Reports of its death may yet prove exaggerated, but stand by for an avalanche of obituaries for the captivating political career of Donald J Trump. The cascade is scheduled to begin in the early hours (GMT) of Wednesday.
If he loses Tuesday’s primary in Wisconsin to Ted Cruz (or The Even More Repulsive Ted Cruz, to give the Texan his full official title) – the damage to Trump’s hopes of leading the free world might be terminal. His chances of collecting the 50 per cent of Republican delegates needed to secure automatic nomination at July’s GOP convention will recede – and if he isn’t nominated automatically, he will surely not be nominated at all.
But how has it come to this? A fortnight ago, the tangerine huckster and his trusty running mate, That Thing On His Head, appeared to have the nomination in the bag with the betting markets making him a 75 per cent virtual dead cert.
He was still saying staggeringly stupid and/or distasteful things on the hour every hour, it being a medical impossibility for his larynx to vibrate without an imbecility drifting from his gob. Yet the received wisdom, which six months ago read him the last rites every time he said something crazy or vicious or both, had reversed. It now held that he could say nothing – literally nothing; not a recitation from Mein Kampf, nor a confession to being a serial killer; naaahh-thing – to deter that relatively small but disproportionately noisy demographic of barely disguised racist filth known for short as “the Republican base”.
And then, miraculously, the high priest of strutting bombast found find the silver suicide bullet. In another context (though God knows which), you could sympathise. After emerging unharmed from all the forays into misogyny – sourcing a Fox News anchor’s interrogatory style to her menstrual cycle; describing Hillary Clinton as “disgusting” for going to the loo, etc – how could his contempt for women bring him down?
Yet it threatens to do just that. His charming observation that a woman should, in some undefined way, be “punished” for having an abortion was the step too far which had come to seem as mythical a beast as the unicorn. Even hellfire evangelical Republicans who would outlaw abortion in cases of rape couldn’t stomach that. To them, a woman who terminates a pregnancy is a sinner to be brought to repentance; but (unlike the doctor who performs it) absolutely not a criminal.
Trump quickly recanted, but too late. From that moment, his odds began to lengthen, and the betting exchanges now reckon him about as likely to lose the nomination as win it. According to the elecotoral mathematics, this flatters him. If he loses Wisconsin, as seems certain, it will be extremely hard for Trump to bag half the delegates.