The term “historic” gets abused a lot. It’s often applied to any event where an anchorman is present. But Monday’s Iowa results were truly historic. Something momentous did not happen.
Donald Trump did not win. He came in second, it’s true, and he still leads in New Hampshire, and so prudence and history warn that it ain’t over yet. But the man who once had the jaw-thrusting persona of a winner — not just a winner by decision or TKO, but by a knockout, like Muhammad Ali gloating over the prostrate body of Sonny Liston — has taken it on the chin. Trump has a black eye. The only question now is whether he can get off the mat.
Had Trump won — had he done as the polls suggested — there might have been no stopping him. He is way ahead in New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, by which time he would have the momentum and the aura of inevitability that make a nominee. He would then probably face Hillary Clinton, who proved in Iowa, as if there was any doubt, that she is a poor campaigner.
There is so much going on in this presidential race that it’s hard to sort out what matters. But this has to matter: Only once in recent years has the party that held the White House for two terms succeeded itself. That was when George H.W. Bush, who was ably presiding over the end of the Cold War, was gifted Michael Dukakis, a dorky man who entertained a grateful nation by donning a helmet and getting into a tank. Hillary Clinton would not only represent the third term of an Obama presidency — she was his secretary of state, after all — but also the third term of a Bill Clinton presidency. These are heavy burdens.
A Ted Cruz presidency is a frightening prospect. He is an unlovable man with some weird ideas — abolishing the Internal Revenue Service, for instance — and his in-your-face religiosity is off-putting. Marco Rubio has the chilling ambition of Shakespeare’s Cassius. “Such men are dangerous,” Caesar says. I think so.
But Trump is a mean man, with an ugly streak of arrogance. His belittling of John McCain’s heroism was revolting; his mocking of a reporter’s disability was unforgivable. His statement about Mexicans was repulsive, and his plan to temporarily bar Muslims from the United States is both unworkable and a repudiation of the American ethic. Trump is just one can of hairspray short of being an American Mussolini.
Trump and I are both from Queens, N.Y., born in the same decade, but I had the better education. He went to private school, and I went to a public one. Had he gone to a public school, he would have read “Johnny Tremain,” a widely popular novel for young adults about the American Revolution. One of its lessons was “Pride goeth before a fall.”