Donald Trump’s claim that Sen. Ted Cruz won the Iowa Caucuses by vote fraud denoted a tantrum of fabulous proportions. The fable that comes to mind is that of Rumpelstiltskin, who, it will be remembered, spun straw into gold in return for the first-born child of the boastful miller’s daughter. Only if the girl could learn his name would the evil dwarf relinquish his claim. She followed him to his lair and observed him dancing and chanting, “Es ist gut dass niemand weiss/Dass ich Rumpelstilzchen heiss” (“It’s good that no-one knows my name is Rumpelstiltskin”).
Foiled, the dwarf stamped one foot into the ground up to his waist, and then grabbed his other foot and tore himself in half.
Bad writers imitate and good writers steal, said T.S. Eliot, and I have stolen the designation “Trumpelstiltskin” from my daughter Raquel, whose literary talent dwarfs mine, as it were. Trump spent 15 hours in enraged silence after the Cruz victory, and then tweeted:
Ted Cruz didn’t win Iowa, he stole it. That is why all of the polls were so wrong and why he got far more votes than anticipated. Bad!
And an hour later:
Based on the fraud committed by Senator Ted Cruz during the Iowa Caucus, either a new election should take place or Cruz results nullified.
The State of Iowa should disqualify Ted Cruz from the most recent election on the basis that he cheated- a total fraud!
Trump later explained that the alleged fraud consisted of two actions by the Cruz campaign. The first was an email citing news media reports that Ben Carson was considering quitting the race (such a report had just appeared on CNN, in fact). The second was a mailing to Iowa voters with an official-looking format citing “voter violations,” namely a low turnout rate in past Iowa caucuses. The point of the mailing was to shame voters into attending the caucuses, because a high turnout helped Cruz. It is strange to cry “fraud” over an effort to get more duly registered voters to the polls.
Neither of these constitutes a dirty trick in the usual meaning of the term: no-one hacked the Trump campaign computers or let the air out of the tires of his private jet. Cruz played rough, to be sure, but not dirty. That is the sort of thing a prospective president (not to mention a serving president) has to do.
Cruz wants to win, and evidently will go right up to the line of acceptable behavior to do so — but he did not cross it. Cruz won Iowa through massive preparation on the ground, as well as painstaking parsing of the issues. He managed to persuade Iowa farmers that a level playing field in the energy market would increase demand for ethanol (and hence for the Iowa corn from which it is made), and help them more than the federal ethanol subsidy.
No-one doubts that Cruz, a former national college debating champion, is exceptionally bright. Most exceptionally bright people cannot resist the temptation to wing it, simply because they can. Not so Cruz. He combines high intelligence with enormous discipline and capacity for work. Betsy McCaughey, a former Republican Lieutenant-Governor of New York, observes that self-discipline of this kind bespeaks humility: he is smart enough to know that even smart people can make big mistakes, and that hard work is the best insurance against missteps. Humility is not a personality trait one immediately associates with a politician who has opposed virtually all his colleagues in the Senate, but it is required to solicit and obtain the support of grassroots leaders, as Cruz did.
The American public is in a surly mood and cheers a flamboyant figure who “tells it like it is,” responding to difficult questions with answers that are simple, clear and wrong, as H.L. Mencken put it. In the past, swaying local leaders–business associations, trade unions, clergy, media, and politicians–was the key to winning elections, because most ordinary voters looked to leading citizens they knew personally to guide their votes. That won Iowa for Ted Cruz; whether the citizens of other states prefer the old-fashioned selection process to reality-show politics remains to be seen.
Trumpelstiltskin, meanwhile, has revealed a side of his character that voters hitherto have ignored, or even admired in a perverse way. He inherited wealth and ran a private company the way he wanted to, saying what he wanted and hiring and firing whom he pleased, without answering to partners, shareholders or the general public.
He is not a particularly good businessman; had he invested his inheritance in a stock-market index fund, his net worth would be double what it is today. But the psychic rewards of unrestricted narcissism more than compensated for the unperformance of his portfolio. He has had the opportunity to retain the infantile instincts of a child of wealth into his dotage. He cannot bear to lose; he cannot even bear to accept part of the responsibility for a loss.
In a bitter response to the vote-fraud charge, Cruz warned that if Trump had his finger on the nuclear button, we might wake up one morning and find out that Donald had nuked Denmark. That is an exaggeration, but Trump betrays the sort of personality traits that would make for a president from Hell.
The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Asia Times.