Donald Trump needs to deal with the unfair rules of the game

I’ve always liked prolonged, divisive party primaries, especially at the presidential level.

It is true, I am in favor of a radical reform to the presidential nominating contest, but the current system, tremendously flawed as it is, does have a few advantages to it.

First, it allows us a long period of time to evaluate a candidate. In short elections, it is entirely possible that a person who is not at all ready for the awesome mantle of responsibility that they will inherit were they to win may catch lightning in a bottle and end up as a party’s nominee, only to self-destruct later in the campaign, or God forbid, once in the White House.

It also helps make candidates better in every way. Unchallenged frontrunners who never face a challenge never have to adapt to pressure. They never have to sharpen their message and learn what works and what doesn’t. They get fat and lazy (metaphorically speaking) and don’t work as hard or as efficiently.

There is something to be said for applying as much heat as possible to somebody who wants to be the leader of the free world, and seeing how they react. Do they stick with losing strategies and people, or do they reconfigure and show an adept reaction to the difficulty they face? These are important qualities in a president.

But beyond anything, a long, bitter fight for a nomination — such as the one the Republicans are currently living through — shows us how candidates lead people, how they deal with problems, and how they react to them.

Donald Trump, for instance, has been spending the better part of a year telling us how much people love him, how great the deals he makes are, and how much he wins. His message, distilled down, is essentially “I know what I’m doing, I’m really good at everything, and you want me to be the guy calling the shots.”

A powerful message.

But the fight over this nomination, which is turning into a cage match, gives us an opportunity to judge how accurate Trump’s constant boasting is. More importantly, it can give us a window into how he would deal with problems in government, and how he would go about solving them.

Let’s start with the obvious. Trump wants to win.

This is important to state, because it means he has a goal, that goal is winning, and we should evaluate him on how he is managing all the variables that go into winning.

Whether Trump — or you, the average voter — think the party nominating process is fair or not (and there is a great case to be made that it isn’t), it remains the process. It doesn’t matter if it is fair, really. It is the hand Trump was dealt and he has to work within the confines of it to win.

I mention its potential unfairness, because as president, he or anyone else would be presented plenty of unfair, convoluted situations. Life is unfair. How we deal with unfair situations and still succeed is an important test of our mettle.

When it comes to the Republican National Convention in a few months, the rules are clear. He will need 1,237 delegates to win. Those delegates are awarded in a complex system that has two main parts, elections that award delegates that are typically bound to various candidates, and the selection of those delegates state by state.

Delegates pray at the Colorado Republican convention on April 9. Rick Wilking | Reuters

Delegates pray at the Colorado Republican convention on April 9. Rick Wilking | Reuters

This process is not new. It is the way Republicans have been doing things since they went to a nationwide primary system. You run elections, and you have individual state delegate selections to contend with. It doesn’t matter if it is fair or not, that’s the way it is.

Ted Cruz understands this. That is why he has created a campaign that is not just seeking to win primaries and caucuses, but he has engineered a very adept political machine that is taking a direct hand in the delegate selection process.

If Trump doesn’t get the required number on the first ballot, Cruz will have packed the convention hall with an army of people that had to vote for Trump on the first ballot, but will vote for him on the second.

The Donald has been devastated at the delegate selection level in state after state, making it very clear that he never developed a strategy for this part of the process, hasn’t been able to adapt, and hasn’t been able to lead an effective campaign that can fight and win in the trenches.

And that should be very concerning about not only his campaign, but about how he would react to complex, often unfair problems were he to become president.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.