On Super Tuesday (1 March 2016, for those of you reading this on a Multivac archive in the far future), Minnesota went to the caucuses.
For those of you who aren’t from caucus states, let me explain them quickly: caucuses are a wonderful system where all members of the local party come together to discuss the issues of the day, conduct the business of the party, and select our wisest and most enthusiastic members to represent our precincts as officers and delegates for the district party (and, ultimately, the state party and the national party as well). It’s a bit more work than pulling a lever in an anonymous box, and there’s a lot more opportunity for chaos (since they are run by party volunteers, not by the government), but caucuses are an American tradition, dating back to the Jacksonian Era, that ensures the whole party speaks for the People… without handing over the reins to the mob. (Primaries are prone to errors on both sides of that ellipsis. And they’re more vulnerable to the influence of big money. And… well, this isn’t a post about why you should ask your primary state to switch to a caucus. But that may be a future post! So look out!)
One point of caucuses that makes them different from primaries is that, in a caucus, you have the chance to debate the candidates with your neighbors before voting on them. This year, I wrote a speech about the grave threat posed by Mr. Donald Trump. I expected to give my speech to the voters in my precinct (about 15 people in a normal presidential year) and that would be that. These are the remarks I prepared. (This was going to be the whole blog post, but there’s a twist! So stay tuned after the speech.)
Ladies and gentlemen, the Republican party stands on the brink of catastrophe.
Our frontrunner is a serial adulterer who spent his life building an empire of celebrity on a throne of failed businesses, a fraudster who has cheated his customers and screwed over his partners for decades. His abortion platform is the same as Harry Reid’s (who, by the way, also claims to be “pro-life”), and he is so thin-skinned, so eager to turn libel laws and the government against Americans who disagree with him, that he makes Oberlin College feminist fascists look tolerant. If he is our nominee, we will lose this election to Hillary Rodham Clinton. If he is our nominee, we will deserve to.
Donald Trump must be stopped.
Our path to victory means denying Trump a plurality in as many states as possible. That means we need to vote tactically tonight. We must vote for the strongest anti-Trump candidate in each state, even if that’s not our favorite candidate.
So, if we were in Texas, I’d ask you to vote for Cruz. In Ohio, Kasich. Here in Minnesota, Marco Rubio is strongest. Therefore, I am voting for Marco tonight, and I ask you to do the same. They are all are all good conservatives and good men, and I’d be happy to see any of them replace Barack Obama in the White House.
But our frontrunner is no conservative. He is an evil man. I implore you to help Marco Rubio Stop. Trump. Tonight.
I was pretty nervous about this speech, but pleased with it overall. I shared it on Facebook; many people who would be at my caucus read it and liked it and even shared it. I encouraged them to give this speech, or at least to vocally oppose Trump, in their own precincts.
Then we got to the caucus, and it was a madhouse. The volunteers, led by our stalwart District Chairwoman, Abby, managed to keep things running smoothly, but the sheer number of bodies nearly overwhelmed the school. They’d clearly been prepared for unusually high turnout, but no one would have been prepared for turnout this unusually high. We were all sent into the gymnasium for a giant district orientation and pre-caucus meeting prior to breaking out into our precincts. Caitlin and I found some friends and neighbors and chatted for a bit. We knew lots of people there, including friends, former professors, current students, fellow parishoners, and others. Indeed, I got a bunch of texts from a lot of them a few minutes later. (This is another great feature of caucuses: you get to see your friends!)
However, this year (unlike the last time I was at a presidential caucus), there was something different: an opportunity for a representative from each candidate to speak, not just to the local precinct, but to the entire assembled district — all 1,513 of us. This was announced quite quickly, blink and you’ll miss it, and I assumed at first that it was pre-scripted, that the presidential candidates had each selected someone to speak on their behalf in our district. When the Ted Cruz guy stepped forward and started talking, though, it slowly dawned on me that these weren’t people from the campaigns; they were just random local joes who’d been quick enough on their feet to reach the microphone and say their piece on behalf of their guy.
Some of the speakers were fine. Others were not, shall we say, rich in charisma. These are mostly off-the-cuff remarks by friends and neighbors, though, so I’m not expecting Dan Webster levels of oratory. Honestly, I assume that’s precisely why we usually limit the speeches to the more conversational setting of a 15-person precinct meeting.
My sister, who was with me, started encouraging me to go take the microphone and give my anti-Trump/pro-Rubio speech, insisting that it was a good speech and needed to be heard. I demurred, still unclear on the process for becoming a speaker and more than a little shy about addressing an audience of a 1500 instead of 15, but she kept on needling me and eventually pushed me forward to the speaker “on-deck circle,” where I asked about the process to become a speaker. I learned that anyone could volunteer to speak on any candidate’s behalf, and that each candidate was budgeted two minutes of speaker time.
Unfortunately, I learned this just as some guy was finishing a two-minute speech on behalf of Marco Rubio. Rubio’s time was expired. I was out of luck. So I said, “Ah, well, guess that’s why campaigns need district captains in caucus states!” and stepped back into the crowd while the Kasich guy spoke. My sister said I shouldn’t give up so easily. I shrugged. “Rules are rules.”
Next up was a group of five speakers, three of whom were wearing red hats that said “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.” The Trump guys, unlike everyone else at this caucus, were organized and tightly coordinated: they had a young man, a middle-aged woman, and an older man all speak on his behalf in quick 45-second bursts. (This is great optics and great tactics. I did not expect the Trump campaign to be the best-organized, but they were. That’s very bad news nationally for a lot of reasons, which I’ll talk about in a later blog post.) They got some boos, but they also got some cheers, and they rattled off the usual Trump talking points. “He’s a businessman! He won’t let us make such bad deals! He can beat Hillary! He’ll make America great again!”
