Is there any way to stop the Donald?
A lot of my friends abroad have been asking me lately if there's a chance Donald Trump can ever become president. I understand their worry; the president of the United States holds a position that directly affects people all over the world. They've heard and seen how many votes he's getting. Is President Trump inevitable?
The short answer is: no. President Trump is not inevitable.
The long answer is more complicated, since American politics is very complicated.
I see three main choke points stopping the Rise of Trump.
1. The GOP itself. So far, the Republican party hasn't mounted much of an opposition to Trump, despite lots of handwringing among the party elites. Part of the problem is there have been too many candidates in the race for those elites and for voters to coalesce around a single alternative. But now that may be just the ticket.
Preventing Trump from getting over 50% of the delegates is key. Right now he's on a trajectory to win enough states' delegates that he will win on the first round of voting, thus assuring the nomination. But the rules of delegate allocation change in many of the remaining states: they award delegates in a winner-take-all manner. Whoever wins gets all the delegates, rather than the delegates being assigned according to the proportion of the vote each candidate wins.
Right now, Trump is leading in the polls in these states, too. But if the remaining candidates say this: "Don't vote for me in Ohio, vote for John Kasich (governor of Ohio); don't vote for me in Florida, vote for Rubio," and so on, with some large winner-take-all states going to Anyone But Trump, Trump will be prevented from getting 50% of the votes and there will be further rounds of voting at the convention in Cleveland. After that first round, delegates are not bound to vote for the candidate they're pledged to. Thus, 51% of the delegates may decide that Rubio should be the nominee, or John Kasich, or Mitt Romney (who may be seen as a "white knight" candidate who can rally the party).
Could this happen? It's very unusual for a candidate to deliberately direct their voters to vote for someone else, but the fear that a Trump nomination holds for the GOP is growing every day. I'd give it a less than even chance, but there's still a chance--and a chance that if they did, it would work as expected. Otherwise, Trump gets 50% of the delegates and is crowned the nominee in Cleveland.
And if they do stop him at the convention, after he's won state after state and delegate after delegate? He'll be one angry bear, riled up and ready to destroy those who poked him. He'll either run as a third party candidate (it will be difficult, and impossible in several states, to get on the ballot by that point) or will throw his support to a third party. I wouldn't even be surprised if, enraged, he told his supporters to vote for Hillary Clinton over the dirty, rotten Republican who stole the nomination from him.
2. Hillary Clinton. Clinton is almost sure to win the Democratic nomination, and for many reasons, she's favored to defeat Donald Trump in November. How could she defeat him when Republicans have failed? Because she faces none of the constraints that Republican candidates have grappled with. None of them challenged Trump's tax plan, because all of their plans are just as outrageous, based on lowering taxes for the rich, raising them for the middle class, and increasing spending on the military. They all make voodoo economics look like trick-or-treat.
Hillary's tax plan is based on sound economics, does not favor the rich, and most importantly, adds up, no matter what your level of math or belief in unicorns bearing magic tax cuts.
She also isn't aiming for the votes of the racist underbelly of the Republican party, voters who look askance at candidates who denounce racism and defend immigration reform. She can attack Trump full force on the despicable tactics he's used to get votes, without fearing she'll alienate voters who'd never vote for her anyway. His unfavorable ratings are huuuuggge! It's key to remember that he is only popular with a (too large) segment of the Republican party, a segment that has turned out to vote for him because they hear his dog whistles (like when he refused to denounce David Duke and the KKK on CNN Sunday).
Here's the thing about US primary elections: Primary voters are a subset of general election voters, and an extreme subset at that—in both parties. Moderate voters are outnumbered in primaries, but in a general election, they prevail. And moderate voters will not vote for Trump.
Where will moderate GOP voters go? Some will stay home (or leave the tick box for president blank), some will vote for a third party, and some will vote for Hillary, as the lesser of two evils, in their view. I could see a Republicans for Hillary Facebook group getting lots of new members.
