Donald Trump’s Road to the White House
Never in a million years did I think I’d type the following words: There’s a chance Donald Trump might become the next President of the United States.
As horrifying as that prospect still is to a majority of Americans, Trump now has a clear path to victory in the Republican primaries this spring, at the national convention held during the summer, and in the general election coming up next fall. Yes, it could happen.
Although the ambush was set up perfectly for Trump’s long-anticipated annihilation during last night’s Republican presidential debate held in Charleston, South Carolina, the evening turned into yet another cakewalk for the frontrunner now seemingly coated in Teflon. Continuous barbs and arrows flung by competing candidates desperately eager to cut into his 2 to 1 lead in national polls failed to tumble the mighty beast. Despite standing squarely at the center podium for what amounted to a three-hour barrage of tough questions and even a few personal attacks, Trump ended up as the night’s clear winner. In boxing parlance, no one managed to lay a glove on Trump, who went the distance without a scratch. Even his critics had to admit, at times he even looked presidential.
What’s most troubling for “establishment” Republicans who are repelled by the notion of Trump as their party’s nominee — as well as Democrats who might have to face the often unscripted bluster of a supremely-talented reality television star and master of media in the general election — is that Trump continues to improve in his role as a presidential candidate. Sure, many of us see his shallowness which appears so utterly obvious, mindful of the old-Chinese proverb, “hollow caves produce big winds.” Still, national elections aren’t won so much on the issues, nor are they a test of which candidate can present the best detailed policy analysis. Finer details now work against intelligent discourse in our age of attention spans measured in mere seconds. We elect presidents primarily based on three things — looks, likability, and leadership.
Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page summed up Trump’s surprising surge best when he wrote recently: “Instead of dismissing his showbiz background as a poor substitute for experience in public office, I think we need to appreciate how effectively Trump has blurred the lines in this video age between politics and entertainment — for better or worse.”
What follows isn’t so much my prediction, but an evaluation exactly as to how Donald Trump might be the one standing in front of the U.S. Capitol Building one year from now, while being sworn in as the nation’s 45th president:
How Trump Wins the Primaries: Trump’s poll numbers have held steadily at about 35 percent among likely Republican voters. He’s managed to offend just about everyone over the past six months with numerous controversial remarks that were deemed insensitive. Yet, his supporters show absolutely no signs of abandoning Trump for another candidate. Moreover, his support appears to be the strongest and most enthusiastic of anyone, aside perhaps from Bernie Sanders in the opposing party. Trump has plenty of his own money to spend, so won’t be forced to waste time on fundraising, which will certainly burden his competitors. Moreover, much of Trump’s publicity will be free given the widespread coverage he receives. He’s also loaded with skeletons in his closet (bankruptcies, questionable business dealings, flip-flops on issues, etc.), but more than half the party doesn’t appear to care. Another big factor in his favor: No one has emerged as THE clear alternative to Trump yet, with the rest of the field so divided. Ted Cruz appeared to be gaining some momentum recently (up to 18 percent in the polls), but now faces his own potential scandal and even some question about his legality to be sworn into office. Marco Rubio is still widely looked upon as not quite ready for prime time. Despite lots of mainstream support and a big campaign war chest, Jeb Bush seems to be going nowhere. And the other candidates are each polling at 5 percent, or less. Trump will certainly make a strong showing in Iowa, and could win there. He’ll likely win New Hampshire. He’s almost certainly win South Carolina. Then, he’s polling strong among Nevada Republicans. Beyond that, Trump’s strength’s rests in southern states, which factor heavily on the make-it-or-break-it primary date of March 1st, when delegates are awarded proportionally. Then, all the states holding primaries on the key date of Mar. 15th and after are “winner take all,” giving Trump an overwhelming advantage. Winner take all primaries are a disaster and will create enormous push back to chance the process. But, it’s already too late. Trump will enjoy an arsenal of advantages once the primary season starts requiring candidates to spend loads of money in multiple states simultaneously. Prediction: Trump finishes second in Iowa, then wins three straight primaries — in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada.
How Trump Wins the Republican Nomination: Assuming Trump doesn’t arrive at the party’s national convention with a majority of delegates — and it’s highly unlikely he or any other candidate will have enough votes to win on the first ballot — that means Republicans will be divided on the floor for the first time since 1976 (Ford-Reagan). For Trump to win, he’ll have to pick up delegates from somewhere else. Given the party’s unabashed ultra-conservative leanings, one suspects he’ll be able to scratch some votes from what remains of Carson and Huckabee’s supporters. Then, he can play the “Vice Presidential card” with Rubio or another mainstream establishment conservative offered the bottom of the presidential ticket, which could push him over the top. Another factor which could go a long way towards helping Trump gain the nomination is the “fear factor” of more domestic acts of terrorism. Political stability likely helps his opponents, since many of Trump’s statements about immigration, terrorism, military action and so forth appeal to voters’ fears and prejudices. More events like what happened in San Bernardino last month will probably fan the flames of support for Trump and make his message more appealing to many Republicans. In short, the intangibles over the next six months are probably and advantage for Trump, and no one else. Prediction (if things get that far): Trump selects either John Kasich or Marco Rubio as his running mate to shore up support in at least one of two critical states for Republicans — Ohio and Florida.
How Trump Wins the National Election: Trump is polling behind both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in national polls right now. However, he’ll have tremendous upside potential once this becomes a two-person race (forgive my disregard for third parties). Assuming she’s the Democratic nominee, Clinton’s negatives are nearly as high as Trump’s. Furthermore, Clinton hasn’t handled the various crisis’ during her campaign very well (choosing to simply ignore much of what was happening) while Trump has almost reveled in chaos and controversy, and even at times seems emboldened by it. A Trump-Clinton race would be a dramatic contrast of styles and personalities, and somewhat unpredictable given all the volatility of their backgrounds. In Trump’s favor: As a first-time candidate, he has no political record to defend, and so will be somewhat untouchable when it comes to voting records or actions while in office. Meanwhile, Clinton will have to defend her voting record as a senator and former Secretary of State, particularly with regards to the ongoing Middle East crisis, where she could be vulnerable. Republicans are masters of twisting international and domestic events (recall the “Swiftboating” of John Kerry in 2004). Expect Super-PACS to play a huge role in the general election, no matter who gets the nominations. In the unlikely event Bernie Sanders becomes the Democratic nominee, Trump would probably become the favorite, since some Democrats and many independents simply are not inclined to vote for a self-avowed Socialist (much to my chagrin).
Trump’s Biggest Political Challenge: Women. It’s as simple as that. Trump will somehow have to pick up substantial support among female voters, which comprise slightly more than 50 percent of the national electorate. At present, Trump fares poorly among independent women and his antics in debates and our on the campaign trail haven’t diminished the widely-held view he’s misogynistic with little regard for issues which appeal to many females. Trump will have to bridge this divide, or he stands no chance to win in November.
Agree or disagree, one thing’s for certain. We’re in for a wildly entertaining year in national politics, and what could be a horrifying outcome for tens of millions of Americans if things break “right” in more ways than one.