrawal from the race with an enthusiastic endorsement of Trump. Nikki Haley, on the other hand, who came in third in Iowa and lacks nearly all of Trump’s qualifications, vowed to persist and fight on in New Hampshire, where she lost anyway, despite the participation of a considerable number of independents and Democratic voters in the primary election, and nevertheless subsequently declared her continued intention to carry the fight forward to her home state of South Carolina.
This infuriated Donald Trump, who loosed a large quiver of invective at Haley, drawing the attention of Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee, who shortly thereafter shifted into full banana republic mode, announcing a party resolution to declare Trump the “presumptive nominee” of the party, thus rendering irrelevant and immaterial the results of every remaining Republican primary election in 2024 and, of course, nullifying the votes of every Republican who might presume to participate in them. That measure proved, however, to be a bit much, even for American Republicans at the close of the first quarter of the twenty-first century, and Ms. McDaniel’s proposal was promptly flushed into the sewer line of history a day later.
So it was, in this context, that I received a visit last Friday from Paji Bakchod, Assistant Principal Coordinator for the Nikki Haley presidential campaign. She called Gretchen and requested a free initial consultation, to which, of course, the Haley for President campaign is rightfully entitled according to my marketing strategy policy statement. She arrived a bit late, pleading problems locating my office, which is, I confess, not an uncommon thing with new clients, but appeared suitably impressed with the place, gazing appreciatively out the picture window overlooking the White House before settling into the soft folds of the leather couch in front of it.
“It’s pretty obvious why your rates are so high,” she observed as she took a laptop out of a knapsack and opened it on the coffee table. “That rug there looks like it costs a fortune.”
“Genuine handmade nineteenth century silk Persian,” I vouched.
“Good thing this is free,” she remarked, “because if I billed the campaign for this consultation, Nikki would send me back to Mumbai for sure.”
“Oh,” I responded, “you’re not a US citizen?”
“Not yet,” she admitted, “I’m here on an H-1B visa.”
“How did you get a position on the campaign?” I inquired out of idle curiosity.
“I’m her second cousin,” she said with a sly smile.
“No laws or regulations against that,” I observed. “Candidate’s relatives ought to be allowed to volunteer to help get them elected.”
“Volunteer?” She shot me a quizzical look, then did a double take as I stared back at her. “Oh, yes… of course, I’m… a volunteer. So, the reason I’m here is get started on a transition framework from the Biden to the Haley administration.”
I gave her another hard stare.
“Is something… wrong?” she asked.
“I know that Nikki is a bit… eccentric,” I replied, “but don’t you think such considerations might be somewhat… premature?”
“Meaning what?” Paji inquired, clearly puzzled.
“Meaning,” I elaborated, “Nikki hasn’t been elected president yet.”
“Well,” she shrugged, “Nikki believes in the power of positive thinking.”
“Positive thinking is one thing,” I advised. “Magical thinking is another. Wouldn’t it make considerably more sense to formulate a path to the Republican nomination instead?”
“You think so?” she wondered, a bit uncertainly.
“Definitely,” I confirmed. “Nikki needs one thousand two hundred and fifteen Republican Convention delegates in order to obtain the party nomination…”
“One thousand, two hundred and fifteen…” she murmured as she typed on her laptop.
“And there are only twenty-four states,” I continued, “where independents or Democrats can manage to vote somehow in the Republican primary…”
“Twenty-four states,” she whispered, typing.
“And even if she wins every single available delegate from every one of those twenty-four states, she would still be one delegate short of the nomination.”
“One delegate short…”
“Which means, practically speaking, that she has to win at least one state where only Republicans can vote in the presidential primary election.”
“Win… at least… one state… where only Republicans can vote…”
“Meaning that, mathematically speaking, getting enough delegates for her to be the Republican nominee will require Nikki to perform the biggest political miracle in American history.”
“Biggest political miracle… in American… history,” she concluded, looking up from her laptop expectantly. “And how does Nikki do that?”
“Odds are,” I informed her, “Nikki doesn’t.”
Paji’s face fell into a jejune pout. “She doesn’t?”
“Not very likely.” I continued. “In fact, it would be more likely that she would win the Powerball lottery.”
“But somebody always wins the Powerball lottery – eventually, don’t they?” she objected.
