Tuesday, Donald Trump will win the Oregon primary, a sentence that a year ago would have seemed as unlikely as Bigfoot getting elected to the legislature. At the Republican convention in Cleveland this summer, Oregon’s delegates will vote for someone who likes to brag to political rallies about the size of his hands.
He could run on a ticket with Bigfoot.
Oregon has, at least, a better excuse for voting for Trump than a lot of other states; by the time the race has gotten here, all the other Republican candidates have dropped out. The last-ditch deal of Ted Cruz ceding his rights in Oregon to John Kasich lasted about as long as Carly Fiorina’s campaign for vice president, and Kasich’s actual efforts in Oregon consisted of one afternoon with two town halls, and a TV ad that ran approximately once.
Considering that Kasich seemed to hold most of his press conferences while eating, he might have enjoyed campaigning in Portland, recently named the top restaurant city in America.
It was a measure of the foot-in-the-paint-bucket effort against Trump that the state was ceded to the only candidate who didn’t manage to get into the voter’s pamphlet, which Oregon voters tend to regard as the bare minimum of credibility.
“Stop and consider that,” marveled the conservative web site RedState. “The Kasich campaign was out-organized by the Trump campaign. How is that even physically possible?”
Besides managing to complete the Oregon paperwork, Trump has at least campaigned here, unlike his odds-on November opponent, Hillary Clinton. Earlier this month before 4,000 in Eugene, he repeatedly denounced “Crooked Hillary” and called Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Goofy Liz,” both phrases that don’t typically appear in the voter’s pamphlet.
And, of course, Trump pledged to build the wall with Mexico.
He would, he promised, be great for Oregon: After he’d been president for a while, he predicted, “You’re going to call me and say, ‘We can’t stand it. We’re winning too much in Eugene, Oregon.’ And I’m going to say I don’t care.”
Just how this is going to work, of course, is not entirely clear. Candidates come to states to explain what they’re going to do for them – and Trump did assure the audience that he was going to fix the timber industry – but the occasion wasn’t big on specifics.
For example, the event didn’t get into Trump’s plan for a 45 percent tariff on anything from China, or what launching a trade war with Asia would do to a state that considerably lives off Asian trade.
The problem with getting into positions of the Trump campaign is that the positions change so fast. Oregon may be, in its legal arrangements, the most pro-choice state in the country, but earlier this year, Trump was counted having five different positions on the issue in three days.
Oregon has just raised its minimum wage, a major federal issue this campaign, but we couldn’t get much guidance there, either. At various times Trump has been against raising the federal minimum, seemingly for raising it, against having a minimum wage, and suggesting the issue should just be left to the states.
He has been firm, and congratulating himself, on keeping Muslims from entering the United States. Then last week he explained it was “just a suggestion.”
This makes supporting Trump a challenge. Last week Rep. Greg Walden, Oregon’s only Republican in Congress, swallowed hard and managed it, but could only offer that Trump “is the better option than Hillary Clinton in the White House.”
Still, the presumptive Republican nominee has provided lots to talk about, in lots of places.
“In Britain and Italy,” reported Nicholas Kristof, a Yamhill native who now wanders the world for The New York Times, earlier this month, “everywhere you go, there is a sense of, ‘What’s going on in America?’”
Kristof has, of course, seen allied discontent before. “They disagreed with Bush,” he remembered about the Europeans, “but Trump is Bush squared.”
In Portland to speak to the Oregon Community Foundation, Kristof has seen enough of Yamhill, and some high school classmates, to see the appeal of how “Trump is focusing on the legitimate discontent of being left behind.”
It’s just not clear whether Trump’s offering them bread, or just a circus.
Still, he’s certainly made an impact.
“Trump is right that much of the world is laughing at us,” notes Kristof, “largely because a major party is about to choose Trump.”
At least Oregon can argue that it wasn’t really up to us.
We didn’t even get a chance to consider John Kasich.
Or even Bigfoot.
NOTE: This column appeared in The Sunday Oregonian, 5/15/16.