Why Trump could actually be the least dangerous Republican
Donald Trump, seen December 3, 2015, has the backing of one in four Americans -- including 42 percent of Republican respondents -- in a poll released December 10 asking about his plan to ban US travel for Muslims (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

A year ago in these pages I made a confident prediction that, through no fault of my own, has come to seem exceedingly rash: that Ted Cruz’s presidential bid would amount to nothing. When he announced his candidacy in March I painted him as a cranky Tea Party fringe candidate who would never trouble the pollsters. “Write him off,” were, I believe, my exact words.

This lack of prescience is even more glaring in light of the fact that Cruz’s current tied-for-second status is by no means the weirdest thing to have happened in the presidential racein the intervening 12 months. On Wednesday I had a serious conversation with my eldest son, who will be voting in his first US election, about which of the top contenders – Cruz, Marco Rubio or Donald Trump – would make the least dangerous Republican nominee, and was forced to concede that it might be Trump. A year ago this would have been tantamount to debating whether Rush Limbaugh would be a better president than SpongeBob. A year ago you still could have said, “Don’t be silly. Donald Trump isn’t even a real person.”

Now we’ve reached the stage of counting delegates, things aren’t looking too hopeful for Cruz. Even the people who are meant to like him – evangelicals, ultraconservatives – appeared to prefer Trump in Nevada. But I’m not going to say “Write him off” again. Even if I had the confidence, my heart wouldn’t be in it.

Linesman dads who lose it

A warning from the chairman of Surrey county’s youth football league – that touchline violence is out control, and could lead to a fatality – does not quite chime with my experience. In all my time on the touchline, the most violent thing I saw was bad weather. Coaches tended to conduct themselves with dignity, and the players were remarkably disciplined.

The trouble, when it happened, invariably concerned linesmen. They were very often parents who’d stepped in at the last minute, usually reluctantly, because someone hadn’t shown up. In such circumstances accusations of incompetence shouted from the other side of the pitch are understandably poorly received. I once witnessed somebody’s dad lose his temper completely after another father questioned an offside call. They got into a screaming match that stopped the game completely. The linesman dad then stormed off, throwing the flag over his shoulder. After he’d gone about 100 yards he turned around, came back, picked up the flag, held it out to me and asked if I wanted to take over. “No thanks,” I said.

You read it here first

On further reflection, I’m tempted to think that my rash election prediction simply wasn’t rash enough. So here’s a rasher one, ready for demolition at some point in the coming year, something I’ve always secretly hoped would happen in my lifetime: the outcome of the US election will be determined not by voters but by the electoral college.

The 538 designees who actually elect the president of the United States are not constitutionally bound to vote the way they’re pledged to. Those who defy this convention are known as “faithless electors”.

It doesn’t happen very often, but it happens: sometimes in protest, sometimes in error. In 2004 a Minnesota elector wrote the name of the vice-presidential candidate on a presidential ballot by mistake, granting John Edwards a single electoral vote. More than half the states now have laws designed to punish faithless electors, but slightly less than half don’t.

It’s not difficult to imagine a Republican elector refusing to cast his vote for Donald Trump as a matter of conscience, and it’s not impossible to suppose – if only you will indulge the kind of reckless speculation that might have predicted the current state of affairs – that an organised group of faithless electors could for the first time affect the outcome of the election. This would be amazing even if you think it’s a stupid system – we’re never going to fix it unless it breaks at least once.

In the extremely unlikely event that this actually occurs, remember: you heard it here first.

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