Trump can win this thing. First the Republican nomination, and then the presidency. Here’s how it happens.
The nomination is actually the easy bit: The prediction markets already have him at a 50% chance of winning the Republican nomination, far ahead of anybody else, and rising steadily. He’s also the second most likely person to win the presidency outright. Clinton is the favorite, at 50%; Trump is second, at 16%; Rubio is third, at 11%; and Sanders is fourth, at 9%. Ted Cruz has pretty much been written off by the prediction markets entirely: He’s priced at only a 3% chance of becoming president.
All of this makes sense. Think about it this way: The three establishment candidates—Bush, Kasich, and Rubio—have about 30% of the vote among them. That’s simply not enough to band together and win the nomination, even if Bush and Kasich both decide to drop out and support Rubio tomorrow, which they won’t.
Meanwhile, Trump is barnstorming all over the country, changing the rules of politics as he goes. Presidential politics is always about personalities more than it is about policies, and Trump is a walking avatar of the America that the white working class has lost. He’s big, he’s brash, he’s bold, he’s shameless and profane and unapologetic. And that has undeniable appeal.
Trump’s no out-of-touch, famous-for-D.C. type; instead, he has masterfully positioned himself as the obvious choice for all angry protest voters. For millions of Americans, the George W. Bush administration was a disaster, and little has improved under Barack Obama. A vote for Trump is a vote against all of the politicians, from both parties, who have brought us to our present situation. If Obama handily won among “it’s time for a change” voters in 2008, then it’s Trump who’s winning that crucial constituency in 2016. Except that this year, the Change caucus is much bigger, and much angrier, than it was in 2008. It’s all of Trump’s voters, plus most of Bernie Sanders’ voters, and a lot of Cruz’s voters, too—without any of “No Drama Obama”’s calming mien.
Trump also has bipartisan support. Hillary Clinton is very much on track to have the Democratic nomination sewn up sooner or later, and once she does, it’s an open question whom the Sanders supporters will end up voting for. Most of them, most likely, will throw their support behind Clinton. But a lot of them will go to Trump. After all, insofar as Sanders covets Trump’s supporters, then turnabout is fair play.
Consider: Trump has done a better job of attacking the Republican candidates than either of the Democrats have. And on top bashing the Bush family repeatedly, he’s happy to praise the overwhelming majority of Planned Parenthood’s activities, supports a ban on assault weapons, wants to raise taxes on hedge-fund billionaires, and has a host of other liberal positions. You don’t register as a Republican because you’re angry and disillusioned: There are angry and disillusioned Americans in both parties, and among the Democrats, while their head might be telling them to vote for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump is making a strong play for their heart. Nothing’s really going to change under President Clinton, after all. President Trump would at least start breaking things.
Going into a general election against Clinton, then, Trump is going to have all of his Republican supporters, plus a large chunk of Sanders supporters, plus an even larger chunk of otherwise apolitical Americans who have finally found a politician they can admire: the guy who fired people on TV. The turnout in 2016 will be a record high, and a lot of the new voters won’t be young: They will be people who just didn’t care about politics at all before Trump came along.
Trump is in many ways the American Silvio Berlusconi: bombastic, larger than life, magnetic despite being entirely unsympathetic. He’s the focal point of attention in any room he walks into, and if the strength he projects is the strength of a bully, then, well, that’s better than not projecting any strength at all. Obama’s policy successes have often been invisible to the general public: In domestic policy the payroll-tax holiday was a fantastic stimulus, for instance, in large part because no one really knew it was happening. And diplomatic successes in foreign policy, such as the deal with Iran, are always going to be a hard sell. In Trump’s world, by contrast, you can always tell when he’s won because someone else has lost. It’s a much easier message to understand, and it resonates beyond the normal group of Americans who vote in elections.
Which means that if Trump’s going to lose the general election, he’s going to lose because a majority of normal, sane people just can’t bring themselves to vote for him, and will vote for Clinton to keep him out of the Oval Office.
Except there’s a real chance that the normal-and-sane vote is going to end up being split by Mike Bloomberg.
And then there’s an even bigger problem with the theory that normal and sane people will stop Trump from being elected: Republicans.
Certainly most Democrats will vote for Clinton. But to stop an insurgent Trump, she’s going to want Republicans, too. And the fact is that Republicans are much more likely to hold their nose and vote for Trump than they are to vote for Clinton.
The reason is simple: Republicans control both houses of Congress already, and there’s a good chance that they’ll continue to do so for some if not all of the next four years. When that happens, Congress can pass bold conservative legislation; all it needs to become law is a presidential signature. And while Clinton will certainly veto all such legislation that comes to her desk, Trump will be much more likely to sign it.
This is an argument no one has any interest in making until after Trump becomes the nominee. But once that happens, the Republican Party will swing into action: Its agenda is much better served by having Trump in the White House than by having Clinton or even Bloomberg. Once pretty much every Republican in Congress starts supporting Trump over his opponent, it becomes much harder for individual Republicans to vote any other way—no matter how disgusted they are by his statements about women, or how worried they are that the orange man might have his finger on the nuclear trigger.
Republicans will vote for Trump, in other words, not because he will be an effective leader of the Republican Party: He wouldn’t be. But rather because he would be an effective follower of the Republican Party. He will sign where the party tells him to sign, since there’s no reason for him not to.
If Trump gets the Republicans, and also a significant chunk of the Democrats, and a lot of Americans who normally never vote at all, then that’s the election right there. It’s not necessarily the most likely outcome—yet. But it can happen. And here’s the scariest thing: while any number of unforeseeable events, from natural disasters to terrorist attacks, could change the dynamics of the race, none of those are under the control of any rival political campaign. He’s the most bulletproof politician America has seen in a very long time. No one, right now, has a clue how to stop him. We have nine months to work it out.