There is a real chance that our next president will be Donald Trump.
I am not happy about that – I’ve found a media niche as a hardcore conservative who outlets call to get the right wing view of why he’s terrible (Well, at least media outlets without Don Lemon). Yet it’s foolish not to face the potential reality – we are sort of just hoping he goes away thanks to flaws that never seem to actually hurt him. We are not taking seriously the Donald Trump we actually face, as opposed to the one we wish we were facing. Exactly 25 years ago this week, as a first lieutenant, I was at the VII Corps Main base cluster awaiting the start of Desert Storm. We were preparing to fight the greatest military force in history, one made up of pros who were lavishly equipped, courageously led, and trained to clockwork perfection in their execution of Soviet-style combat operations. But the real enemy up north was (with notable exceptions) something else – a rag-tag collection of conscripts using intermittently operational, near obsolete gear, officered by cowards, and incapable of sustained, high intensity combat operations. The point is you don’t prepare to engage the enemy you want to engage; you prepare to engage the most dangerous possible enemy and count yourself lucky when you find you overestimated him.
People keep underestimating Donald Trump. Now, do I think he will win the nomination, much less the election? No. My analysis of his campaign’s ability to execute on the electoral fundamentals like raising money (I don’t see him dropping a billion to self-fund a run) and getting voters off their couches and into booths checking boxes tells me he probably won’t win. But then, I’m not a Trump guy, and I want him to lose the nomination, and when your analysis syncs up with your preferences you need to check yourself and ensure that your mode of thinking is critical, not wishful. In the Army, those are the moments where your command sergeant major tells the briefing room to clear out and take ten, then, with the door closed, explains why the good colonel needs to pull his head out.
Donald Trump has a path to the nomination and the presidency, like it or not.
Trump’s nomination challenge is three-fold:
- His antics appall many Republicans
- The hardcore conservatives detest him as a fake con
- Many Republicans hold it as an article of faith he will eventually stumble
These may all be true, but these obstacles can also be overcome. First, let’s assume the worst case scenario in which his people actually show up and vote without a massive get out the vote drive – in other words, they self-motivate. Then let’s write off the fussy Republicans who won’t support him because he’s tacky; it’s clear there is not going to be some gaffe that finally makes everyone else say, “Oh wait, this time I finally think he’s terrible!” And disregard the hardcore cons like me who will be going for people like Cruz or Rubio. That means he really needs to focus on winning over whatever portion of the GOP electorate that doubts he can win and won’t vote for him on that basis because beating Hillary is Mission Number One.
Say that’s just 15% of the electorate. Add that to his existing base in the polls of somewhere between 25%-35% and you are near 50%. Now, if he exceeds expectations or even wins Iowa, then does the same in New Hampshire – which is very possible – he then heads into South Carolina and Nevada with momentum. And momentum is exactly what he needs to convince the voters concerned with electability to go his way. Everyone wants to be on the winning team, and the GOPe/Mainstream Media dual freak-out at a runaway Trump train would likely only supercharge him.
Trump can totally win the nomination. But then he has to beat Hillary and he can’t possibly do that…can he?
Yes, he can.
Trump’s general election challenges are similar to his nomination challenges:
- His antics will appall many general election voters
- Some Republicans will refuse to support him
- He lacks Hillary’s campaign apparatus and funds
- Many voters don’t think he could win
Again, we can write off the people who detest him for being boorish and tacky. He’s never going to win them, but he’s not trying. Nor will he miss the Republicans who refuse to support him. Some are conservatives for reasons of (I believe) misguided principle, since Hillary is manifestly worse for America than Trump. I respect them. Others are petulant, entitled jerks like the contemptible Jeb Bush, sore losers who are infuriated that mere voters are presuming to deprive them of the mastery of the universe to which they believe themselves entitled. For every one voter snobs like Jeb convince to help Hillary by sitting out the election, a dozen more disgusted with Jeb’s lack of integrity in breaking his implied promise to honor the will of the Republican voters will flock to Trump.
But, of course, Trump’s strategy is not a Rovian play to motivate the base to squeak out a 50% + 1 win, but to broaden the coalition by bringing in new voters to add to those of us who will pull the tab for any Republican – hell, any terrier, if it came to that – over the monstrous Clintonbot. Look for Trump to not only bring out working class whites left in the dust by coastal elites who look upon them and their concerns with contempt, but to make plays for blacks and Hispanics. Who says he can’t? Trump has something Hillary doesn’t – love him or hate him, he’s interesting. She’s human Ambien.
So Trump can possibly bypass and neutralize Hillary’s organizational apparatus and her piles of money. Hillary’s GOTV and ads will all be focused on motivating people she thinks are already for her because, by now, no one doesn’t already have an opinion of her. Granny Clinton, who has infested our politics for a quarter century, won’t change minds; Trump can because he’s perceived as new and fresh. Moreover, he has a knack for saying things voters are actually thinking, as opposed to the scolding nanny who seems perpetually on the verge of demanding we use our inside voices. And this is not an inside voice election year.
Hillary has two great vulnerabilities of her own. First, she’s tied to an incompetent incumbent whose feckless failures are bound to manifest in more foreign policy disasters - what if Baghdad or Kabul falls while our depleted military watches helplessly? That could happen. Or what happens when yet another ISIS murder squad forgets how it is supposed to be contained and riddles some gun free zone with bullets, to be followed with President Fail sobbing away at the tragedy of Americans being able to defend themselves thanks to the Second Amendment? If this becomes a security election and it comes down to Let God Sort ‘Em Out Trump or the Pantsuited Appeaser, we’re going to have one super-hot First Lady in 2017.
Trump’s second advantage is that Hillary is bitter, arrogant, and stupid – she’s Flunk-the D.C.-Bar-Exam dumb, and that’s really dumb. Together, these characteristics will make it easy for Trump to get inside her head and throw her off. Moreover, the past manifestations of these qualities might likewise doom her. The recent revelation of new emails in which she blatantly committed what, to a colonel/lawyer who didn’t fail the bar exam, are multiple, indisputable felonies regarding classified information could well lead to a reboot of the Watergate Saturday Night Massacre. Imagine when the corrupt Department of Justice refuses to follow the FBI’s recommendation to indict this future felon. Imagine, then, that the FBI director resigns in protest, launching a crisis. Now, Americans are a lot of things, but fans of double standard justice for friends of the powerful is not one of them. And Trump will beat her over the head with it.
Trump can win the nomination. I don’t like that, because I don’t think he’s a conservative. He can also win the general, and I do like that because this country can survive a Donald Trump administration intact, assuming he learns what the nuclear triad is. But a Hillary Clinton presidency? A presidency for a woman who has not mere contempt but active hatred for the half of the population that she labels as her greatest enemy, and who aspires to restrict every amendment in the Bill of Rights that doesn’t keep her from having to testify to her own crimes? A slave to her unique homebrew of hatred, undue self-regard, and foolishness, her lawless reign will rip this country apart. If it’s Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton, Trump all the way – and, thankfully, he absolutely could win.