Of high-speed trains and unpredictable campaigns
OPINION: In her first Kiwi in New York column, Danielle McLaughlin says this week's primaries have unleashed momentum for Donald Trump and panic in his opponents.
Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. The five so-called "Acela" US presidential primaries were held this week. The results and the political gamesmanship surrounding them were even more mind-blowing than the New York primary.
I'm talking Ted Cruz and John Kasich announcing an anti-Trump alliance. Donald Trump accusing Hillary Clinton of playing the "woman card" in her campaign. Trump's attempt at a serious foreign policy speech that was forced and incoherent. Ted Cruz's surprise announcement that he's chosen a VP just after he was mathematically eliminated from winning the requisite 1237 delegates. And senior GOP official John Boehner saying he'd never vote for Ted Cruz, who he called "Lucifer in the flesh" and a "miserable SOB".
The Acela primaries are named for the high-speed commuter train that snakes up the northeast coast of the U.S. from Washington DC to Boston. It's a train that smoothly and reliably passes through Grand Central many times a day, rumbling in tunnels below hurried commuters.
I've travelled through and past Grand Central Terminal nearly 20 times this week. That's more than usual, and it's because I've been racing around, on foot and by black car, on bright sunny afternoons and cool and (horrendously) early mornings, to offer analysis and opinion on American and New Zealand TV on these, to put it mildly, "developments." Donald Trump didn't just win all five states in the Acela Primaries. It was a rout. He won every single congressional district in Delaware and Pennsylvania, all but one in Rhode Island (where he lost to John Kasich by 13 – yes, 13 votes), and about 98 per cent of the congressional districts in Connecticut.
Trump's victory speech in the marble lobby of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue started with unusual gratitude. It quickly sank into the dark, dank, swamp of low blows and misogyny.
In other words, it was vintage Trump.
Trump's shiny new advisors had promised he was about to take a more presidential turn. But he accused Hillary Clinton, who had a great night in her own right, winning four of five states, of playing the "woman card," and asserted that if she were a man, she wouldn't have won even 5 per cent of the vote. At 2:45am Wednesday, on an hour's sleep working hard to project energy, was in the Fox News studio faced with this excerpt of Trump's speech. I suggested that if Hillary Clinton were a man, she would have been elected president a decade ago.
And as for the "woman card". Trump might consider playing it himself, given he's polling around 70 per cent unfavourability with women. This makes his general election chances almost zero. Clinton's team snapped up www.womancard.org quick smart, a brand and domain that now points directly to her campaign website. Lemons, lemonade.
THE OUTSIDER AND HIS FOREIGN POLICY
At 12:25pm on Wednesday, about 12 hours after womancard-gate, Trump stood in a conference room in the Mayflower hotel, a Grande Dame of Washington DC and part of the political fabric of that city. He delivered a foreign policy speech that I've described as a string of anecdotes threaded with rhetoric and half-truths.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright went further, chastising Trump for "simplistic slogans," "empty promises" and "dangerous ideas". This speech, like his victory speech the night before, like his Twitter feed and his answers in debates and interviews, was a study in contradiction. Most notable was the proposition that his foreign policy would be coherent – yet unpredictable.
The Mayflower is a grand place. Its marble echoes presidential affairs and decades of power broking. I have walked its halls while researching my book and I felt like an outsider there.
In seeking to assure the Washington establishment that he was more than a one-trick-rally-pony, Trump seemed like one too.
Dedicated and casual observers of the US primaries have normalised to the unpredictability of the Trump campaign. That is not to say we all approve of it.
But this week, the collected and conservative Ted Cruz made unexpected and rash moves. GOP establishment figures lashed out with questionable language not befitting a race of this importance. This is just the beginning.
Trump is careening towards the GOP nomination. The Indiana primary is two days away. It is the last chance, many say, to prevent Trump from achieving 1237 delegates, which would utterly assure he's the nominee.
I expect the GOP wishes its nominating process could be more like the Acela. Smooth. Reliable. Even predictable.
But the election results in that train's corridor have unleashed momentum in the GOP frontrunner and panic in his opponents. "Acela" will never have the same ring ever again.
* Expat Kiwi Danielle McLaughlin, a Manhattan lawyer and American TV political commentator, is the Sunday Star-Times' correspondent in the USA.
- Sunday Star Times