explaining a possible trump win
I still think that Trump is very, very unlikely to win the GOP nomination. But with about 60 days left till the Iowa Caucus, it looks like Trump will last longer than I thought. Real Clear Politics still shows him getting in the high 20%s in national polls, winning in New Hampshire, and still hanging on to a lead over Ted Cruz in Iowa. At the very least, Trump will make it to Super Tuesday.
The question is why. As I noted before, the dominant political science model of presidential nominations is that party elites choose candidates. Once they choose and publicly endorse, the rank and file move to the candidates, cash contributions and support flows, and only those candidates with elite support can afford to wage a serious campaign.
But this is not an “iron law.” It is a summary of a complicated process that frequently occurs in American politics. Thus, if the conditions that enable elites to guide nominations do not hold, other processes may occur. So what is the “background” that makes elite selection of party nominees possible?
My answer: Elites can guide elections because candidates are cash poor and need the help of parties who can do voter registration, publicity, and legal work. If you buy this argument, then it is easy to see that a candidate can go solo if they have their own money (like a real estate empire) or publicity (a long career in books and television). Thus, Trump is a very rare person who has the potential bypass the normal party process.
But of course, will he actually do it? The following needs to happen:
- Since New Hampshire tends to vote for “local candidates,” Trump (a New York candidate) will likely take that state without much effort. To win Iowa, he needs to have a superior ground game where he out-mobilizes Ted Cruz, who is often favored by evangelicals.
- South Carolina is probably irrelevant. He’ll win it if he’s already won New Hampshire and Iowa. If he splits, he’ll be cruising to Super Tuesday anyway, win or lose. If he loses both, he’s probably out anyway.
- Super Tuesday has 16 states. By this point, all candidates with any serious followings have dropped out, which means Rubio/Cruz vs. Trump. That means the establishment has its machine going in an attempt to stop Trump.
- Super Tuesday has a lot of states that look Trump unfriendly on paper: small caucus states (like Wyoming and Alaska) or Southern states (Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia) that might go for Southerners like Rubio or Cruz.
- Ideologically, Trump must simply keep going down the same road – extreme anti-foreigner/Muslim prejudice plus more middle of the road stances on issues like social security and taxes. This appeals to the xenophobic “middle American radical” that is now squarely inside the GOP.
Ironically, a Trump win will likely mirror Obama’s 2008 primary win: out hustle the establishment candidate in caucus states and stand out on a single issue that the base cares about (immigrants for Trump, Iraq for Obama).