Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Unstoppable Donald Trump?

Donald J. Trump has won three out of the first four Republican primaries or caucuses. He's gleefully ignored or changed the rules on what is proper political speech and prudent behavior in a Republican political race. Trump has insulted and feuded with Fox News personalities, made fun of war hero Senator John McCain, mused about being able to commit felonies and still win, said good things about Planned Parenthood and the necessity of some sort of national health system, called his opponents liars and derogatory names for women's genitalia, retweeted white supremacist talking points, talked about punching protesters in the face, joked about shooting Muslims with bullets dipped in pig's blood, called Bush a liar and blamed him for 9-11, joked that if his daughter wasn't his daughter he might, well you know, and on and on and on. That's not even the half of it. Statements that would have quickly sunk another campaign either have had no impact on Trump's supporters or have actually increased their admiration and fervor. Unless there is some sort of unforeseen meltdown (someone gets footage of Trump doing a Ray Rice on his wife Melania) it's a pretty good bet that Trump will be the 2016 Republican nominee for President. Trump's recent win in Nevada where he both inspired record turnout and received 46% of the vote makes it unlikely that anyone on the Republican side will beat him. Trump even got 45% of the Hispanic vote. This was a little surprising considering that the received wisdom has been that to criticize illegal immigration is to throw away the Hispanic vote. Apparently that's not true with Nevada Hispanic Republicans. Of late Ben Carson has consistently been making lame jokes about being surprised and grateful that the debate moderators ask him questions. He's the only one still laughing about his dumpster fire of a campaign. Rubio hasn't won a contest anywhere but constantly talks as if he's the front runner. Confidence is good I guess but there's a thin line between that and delusion. Rubio is in the process of crossing it. Trump is currently polling ahead of Rubio in Rubio's home state of Florida for goodness sake! Cruz likes to talk about how he's the only man who has beaten Trump. And that's true. But he's only done it once. Can Cruz beat Trump again? Can he do it consistently? I don't think so. Kasich has so far been an after thought.

Some are convinced that if Trump is the nominee that the Republicans will lose in a historic landslide to Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee. So some Republican "establishment" types or hardcore conservatives who don't believe in Trump's dedication to anything other than himself are now calling for everyone except either Rubio or Cruz to drop out of the race so that Rubio or Cruz can get all of those non-Trump votes. The problem with this is that Donald Trump is someone's second choice too. There's no guarantee that a narrow field gives the anti-Trump candidate 51% of the vote. Once Carson and Kasich depart, Trump's numbers could go up. There was some data from the 2012 election which showed that white turnout, especially among non-college educated Midwest middle class and lower-class whites was down. This just happens to be a group with whom Trump is currently resonating very strongly. Although I still think it very unlikely it's possible that in the fall election this group comes out in such numbers that one or two formerly safely blue Midwest states turn red. And if that happens, well then hello President Trump. Turnout and motivation will mean everything this fall. Should Trump lose decisively to Clinton (after all Florida, North Carolina and Virginia are swing states now) the Republican wailing and gnashing of teeth will be horrible to behold. Losing to a black guy was bad enough but to lose to a woman will make heads explode. But if Trump wins, look for Democrats to rediscover their dedication to strict separation of powers, a slow moving Senate and a reigned in executive branch. We live in interesting times. If nothing else we should learn from Trump's rise that there aren't quite as many Republicans as we thought who are ardent free trader interventionists dedicated to low capital gains taxes, low tariffs and porous borders. Class and nationalism (and its uglier kissing cousin racism) still have roles to play. The idea of making America great again is enticing some people. And it's not just because they're racist, though many are. There are people who feel forgotten and overlooked. And some of the medical data is confirming that. I think that Trump is lying to those folks but he's the only one even talking to them. And that apparently counts. In tonight's debate look for Cruz and/or Rubio to come after Trump with everything they've got. Time is running out.
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