Donald Trump, the pompous businessman whom Shoshonis call “Big Windpipe,” doesn’t have the Republican nomination sewn up by a long shot. But after the final debate of the year in Las Vegas, sponsored by CNN, the field of those with a realistic chance has critically declined, and Trump constantly dominates with tomahawk in hand and venom on his tongue.
There weren’t so many candidates it was hard to count; instead, at this moment near year’s end, a month and a half before the first contest, the Iowa caucuses, a little group of three aspirants broke free from the pack: Trump and Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. One-time favorite Jeb Bush remains far behind with around 5 percent in the polls, whereas Trump first passed the 40 percent mark before the debate. The late-autumn dynamics are rough-and-tumble, and repeating a shameless pattern: Trump makes an outrageous statement, the media go after him, the other candidates condemn him — each according to his own temperament — and Trump’s popularity climbs. The cycle repeats in 10 days.
Trump reached 40 percent after declaring he would ban the entry of all Muslims into the country. Yes, you heard right, Trump is another Konvička. Or, so we don’t offend him, a watering can.* In the country that gave the planet its first modern democracy and the Bill of Rights, where generations died for freedom of conscience and of religion, today the candidate who wants to prohibit entry to a group of people because they profess a belief in their God is the one who scores points. All the other candidates in Las Vegas condemned this proposition, though some none too vigorously. Sen. Cruz of Texas, for instance, said he could understand why Donald would say something like that. I understand too, but I’d say my understanding doesn’t coincide with Cruz’s. Because Trump has attacked nearly every one of his rivals abusively in one way or another, the Las Vegas debate had the character of an onslaught against him.
Debates are not the Donald’s strong suit, since they require knowledge and know-how — not just name-calling and acting like a manager. It’s all the same to his fans, though. Bush, aware of the seriousness of the situation, finally tossed aside his inhibitions and flew into Trump. “You’re not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency,” he warned, for the first time appearing authentic. Observers, however, concur that only a miracle can save Bush’s nomination. Cruz and Rubio don’t like each other. Both come from Cuban-American families; they brim over with intelligence supported by quality education, but each is courting a different voter. Rubio, the best debater in the field, who in many respects resembles Barack Obama in 2008, is the establishment favorite. Cruz is the darling of tea party rebels who hate the establishment, and increasingly of conservative Evangelicals, who may have the main say in Iowa. He has also drawn close to Trump in that state in the polls, and no one would be surprised if he won there. One who has followed American politics long-term still cannot imagine that someone like Trump could really win the nomination. His tremendous lead over the others in nationwide polls is a bit misleading, because, as is well known, the nomination is not chosen nationwide but in individual states.
Additionally, with a relative balance of power, an anti-Trump coup could develop in the summer convention. Insiders realize that if Trump were indeed to win the nomination, it would be the end of the Republicans as a serious party. Regardless of these calculations, the mere fact that Trump has been leading so long does incredible damage to the party, mainly in the eyes of independent voters, who will decide the election in November. Hillary Clinton will almost certainly be the Democratic candidate, and if she stands against Trump, she will almost certainly obliterate him. Even if “almost certainly” in politics today doesn’t apply almost certainly, bizarre things happen all over the world. Just look at Babiš** and [controversial Czech president] Zeman, Le Pen in France and Wilders in the Netherlands, Jeremy Corbyn in Britain or Pablo Iglesias of Spain’s Podemos movement, not to mention Cipras in Athens. Politics is in such a state of motion that it makes one queasy.
*Editor's Note: Martin Konvička is a leader of the “We Don’t Want Islam in the Czech Republic” movement. In Czech, Konvička is homophonous with “tea pot” and a diminutive of “watering can.”
**Editor's note: This person is reputedly the second wealthiest Czech citizen and vice chair of the current prime minister’s administration.