The Horns of a Dilemma

Many in the Republican party find themselves on the horns of a dilemma. The establishment doesn’t want either Trump or Cruz to be the nominee. Many have concerns about what it would be like to have these two candidates serve as president of the United States. As I pondered this possibility, I realized that these two men are opposites in many important respects. Usually, we think about the differences between the Democrats and Republicans. In this case, the gulf between Trump and Cruz is just as large.

Ted Cruz, the horn to the right, is a firm believer in the Constitution. He argues we should be governed according to principles set forth by the Founding Fathers, regardless of the consequences. Compromise, in his mind, is equivalent to selling out. His filibusters in the Senate were partly to draw attention to himself and partly to garner support from Tea Partiers and fundamentalists. Cruz also believes in the power of power. He seems to think force or the threat of force will solve the country’s problems. Cruz sees himself as being absolutely right, while everyone else is wrong. Since the Constitution is close to being divinely ordained, forcing others to conform is logical. His position is thus to act according to principle and make everyone who does not, fear him or our country. He has no problem forcing those who don’t strictly adhere to the rules to obey.

I’ve written bylaws over the years for various organizations. I wrote the bylaws for the Fox Ridge Foundation, an organization founded to support an Illinois state park. I worked on a revision of the bylaws for the National College Learning Center Association, a professional organization serving faculty and staff in higher education. Most recently, I wrote a draft of the bylaws for an advisory council for the Board of Regents for the University System of Georgia. I wish I had been divinely inspired when I drafted those documents. Nonetheless, the rules I helped craft were written for quite pragmatic reasons. What were the goals of the organization? How many officers were needed? What were useful duties? How many meetings should be held? What determined a quorum? How would we vote? I drafted the rules thinking about what would work. I thought about questions like: How much money does the group have? Will we be able to attract officers to the positions? How much time would the group have to make decisions? So too, I imagine our Founding Fathers wrote rules based upon the circumstances of the day. They sought to give guidance to future generations, but they aimed at fostering the development of the country. They made mistakes. As circumstances changed and people became more enlightened, the Constitution was amended. The principles our forefathers gave us should guide our decisions, but they are not magical incantations to recite. The world has changed quite a bit over the past 300 years. Many Republicans don’t like Ted because he thinks the world should be as it was. It can’t be. Ted doesn’t listen. He’s not pragmatic. There won’t be any compromises while he is in office. Nothing will get done.

Donald Trump, on the left horn, doesn’t seem to follow any principles at all. He donated money to both Democrats and Republicans when it served his business interests. I have not yet heard him give a speech where he has engaged his audience in abstract thinking. Trump is the ultimate pragmatist. He says whatever he thinks will help him make the deal. Unlike Cruz, he is a negotiator. When Trump negotiates, he begins by taking an extreme position and attempts to project a powerful image. He belittles his opponents. He uses people to serve his ends. He wants to win. He too, is willing to use force to accomplish his goals, but it is not justified in the way Cruz would argue for it. Trump sees the world as a competitive battleground. It is a world where there will naturally be winners and losers. He’ll use force when it’s to his advantage. The people who suffer as a result are simply the losers. Too bad.

I’ve met a few people who had egos as large as Trumps. They really didn’t care about people, only their own glory. They have often been people good at making deals. They knew how to play politics. Some have been bullies. Most practice the “art” of saying one thing while planning to do something different. Power was used to serve their own interests. They relished it. Image took precedent over reality. Unfortunately, people were often hurt in the process. I am sure these egotists felt that was too bad, but they rationalized it by thinking it was for the greater good or could not be helped since their own pursuits were so important. In the long term, this kind of leadership caused the organizations to decline. Talented people moved on. Turnover was high because no one really cared about the people or the services, just what looked good.

So what would their presidencies look like? Cruz would try to make the changes he has said he would on day one. The uproar would start with his first day in office and would continue throughout, I suspect. Trump would start by posturing. He’d need to delegate quite a bit, since he knows so little about how the government works. Trump is used to people doing what he says. Since he has no following based upon shared ideals and goals, he would be fighting people from all sides. In time, maybe both candidates would learn how to make things work and get along with others. Ted Cruz’s difficulty in doing so would be that in his short time as Senator, he’s made lots of enemies, even among his Republican colleagues. Donald Trump’s difficulty doing so would be that he has offended and alienated lots of people, not only in this country, but in others.

The Republicans are staring down the path to the presidency, facing the horns of a charging bull. They could avoid the horns by skirting to the left and going with the Democratic candidate, but many would prefer to be gored than to allow to happen. They could also try to avoid the pain by jumping between the horns, namely, choosing another candidate like Kasich, who is still running. But, they’d have to leap pretty high to make that work. Republicans trying to fix the convention would risk getting gored by both horns, destroying the party in the process. Another way to navigate a dilemma is to combine options. I once thought that Kasich would be the ideal running mate for Trump, giving him some stability and credibility and bringing the state of Ohio along with him. But it does not look like that is going to happen. Trump prefers to shock people. He likes to think he is smarter than everyone else. Sarah Palin, anyone? Trust me. Pick her. Ratings for The Real World: The Presidency, would be higher and the show would run longer than the Wall of China.

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