I paused for a long moment, pondering. “Okay,” I then ventured, “since it looks like there are only going to be two candidates competing in the Republican primary, it’s far more likely that Nikki might be able to accumulate enough delegates to keep Trump from getting the necessary one thousand two hundred and fifteen he needs to become the Republican nominee. Which isn’t to say that outcome is terribly likely either, you understand. It’s just conceivable within the bounds of statistical probability, that’s all.”
“Conceivable… within the bounds… of statistical probability,” she softly repeated as she typed. “And how likely is that?”
“With a total of two thousand and forty-nine delegates to the Republican Convention in July, with one hundred and four unpledged, taking into account the various ways the remaining states besides Iowa and New Hampshire award delegates in their primary elections – winner-take-all, proportional, convention or hybrid – according to the computer model I ran this morning before our meeting, at a ninety-five percent level of confidence, there is about a four point six percent chance, plus or minus three tenths of a percentage point, that Nikki Haley could tie up enough Republican delegates to deny Trump the nomination on the first ballot.”
At that, Paji stopped typing and looked up from her laptop. “Then what?”
“After that,” I answered, “the nomination would depend on a large number of factors, such as just how many delegates Nikki would be holding Trump up for, what kind of bargains and incentives Nikki and Trump would be able to offer delegates to vote for them on the second, third and possibly fourth ballots, how much violence and intimidation the Trump camp would engage in, how effective that would be, what those effects would be, and, of course, what Trump’s overall situation is when all this, hypothetically, happens.”
Paji’s expression was set with intense concentration as she typed and mumbled furiously, finally pausing to look up at me again with anticipation. “What situation, hypothetically?”
“By mid July this year,” I speculated, “Trump could be convicted of one or more federal felonies; he might be facing significant financial difficulty due to his fraud and defamation cases in New York; he might have committed additional crimes and be facing the prospect of indictments, or even actual indictments for them; or he may have developed even more intense mental aberrations than those he is currently displaying. The list could be rather extensive at that point, and might even include the development of some physical impairments. Things are closing in on him, collapsing around him, the sand beneath his feet is shifting – how long he can maintain equilibrium under such circumstances is anybody’s guess, really.”
“Anybody’s guess…” she repeated, typing. “So, what would you recommend?”
“If Nikki can tie up enough delegates to deny Trump the nomination on the first ballot,” I told her, “my recommendation would be that she loudly and publicly offer Trump the vice-presidential slot on the Republican ticket.”
Paji’s eyebrows leapt toward the ceiling like two seagulls chasing a french fry thrown up in the air. “Why in the world would she do that?”
“Because Nikki is a woman, Nikki is brown, and Nikki has constantly defied him. The insult and implicit humiliation of the offer, amplified by Trump’s intense animus for people with those three attributes,” I explained, “could be counted upon to send Trump into such an agitated, angry frenzy, something could very well snap.”
“Snap?” Paji cocked her head to the side like a puzzled puppy. “What would snap?”
“Should the Fates favor Nikki at that point,” I mused, “everything between Trump’s ears and everything south of Trump’s neck, all at once. But only if Nikki can tie up enough delegates to keep the Republican convention from being the coronation of King Donald the Flatulent.”
“Tie up enough delegates…” she muttered, “… Kind Donald the…” she paused and looked up. “How do you spell ‘flatulent?’”
“Just type F-L-A-T-U,” I advised, “and auto-complete should take care of the rest.”
“Oh, okay,” she chirped. “There it is! And this is for when Nikki ties up the delegates so Trump can’t get nominated on the first ballot, right?”
“This is for if,” I corrected, “she ties up enough delegates to do so, and that’s a very, very big if! Otherwise, you’re going to need beaucoup dien cai dau contingency plans, the development of which will require commensurate beaucoup labor hours and beaucoup bucks for your team to accomplish. And since you aren’t willing to pay my rates to direct such an initiative, all I can do is wish you luck.”
“Wish us luck?” Paji tried that pretty pout and disappointed voice on me again, obviously unaware it wasn’t going to work.
“Lots. You’re going to need it.” I assured her. “But I’ll tell you what, in the name of building good will for my business, I’ll provide the Haley campaign with a list of 2024 Republican primary season scenarios for which I recommend you prepare those contingency plans.”
“You will?” her voice brightened as she broke into another coy smile.
“Yes,” I confirmed, as I politely gestured that she should pack up and leave. “You can count on it being extensive enough to keep you busy until at least Super Tuesday.”