I thought the headline above might catch the reader’s special
attention, especially as it might seem at this moment an
Donald Trump, in fact, could be only a few hours away from
effectively securing the 2016 Republican nomination for
president of the United States.
If he wins both Ohio and Florida, and sweeps Missouri,
Illinois and North Carolina, on March 15, it would difficult
to imagine a route for Ted Cruz, John Kasich, or anyone else
to prevent Mr. Trump’s victory in Cleveland next July.
So why “The Little Bighorn” headline?
I could not resist it, in part, because of George Custer’s
legendary swagger and his hairdo. Just to recall, General
Custer was the flamboyant West Point graduate (with blond
curls) who became famous and controversial in the Civil War
(partly through his shrewd use of the media establishment
of that day) for his daring antics.
After the war, Lt. Colonel Custer (his general’s rank had been
a temporary one) was sent out to the western frontier to fight
Plains Indians. Near the Little Bighorn River in Montana,
he took a powerful U.S. Army force into a direct assault against
“troublesome” Native American warriors, assuming that his
forces would thus settle the problems in the region. At the
decisive battle, he took several measures that indicated that he
did not think he might be defeated.
As it turned out, his “last stand” became the iconic Indian
ambush, and Custer’s entire force, himself included, were
wiped out. Custer did not have the most troops in the battle,
and his tactics were later criticized by the military
establishment, including President Grant and General Philip
Sheridan, his longtime mentor.
With hours to go before the critical March 15 primaries,
there is much suspense about their outcome. On the one hand,
as I suggested above, Mr. Trump is in a powerful position, and
perhaps close to clinching his party’s nomination. On the other
hand, his numerous rivals in the earlier part of the 2016
campaign have been reduced to three, Ted Cruz, John Kasich
and Marco Rubio. Mr. Cruz recently won his home state primary.
Mr. Kasich is governor of Ohio, and Mr. Rubio is a U.S. senator
form Florida; and each faces “must-win” primaries in their
home states on that date.
Although Mr. Trump leads in committed delegates so far, he
only has a plurality. In recent primaries and caucuses, he has
failed to win decisive delegate totals. Ohio with 60 delegates and
Florida with 99, each winner-take-all, offer him an opportunity
to pull far ahead of his rivals if he wins both or, should he lose
them, be in a much weaker position for what might then result
in a “brokered” GOP convention in July.
It is now up to the voters in each of these states. By now, the
whole electorate is aware what is at stake. So far, Mr. Trump
has been stronger than his opponents, albeit outnumbered by
their combined totals. He has ignored traditional strategies
throughout his campaign, depending on large rallies and
shrewd use of “free” press coverage (eagerly supplied by the
Will March 15 be Donald Trump’s “Little Bighorn” or his
“Appomattox Court House” (where General Grant accepted
General Robert E. Lee’s surrender)?
It is up to the voters.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.