Trump is going to win the Republican nomination. The GOP establishment and some (but not all) of the punditry class have finally awoken from denialist torpor and are yawning into this long-standing reality.
Theories about how Trump loses the nomination have become increasingly incredible. The most popular now holds Trump will lose to Cruz in Iowa, implode from narcissistic rage, and then perform worse than expected in New Hampshire. Simultaneously, low performing candidates drop out and unify the vote around a single establishment figure like Rubio or Christie. The remaining establishment candidate then receives a huge boost with a lot more air-time right as Trump fades.
This disturbingly mainstream view is so ridiculous I feel embarrassed repeating it.
Add the current poll numbers from all the establishment candidates together (Bush, Christie, Kasich, Paul, Rubio) and it still falls far short of where Trump sits right now. This means that even if none of the votes from candidates dropping out go to Trump (which is an absurd proposition), and an establishment candidate places second after Trump in New Hampshire, there is still no credible alternative path to the nomination.
The only conceivable obstruction for Trump is Ted Cruz.
Less than two weeks out and the important Iowa caucus is a statistical dead heat. If Trump wins Iowa the nomination is over – he will probably go on to win every state.
Cruz must win Iowa. This is no sure thing; especially with Sarah Palin endorsing Trump at an Iowa rally this week. And even if Cruz does win first place on a wave of evangelical and Tea Party devotion, it’s hard to see him expanding his appeal to the mainstream. After all, Cruz sacrificed wider support to sure up Iowa votes, claiming that ‘New York Values’ (ie Trump) did not represent local people. Trump responded methodically, and dare I say, presidentially; reminding millions of debate viewers how NYC people pulled together to rebuild after 9/11. That response destroyed Cruz and may have snuffed out his hopes for the presidency. Cruz was forced to clap during Trump’s reply. Even Hillary Clinton tweeted praise.
So, short of Trump succumbing (like Bowie and Rickman) to the 2016 curse for 69 year olds, come July Trump will be anointed Republican nominee.
Moving beyond this, Emma Connors wrote recently that a Trump v Sanders election is not beyond the realms of possibility. This is true. Clinton’s lead has declined earlier and even more sharply than in the 2008 nomination race against Barack Obama. Sanders is now slightly ahead in New Hampshire and gaining on Clinton in Iowa, and victories in those early states would break the Democrat contest open.
Interestingly, Trump’s success has been a godsend for the Sanders’ campaign. Trump’s prospective nomination nullifies one of Sanders’ two great liabilities; electability.
In current head-to-head polling Trump beats Clinton but loses to Sanders. This is because, while situated at opposite ends of the political spectrum, Trump and Sanders pursue the same voters. Namely, working and middle class Americans who have seen jobs outsourced, median wages fall, income growth concentrate at the top, and a perceived decline of American influence in the world. Both Trump and Sanders are harnessing voter anger. Trump blames trade imbalances and ‘stupid leaders’ who can’t negotiate, while Sanders blames income inequality and corporate greed. Both Trump and Sanders brand themselves as mirroring voters, selling the fact they don’t depend on wealthy contributors and Super PACs, and will therefore beholden only to the American people.
All this reminds me of a question I was asked back in July:
Q: Who wins the 2016 US election?
A: Whomever persuades the American middle class that they have a future.
A hypothetical Sanders nomination would be a real threat to Trump. Sanders would split Trump’s support base while retaining the progressive vote. It would be a hard fought election, with Trump ironically shooting for the political centre, where he’d place emphasis on foreign policy and who is best placed to serve as Commander-in-Chief. Trump would be saying: 'I’ll make America great' and Sanders would rebut: 'But I’ll make it fair'.
And yet, for now, Clinton remains the genuine Democrat frontrunner due to Sanders’ remaining liability; minorities. In 2008 Obama’s heritage cancelled Clinton’s advantage among minorities, whereas now she leads big among African American and Hispanic voters. Sanders cannot win the Democrat nomination without them. Wins in Iowa and New Hampshire may give him sufficient momentum to upend this, but at this point it’s unclear how that would occur. To my mind, whether Sanders can win over the minority vote, or even whether he’ll win Iowa and New Hampshire in the first instance, remains the greatest uncertainty in either primary race.
But, assuming Clinton outpaces Sanders to win the Democrat nomination, who will win the Clinton v Trump election?
Photo: Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images