This got my blood up. I’m sure these people are fine, decent, upstanding citizens, but what they’re selling is a bill of goods, and this is my district. I’m not going to see the Republican Party corrupted here, where I can actually do something to stop it.
So I stepped back into the clutch of on-deck speakers as the Trumpsters were finishing up. My sister had never stopped encouraging me to get up there, even after I gave up, so props to her; I certainly would not have done something so impulsive without a great deal of prodding from her. I had no plan, but my speech was bursting to get out now. Abby, the district coordinator, saw that I was in the speaker box and silently mouthed at me, “WHICH CANDIDATE?”
My mind raced. Rubio had used all his time. She wouldn’t give me the microphone if I said “Rubio”. Ditto Cruz and Kasich. Now even Trump had used his time. I flicked through the remaining candidates in my mental rolodex, and I looked around to make sure I was truly the last speaker, that I wasn’t stealing an opportunity from anyone more invested in the candidate whose time I was about to use.
“CARSON,” I mouthed back, before I could talk myself out of it.
I like Ben Carson. Who doesn’t? I’d love to see him be president. If I thought he was our best shot to stop Trump, I’d back him to the hilt. But I had a speech that told everyone to vote Rubio! I could hardly give a pro-Rubio speech on Carson’s time, as it wouldn’t be fair to the good doctor (or, indeed, to the other candidates). Heck, even though I like to think that Ben would approve of any effort to stop the disreputable frontrunner (who is his opposite in every morally important sense), I still needed to say some very warm things about Dr. Carson to morally justify using his time for it. At the same time, I couldn’t come straight out and endorse Ben, since I had no intention of actually voting for him. Nor could I afford to lie to or even mislead the audience, especially not with so many friends and neighbors watching me. I thought about sitting back down, giving up the whole thing as a rash error. Then I thought again about the red-hats still giving their spiel in front of me.
I had only about ten seconds to do a mental rewrite before Abby handed me the mic. This is what I ended up saying (from memory; if an official recording ever surfaces, trust it instead of my memory):
My name is James Heaney, and I am speaking on behalf of Dr. Ben Carson.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Republican party stands on the brink of catastrophe.
[“Louder!” the crowd cries. I realize the mic is too far from my face, pull it in.] Our frontrunner is a serial adulterer who spent his life building an empire of celebrity on a throne of failed businesses [HUGE cheer: I am reassured that the Trump people do not control this crowd], a fraudster who has cheated his customers and screwed over his partners for decades. [My hands are trembling, my voice quavering. My sister later says she thought it was righteous fury. I’m hoping it’s coming off that way, but it’s actually just good ol’ terror.] His abortion platform is indistinguishable [another huge cheer; God bless the pro-life Catholics around here; I ride roughshod straight through the applause, getting louder instead of pausing] from Harry Reid’s (who, by the way, also claims to be “pro-life”!), and he is so thin-skinned, so eager to turn libel laws and the government against Americans who disagree with him, that he makes Oberlin College feminist fascists look tolerant. [Another cheer, I think, but what the heck am I going to say when I get to the Rubio bit?] If he is our nominee, we will lose this election to Hillary Rodham Clinton. If he is our nominee, we will deserve to. [No, really, what am I going to say?]
Donald Trump must be stopped. [Are they cheering again? What am I going to say?]
Now, I like Dr. Carson a lot. He’s a great American and a good conservative, who could do a lot of good for this country in the White House. But we have a lot of great conservatives in this race — Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, and more — and I’d be happy to see any of them replace Barack Obama in the White House. I ask you to vote for them. Because we won’t have a good man or a conservative in the White House if you don’t help us Stop. Trump. Tonight.
[Did that sound good? That sounded good. Maybe. I really hope Ben will agree if he somehow ever hears about this! I really do like you, Ben! Oh, are they cheering? Okay, they’re cheering. And Abby wants her mic back. Judas priest, let’s just go caucus now and maybe never say anything again. Oh, look, a text from my best friend in Arizona, who just heard from his sister that I gave a great speech… and also wants to know since when am I voting for Carson? Fair enough, fair enough.]
I was the last speaker.
Now, I don’t know that my speech had much effect on the results. This was clearly a crowd already primed against Mr. Trump and his disgusting candidacy. However, I will say this:
Minnesota delivered a crushing defeat to Donald Trump on Super Tuesday (Rubio 36, Cruz 29, Trump 21). All Minnesotans can be proud of that. It was Trump’s first third-place finish in any primary, it came just minutes after Trump finished bragging that he had finished first or second in every state, and it was not. even. close.
And Trump’s very worst district in the entire state? Republican Senate District 64 — the district I am prouder than ever to call my home. The district where 1,513 people stood up to our savage frontrunner and his thugs and said “Hell, no!” Final results: Rubio 64%, Cruz 13%, 2% for my adoptive Dr. Carson (who honorably departed the race today, head held high), 10% for Kasich… and a mere 10.8% percent for Donald J. Trump, frontrunner.
In Minnesota, we stopped Trump cold. Rest of the country: get your act together. We can still win this.
P.S. If you want to use my speech for any purpose, you may do so, even without attribution, so long as you intend no benefit, direct or indirect, to Mr. Donald Trump or his candidacy.