3. Barack Obama. The only politician who's bested Donald Trump in a war of words is Barack Obama (see the White House Correspondence Dinner clip from 2011). He's a gifted orator, and possesses the sharpest wit of any politician I've ever known. He's been silent so far, remaining "presidential" and above the muddy fray, but with his legacy at stake, he'll be a powerful and energetic voice of opposition to Donald Trump. He'll humiliate him. It will be ugly, and hilarious at the same time. Make popcorn.
So if Hillary Clinton somehow can't annihilate Donald Trump on the campaign trail and in the debates, look for the sitting president to devastate the Trump with surgical precision.
Here's how you defeat Donald Trump
Is there anything that could lead to Trump winning in November? I see a couple of possible scenarios: One, the American economy could go into recession. Right now, economists give this a worrying 20-30 percent chance of happening, due to Brexit, China, the still wobbly Euro-zone, student loan debt, etc. And if this happened, the Republicans in Congress would do nothing to prevent it, and there's little a president could do, either. Notice that several of these possibilities are completely outside the control of the US—just to be safe, you probably shouldn't vote for Brexit if you live in the UK. (Already the possibility of Brexit is driving down the pound, making it harder for American goods to compete in Britain.)
A second possibility is a major terrorist attack on the United States, just before the election. I see this as more likely than a recession. Remember, Congress has done nothing to keep guns from the hands of suspected terrorists on the no-fly list. It wouldn't surprise me if a handful of home-grown terrorists shot up a concert venue, a cafe, a school—this happens all the time, anyway, except those murderers aren't labeled as terrorists unless they're connected with jihadists. Scare Americans would flock to the candidate who promises to save them, although some may come to their senses and vote for the candidate who promises to forbid would-be terrorists from buying weapons.
Ted Cruz could be the nominee. He's won more states than anyone other than Trump. By rights, the nomination should go to him if Trump is defeated at the convention. But everyone hates him. His colleagues in the Senate detest him. American general election voters would hate him too. Hillary would beat him handily.
Marco Rubio: He's better liked than Ted Cruz, but not by a lot. We haven't see a lot of the Republican establishment come out for him, because they think he doesn't deserve to be president. He's a first term senator, and he's seen as grabbing for too much, too soon. But he'd win their support in a heartbeat if the only alternative were Trump. Hillary would have a 50-50 chance of beating him.
John Kasich: He's a popular governor of Ohio. He's seen as the moderate in the race, simply because he doesn't brag about torture and kicking 11 million immigrants out of the country. But he's a fairly old school conservative. Hillary might not beat him, especially if a recession looms.
Mitt Romney: He would be seen as a savior, and grateful establishment Republicans would eagerly vote for him, and moderates in the party would follow suit. Trump's voters would hate him as a usurper, and either vote for someone else or stay home. He might win, though, especially if the economy falters.
A third party Trump candidacy: If this happens, he might be able to spoil things for the Republicans, which will only make it more likely for Hillary to win.
A third party Bloomberg candidacy: If Michael Bloomberg decides Trump is too odious to be tolerated, he might get into the race as a third party candidate. He'll act as a spoiler, and would almost certainly throw the election to the House of Representatives if no candidate gets over 50% of the electoral college votes.
A Sanders nomination: Sanders would not likely win against any Republican other than Trump and maybe Cruz, and Trump would take the gloves off his "pretty" hands and go after him hard, as a kooky, Socialist Northeastern liberal with a huuuuuggge tax plan! And with economists hardly defending Sanders' tax plan as it is, I don't see how Sanders could win a war of unicorns with Donald Trump. I'd give him a 50-50 chance of beating Trump, but it's a moot point: Not only is Sanders unlikely to win the nomination at this point, but if he did, Michael Bloomberg would almost certainly enter the race. Mitt Romney would also consider a run, if Bloomberg declined. And if no one won 50% of the vote, off to the House we go! And the House wins: they're certain to retain a Republican majority, and they would vote for Trump or Romney.
Bottom line: Hillary Clinton can beat Trump, if the GOP fails to do so at the convention. And if she doesn't, I'll be heading across the pond, in a life raft if I have to, along with a lot of other Americans.
My question for my friends in the UK is, will Britain take back her recalcitrant colonists when we fall upon her shores, our tails firmly between our legs?